In case you needed a reminder about my general philosophy on dressing up: I wore flat oxfords to my wedding. My dress was mostly cotton. Married in my hometown on a neighbor’s farm, our wedding wasn’t a terribly formal affair but I was assuredly less dressed up than some of the guests.
Dressing up is hard to do. I’ve already written a bunch about that here, but that was in a wintry time of year. And now that I’m looking at three different save-the-dates tacked to my refrigerator, I’ve got warm weather weddings on the brain.
We’re used to the cultural expectation that for every bride-to-be there is ONE PERFECT DRESS.* But for the minimalist dress shopper, this same kind of pressure can creep up when we’re mere guests. A wedding invitation might spark an existential crisis about why we have yet to find our perfect match, or if we’ve found it, or whether we’ve failed at minimalism because we’re not sure we can bear to wear the same little black dress to the fifth wedding in a row. Whether for brides or wedding guests, I’m not going to try to suggest that there’s ONE PERFECT DRESS out there. I realize this sounds like minimalist wardrobe heresy, but that’s a lot of pressure, perfection.
No, I’m not going to suggest that we all go forth and find the great unicorn of dresses that’s timeless and beautiful and guaranteed to stay in gorgeous, impeccable condition FOR ALL TIME. A great dress is a great thing to have. When we happen to find the perfect thing for us to wear for a particular moment—or ten particular moments—well, then hallelujah. But sometimes we will find something that’s very good for right now and maybe not so much for all time. And you don’t know really know whether a dress is for all time until you try it out. None of us can make a full-time job out of hunting for unicorns.
For my own summer wedding guest conundrums, I’m continuing on my personal quest to find a dress or two that feel like me. Tall order. But for me, dressing up often feels like playing dress up. Like I’m walking around in someone else’s clothes. Sometimes this feels great: like I’m playing the role of my sexy alter-ego and damn it if I don’t look amazing. But often it feels less great: like I’m wearing someone else’s clothes and they tug in the wrong places and possibly everyone can see my underwear?
In case you’re on the hunt for something schmancy to wear, here are a few beautiful formal dresses that have caught my eye lately. They’re all fancy-ish things that are also being made thoughtfully. To be sure: they’re things that fit my particular definition of pretty and wedding-appropriate. They might not fit yours. Feel free to chime in with suggestions below!
Elizabeth Suzann: The current collection at Elizabeth Suzann is filled with ethereal pieces that might just be the route to finding a formal dress to love. (You might recall it was an Elizabeth Suzann dress that I ended up wearing to my last sartorially stressful event.) Dresses like the Inez Midi in Hemp Twill tow the line between comfortable and dressy and I can see it looking gorgeous at an outdoor summer wedding. And in silk crepe for a fancier evening affair? (And for the betrothed, The White Collection is even better. Please! Someone get married in this skirt!)
Of A Kind: This Pinstripe Picnic Dress by Christine Alcalay for Of A Kind is begging someone to wear it to multiple summer weddings. I love that the cut looks elegant, but that the fabric looks relaxed. Get thee to a farm wedding. (PS. Like everything else at Of A Kind, this dress is made by an indie-designer and part of a limited-edition run made just for Of A Kind.)
Lisa Says Gah: I love poking around this online shop, partially because I too say gah, and partially because everything in stock has been carefully selected from designers who are mindful about ethical production. If you want to make sure no one has the same dress as you, I’d choose the Delfina Balda Flora Dress.
Hackwith Design House: The new Bridal Collection isn’t just for brides only; in addition to cream and white, most of the pieces in the collection come in black, a pale pink called blush, and a lovely green called sage. I love the Hallie Pant paired with the Emmy Top. Fancy-casual, I say.
Reformation: These guys have lots of fancy-dancy things for wearing to a wedding. For formal evening occasions, when the words black and tie get put together, I’d probably head here. I’ve got my eye on the Francesca Dress for the next time I need to dress like royalty.
And if none of these specifics works, here are two more ideas, stolen right out from under friends who are maybe smarter than I am:
+ Get a personal shopper. It sounds far-fetched. Or uber-fancy. Who do you think you are, anyway? But there’s a case to be made for some good old-fashioned in-the-fitting-room shopping. And working with a personal shopper can make the experience feel luxurious and…easy! Lots of major department stores offer the service, so ask around. To be sure: you’re letting go of a bit of control, but I know someone who did this recently and the results were ah-mazing. As someone who hated shopping, this friend felt particularly daunted by shopping for formalwear. But she was able to relay her budget, her general style, and a sense of what she wanted, and the on-staff personal shopper returned with a selection of ten dresses to choose from that fit the bill. My friend ended up leaving with everything that she needed for a complete outfit: dress, shoes, scarf, bag…earrings. I know. (And she’s worn the entire outfit to three different weddings so far.)
+ Rent, borrow, beg. Another friend recently used fancy-dress rental service, Rent the Runway to huge success. She was able to find a gorgeous designer dress to wear to a black-tie event. Sure: she had to pony up cash for something she had to return just a few days later, but it allowed her to wear a truly lovely dress and to feel like a queen for an evening for the same amount she might have spent on a less-nice dress that she wasn’t sure she’d have the opportunity to wear again.
(If renting isn’t in the cards, old-fashioned borrowing has served me more times than I can count. Whether it’s the dress itself, or the strapless bra you need to wear with it, or the perfect necklace for the neckline of the dress you just found, borrowing your friends’ best stuff is maybe the best and the very oldest trick in the book. I wish we all dipped into each other’s formal wardrobes more often. Return it clean and loan something of yours next time around and I say, deal done.)
*If you’re into this sort of thing, I read One Perfect Day a few years before I got married and I recommend it to anyone interested in taking a slightly less conventional approach to wedding planning. The chapter on the wedding dress industry convinced me to get my dress made by a local dressmaker.