We answer your most frequently asked questions to help ensure gala dressing success. Let the ball season begin!
Q: Can I wear a shorter style dress to a black-tie dinner?
Yes. You can. BUT only if it reads ‘cocktail’ or ‘black tie’ on the invitation. If it says ‘formal’, this means to the ground, no exceptions. That said, New Zealanders are not excellent at interpreting dress-codes and can often come off looking too casual - especially for weddings. As a show of support and respect for the event you are attending, it’s better to be over than underdressed – especially for evening.
This dress below by Trelise Cooper would be stunning for a glamourous cocktail event or black tie dinner. For a black tie dinner, we could suggest a darker black pantyhose to make it look more formal.
Watch the video of this style here.
Similarly this Paula Ryan dress would also be suitable for a black tie event when paired with an evening bag and graphic statement earrings. Sometimes the secret to an outfit is the accessories that you style it with for transforming it into an evening look.
Above: FOUR CORNERS Statement Earrings, $99.
Q: My husband refuses to buy a new dinner suit even though he has had his current one for over 15 years. How can I ensure he looks sharp without him catching on?
A: Sister, you are not alone! This is a common complaint in many households - mine included. So many men think that the one tuxedo is enough to serve them a lifetime. Suggest buying him a new bow-tie (that you hand tie – and practice beforehand) plus an updated cummerbund. A fresh new dinner shirt can never go amiss either.
I would also inspect his evening shoes – well before the deadline day. Men are generally harder on shoes than women and hold onto them for longer. And yes - you may need to explain that his current work shoes, with a bit of polish, will not suffice!
While we will spend weeks thinking about outfit considerations for a ball, you other-half will likely leave it until 15 minutes before departure. Try to mitigate a pre-ball argument by introducing this subject at least two weeks in advance.
Or by doing some pre-event investigations into the state-of-the-nation yourself.
Q: I am loathed to buy a new dress every year – how can I recycle an older style without it being obvious.
An all-black or darker coloured dress can be made new again with a simple change-out in accessories. Statement earrings are getting bigger and bolder (but the key to these is lightness). Heavy earrings just ruin your lobes and your night.
As a rule, people only ever remember what they wore to a ball the previous year, not what you did – so you can make an old style new again with a new pair of earrings, or a statement necklace and a clutch.
Above: FOUR CORNERS Paris Earrings, $99. Below: London Earrings, $99.
PLUS: Watch our video here on how to transform an outfit with a statement neckpiece
Q: I have to attend a lot of gala evenings each year, how can I create a new look without having to buy a new gown every time?
If you attend a lot of events, the secret to happiness is approaching this as investing in a series of separates that you can mix and match, rather than a show-stopping once-wear gown every time. A floor-length pleated or satin straight skirt can be then be paired with a series of sparkling or mesh/lace tops – that can also be worn later with pants or jeans to parties down the track.
We love the Trelise Cooper Ms Sparkle top (below), $429, designed for this very purpose.
Q: Any faux-pas that I need to be aware of when choosing my outfit?
Revealing an excessive amount of skin! For the past five years, Hollywood stars have been locked in a game of who-can-show-the-most-skin, the lowest cleavage or the biggest buttocks on the red carpet a succession of barely-there outfits – coming off more like adult-industry film convention.
Above: Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner hit the red carpet in their birthday suits.
Q: What is a fail-proof gala evening makeup look.
This totally depends on how much alcohol you are planning to drink. Red velvet lips look incredible with an all-black outfit but demand an element of control in re-application (not helped by adding litres of wine to your judgement!). If you can't be trusted with the free-flow, then air on the side of caution.
Beware of overly heavy smoky eyes, especially as we get older. What can start out looking magnificent can have you appearing tired and dusty by the end of the night. As a rule, a lightly smoked eye and false eyelashes can never go amiss with a neutral lipstick colour to help you looking princess like through the night.
Avoid too much makeup at the hand of the overly-exuberant make-up artist (especially prevalent on make-up counters). If ever in doubt, go easy on the foundation and beware of layering up too much powder. Better go lightly and add more later.
Above: As stunning as it looks here, very few women can rock a smoky eye and a red lip together.
Below: Kendall Jenner wears a fail-proof gala evening makeup look.
Q: Hair up or down? What are the trends in evening hair?
Hair down if you are thinking straight and simple. Beautiful big curls/bangs will look fantastic for about an hour, but after that will start to drop. As a rule, hair up will have you looking better for longer – even after disco-dancing through the night.
Q: Do I really need to wear an evening coat – just to wear from the car to the coat-check?
Yes. You do. Every woman needs at least one evening coat. Luckily these don’t date and you can pull it out year after year. Rabbit fur always looks divine in an evening coat or a faux fur option if you prefer.
Q: I don't like my arms. Any tips on how I can manage them and still feel feminine?
Yes. Say it with mesh. A mesh sleeve can add a hint of sexiness but still leave you feeling a little covered. It can also provide a layer of warmth on a freezing night. Watch our video here on how to transform this PAULA RYAN mesh bodice swimsuit into a glittering evening outfit!
Written by Bridget Hope, Wardrobe Director