1 Zero Maria Cornejo Ellie Dress | $760 at Hampden after GRECHEN15 code (so amazing for a beach wedding!!!)
2 Apiece Apart merida fan dress | $310 at Steven Alan
3 Flynn Skye Dress | $167 at Shopbop
4 James Perse Ellipse hem caftan dress | $275 at James Perse
5 Kenzo Torn print dress | $450 after GRECHEN15 code at Hampden
6 Eileen Fisher layered silk dress | $378 at Nordstrom (This is more of a special occasion only dress, but it’s classic, and beautiful)
7 Karen Kane faux ruched wrap dress | $107 at Nordstrom
Ah. The panic that sets in when you get invited to a summer wedding or a “fancy” event. Of course you have nothing to wear, or do you?
You may remember last year that I struggled for quite a while trying to find a dress to wear to my husband’s best friends wedding on the beach. And the year before, I had to find a dress to wear to my niece’s wedding. For the beach wedding last year, I ended up buying and wearing this Acne Studios dress (mine is royal blue). I went with that one because I did not want to get something I would only wear once (I wear maxi dresses quite a bit in warmer weather), it is pretty, and special, and I fell in love.
Now, the irony is that I did only wear that dress once, to the wedding. It was beautiful, and appropriate for a wedding on the beach, but I haven’t found a reason to wear it since then. Hello! It’s bright blue! I mean…who am I kidding? I have not gotten rid of it yet, because it IS a nice special occasion dress, and I still love it; perhaps I will wear it to a fancy outside party this summer? or this weekend to a concert/festival we’re going to??
Anyway, a reader asked me recently to do a post on finding a dress for a friend’s wedding that’s not so special you can only wear it to a wedding. And I’m happy to try and oblige. keeping in mind of course, that I did not achieve that with my own “friend’s wedding dress” last year…so please, take my advice with the grain of salt that it is!
I’m also not an expert at telling people how to dress. Or on appropriate wedding/event attire; I tend to try and work first, with what I have, and then, my general concern is that I am relatively appropriately dressed, and still feel like me. I wore an old chevron black & white striped Ella Moss maxi dress to my niece’s wedding. I felt good in it – like me – and I didn’t have to buy anything new. My dress was appropriate, if a teeny bit more casual than most of the other attendee’s dresses. I’m sure no one even noticed what I was wearing; my family was just so happy we were all together. Which is how it SHOULD be, although you don’t have to tell me, it isn’t always that way.
So when choosing a dress, keep in mind the person whose event you’re attending. Is she bridezilla? Will she want everything to be perfectly formal and pretty for her event? Or is she casual and not at all concerned about wedding guest attire?
I’ve heard the time of day of the wedding/event is important also, in terms of what you’re to wear, but I don’t know the rules. And I’m not sure you’re not “allowed” to wear white to a wedding either, I may have read that’s not as frowned upon as it once was. Or black even…black isn’t just for funerals anymore.
If I were going to make suggestions for finding a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding you can wear again, in real life, I’d say:
- Stick with a silhouette you love and you know looks good on you. And that’s appropriate for the occasion. In my case, I like both body conscious (James Perse ruched dresses) and maxi dresses and I know I get a lot of wear out of either style. For a wedding, I’m not sure body-con is as appropriate as a maxi dress, so I went with a maxi dress. Perhaps you can cover up your fitted dress with a cardigan for the actual ceremony though, and let loose a bit during the reception. I’d do that…
- Maxi dresses are always a good bet, I think, because no matter if they’re casual or not, they’re seen generally as more “fancy” options. Even very casual versions can look more dressy depending on the shoe or jewelry you wear with it. In theory, my Acne Studios dress could be very casual if I wear it with my Birkenstock sandals, but also dressed up with high wedges and a long silver necklace.
- Look for something you can wear for different occasions depending on the shoe/jewelry you pair with it. Almost everything can be dressed up or down in my opinion, with a different shoe, but in this case, I would err on the side of a little more dressy that you can dress DOWN with flat sandals or whatever, as opposed to more casual and try to dress it UP with shoes.
- Stick with brands you love and you know work for lots of different occasions; Theory is a good option for basic, well-fitting dresses that are also work-appropriate if you have business casual job.
That said, I do think there’s value in having one or two dresses that ARE just for special occasions. Maybe you wear them once or twice a year, and that’s enough. Be aware, though, if you’re tempted to buy and keep too many special dresses if in truth you might only have a special occasion once a year or so – THAT is a problem. I’m happy keeping my BRIGHT blue Acne Studios dress around just in case. It’s so beautiful I get a thrill just when I look at it in my closet, no matter that I don’t feel the need to wear it.
But if you’re going to spend a significant amount of money on a “special” dress to have for events, and you want to be able to wear it for several years, look for quality materials and construction, and for a relatively classic style you’d feel comfortable wearing for quite some time. And when you find that dress (NOT the perfect one, because there’s no such thing!), buy it and be finished. Know that you DO have something to wear for special occasions and you don’t have to panic or run out and buy something.
If I were going to a wedding this summer and needed to buy something, I’d go for this James Perse dress. Actually, I am going to get this to wear to my step-son’s bar mitzvah at the end of the summer. I tried it on recently and was really pleased with how it fit (I sized down one size to a size 1) and how nice it looked. Simple, but rather elegant and casual at the same time. Easy to wear to almost anything…
Also from James Perse, I think this a-line knee-length tank dress would be beautiful for a beach wedding, or even a regular summer wedding paired with some slinky sandals. Afterwards, wear it to brunch, or if you work in a creative field, pop a long cardigan over it and wear it to work.
More of my favorite any occasion, special occasion dresses:
Do you have any other suggestions? What would you wear to a friend’s wedding this summer?