Formal wear frazzle

Today I went shopping for a formal gown to wear to an upcoming black-tie charity event. Formal wear is a tricky area for women over 50. How to look fab and not frumpy? Why are so many gowns such a nightmare (think “Mother of the bride”)? Heavy polyester fabrics that leave you scared to get too close to an open flame. Dresses bedazzled with sequins and rhinestones on the theory if a little is good then a lot must be better! Matronly jackets over shapeless tent dresses. Catastrophic colours like dusty rose or mint green.


At the other end of the spectrum are little strapless numbers that are just perfect for girls headed to their grad proms. Young women can pull off a broader range of figure-hugging styles in bold jewel tones, shocking pink, fluorescent green or brilliant blue. They can also handle considerably more sequins and rhinestones than older women. Good for them, not so good for us.

It can be difficult, as a mature woman, to find a style that is chic and elegant. Fortunately I was able to find a lovely black gown that features a soft chiffon skirt and sassy black and white bodice and matching bolero jacket. Silver threads are woven into the jacket and bodice giving a little sparkle without being tacky. This style gives me room to add some bling – either glittering chandelier style earrings and a chunky cuff, or a statement necklace and cocktail ring (not both). The key to elegance here is to select accessories in proportion to the gown that add to the outfit, but not overwhelm. It’s important to ensure you don’t look like you’re wearing the entire contents of your jewelry box!

I added some delicate sparkly silver sandals that balance the bodice and bolero jacket. Simple elegance.

Here’s a summary of my tips for formal evenings:

  • See your hairstylist for an updo – it adds elegance to any outfit
  • Choose jewelry and accessories carefully – they should accent not overwhelm
  • Wear shapewear to smooth your silhouette – many gowns cling to the body
  • Wear full hosiery (not knee hi’s) under a long gown. Some women forget about slits in the side or back!
  • Get a manicure. Your hands are on display at dinner events.
  • Choose a delicate clutch that complements your dress and jewelry. Proportion and balance are the keys.
  • When you have finished dressing, review your look in a full length mirror. Consider whether you need to modify your accessories or jewelry. Keep “elegance” in mind.

What are your best tips for formal events? I’d love to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “Formal wear frazzle

  1. It always amazes me how many women must not check their look in a full length mirror!
    You’ve done a great job describing your gown…now I want to see it! Where are the pics?! 🙂

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