My take on “formal” and dressing up out of a capsule

My life tends to be the opposite of formal…


One of my early influences from Western romantic movies was a fondness for “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue“. I found out only yesterday that the whole thing is British and it has an additional line “and a silver sixpence in her shoe”, but even 25 years ago the idea of putting an outfit (and that of a bride, no less!) together from pieces that are not new and following a set of quirky rules seemed a lot of fun. I’m not tying any knots anytime soon (or ever, if I can avoid it), but putting together outfits by combining pre-loved items is what I do… We are in the wedding season, so here’s my proverbial sixpence on how to survive formal occasions with a capsule wardrobe.

There is a lot of superstition around formalwear, and most of it is not even as romantic as putting a coin in your shoe. (Also, now you won’t catch a ride home with a sixpence, but in XVIII-XIX that was quite a lot of money.) Most of formalwear superstition now is not linked with good luck or fertility, it’s all about “what will *they* think” instead. Very boring! The most abundant and insidious belief out there is that repeating outfits is a disrespect for the occasion, if you haven’t even bothered to go on a shopping spree for it. Bah!

My unsurprising suggestion here is to relax and repeat-repeat-repeat outfits until your current formalwear disintegrates. Very few of us have lots of these occasions (and if you are one of those people, there is a whole army taking care of your red carpet needs), so even if you have the perfect “formalwear capsule” (= 1 dress!) now, (a) it is very likely that in five years you will have worn it only a handful of times, (b) f* knows what your body will be up to in these years, (c) fashion aesthetics do change, just think of all those shoulder-padded garments now slowly dying in so many storage units. So, unless you manage to create a timeless and formal one-size-fits-all garment (let me know if you succeed, as even men suits don’t live up to these requirements), having a “formalwear capsule” is a wasteful strategy. You will never get it up to #30wears.

A much more rational, even utilitarian approach is to make the best possible combination of your smart casuals and call it a day. If you are reading this, you probably live in an amazing abundance of garments. Some of that is bound be good enough for the occasion, especially if you are not the bride.

Rental services for formalwear is an option. A lot of fuss but obviously better than buying. In my 30 years, I’ve never needed an evening gown. I might look into rentals if an occasion with strict-enough dress codes arises. Second-hand outrageousness or ethnographic costumes might be an option, depending on your crowds. Obviously, all this is lifestyle-contingent. But all the bs of a new dress, new shoes, a matching clutch and half day at the hair saloon is much too much anxiety for me to handle. Also, and for the n-th time, unless you are the bride, nobody is really keeping tabs on how many times they’ve seen you in the same dress.

If you are hellbent on *investing* and wan the old lie of “I’ll wear it again” to become true, stay away from flashy and fashionable, unless that garment is truly and uniquely *you*. Fashionable colors and prints are more likely to feel dated. Opt for something tailored and/or long-lasting (LBD, anyone?). And take into account that most of your cohort is combing the fast fashion places for the right outfit, hence the identical jumpsuit *catastrophe* is possible. Well, if that ever happens, laugh about it and take a photo!

And repeating has a comfort advantage, too. You are very likely to know if you can dance in these shoes and if you can eat in that dress, and how it looks in the photos. And you probably already have the right underwear. All this puts you light-years ahead of people who are breaking in a new pairs of shoes, i.e. those people dancing barefoot.


To illustrate my point, this is what I wore for:

A high school reunion in 2015.

A wedding in 2015.

Two weddings in 2016.

A first communion in 2017.

My grandma’s 75th birthday in 2017.

Opera in 2017.

I have a wedding to attend in a week and, unless there’s a fashion force majeure, those people will see the same H&M sweetheart dress (2008), my Arcopedico work shoes (2017) and the little bolero jacket dreamed up by me and made by Gunta Upīte (2011). I’m leaving the headpieces at home, because I have no idea what will be going on on bride’s head. Easy-peasy!


What’s your formalwear startegy? Do you combine from the existing everyday pieces or do you have the one cocktail dress that has seen all the occasions? Or is this the segment of your garment life where you relax the capsule and go shopping?

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