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Special occasion fashion: Proms, parties and weddings

April 26, 2014
Vintage green floral shift dress, from Rose & Brown Vintage.

Vintage green floral shift dress, from Rose & Brown Vintage, modelled by Lexie Lee.

So, the invitations are flooding in (ok, trickling, in my case) and the summer social calendar is filling up with weddings and celebrations, anniversary dos and garden parties, race meets and plenty more events for which you require “a special occasion wardrobe”.

Hmm, lots of places to go, absolutely nothing to wear, plus a bank balance that’s whispering: “Hey you, ease off a bit. I know you want to buy an amazing new wardrobe to see you through the summer looking totally fabulous, but check out these stats first (points meaningfully at online bank statement)”.

I have been pondering all of this and and I have made a plan of action. I need striking, one-off, well-made pieces that are not going to cost a fortune. And I have decided that the places to check out first are vintage shops and fairs, because these are where you can find high end quality and designer wear at less than high street prices.

As I write, I am preparing to set off for the Festival of Vintage at York Racecourse (a massive event with fashion and homewares, music and dancing demonstrations) which is on today and tomorrow (April 26 and 27). I am determined to be strong. I need a new special occasion (day) outfit, plus a top and maybe a jacket. And maybe a clutch bag. I do not need ornaments/lamps/glassware of any kind (house already stuffed), nor do I need unsuitable jumpers or long evening gowns, no matter how glorious (seriously, I have a wardrobe full of long dresses I have never worn, some with tags intact). As with any type of shopping, it’s best to have an idea of what you are looking for before you set off – although prepared to be seduced by that unexpected, simply amazing item. In my experience, this happens far more at vintage fairs and shops than anywhere else.

Hair by Katy Flanagan, modelled by Hannah Muirhead.

Hair by Katy Flanagan, modelled by Hannah Muirhead.

There’s hair too. Again, it’s worth taking a look at vintage fairs, which often have hair and beauty demonstrations as part of the retro mix, or just googling vintage styles to find out how to do a French pleat, or a roll, or a plaited updo, as here, or another great style I’ve seen recently on a shoot, where you twist all the hair round like a sausage in a roll to one side, pin it in and add flowers stuck in the fold (real or pretend). Realistically, someone needs to do it for you, but it’s not too hard. And for shorter hair, vintage clips and corsages make inexpensive but effective twists to your usual style.

Tuxedos by Bradford based Johnny Tuxedo.

Tuxedos by Ilkley-based Johnny Tuxedo.

Then there are the kids. And the proms. Thanks to our obsession with American culture, and teen movies in particular (although I do love Clueless – the original and best), the school prom is now a calendar fixture, which means expensive dresses and tuxedos. I have just bought my son a tuxedo suit from Johnny Tuxedo, an Ilkley-based company that specialises in making suiting for proms. One of Johnny Tuxedo’s sister companies is Norton & Townsend bespoke tailoring company, which was established in 1990 with shops in Yorkshire and London plus a nationwide visiting tailor service (www.nortonandtownsend.co.uk), while another other sister company designs and manufactures for high street retailers. The suit package with tux, tux trousers, dress shirt and bowtie cost £120 all in and arrived the next working day. You measure your reluctant boy first and select nearest measurements on the site. It’s arrived, it fits and he’s pretty damn pleased with it and enjoyed reading the style/pulling tips leaflet that accompanies it in the box.

Snapped at the recent Harvey Nichols spring/summer fashion show.

Snapped by me at the recent Harvey Nichols spring/summer fashion show – Gucci halterneck jumpsuit.

Finally, I accept that vintage fairs are not for everyone. And sometimes, well, you just want to feel a little bit fabulous in the most beautiful, bang on-trend meets classic outfit ever. Well, if you do feel like splashing out, I have one for you – what could be better than this Gucci pearly-silver, draped, halterneck all-in-one from Harvey Nichols Leeds. It’s long and luxurious and lovely and … £1,810. But hey, in 25 years time, you’ll be able to sell it at a vintage fair. Win-win.


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