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
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