Two words strike terror into the heart of any sane woman: event dressing. Sorry, three words: summer event dressing.
Or maybe they don’t strike terror into your heart. Maybe you are one of those people who gets excited about all their invitations to weddings, Ascot or Henley. Perhaps you start painting your toenails coral in March, pre-order giant hats in April and colour-code your dresses, wedge heels and matching clutch bags around the May bank holiday. No? Me neither.
My usual plan of action when it comes to any forthcoming summer event is to slide directly into denial. Mostly because I don’t like large crowds and can’t bear standing about – honestly, I’d make a terrible police horse.
So I just sort of pretend it’s not happening. I might think about what I’m going to wear for about 35 seconds on the school run, mentally pick out any old dress I think will
do, add some shoes, assume it will be all right weather, and then go back to thinking about something else.
But then the day of the event rolls around and the weather is totally unsuitable for the thing I had in mind, or it no longer fits, or it was put away after its last outing with a stain on the front that I didn’t notice at the time. (Or couldn’t be bothered to sort out.)
And because I didn’t take the time to try on the whole outfit, it turns out that the dress doesn’t go with the shoes I had in mind. Then, my friend, it’s just blind panic. Everything else I own suddenly looks sad, drab, past it, too formal or not formal enough. I curse myself a million times over for not ringing everyone I know the previous week to check what they are wearing and make sure I have got something suitable.
Crying, in my bra and pants with my hair damp and drying into a weird shape, I take a wet flannel to the original dress and scrub at the stain,
then hairdry the resulting patch. Then I add a brooch to the leftover mess to cover it up, which leaves me looking like I run my local branch of the WI.
I wear my second-best shoes and just cross my fingers that no one really looks at your shoes. If there is a frightening or hard-to-navigate surface at the event, (cobbles, mud, soft grass… the possible calamities are endless!), then I will just have to take them off.
By now I am gibbering, talking in tongues and in need of a drink, even though it is only 11am. I feel like I need to take a bag with a change of clothes in it, just in case.
I say this is my usual plan of action, but really it’s my old plan of action. Because after several summers of this nonsense I realised that the thing to do is sit down with a clear head and half an hour spare, a fortnight before the event, and order two or three outfits to suit both the weather and likely ground conditions. Or maybe five outfits! It
doesn’t matter how many and let me tell you why: because I wear one on the day and send the rest back.
I spend so much money on that order I almost certainly qualify for free shipping, so the only downside of this entire venture is sending back the clothes that I won’t wear. But this will be small change compared with the utter luxury of being able to approach my summer event with cackling glee at the idea that I have such a range of outfits from which to choose.
The other thing that helps is that anything goes at weddings these days. Ever since Kate Moss wore a pair of shorts and a trilby to a wedding, we’ve realised it doesn’t need to be a shimmering pastel-coloured two-piece suit and a matching fascinator – you can, really, wear whatever you want. Even – if you find yourself facing down a chilly day – a skirt and a sweater like I’m wearing in this photo. Just make sure they’re clean.