One of my absolute favourite things about summer is the potential for occasionwear to make an appearance; I don’t go to a lot of occasions, whatever occasions actually are, but this is the season that I’m most likely to have weddings, Christenings or other events that require the kind of ‘dressing up’ that isn’t an LBD to happen.
There’s something so wonderful about being with your friends and family when everyone’s looking lovely and doing something special. It makes me feel all giddy and excited and unfortunately prone to knocking back the pimms or aperol spritz with a special kind of vigour that can lead to embarrassment as the day wears on, so I like to at least start the proceedings looking passable.
I know not everyone feels comfortable in occasionwear, but I really do, and what I would say if you don’t is; it’s about finding styles that make you feel like you, but especially great. For me this is midis, jumpsuits and dresses with a bit of stomach room, so particularly extra versions of those are what I go for in occasionwear.
With that in mind, here’s a little lookbook of some of my favourite styles for summer occasions that call for special, formal or dressed up attire. Not all of the items are brand new, but their shapes, colours or styles crop up year after year, so I hope that if you are the kind of person who dreads finding an occasionwear outfit, this might be interesting. And hey, if you hate them all, at least you’ll know what you’re absolutely not looking for.
Look one: The big one
Nothing says occasionwear to me quite like a prom shape dress, and since I showed up to my high school prom looking like an oil slick (no really, my dress was a really strange metallic two tone), I’ve been repenting over the last couple of years with some versions of this classic fairytale shape which are less sartorially challenged. The full skirt is perfect for swishing and twirling and the cut makes me stand tall and feel fantastic. Possibly my favourite dress of all time, this half-mint half-sage green off-the-shoulder number is from H&M, who, hint, bring out something similar every year, and Monsoon often have something along these lines for wedding guest season too. Shiny accessories (in this case, £3 gold Primark heels, an ombre rose gold glitter clutch, and pretty rose gold ear crawlers) complete a grown up version of the princess ensemble – allegedly the bag looks like I’m holding a rock, but it’s the prettiest damn rock in the land.
Look two: The one with legs
If you’re not sure a dress is quite your occasionwear jam, turn to a jumpsuit. For a wedding or occasion I love the drama and elegance of wide legs and this one from Miss Selfridge ticked all my other favourite boxes; fitted top half, bright, and comfortable enough to neck wine like there’s no tomorrow in. I don’t usually opt for black or darks for a summer occasion – just a personal preference – but choosing a floral pattern which includes hints of black means you can go for black accessories (which is useful, because everyone has black accessories) without them jarring.
Look three: The multi-use one
There comes a certain time in your life where weddings start to get rather common, and your bank account starts to cry as you empty it for new shoes and train tickets and hotel stays and whatever random item is left on the John Lewis gift list because you left it too late. At times like this its important to remember that you don’t need to spend loads on a one off wedding outfit – just go for something cute in a summery shade that has multiple uses. This yellow number was £15 in the Zara sale (recently) and will be wearable day to day with some sandals, on holiday with flip flops – I reckon I could even go for this in the office with a white blazer and some loafers. Ideally I would have paired this with really fabulous accessories, but I wasn’t going to buy some just to shoot and we can’t always afford to buy some just for an occasion, so I kept it simple with ones I already had.
Dress – Zara | Shoes – Primark | Clutch – New Look | Earrings – C/O Pilgrim
Look four: The one I fell in love with this year
I’m trying to allow myself one ‘special’ new dress a year that can be trotted out each summer in years to come; pieces I love that are unashamedly ‘dressy’ and perfect for weddings, occasions and the like but not necessarily day to day life. This year I wanted to go for something a bit whimsical in a shape I wouldn’t usually go for, and this is what I chose. This is the dress I wore for the Royal Norfolk Show when I went along with Intu Chapelfield (and, in fact, to a wedding a few days before as well with an uncharacteristically quick turnaround wash in between). Full disclosure: it was purchased with a gift card that they gave me to buy an outfit for the occasion, but it is where I’d head to shop for this kind of thing anyway – the other two dresses and the jumpsuit were also bought there! I added bright earrings, nude shoes, the rock bag and too much highlighter because it was too early for me to see how heavy-handed I was being.
Dress – Zara (C/O Intu Chapelfield) | Shoes – Primark | Clutch – New Look | Earrings – H&M
Got a favourite? Let me know in the comments! Over and out x
Items marked C/O have been gifted to me; the dress in look four was purchased with a gift card given to me by Intu Chapelfield as I was attending the Royal Norfolk Show with them. All thoughts, imagery, styling and love of dressing up are, as ever, my own.
Photography: Robert Poor