What Makes Budget Black Tie Work?
For movie stars, high-level socialites, and other red carpet denizens, time to call the stylist, buy a new outfit, or maybe, just maybe, remix an outfit from the closet. For most of us, time to fret. We know that black tie usually means long. You can get away with a cocktail dress, but if everyone else will be dropping their hems you may feel more comfortable following suite.
Few of us have closets full of long.
If you've got all the money in the world, no issue. I'm particularly fond of Lanvin at the moment. But my fading family fortune would screech like a toddler losing an ice cream cone were I to try and pry loose enough to invest in Mr. Elbaz's creations. So what to do? You have a couple of options. Option #1. Rush off to a prom gown store like Cache, or the "dressy" department of Macy's. I can't recommend this route. High WASPs don't even wear "gowns." We wear dresses. I don't know why.
But I do know why not to follow the mass-market-dress-with-some-bling strategy. You may not feel right amongst the Lavin-clad throngs. Of course, if you don't care, then go ahead. I'm not talking about anyone else's feelings but your own.
If you are one who does care, and I confess I am, all is not lost. Learn from those who do this for a living. Option #2. The crowd who treat black tie like a tennis match have helpfully established some uniforms.
Uniform #1, the Asian-esque cheongsam/qipao/salwar kameez. We'll use Cheongsam as shorthand. A cheongsam calls out for toned arms, glamorous cuffs, and jeweled sandals. I'd do this one in aubergine, with pale blue trousers, or maybe navy with a very off green. You want a striking color palette. Perfect for the Artsy Cousin. Oh, and I'd shake my ShakeWeight. A lot.
Uniform #2, the Carolina Herrera. Carolina, for short. After all, the woman has made this look so much her signature that stylists photograph similarly dressed models in homage. The Carolina:
- Suits those with lovely necks and bust.
- Frames a beautiful necklace well.
- Helps the long-waisted.
- Requires high heeled peep-toe pumps or ballerina flats. Your choice, but you need a little heel and a little toe to show.
- Must avoid the Full Dowager. Grandes Dames are not quite the same as dowagers.
Style Paris by Susan Sutherland, one of the boutiques featured at Taigan, an online retailer for specialty shops. Style Paris has stores in Palm Beach and Southhampton, home sweet homes to black tie party goers. Susan knows whereof she sells, however, the perfectly appropriate has its price. Its high price. The Temple 'cheongsam' is $1700. The Giovanna black skirt, $1400. The Theo Plastron white shirt, $740.
Fear not. The genius of these black tie strategies is that you should be able to pull them off for far less than $2000. I haven't tried myself, yet, but I've done a fair amount of research.
To locate a Cheongsam, in most major cities, and many of their associated suburbs, Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese communities search out the last few talented tailors who provide homeland garments. If you like tunics and pants, find a resource for salwar kameez. If you prefer the more fitted cheongsam (this is the Cantonese word, quipao in Mandarin), Chinatowns all over America create custom-fitted wedding outfits. You can have anything made.
Of course, having anything made in America will still cost a fair sum of money. A much cheaper alternative would be to take something off the rack and have it customized. Or venture offshore, and try one of the many online boutiques.
- Make sure to secure a fabric swatch and samples of closures, etc. in advance.
- The success of designing your own lies in impeccable materials, and scrupulous fitting.
- You will probably need to finish tailoring locally.
For the white shirt, you want a substantial cotton, fitted, with an interesting detail at neck or cuff.
Wear it unbuttoned as far as is polite. Straight with ruffles and ruffles with straight. Contrast and restraint.
Alternatively, a cotton lawn shirt, transparent, embellished. This short sleeved blouse moves the look younger, towards the land of Boho, and Little Women. Can't you just see some beautiful unknown girl, in Victorian skirt and this blouse, hair up on her head, sweeping into a room full of fancy people? Capturing everyone's imagination?
And certainly some serious faux pearls. Yes. For this occasion it's just fine to go big and go fake. You're carrying it off. You're Sabrina, only you didn't sew your own.
It's possible to find even cheaper long black skirts, like the one below. But I suspect they lack volume.
One could, of course, avoid folderol and simply donate the money to whatever cause your black tie event supports. Or, one could, calling upon the entrepreneurial spirit that has served this country well, round up 10 friends to buy an entire table, thereby contributing and dressing up. Both. Doing both well.
Orange/lilac cheongsam variant via Style Paris by Susan
Collared white shirt via Style Paris on Taigan
Silk satin skirt via Style Paris
White cheongsam via Oriental-Cheongsam
Low necked "Eli" white shirt via Thomas Pink
Tailored white shirt via Thomas Pink
White short-sleeved blouse via Etsy
Velvet skirt via Etsy
Black full ruffled skirt via Etsy
Lucite cuff via Alexis Bittar
Caroline Grace leather cuff via Etsy
Shantung fit and flare skirt via Newport News
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