Formal dressing 101

Accompanying the invitation there is always a little stress, but it’s the best kind. From the moment an invitation arrives one of the first thoughts a woman will have is ‘what am I going to wear?’ For some, that’s a question that covers the myriad of options within their current wardrobe, while for others, it’s a great excuse to buy something new.


So, what to wear? The dress code on the invitation should be your guide. If there is a dress code, follow it.

That means, if it’s Black Tie or Formal, dress appropriately. Black tie for the boys, formal (traditionally that means full-length) gowns for the girls.

Things that shouldn’t be seen at a Black Tie event include mini-skirts, jeans and the suit you wore to work that day.

Treat a Black Tie invitation as the best excuse in the world to dress up – way, way up.

So what of the other variances in dress codes?


Semi-Formal, Cocktail or Glamour are more relaxed than black tie, but you still need to make an effort – cocktail wear and dresses still work best here and a pair of slim-leg satin pants will work brilliantly, too. Whichever option: you should definitely work the sparkle and sheen.

Smart Casual? You can crack out your designer jeans, but team them with a glitzy top and pair of heels. And if the dress code says Casual – it’s a free for all.

The key to avoiding special occasion stress is to allow plenty of time – as in weeks, not hours. Getting to grips with what to wear early avoids any last minute panic.

Look in your own wardrobe: Give anything that you think might work the once over – does it still fit you or do you need to get yourself a pair of magic knickers? Do you feel great in it or will you spend the entire evening adjusting it and wishing you’d bought something new? Is it still in style? Do you need to have it cleaned or mended? If you can’t find anything suitable it may be time to hit the shops.

Make time to choose the perfect accessories. Truly stylish women know that to work an outfit well, it really is all about the finishing touches.

Start with shoes. Does the colour work? How’s the heel height? Glamorous events need glamorous footwear – strappy, embellished, sexy or subtle. Anything too casual, daytime or dated will let you down.

Extra tip: get a pedicure or give yourself one.

With earrings and necklaces – either/or works best unless both are understated. If you have statement earrings avoid a necklace and vice versa. Make sure your jewellery fits what you’ve decided to wear (don’t wear a pendant on a leather thong with anything floaty, sparkly or formal).

Try a little harder than the diamond studs and gold cross on a chain, after all, this isn’t everyday wear. A special occasion bag will last you season after season. Go for either over the top glamour or simple satin but don’t make the mistake of expecting your trusty daytime tote to take you into the evening and still look sophisticated, because it won’t.

And finally, it’s time to party! Make sure you are ready – the finishing touches include your make-up, hair, fake tan (if you like), manicure and pedicure. Making sure the body about to go into the dress is looking great is the last step to ensuring all the careful planning is not wasted.

What to buy:
If you’ve been through the wardrobe and the cupboard is bare or if you are just one of those girls for whom the words party invitation actually spell new outfit it’s time to head to the shops. Especially for you then is this list of essential items for your shopping list:


A great dress  – with so many designers showing dresses there’s no excuse for not having one of these in your wardrobe. Be it retro ’50s-inspired or full on Hollywood glamour, a girl’s gotta own one.

Evening trousers – get yourself a pair of pants that just wouldn’t look right in daylight. Go for something luscious in satin, or a relaxed tuxedo pant. Keep these special.

A touch of sparkle – go glam with either a hint of sparkle or the whole hog. With sequins, beading and shimmer in all the stores at all price points there’s never been a better excuse to channel a little Beyonce.


Great Shoes – great shoes are never sensible shoes unless you’re going hiking. Go on- horrify the podiatrist and suffer a little for the cause.
Hollywood tape, stick-on, backless or convertible bra – like some things are best left unsaid, some are best left unseen.

Jackie O’Fee is the owner of Signature Style, New Zealand’s leading Personal Image Consultancy.

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