5 Oct 2016

Style Notes: The Special Occasion

Style Notes: The Special Occasion on vickiarcher.com

The special occasion is one of the hardest to dress for.

What to wear?

As much as I love a special occasion, the what-to-wear is the bit that sends me into a panic.

Knowing what to wear is one element but shopping for it is where the trouble starts.

Occasion dressing is so much harder than every day dressing.

A special event requires planning and there is very rarely anything in the wardrobe that is suitable. If there is the vague possibility of an outfit coming together my experience tells me I either don’t like it, it doesn’t fit or I don’t feel good enough in it.

The problem is twofold.

Most of us don’t dress for enough special occasions and that means we don’t willingly invest in special occasion wear. See the problem? Don’t need it; don’t buy it. Need it; don’t own it.

My signature style tends to stop at day wear and a dressy dinner, so when it comes to formal wear or out of the norm celebrations my wardrobe is a little lost. This is where I have been going about it all wrong.

Style Notes: The Special Occasion on vickiarcher.com


The way to solve the special occasion dilemma is to dedicate a small part of the wardrobe.

Time spent understanding what dressing for a special occasion requires and what suits us is truly time saved. Leaving this kind of investment to the last minute is never successful and searching days and even hours before an event usually turns into a disaster. I never find what I like, let alone what suits and I end up wearing an outfit that doesn’t really make me happy or make me feel I have made the right amount of effort.

So many occasions have turned that way for me.

Instead of feeling fabulous (because I didn’t spend the time) I have made do. I don’t want to do that anymore. Generally special occasion dressing is just that; the moment is one to remember, one to cherish and therefore worth dressing accordingly. If nothing else, think of the photos.

Style Notes: The Special Occasion on vickiarcher.com

What’s the solution to special occasion dressing?

Leave behind the idea that a “special occasion” is not worth the cost.

This mind-set is the death knell for creating a wardrobe of special pieces that can take you where you need to go regardless of how dressy. Dressier pieces will cost more but if wisely bought they will last and not only save the day but also save money on a cost-per-wear basis.

Special occasions are worth the investment of both time and money.

Do not buy for a specific event; buy when you find the right outfit.

It is easy to ignore the formal section or the seriously grown up dinner dresses and tuxedo suits when shopping, for all those reasons we share. I can hear them in my head now as I write, ” I don’t need this”, “I will never wear this again” or “I will look when I have somewhere to wear such a beautiful gown”.

This kind of logic has done me a disservice and I still regret today not finding something fabulous for my daughter’s birthday party last year. I planned the party, forgot about the dress. The excuses came thick and fast but actually I was disappointed not to have found the right gown and if I am still thinking about it a year later then there is the proof.

If I had bothered to spend the time when I had the time I would have not had to wear a dress I wasn’t so thrilled with.

Whenever possible, don’t leave special occasion buying until the last minute.

Style Notes: The Special Occasion on vickiarcher.comStyle Notes: The Special Occasion on vickiarcher.com
































Know your signature style.

A special occasion does not mean we dress in a way that is entirely unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

I think this kind of dress-up is a more elaborate, thought out version of us. A time when we can throw a little caution and make extra effort. I don’t think the mother of the bride has to wear what she doesn’t like and I think she can be true to herself. A black tie event or formal gala has many solutions.

The element in common is the knowledge of how we want to look. If classic and elegant is your mantra, then that’s the point to start. A bohemian and colourful style means just that.

Don’t be frightened of the special occasion.

Sometimes the thought can send us into a spiral of indecision. That’s the worst place to start. It is more helpful to view special occasion dressing as a challenge, an exciting one. Accept the wardrobe needs these pieces and keep an eye out for what might work.

Style Notes: The Special Occasion on vickiarcher.com

What’s in the wardrobe?

There is one piece I believe essential to the special occasion and can go a long way to solving the what-to-wear drama.

I find the dress, in varying lengths, is the easiest piece to wear and to work for a special event. The length can change the story remarkably.

Knee length or above works for the less formal special occasion but is difficult to pass for many black tie events; the mid calf dress can 9 times out of 10 get you through. The mid-calf can also double as a more formal dinner dress.

A long evening gown is worn less but the right one can go everywhere and for years to come. A classic shape, with or without sleeves makes it through most seasons with the addition of a short jacket or shawl. The dress can be accessorised to make it feel different for each wear.

My answer to this question of what-to-wear for other than everyday is to wear a dress. I have learned that the dress is really one to love, the dress won’t let us down and the dress will fit in. It’s the one to wear when in doubt.

Don’t wait; there will always be a special occasion, xv.

