5 rules for occasion dressing

Your guide to occasionwear
Gilly Ferguson

From the winners’ enclosure to 2024's summer of garden parties, your every big-event dressing dilemma is now sorted

Dress code dilemmas are real. If you’re not navigating the formal headwear dos and don’ts of Royal Ascot, you’re ping-ponging between smart weddings, garden parties, bridesmaid fittings or hen dos, all while trying to cling on to your own unique sense of style and without blowing your life savings on a fascinator. 

The best occasionwear buys should be future-proof, easily dressed up or down, make the rest of your wardrobe work harder and still feel like you. Oh, and all while offering standout style. 

So, what are the perfect occasion-worthy outfits for summer 2024? And how do you win best dressed at every occasion – races, weddings, all of it – (without looking like you’ve tried)? Scroll down for our top five rules…

Rule 1: ditch the dress

Perhaps you’re neck deep in wedding season, having worn That Dress one too (hundred) many times? Maybe you’re just not in a dress mood right now. It happens. The cure? Ditch the dress! Switch to a tailored trouser suit, razor-sharp blazer or an achingly cool ‘one-and-done’ jumpsuit. All guaranteed to make you look great – and still feel like yourself – only (arguably) edgier, and with a touch more swagger. 

Rule 2: say ‘yes’ to sensible shoes

Sure, sensible doesn’t always scream sexy, but what if you get the right shoe? With deliciously satisfying ankle support and dancing-on-clouds-like heel cushioning? Enter: the block heel, a long-standing solemate for the races, weddings, garden parties, just because parties, and every occasion in between. Packed with comfort and joy, whether you’re tearing up the dance floor, stomping divots or gliding down the aisle, block sandal-style. 

Rule 3: go bright or go home

For a look that feels suitably wow at the races, why not try Crayola brights? They’re the perfect update for die-hard dress fans, and anyone in need of a mid-season perk-me-up. From electric blues to hot pinks, longing-to-be-seen greens and yellows that are brighter than the sun, now’s the time to get playful with colour. The styling trick? Accessorise with varying tones of one shade for a more modern (and less matchy-matchy) look. 

Rule 4: ruffle feathers

Feathers are a sure-fire way to win at the races (sartorially speaking), or at occasionwear in general. Go hell-for-feathers, adorning dresses and décolletages, splashed across ankles, heels and bags – or simply stick a feather in your hat and call it. So 2024, darling.

Rule 5: make headlines

Dress codes vary: as much as a location dictates what to wear to a wedding, some racecourses are stricter than others, particularly when it comes to headwear. ‘Do I have to wear a hat to the races?’ remains one of the season’s most searched phrases. And yes, the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot does require a headpiece (at least four inches in diameter), but others are more relaxed. If you do have flex, why not try the unexpected with an oversized bow, a pill box hat or a Kate Middleton-esque padded headband? 

Get race day ready with these must-haves

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