Prize for best-dressed? Coming right up

So you’ve RSVP-ed yes, now it’s time to curate an outfit worthy of the occasion. But what exactly does a black tie dress code involve? And how to stay on the right side of the ever-vague ‘smart casual’?

When it comes to dressing for your summer events (whether you’ve got invites to Ascot, Wimbledon or weddings of every variety) pro events stylist and fashion writer Alice Hare is here to give the answers to all your dress code dilemmas.

From ‘what hat to wear to the races?’ (without looking like an exotic bird), to how to make your outfit *both* head-turning and black tie-appropriate, and accessorising up your investment dress to make it multi-task for sweltering city weddings, casual countryside services and full-on destination weekends (we’ve all been there), we’ve rounded up the answers to any formalwear styling challenge this year’s event season will throw at you.

Plus, get a breakdown of all the latest SS24 trends for events dressing, from 80s-worthy shoulder pads to elaborate gothic florals!

What’s in your calendar this summer? 

I have a christening (my first God child!), a couple of days at Royal Ascot, my sister’s 30th, and my best friend’s wedding.

How do your prep for events season?

As soon as I receive an invitation, the stylist in me immediately starts planning the outfit. The process of putting together my outfit gets me in the headspace for the event and it’s a ritual that brings me such joy.

Far from being frivolous or silly, our clothes are hugely powerful. Wearing something you feel confident in can dictate whether you enjoy the event you’re attending.   

As a stylist – what are your top tips for building a standout event look? 

Summer events provide the perfect opportunity to indulge your more dramatic side. Accessories are any easy way to do this – they can revamp a dress you’ve had for years or worn several times already.

I adore a boater-style or super wide-brimmed hat for summer events. The drama of the hat’s wide shape is unapologetically bold and lends a Spanish-inspired elegance to any look. In a sea of fascinators, you’ll stand out for all the right reasons. I have my eye on Accessorize’s Isabella hatinator.

Isabella hatinator (orange), £80

What always goes in your clutch? 

Aside from the obvious (mobile, purse, etc.), my clutch contains: blister plasters, heel stoppers (a life-saver on grass and gravel), and a vintage-style fan for hot days (both practical and chic). I have a black boater hat that will perfectly match Accessorize’s £6 bargain fan.

Plain fan, £6

Favourite trends you’re seeing for SS24? 

Ditsy florals were usurped on the Spring/Summer catwalks this year by a darker, quasi-Gothic take on roses. Simone Rocha, for example, had real roses layered into tulle skirts. If a trip to the florist just to get dressed seems extreme, Accessorize have a gloriously intricate clutch bag adorned with a beaded rose to tap into the trend.

Beaded rose clutch, £50

And your least favourite? 

Metallics (usually the sole reserve of party season) were big on the SS catwalks, but it’s not a trend I’ll be taking up for summer. I still have flashbacks to nearly melting at Ascot last year in a faux leather, Quality-Street-style metallic dress. Beautiful on the catwalk, less beautiful when you stick to your seat on the tube.

What’s this season’s investment piece? 

The Row’s ‘Margaux’ bag has been dubbed ‘the New Birkin’, but the £5k price tag is a slight disadvantage. Accessorize’s soft shoulder bag is a great dupe, and it’s just £38. Jennifer Lawrence, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Harry Styles have all been spotted carrying the original.  

Tips for styling up the same outfit for different events?

Add a belt, tie a silk scarf around your neck as a choker, add some statement tights or change your hat, shoes, bag or jewellery. Consider the dress or suit your blank canvas, and the accessories the paint to make it look different each time you wear it.

Favourite wedding guest accessories this season? 

A huge earring is so elegant poking out from under the brim of a wide-brimmed hat and paired with a sleek low bun. I prefer ‘80s-style statement stud to a chandelier – they lend a retro glamour that’s feels modern and cool.

At the moment I’m also loving gloves. Last summer I wore a pair black lace pair with a red dress, black boater and gobstopper-size, bauble-style black earrings to a wedding and felt like the Flamenco dancer emoji. 

Sequin fan earrings, £12

What makes a best-dressed guest? 

Someone who isn’t afraid to make a statement. I have four sisters, and one of them detests event dressing. I’m trying to help her see that wearing a hat or a statement dress isn’t an exclusive club! Enjoying fashion is a democracy.

Event dressing also isn’t exclusively for people who like attention. It’s about harnessing the transformative, mood-changing power and theatre of clothes.  

What’s your go-to pieces in your styling kit?

Dressing clients for summer events requires me as a stylist to think in a different way to shoots. If I’m dressing a presenter for Ascot for example, I’d have to think about something they can wear all day.

My key tools are grips for the soles of shoes (stick them to the bottom of shoes to prevent slipping), body tape to hold necklines in place, nude seamless underwear, and stain remover wipes for small make-up spillages.

However my top and most secret tip is to buy cheap shoulder pads from Amazon to sew into your dresses. My favourite designer is Alessandra Rich and all her dresses have shoulder pads. I’m not talking huge, costume-style ones, just something to give the sleeve a beautiful, subtle puff. It’s an easy way to add dimension and shape to even a cheap dress.

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