Style Notes: The Special Occasion on vickiarcher.com

Style Notes: The Special Occasion


max mara  savina   //  rebecca taylor   //  roksanda  varga  //  roksanda margo  //  valentino lace


osman edith   //  raey pocket  //  rebecca taylor dropped waist  //  jill sander bocciolo

trail blazer

max mara albina rouge // max mara albina navy  // max mara caden  //  ellie saab georgette  //  max mara leo

images of suzy parker by richard avedon

thank you matchesfashion.com for the inspiration and for the constantly superb curation

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In This Post:



Taste of France

I think a Carolina Herrera look, with a crisp white shirt and a full (long) skirt, can be repurposed and reworn through the years.
Some years ago, I bought a fabulous long (ankle-length) sheath dress in amethyst from Eli Tahari. Long slit, high neckline, low back with trios of crisscross straps. Very stunning. A little tight 20 years on, but still in style. It got a lot of use.

david terry

Hey Vicki……

For great fun, read Muriel Spark’s short novel “The Girls of Slender Means” (it’s one of my favorites among her novels). It’s set in just-post-WWII London, and it concerns a group of women in-their-twenties, all trying to make their own way (in a world that suddenly doesn’t offer much in the way of eligible young men) on the grubby fringes of post-war London. Perhaps I should emphasize that, like all of Spark’s novels, it’s essentially comic….in short, very funny, in a predictably grim sort of way.

All the young women in this group live in the same “shabby genteel” boarding house (originally founded in the Victorian era for “Young Ladies of Slender Means”).

One of the novel’s funniest aspects is the dilemma each of the girls faces when that very-very-rare “Special occasion” occurs. This being immediately-post-war London????……even if you DID have the money, well…..there’s nothing for sale.

Fortunately, one of the girls’ aunt has died. Among a few other things, the girl inherited her aunt’s very luxurious, pre-war Schiaperelli dress. As you might guess, all of the young girls are continuously borrowing that same dress from each other for five or so years…..regularly trimming it up or down or in or out.

By the end of the novel, one of the girls even goes frantically crawling through a window and back into a raging housefire to retrieve the Schiaparelli dress……without, apparently, the slightest care for what may or may not happen to the other inhabitants in the house or, for that matter, ANYTHING BUT THE DRESS.

It’s all very amusing and, I suppose, a case in point as to the supreme-significance of having just the right dress for that Special Occasion.

amusedly as ever,

David Terry


I shall search this one out… sounds like a very fun read.. and right on the mark with this :)

Mary-Jill Bellhouse

(Reposting this as I pressed something and it disappeared – so apologies if I’ve sent this twice.)Thanks David! Always great to hear recommendations. I have ordered it from my local library (Canberra, Australia). Another good read in perhaps a similar vein is ‘The Women in Black’ by Madeleine St John (an Australian writer) – about women working in a large department store in Sydney in the 50’s, just after the War … it is thought to be based on DJ’s, Vicki). Best regards, Mary-Jill


This is the best source for good book “reads.” It seems to me that there are fewer and fewer occasions for special dressing. Most of the times, the looks are just plain careless and sloppy.


I hate myself in skirts, dresses. What if I prefer a tuxedo style of dressing. If formal add real pearls.
We may take a formal cruise next year so I have this as a dilemma. I don’t mind wearing the same formal outfit for every formal night, and then just dress up (generally with pants) for the other evenings. Can I get away with this?


I think the tuxedo can go many places… I would check they don’t have a literal “dress” code on the boat..
I love the Tux worn in so many ways… I have even added a bow tie on occasion, when the pearls aren’t enough.. or both at the same time.. :)


Men are so lucky. They can wear the same smart business suit or black tie outfit for years (or hire white tie) with just a change of tie and shirt. My husband sometimes varied this with his kilt, in the dress tartan of his clan (he wore it for our wedding – a gift from the best man). One of my oldest friends decided years ago to take a leaf out of our men’s book and bought a real YSL smoking. She wore it to special occasions for years. Sometimes with a real blood red rose on the lapel. She had long blond hair and was very curvy. She always looked fabulous ( a bit Catherine Deneuve back then). Nowadays she’s put on a bit of weight and wears beautiful and dramatic long silk caftans instead.
When I was at uni I attended so many balls and other formal occasions (21sts, engagements etc) I had at least five formal dresses so that I could ring the changes. After all if you’re moving in pretty much the same circles you don’t want to turn up in the same dress/outfit every time. Later I had to wear lots of cocktail dresses to receptions – so had quite a few outfits and accessories for these.
My problem with special event clothes now – I rarely attend many formal occasions any more, except weddings. So if I buy a special outfit, on a cost per wear basis I’m going to have to wear it a reasonable amount – but then I don’t want to turn up and have people think “Oh she’s wearing the same old”. I almost never wear the outfit I bought for our son’s wedding. It was fine (the long coat was silver Thai silk, hand embroidered in black thread) – but not suitable generally for things we do now. The beautiful hat is still in its box waiting for a trip to the races. It’s so special, kind of outstanding, I wouldn’t want to wear it to another wedding as I’d feel embarrassed that people might feel I was trying to compete with the MoB or MoG. So now at weddings I wear something quite simple and just add a lovely scarf or faux further boa and a good handbag and jewellery.
Vicki, am I correct in guessing you may have really something special to attend that sparked this post? A daughter’s engagement or wedding maybe? If so, congratulations! How wonderful for you all! Best wishes, Pamela


