How to pull off the Absolute Right Outfit for a wedding
For all the celebrated loveliness of a wedding, getting dressed for the occasion can be anything but. Suzie Coen explains how pulling off the Absolute Right Outfit takes crystal sharp focus and excellent shopping supervision.
Wedding season has taken on a whole new form this year, with lavish functions of hundreds of people swapped for more intimate affairs, but there’s one question that remains unwavering: What are you going to wear?
These days, dress codes are a mystery to all of us. Few weddings are actually black tie now, but just how smart is smart casual? Throw in a pandemic and a limited guest list (one that is subject to change) and then things get even more confusing.
The way things stand right now, the dress code is WIOFY: Work It Out For Yourself.
I think the unspoken rule of dressing for weddings is: make an effort, but don’t look weddingy – as in, trussed up in a starchy number that’s clearly only good for one thing. You don’t want to buy a dress from ASOS that three other guests will be wearing, but equally, you don’t want to go too formal and end up looking like one of the bridesmaids, or the mother of the bride. But even then, you might want to go the less-effort side, because the people holding it are quite cool and you don’t want to look like a weather girl or, God forbid, someone who has gone out to buy something new when you should really be borrowing/ buying second-hand/renting.
If this outfit conundrum leaves you intimidated rather than excited, then you’re not alone. I find smart casual (particularly at family weddings) agonising. I’m useless at “nice” clothes – meaning pieces that don’t whiff of modern fashion with outsized silhouettes, interesting hemlines, unusual fabrics and cuts.
When I need a fresh eye for a tricky job, I enlist the skills of my style truthsayer sister. She is invaluable in many ways. She knows my body shape intimately – she’s spent more time crushed up against it (when I make her share the Zara changing cubicle) than she would like. She’s up to speed with my ever-expanding list of aversions – no shorts, no skirts, no dresses, no cleavage, no V-necks, no florals, no pastels, no spindly heels… you name it. She crucially gets that every single outfit has to say something about me whilst simultaneously supporting and mocking me about my wardrobe, littered as it is with affections and whims. She does all this whilst controlling the urge to roll her eyes. Mostly…
We have rules, though, on our shopping trips. We can’t spend all day at it (a drinky lunch smooths the angst) and we have to be honest. Brisk and brutal judgements and pronouncements are made – “No, it’s horrendous, it’s actually hurting my eyes.” And “Take it off, it’s desperate looking.”
Also “Hold in your tummy there ’til we see how it’s meant to look. Oh, you are? Riiiight…” And “That’s lovely on you as it is and if you plan on getting thinner, it’ll look even better.” Startled shop assistants ask nervously, “Are you friends?” and we reassure them with a laugh, “Christ no, we’re sisters! We wouldn’t speak to our friends like this.”
Our shopping diktats are not about body flattery or event suitability as much as channelling a vibe. And we use a shorthand code to rein a look in – when it’s gone too Sister Wives (prim modesty); Country Communion (super vamp); Serious Sculptor (severely plain) or Family Day At Rehab (sensible, vanilla nothingness).
The process isn’t for everyone, but it produces results – unearthing great gems and encouraging experimentation. My style truthsayer was particularly excellent at helping to hunt down an outfit for the most recent family wedding. I’m one of those “I don’t want to look sexy in an obvious hoisted-up way – that would scare me – but I definitely want to be sexy” types.
This sexy has to be rooted in authenticity and comfort and it also has to have a wow factor. We found it in a sleekly tailored, wide-legged, minimalist jumpsuit that oozed understated, modern chic. In black, of course. I was confident I wouldn’t meet my jumpsuit on anyone else at this wedding. I mean, I was quite safe…
I was thrilled with it. I loved it. My boyfriend did not. Him on beholding it (and me, in it) for the first time: “Is that for the wedding?” A deceptively mild response I could, nonetheless, immediately translate as: “I really hope you’re not serious.”
“Look it,” I said, “imagine it with platform sandals. And statement jewellery. Factor in salon-blown hair and pro make-up.”
“Right,” he said doubtfully, “and then it will look… much… different?”
“It will,” I said coldly. “It will.”
“Grand so,” he said happily. Instead of killing him, I gave him a lecture on the importance of respecting the fashion choices of others in general and me in particular and then left him in quiet contemplation of What He Had Done.
The jumpsuit made it to the wedding because for me, the best outfits have a sense of ease to them. When you look comfortable but put together at the same time, that is the holy grail of stylish dressing. By the way, you do feel great in a trouser ensemble. I don’t want to say empowered, which may be the word you were expecting, but sexy and swaggery. An elegant jumpsuit at a wedding is the sartorial equivalent of a cool drink of water when everyone else is a bit flustered. It’s subtly subversive and perfect for dancing.
Certainly, attitude is everything, which is worth remembering with a jumpsuit, when you realise you have to strip to your bra every time you have to go to the loo. Good luck with that.
Photography by Jason Lloyd Evans.
This article originally appeared in the autumn issue of IMAGE Magazine.