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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'Beef or salmon?' Just so long we're not mutton dressed as lamb

What to wear, what to wear? And must there be a hat?  It can only be those two words that are loaded with foreboding for the stylistically challenged mid-lifer   – Wedding Invite.
Is it okay to wear black? Is it pushing your luck to wear white? Or should you go in the new Nude – that fleshy/blush shade which, confusingly, has been designated ‘the new black’ by the fashion police over the past year? (Although such pressing dilemmas give Looking Our Best another opportunity to select images of the most stylish guests at April's royal wedding for illustration).

Karen Gordon, (pictured above) , the third Mrs Earl Spencer, does the whole 'blush' colour with understated elegance, while  'nude' shoes were also in evidence on the day, as worn by Charlene Wittstock (below) with a pale blue coat and matching hat. 

At this stage, those of us of the Boomer generation should have the whole special occasion dressing thing down to a (G and) T. But each time the pleasure of LOB’s company is requested at some important do or other, the first instinct, unfortunately, is to rush out and buy Something New. And just what is left out there for the mature, fiscally challenged woman in this summer of 2011 with its attendant fashion horrors of jump suits, girly little prom dresses,  and - surely someone’s having a laugh -  saggy harem pants?
If there's time to buy online, labels with a highly individual style such as Anthropologie (  have come up with their own summer wedding guest looks, one of which, 'Rustic Church',  is shown at the top of this post  in their 'sea nettle' print shift dress, matching wrap, slender  hoop earrings and nude toned court shoes. Very simple, very elegant, whatever your age.
There is always the alternative of Something Borrowed – a Something one friend in need resorted to when faced with an unexpected nuptials invitation. Things had already got off to a bad start on the big day in question, as the edgy location led to a row between herself and her husband who was concerned about his company car – a concern which may have been justified when they arrived outside the church and a bunch of ten year olds circled his new Beamer with the re-assurance: ‘Howya Mister, we’ll mind yer car for  ye.’ That wasn’t the only friction - the wedding suit the friend borrowed comprised culottes (well, it was a little while ago) which were two sizes too small and a challenge to wear without grimacing. 
In these times when it’s not only the nation’s credit rating which is relegated to junk status, but the contents of most of LOB’s wardrobe, another friend – ultra stylish but cash-strapped M - has come up with a solution in the Something Old category. As she sensibly says regarding wedding attire,  most of us grown-ups have at least a couple of favourite dresses languishing in the wardrobe, while the problem of their being worn previously, but now somewhat dated, is solved by a service provided by most of the major chain stores. Ta-dah! Enter the Personal Shopper!  The exclamation marks are the friend’s, because here, LOB must hold up her hand to say she has been less than enthusiastic about the whole assisted, up close and personal shopping thing in the past, feeling it’s just a ploy to shift stock to the sartorially bewildered. Over to M, to convince otherwise...
“ I had a wedding invite but didn't have the money to splash out on something new and exclusive. I could afford something new if it fitted within my limited budget  but the downside of that is  that there could be someone else in the same outfit if I bought it off the rails.
Also I had tried on a number of dresses in the middle-aged section of a number of department stores and they made me look very matronly whereas the dresses I had already made me look comparatively okay.”
She decided to bring two dresses she liked in her wardrobe along to a personal shopper in Debenhams and see if they could be updated– M’s  thinking being that if she wore a sufficiently old dress, no one else would be in it, so to speak.
“The personal shopper understood the limitations of my budget but also reassured that either dress would look fine; one was vintage and wouldn't date,  and the other - despite being over ten years old – still looked  current. She suggested that with new shoes, and a little bolero top and a hat - which she rushed off and found in the shop - one would be instantly ready to wear; and that the other just needed a really elegant chiffon wrap, a fascinator and high fashion shoes. I was impressed that she really listened to what I wanted, came up with stylish ideas – but  without coming on with any hard sell . It was also a nicer experience to look at everything in the privacy of a really spacious dressing room. ”
LOB spoke to Mairead Fullam, one of the personal shopping  team at Debenhams, Henry Street, who creates capsule wardrobes, but also assures that customers are welcome to bring in existing items in their wardrobes to be styled up with accessories.  Not surprisingly, how to find a flattering but fashionable look to wear to a wedding presents a challenge for customers of all ages, and especially “the 40 plus woman”.
What is the biggest issue among mid-lifers who want to look elegant?

“Most women are concerned about their arms. Revealing dresses with thin, spaghetti straps, or with very deeply cut armholes,  can be difficult to carry off, so I would suggest wearing a little see through bolero as a stylish cover-up for upper arms. ”  A trend, very much in evidence at April’s royal wedding, is for matching coats worn over dresses.

Carole Middleton, in Something Blue, helped dispel the inverted commas of the oft derided  'mother of the bride' fashion cliche in her updated dress and coat look on the day. There's no doubt a matching coat  solves the problem of over exposure to the elements – and to the more conservative church-goer. Grown up guests who want to stand out – but in a good way – should  avoid very big patterns, says Mairead.  “Something very bold may be too flashy in photographs – and can even look dated. White is strictly for the bride in my book, although you can get away with cream and contrasting accessories. The nude shade actually looks good on almost everyone and is surprisingly flattering. Overall, I feel weddings are not as stuffily formal these days. Having a dress and accessories all strictly matching is no longer an unwritten rule. It can even be ageing. “

Shown here is a sequin tunic dress from the Betty Jackson range at Debenhams (€89).  Another potential wedding option for those who prefer longer hemlines is Jasper Conran's midi length wave pattern dress from the J Collection (€113).

 The personal shopping service is available at select branches of Debenhams, seven days a week. A free one hour consultation can be booked online.  So there it is – LOB takes her hat off to the personal shopper (although can you guess what the next post will be about???)

(Royal Wedding pics, all Getty Images) 

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