A long chiffon skirt and some different tops for above (e.g. bustier in
velvet, a high-necked lace top in a different colour.)for evening and a
soft cashmere sweater with a belt ..the latter you can also wear on a dinner
party at home….this are dresses you can always spend money without any regret. Versatile and timeless and which woman doesn’t feel queeny in a long gown?

Linda B

This is a timely topic for me–my dear daughter got engaged a week and a half ago! However, she and her fiancee are thinking of having a very tiny ceremony where they live (in Oregon) and then having receptions in both hometowns (in Arizona and Georgia.) I think their impulse is to keep things on the low down and simple. . . I am already starting to think about how to dress for this, but they need to set a date (or actually, dates) before proper planning can occur.

I do have one really lovely black cocktail dress I have owned for probably 5 years; it has served me quite well for fancy occasions. I have even worn it to weddings, though the nagging thought in the back of the head is that black is not a great wedding color. But I love the dress and always feel fabulous in it when I pull it out.

I also have a lovely Elie Tahari summery cocktail dress in peach silk (with a paisley print in fuchsia, cream and black) that I picked up two years ago. That might do the trick for the wedding, if it is in summer!

david terry

Hey “Linda B”…..I think that, unless you’re an insecure, trying-to-find-your-own-way/”style” sixteen year old (boy or girl), the key/determining phrase is (as you wrote) “always feel fabulous in it”.

I like that phrase…..and I think that you should wear your “lovely black cocktail dress” when you want to feel good/happy about yourself. I think we’re all past the age at which we’re auditioning for anything, right?……

So?….please yourself and LET yourself feel good in what you’re wearing. It’s a very simple matter.

Avuncularly yours as ever,

Uncle David

Mimi Gregor

I agree with David. I have always had one black dress (not always the same one) that I wear to death for occasions both formal, and semi-formal. If fits me like a dream, and because it’s a sheath, it can be dressed up, down, and sideways. And, yes, nowadays you can wear black to a wedding without anyone raising an eyebrow. This was not always the case, but fortunately, most people have wised up and realize “Hey — it’s just a color! Not some attempt to sabotage our nuptials with voodoo!”


Vicki this makes such good sense! Thank you and all the other ladies for such stylish and useful ideas too . . . I love the idea of tops and bottoms that you can switch around . . . definitely one I will be on the look out for from now on.


I have a black dress but my most favorite outfit to wear is a lace blouse with a black skirt.
*tight black skirt* … the lace is flesh colored with ruffles at the wrist and neck .. Bought at Henry Henri Bendels (NYC)a long time ago and still gets compliments.


I remember how wonderful Bendels was.. The first time I went there I think my words were, “died and gone to heaven”.
Sadly it’s not the same anymore.. :(


I love this post. My mother always said that _______ (fill in the blank with a clothing item) was like money in the bank for when it was needed. Because of her advice, I have a mini-wardrobe of items that I have bought at various times when I had no need of them, but was delighted to have when the occasions arose. They aren’t necessarily formal, but can be styled for almost any dressy event: perfectly fitting black slacks neither too wide nor too narrow, tapered to the ankle; a black mid-knee pencil skirt in lambskin; a slim but not tight black cocktail dress in fine all-season challis with deep décolletage to fill with pearls or a chiffon scarf; a ‘dressmaker’ dinner suit; and a long full black skirt in taffeta. These are the bones on which to hang almost any outfit with the addition of a silk blouse, a cashmere sweater, a lace top, and wonderful accessories. These items are worth buying in the best quality one can afford; they will never go out of style. I find that with having the confidence of knowing the ‘bones’ are there, it is actually fun to go out and find the top or the accessory that will personalize the outfit for a specific event.
I also agree that for a truly formal event, nothing can beat a wonderful formal dress that was at some point discovered serendipitously and then tucked away for the right moment; not too fussy and that can be accessorized many ways to create a different look each time that it is produced from the closet.

Heather in Arles

Thank you for these Avedon photos of one of my favorite fellow redheads who is not a family member. °sigh°
When I was an actress in NY, I had more special occasion clothes than nearly anything. I bet you find that hard to believe now, but it was true. Vintage (at the time) made it so easy.

