growing a minimalist wardrobe: summer weddings.

May 18, 2016

growing a minimalist wardrobe: summer weddings | reading my tea leaves
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

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46 Comments

  • Reply Ris May 18, 2016 at 9:07 am

    I’m part of a local clothing swap group that has a fairly active Facebook account where we coordinate swap details. People have also started posting dresses available to borrow for summer weddings, and it’s such a good idea. I have several dresses I’ve offered up and am already lined up to borrow a beautiful printed silk number for a wedding I’m attending this weekend. I love to see stuff I’ve worn (and been photographed in many times/ worn with the same friend group) being used by someone else for their special occasion. Hurrah for sharing!

  • Reply MissEm May 18, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Oh, I so wish I’d gotten married after all these great and minimalist ideas! I was married 11 years ago, just before the bespoke and local/handmade movement really picked up, so it was all strapless fancy dresses from boutiques and David’s bridal (ugh). I was longing for something like this and didn’t know how to go about it! so on to being the minimalist guest 🙂

  • Reply Christine May 18, 2016 at 9:51 am

    +1 on the borrowing. For the past couple of summers (aka wedding seasons), I’ve bought one new dress–and then borrowed from friends who also bought one new dress! We’re lucky that we’re all about the same size and we all have similar taste–and similar weddings! 🙂

  • Reply Zoe May 18, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Love Elizabeth Suzann. Seeing her white collection also really firmed up the realization that I will most likely not get married in a dress. I’ve always been much more comfortable in a skirt with a blouse or a jumpsuit. If I was getting married this year, this would be the “dress”: http://elizabethsuzann.com/collections/the-white-collection/products/clara-jumpsuit?variant=13648485574

  • Reply Emily M. May 18, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Reformation may now be my new standard for beauty. My goodness. This is the type of simplicity I’ve pondered for my future wedding dress, but it’s so hard to find. I now know where I’ll start my shopping when the time comes. Thanks for the introduction!

    Emily xo

    p.s. You may not have been the dressiest at your own wedding but you sure rocked that dress!

    • Reply Anna May 21, 2016 at 10:44 pm

      Reformation is the absolute best. I’ve bought a couple of things there for events over the past couple of months and I always get so many compliments. It’s so simple and chic. Their service is amazing too. I am totally obsessed!

  • Reply Clare May 18, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Just bought a taupe Elizabeth Suzann Vera long slip dress for a couple of weddings and a summer benefit – cosigning that recommendation! The silk feels lovely and can be belted and accessorized differently for lots of different occasions.

    Absolutely lusting after the Of a Kind picnic dress as well 🙂

  • Reply Erin May 18, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Beautiful dresses but WAAAAYYYYY out of my price range. I do think though that these will serve as inspiration for me to dust off my sewing skills. Luckily I don’t have any photographable events to attend (other than Diner en Blanc) so, I don’t need to worry about perfect, just comfortable! Any suggestions in a more reasonable price range?

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 18, 2016 at 11:35 am

      Erin, As I always say, if I could find beautiful ethical options at affordable prices, I would share them. I promise I’m not holding out! More thoughts on the subject and strategies for affordability here: http://www.readingmytealeaves.com/2015/04/growing-minimalist-wardrobe-affordability.html

    • Reply Zoe May 18, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Personally I think Everlane has some great options! Mostly they trend casual, but they have several silk dresses that could look fancy at under $100.

      • Reply Erin Boyle May 18, 2016 at 1:21 pm

        I agree! Thanks for the reminder. This silk dress is simple and great!

      • Reply Erin May 18, 2016 at 3:45 pm

        I definitely might try the Everlane route. Besides reasonable prices, their pieces seem more timeless. I worry that some of the more expensive ones above are too trendy and would not be investment pieces. Thanks Zoe! 🙂

        • Reply Erin Boyle May 18, 2016 at 4:02 pm

          Hey now; not sure that’s totally fair. I think there’s a pretty nice blend of timeless in all of these choices.

    • Reply Ali May 20, 2016 at 7:48 am

      I agree. I am also not completely sold on the idea that ethical and sustainable needs to mean new. There are already so many beautiful, one of a kind pieces in many consignment stores online and in many cities and towns. These items exist right now and often for a much more reasonable price. You can then consider shoes, as well. In addition, consinment has more styles for different figures–I am not tall and thin (5’6″ and 136 lbs–so not short, but more in the middle) and I’d look like you dropped me in a bag with most of these dresses.

