Formal events come with the expectation of formal attire–and an opportunity to showcase personal style with glitz and glam. But one quick glance in a dress shop and you’ll quickly find yourself lost in a sea of possibilities. Choosing the perfect gown takes a little work.
However, you can begin to whittle down the options by considering the occasion, your budget, the best dress styles for your figure, and appropriate colors based on the season and your complexion. Here, we’ll walk you through the shopping process for choosing an evening dress.
First, match your gown selections to the occasion. A black-tie event or full formal wedding will require a full-length formal gown. Semi-formal weddings and most dinner parties offer a little more flexibility. Every detail on the invitation is important when it comes to choosing the right dress.
There’s plenty of room for young, flirty fun in a formal gown for prom. But if you’re all grown up and attending a charity gala, stick with traditional colors and length. Likewise, business dinners are a little more buttoned-up and traditional while festive events are a reason to don shiny metallics and gowns that sparkle.
Match Your Gown to the Dress Code
Proper invitations will include a dress code so that guests know what is expected. A White Tie event is the top echelon of formal events. These events require a full-formal, floor-length gown in classic colors and styles, paired with a few elegant accessories.
The more common variation of a full formal event is a Black-Tie Event. Ladies should still plan to wear full-length formal gowns to a Black Tie wedding. However, there is some leeway for elegant pantsuits or traditional cocktail dresses in many cases.
A Formal or Black-Tie Optional leaves the door open to choose between a traditional floor-length evening gown and a cocktail dress. Cocktail attire is considered to be just above semi formal, which is why these dresses often work for more flexible formal events as well. Cocktail dresses are known for their shorter length with hemlines falling at the knee or mid-calf.
Semi-Formal provides the most flexibility with all lengths considered acceptable. Many women opt for skirts instead of gowns altogether. And some use the semi-formal dress code to show off their fun personalities with colors and patterns that would be a bit too bold for more formal events.
Now that you’ve narrowed down the options and you know how formal your gown needs to be, it’s time to think about your budget. It’s possible to buy a beautiful gown for a few hundred dollars. It’s also possible to drop several thousand dollars on a name-brand designer. So, knowing your budget is pretty important.
There’s a difference between how much you’re willing to spend and how much you can afford to spend. Think about your budget carefully. It’s one dress for one event. However, depending on the event, it may be worth going all-in for the perfect look.
The dress style has a lot more to do with what is appropriate and flattering on your figure, rather than what might be appropriate for the event. Start by choosing appropriate materials based on the season. During the winter months, heavy fabrics like rich satins and velvet materials are appropriate. However, during warmer months you’ll want something light and breathable.
Next, consider the overall look you want to portray. If you’re going for classic and elegant, you should steer clear of revealing side panels and edgy hemlines. But if you’re attending a festive event and making a statement is your goal–then, by all means, be daring.
Finally, choose the best dress style based on your body type. Necklines are important for enhancing or concealing the chest. Waistlines can be a great way to add definition or they could call attention to all the wrong places.
Here are a few quick tips to find the perfect match:
- Apple-Shaped Ladies: If you have broad shoulders and round hips on top of tiny legs, you need to create length in your top half with a plunging neckline.
- Pear-Shaped Ladies: If your shoulders are narrow, but your hips and thighs are noticeably wider, you need to draw attention to your slimmer half. Halter tops and intricately beaded bodices paired with a flowing skirt that doesn’t hug those hips are your best bet.
- Hourglass Ladies: Envied by many, these ladies have proportionate hips and shoulders with a noticeably slimmer waste, creating perfect curves. Choose a fitted gown that hugs your figure from top to bottom.
- Rectangular Ladies: If you don’t feel like you have much of a shape at all, try creating shape by choosing a fitted waist and flared skirt. Embrace the mermaid-style gowns for the best look.
Finally, there is one last selection to make–the color. While the season will have some influence over your color options, there is also some room for personal preference. As a general rule, darker colors are for the winter months and pastels are for the Spring.
Beyond that, your complexion also is an important consideration. While darker-skinned women can often pull off the light and bright colors, fairer-skinned ladies should be more careful. If you have warm skin tones, choose earthy greens and warm reads. Peach, coral, amber, and gold are all great options too.
If you have cool tones, go towards emerald green or deep purple. Even bold shades of blue can work well with your complexion. Unfortunately, you’ll need to take a pass on orange, coral, strong yellows, and bright reds.
The Bottom Line on Choosing an Evening Gown
Finding the perfect gown can be a big task. Fortunately, half the details are sorted out based on the event. What type of event you’re attending and when it’s being held will narrow down your gown choices considerably. From there, you’ll need to pair down your options based on what is flattering on your body type and complexion. This leaves you with a smaller selection to work your preferences on. The hardest thing to remember is that the best gown is the one that looks the best on you and not necessarily the one that looks the best on its own.
Jonah Levine is the Creative Director of NewYorkDress.com. NewYorkDress.com, established in 2008, is the #1 online source for Evening and Prom dresses worldwide. As Creative Director, Jonah works to create the ultimate online and in store luxury shopping experience with a focus on service and personalization.