CRACK­ING THE [DRESS] CODE

FOR­GET BLACK TIE: THANKS to OUR EVER-MORE VAR­IED SO­CIAL LIVES, we’re DITCH­ING OLD PARTY DRESS CODES. SO WHAT’S AP­PRO­PRI­ATE NOW, asks OS­MAN AHMED

ELLE (UK) - - Contents -

As the sar­to­rial ‘rules’ are be­gin­ning to blur, dis­cover a new ap­proach to party dress­ing

A SE­RI­OUS QUES­TION: wed­dings aside, when was the last time you saw a dress code on an in­vi­ta­tion? School-leavers’ ball? Grad­u­a­tion? Any time in the past decade? Sure, Marc Jacobs may have asked guests at a 2O15 party to show up in se­quins, gold lamé tur­bans and sheer harem pants, chan­nelling ‘Grace Jones butch re­al­ness’ (which we’re to­tally down with, FYI). But ‘black tie’, ‘cock­tail’ or ‘sma­sual’? Not so much.

Things have changed since the days of Ed­war­dian ‘pi­geon breast-and-bus­tle’. The fact is, dress codes to­day are way more likely to be un­spo­ken than spelled out. And they’re more fluid, with sup­pos­edly for­mal af­fairs – maybe a ‘civilised’ an­nual trip to the bal­let – shift­ing gear. Once, you might have had to show up in some­thing from the cou­ture run­way, giv­ing it your best Kaia Ger­ber in an XL Valentino ball­gown. To­day, while you can’t bowl into the Royal Opera House in your gym kit, you won’t get kicked out for wear­ing denim.

Sounds like it makes things eas­ier, right? It’s cer­tainly lib­er­at­ing. But while we might not be fret­ting over white tie vs black tie, dress­ing for par­ties in 2O18 has other chal­lenges.

“WE NEED CLOTHES that TAKE US FROM ONE OC­CA­SION to THE NEXT. AND WE NEED THEM to LOOK GOOD. OF COURSE”

“IT’S not THAT WE DON’T HAVE ROOM FOR OLDSCHOOL GLAM­OUR, it’s JUST BE­ING SERVED UP IN a NEW WAY”

Our so­cial lives are more di­verse than ever, as we cram our leisure time (all 38 hours a week of it, ac­cord­ing to an ONS study*) with a grow­ing range of events, field­ing What­sApp in­vites for drinks, din­ners, panel events, a night out at Pxssy Palace and so on…. More than ever we need clothes that work hard, tak­ing us from one oc­ca­sion to the next. And we need them to look good. Of course.

‘Con­tem­po­rary dress codes for women are far more flex­i­ble,’ says Natalie King­ham, buy­ing di­rec­tor at Match­es­fash­ion.com. The re­sult, she says, is de­mand for pieces that feel spe­cial, how­ever dressed up or down they might be: ‘There’s a great deal of en­ter­tain­ment now go­ing on in peo­ple’s homes. So we’ve started buy­ing a lot of em­bel­lished flats that you can slip off un­der­neath the cof­fee ta­ble or be­fore you curl up on the sofa.’ Prac­ti­cal? Ab­so­lutely – but they also come with the un­der­stand­ing that a night that starts in might wind up as a night out out (es­pe­cially when you’re sev­eral bot­tles of wine in).

It’s a high-low ap­proach em­braced by fash­ion pub­li­cist Daisy Hop­pen, who has a di­ary packed with meet­ings, cof­fee dates, lunches and drinks. Like many of us, she doesn’t have the time to switch up an en­tire out­fit – her trick is to head to M&S for comfy shoes that don’t need break­ing in, and to throw on a pair of vel­vet Si­mone Rocha pumps for evening. ‘It’s all about find­ing a great dress and a great pair of flats,’ she says, adding: ‘What is in­ter­est­ing with ca­sual looks is the rise of silk py­ja­mas and cash­mere track­suits. I live in the brightly coloured silk PJs from Ganni, and Olivia von Halle’s cash­mere track­suits are ideal for trav­el­ling, but also feel fancy enough to wear out for drinks.’

Py­ja­mas and track­suits aren’t the only ba­sics be­ing el­e­vated. The AW18 run­ways of­fered up end­less in­spi­ra­tion – even the most clas­si­cally lux­u­ri­ous brands ush­ered in a new age of in­for­mal­ity, with an em­pha­sis on sep­a­rates that can be restyled to suit the wearer’s at­ti­tude. From Chanel to Dior, Marc Jacobs to Calvin Klein, Prada to Ver­sace, we’ve seen clunky ‘dad’ train­ers, sports­wear ny­lons and ath­leisure-style body-cons. And all in­tended for din­ner, not the gym. Denim, mean­while, is also on just about ev­ery cat­walk. These might be every­day bits – the clas­sic jeans, shirts we al­ready own ten of – but the point is there’s some­thing a lit­tle ‘off’ in the mix – some­thing that makes them slightly less or­di­nary. Those jeans now come slashed, be­daz­zled, frayed and fringed (think Natasha Zinko and Miu Miu), and those shirts come with large silk cuffs or em­bel­lish­ment (such as those by Gucci and Chloé).

It’s not that we don’t still have room in our wardrobes for more old-school glam­our – it’s just be­ing served up in a new way. ‘I en­joy adding just one or two lux­u­ri­ous items to each out­fit,’ says fash­ion con­sul­tant and in­flu­encer Veronika Heil­brun­ner, who has al­most 17O,OOO fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram. For her, dress­ing for a night among friends – dip­ping in and out of din­ners, movie screen­ings and date nights with her part­ner – means pulling out ‘a pin­stripe suit and sneak­ers, or per­haps a midi skirt worn with a lum­ber­jack shirt’.

A num­ber of de­sign­ers are play­ing to this smart-by-stealth ap­proach – among them Michael Halpern and Kévin Ger­manier, both of whom are cre­at­ing bold sep­a­rates you can mix up with ca­sual pieces. Glam­our still works, pro­vided you’re mix­ing it with every­day styles that can edge it into new ter­ri­tory.

‘I of­fer my cus­tomers dra­matic and sexy dresses, as well as beaded T-shirts and denim,’ says Paris-based Ger­manier, whose in­tri­cate bead­ing el­e­vates cot­ton ba­sics, and whose scat­ter­gun neon Swarovski crys­tals screw with the for­mal­ity of his pre­ci­sion suit­ing. ‘It’s 2O18, and the fo­cus is on per­sonal style – I’m re­ally not think­ing about old stereo­types. Women can now wear the same pieces night and day; any­time, any­where. As a de­signer, I find that lib­er­at­ing.’

The take­away? Look­ing at the women who en­dorse this way of dress­ing, those who need their wardrobes to work as hard as they do, as they dress for drinks, dates and din­ners, the re­cur­ring thread is that per­sonal style has usurped ideas of what is ‘ap­pro­pri­ate’. As King­ham puts it: ‘Peo­ple’s per­son­al­i­ties shine through all that now.’ And per­son­al­ity is what sees us slide into each other’s DMs and in­boxes with drinks in­vi­ta­tions any­way. So you may as well go big and let that at­ti­tude come through in your out­fit, what­ever you end up do­ing (and whomever you end up do­ing it with).

FASH­ION FIRST From full-length gowns to bold prints, the key is to wear it withcon­fi­dence

ALL IN THEAC­CENTS Use state­ment bags and shoes to el­e­vate any out­fit

FASH­IONIS CHANG­ING To­day’s hi-low style of dress­ing mixes lace withtai­lor­ing… …and glam withca­sual. It’s all about putting your own spin on whatyou wear

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