      • Reply Erin Boyle May 20, 2016 at 10:29 am

        No suggestion here that ethical and sustainable needs to mean new; just a few options for ethical and sustainable options should new be the route someone takes! Not sure if you missed my inclusion of other routes like borrowing and renting dresses which of course come in all kinds of styles and shapes. And of course your suggestion of consignment is terrific! My hope was that this post would spread a positive message of going forth to find the right fit for me (or you) regardless of the particulars. The tone of your note makes me feel like maybe that didn’t translate. Sorry to hear that.

        • Reply Ellie May 20, 2016 at 12:48 pm

          Ali, I know how you feel- I’m about the same height and weight as you, and it’s frustrating that I can’t look as fabulous as my (tall! thin!) little sister in the same dress. And Erin, I agree! The way I think of it is that buying something used (regardless of the ethics of the brand) is a good inexpensive option because it’s already been produced and there’s little or no ethical or environmental impact involved in re-selling it.

          Actually, I had the same reaction as Ali when I saw this post two days ago, because I need a dress for a wedding this summer, but I have an extremely limited budget (I could spend a max of $20 on the dress), and I don’t really know what works on my body. By a happy accident though, I found a simple wrap dress at Goodwill yesterday. I was so impressed by how I looked in it! (Especially since I feel like I don’t look good in most dresses due to my body type). So Ali, why don’t you look for a used wrap dress? It might be a good option :).

          • Ali May 20, 2016 at 3:29 pm

            Thanks for the kind reply, Ellie. Wrap dresses are great, and thredUP has good options at reasonable prices. I’m sure you’ll look great at the wedding, have fun!

        • Reply Ali May 20, 2016 at 3:27 pm

          Not sure what you’re implying about tone. I didn’t “miss” your other suggestions (which implies that I didn’t read the entire post before commenting, which is pretty insulting). I was just surprised that consignment wasn’t mentioned at all. I feel that it was a valid comment that adds to the discussion; I didn’t write it to attack your position. It’s discouraging to me that every time a comment is posted that isn’t a glowing review of a post, it receives a passive-aggressive response.

          • Erin Boyle May 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm

            Oh dear. This has gotten out of hand. I’m sorry that I misinterpreted your comment. Of course I don’t agree with your last point, but I’m terribly sad to think that’s what you think.

  • Reply Mary Kate May 18, 2016 at 11:34 am

    These long, loose drapey dresses probably look beautiful on certain body types, but they simply do not work on my short, curvy frame. If anyone has any ideas on dressmakers that make more fitted styles (that come in petite sizes!) PLEASE let me know. I feel like I’ve been looking everywhere.

    (I tried Rent the Runway once and none of the sizes fit me, which sucked because you have to pay for them anyway, so I probably won’t go that route again. And I am not the same size as any of my nearby friends so borrowing is not an option.)

    Anyone have ideas? I’m getting somewhat desperate…

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 18, 2016 at 11:41 am

      Mary Kate, I think I pointed you in this direction last time, so forgive me if this isn’t a fit, but Elizabeth Suzann has this really lovely form fitting dress http://elizabethsuzann.com/collections/dresses/products/elise-dress-stretch-cotton?variant=15823548230 that ranges from 00-16 and comes in short, regular, and tall lengths! Hope that helps!

      • Reply Mary Kate May 19, 2016 at 2:03 pm

        Haha, have I complained about this before? Sorry to repeat myself! And thank you so much for the link. That is rather lovely, perhaps I’ll give it a try! Thanks for replying!

        • Reply Erin Boyle May 19, 2016 at 2:05 pm

          No worries! Hope that’s a step in the right direction 😉

    • Reply Eloise May 20, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      I am petite and curvy, and I’ve had a lot of success with wrap dresses that are made out of a soft, stretchy material. You might want to try that.

  • Reply Emily May 18, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    I just purchased the new Everlane poplin dress (https://www.everlane.com/collections/womens-newest-arrivals/products/womens-cotton-poplin-v-tank-dress-washedblack) for a wedding, and it’s awesome! It dresses up well with heels/accessories, but I can wear it for casual events and it doesn’t require special cleaning. Also, your blush wedding oxfords are fantastic! May I ask where you purchased them? I love that you stayed true to your style 🙂
    Unrelated, but I was just rereading your sister’s post about packing light, which was really helpful too. I’d love to see more of her minimalist wardrobe ideas and tips – always fun to have multiple sources!

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 18, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      Thanks! They’re from Marais USA. No longer made, but Marais shoes are really great: vegan and made in the US!

  • Reply laura May 18, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    If I could do my wedding over again, only thing I’d change was my dress! I hated bridal dresses and found the simplest one I could. But I should have just followed my gut and bought a simple white dress! Oh well. Next time. Actually, no, not next time. Vow renewals!