Mary-Jill Bellhouse

I have a problem with finding lovely clothes to wear … at 67, a few kilos have crept on, and it’s REALLY difficult to find wonderful clothes for the curvier figure! Not size 14 anymore! Any suggestions?


Mary Jill,
Have you tried the dressy style caftan? There are some very beautiful loose styles around.. even in winter velvets.

The online sites do have larger sizes but its essential to be on early and even sign up for the updates.. that way you are first in when stock arrives.. Also youc an return at no extra cost in most cases. I buy quite a few to try and send the rest back..

Otherwise the larger department stores especially in the US have the best options.. :)


I have read your blog for ages and when planning a month in Paris tried hard to pack for easy, chic and comfortable. I lucked onto the best travel wardrobe I’ve ever taken anywhere. Black/white silk, linen and cotton with a spark of colour for hat and handbag. No jewelry, just large fake pearls studs which I wore every day. Two pants, two skirts, two tanks, one black wool cardigan one white/silver cotton cardigan and three tees,[ black and white stripe] one long sleeve, one medium length sleeve and one short sleeve. One black/white spot silk scarf. Perfect and simple.

Lesley Hughes

Dear Vicki
How serendipitious was this post. We are off the to the Cox Plate in Melbourne in a couple of weeks and all my race wear did not cut it (a little weight gain). Was going to settle for something else which I really wouldn’t have felt great in. Shopping is on the list. Thanks.

Anita Rivera

I keep getting here too late! But never too late to chime in my thoughts. I so agree that you must buy the outfit when you find it, keep it for that special occasion. I was fortunate in 2008 to have found the perfect dress for my husband’s graduation for his Ph.D for which we had to fly back to Boston. A grand affair called for an elegant black dress, and I had found it. Perfect, simply, flowing, a statement. And if there is another grand affair to attend, I can still wear it, but with a different pair of shoes or accessories! Oh how I love black….

Mimi Gregor

I think that getting a memorable gown that you may or may not ever have occasion to wear is a waste of money. Unless you belong to organizations or charities that are likely to put on balls, or are likely to go to some really formal event. Every time I’d look at it in the closet, I’d be thinking about how much else I could have gotten that I’d actually be wearing for the same amount of money. As in all things, it’s important to know yourself. The most formal event I would likely go to would be fine for my LBD. With a few glitzier accessories, it would be perfectly suitable, and I would know I look great. And the wonderful thing about black is that you can wear it again and again, and because of the accessory change, it doesn’t register with people that you are wearing the same thing again. If that sort of thing matters to you.


We have been staying at a well known inn in Lake Placid, NY for many years. In the past you dressed for dinner. We recently spent some time there, and I needed several nights of dressier clothing. Well, I brought a black dress, and a black knit 2-piece with white piping on the arms and hem. It was a bit of a splurge when I bought it over 10 years ago but it looks as timely and fits as well as it did then. When we went down to dinner I was shocked to see men wearing shorts and flip flops and the women equally casually dressed. One man was a partner in a NYC law firm! The joke was on us I guess. The next night my husband wore a suit, but with no tie and open collar. We still chuckle about this. I guess the dress code has relaxed considerably. I still have my beautiful knit 2-piece ready to go though – I think dressing up never really goes out of style.

Dianne Adams

My motto has always been buy that fabulous dress when you find it and the special occasion will present itself. Then you are elated because you’ve not only eliminated the stress of having to go on a mad dash to the find the perfect dress but also justified the happy purchase. Being happy AND gorgeous is the best way to arrive at the party, no?


See it, like it, buy it!!!
This has become my motto, unfortunately hasn’t always been. I have finally accepted what is my style, classic but fashionable, approaching 60 a little too quickly, but remain young at heart. I am petite and have managed to keep my weight in good proportion to height, so when I see a special dress, and buy it, I know that I won’t have wasted my money on the purchase. On some occasions I attend, I may appear to be slightly “overdressed” compared to others, but if I feel comfortable in what I am wearing, I can mingle with confidence. Those who know me, now know how I like to dress. I love wearing dresses – one dress, no choosing of co-ordinates – just accessories to pick. Black is my favourite in the wardrobe (Melbourne, Australia the black fashion capital), with minimal but classic jewellery to compliment. When it comes to special occasions I will go for colour but again I have to feel confident in myself wearing it.
I have recently found your site and love it XXX


Absolutely fabulous post with exquisite photos. Your comments are spot on….buy when something “speaks” to you not the day of a major event. Loved it!!!

Lesley Hughes

I took your advice and bought a new spring dress for the Cox Plate in Melbourne. The weather was so cold and wet for this West Aussie that I left in hanging up, went warm and now have a dress waiting for another warmer race day. Will have to do a Melbourne Cup luncheon here in WA.


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