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 18, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Vow renewals!!! (But of course your dress was already a beauty.)

  • Reply Kari.M May 18, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    I’ve never been ahead of my time, except for once, at my wedding. I was married in 1993 and all the dresses out there were still 80s puff-ball monstrosities. So I had a local dressmaker make me a simple, chiffon dress with a bit of a 20s silhouette. Best decision ever. If I was getting married now, I’d definitely go the Elizabeth Suzann route. As for wedding-guest dresses, only Everlane is in my budget.

  • Reply Kim B. May 18, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    I had totally forgotten that Rebecca Mead wrote One Perfect Day. Her writing skill is enough to send me to pick up that book to read it although I’m long married and not doing it again anytime soon!

  • Reply Martha May 18, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    I love this topic, w hen I got married 10 years ago I so badly wanted a beautiful dress made of natural fibers (designer style) and didn’t want to go the David’s Bridal route and wear polyester on my wedding day. Working with a dressmaker (my aunt) was perfect for me because wedding dress shopping is also, the worst. (Aside: it makes me absolutely insane the pressure that salespeople at bridal shops put on brides to be and make them panicky that they are running out of time for their ‘special day’). I ordered silk charmeuse fabric from Thai Silks (about $50 in materials) and my aunt made me a beautiful, simple dress for $250. We based it off of a Vogue pattern with some modifications based on photos I found that I liked. It was a great experience.

  • Reply Viv May 18, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    I’ve got my first dress fitting for my upcoming wedding in a few months’ time, and I agree, the pressure to have ‘the perfect dress’ has been mounting up! Thanks for the post – I shall try to go with my gut feeling, the simple and comfortable, the better!

  • Reply Alix May 18, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    Oxfords? To your own wedding? YOU ARE MY HERO.

  • Reply Kristy May 18, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    I’m getting married next month, and when searching for a dress, the minimalist in me couldn’t bear purchasing something that I would only wear once, regardless of the price. I ended up finding a very simple silk dress that, fingers crossed, I can have my tailor separate into a midi skirt and crop top (worn together or separately) for years to come. I’m also wearing flats to our wedding because, well, comfort rules.

  • Reply Natalie May 18, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Aweome!! I’m the one who emailed you about this last week and I felt like you were speaking straight from my thoughts in your paragraph about the *one perfect dress*. Great info as always! Reformation has some dresses that I will definitely consider selling some organs for 😉

  • Reply Jamie May 19, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Erin, am I correct in remembering that you have the Everlane silk tank dress? If you do, how do you think that would be suited to summer weddings? I’m thinking about getting it but I’m worried about sweatiness and wrinkling. I’ve never ordered anything silk from Everlane and so I’m not sure of the quality, but cheap silk just wrinkles horribly.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 19, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      Yes: I have a silk dress of theirs in Navy! It’s not the world’s finest silk, for sure, but it’s a really serviceable dress. I haven’t had a huge issue with wrinkles…it is a touch on the short side in the front. Overall solid but not something I would really rave about.

  • Reply Stephanie May 19, 2016 at 11:20 am

    I just saw this dress at Of a Kind and thought of this article. 🙂
    http://www.ofakind.com/shop/product/3251-olive-origami-dress

  • Reply Maureen May 19, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Simple wedding dresses are my favourite ~great post Erin and thanks for the seamstress link.

  • Reply Libby May 19, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    That DELFINA BALDA Flora Dress is GORGEOUS! I want it. I want to wear it every day of my live long days.

  • Reply Kristen May 19, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    I will immediately seize your rss feed as I can’t find your email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service.

    Do you’ve any? Please allow me recognise so that I may subscribe.
    Thanks.

  • Reply Anon May 20, 2016 at 12:17 am

    I feel like there should be an accompanying post about what undergarments go under this finery. I am also curvy and well endowed and those sweet nothing dresses will not do.

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 20, 2016 at 10:20 am

      If only I was an expert in matters of finery. I agree it’s always a bit of a conundrum to find the perfect underthings.

  • Reply Bethany May 21, 2016 at 11:23 am

    I’ve searched and scoured the Internet for an ethically made dress that’s actually in my budget, something to wear to all the weddings I have going on this summer. The dresses you linked to are gorgeous, but sadly, out of my price range! BUT the other day I found a South African clothing line called “Jane Sews.” Her beautiful Astrid dress looks like it’s only $54! I’m sold!

  • Reply Bethany May 31, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Oh! I forgot to mention the obvious, too! Sonnet James!

  • Reply Prakash June 29, 2016 at 7:03 am

    The best minimalist wedding dress ever.

    So simple yet stylish.

    Love your shoes.

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