How to dress for formal occasions: Royal couturiers share their secrets

Earlier this year in an attempt to rein in the fillies intent on showing too much flesh, Royal Ascot issued a new dress code.

And organisers at Lord's Cricket Ground took their edict one step further, even publishing picture cards to avoid confusion.

This sartorial clamp down has sparked renewed enthusiasm for formal dressing a shift also influenced by the Duchess of Cambridge.

The elegant HRH has perfected the art of being classy and smart while still looking young and gorgeous. 


With the Diamond Jubilee and its promise of sun-drenched garden parties around the corner, not to mention the arrival of summer and the wedding season, you may be wondering how to strike that balance yourself.

According to Jane Taylor, a royal milliner who has fashioned headpieces for Zara Phillips, the Countess of Wessex and Princess Eugenie, you should opt for “something truly outstanding”.

“Look to the royal family for inspiration — I think seeing them dressing so well has reminded people how to dress in a more formal yet fabulous manner,” she says.


And in terms of perfecting an outfit, for Jane it’s all about the accessories.

“Hats and gloves add the finishing touch to a formal outfit and remember to wear your hair up with cocktail hats.”

Katherine Hooker, the couturier who famously dressed Kate for her first ever official engagement in Angelesey and has lent her services to Pippa, advises you to bear “simplicity and comfort” in mind.

“It’s a long day after all and you want to feel as confident at the end of the day as you did at the beginning.”

She also says that “decent fabrics and cut will bring out the best in everyone,” so opting for investment pieces will make you feel your best.

The London designer has created a dress, called Ascot, specifically with the event in mind (pictured below).


"It's a very pretty dress which goes beautifully with the Buxton coat for a sleek and fitted silhouette," she said.

For a more modern look, however, you could pair the dress with a beige satin jacket.

"Classic and formal is key but with a strong feminine element," she concludes.

If you're still stuck, here's HELLO! Online's guide to dressing formally.

- Inject some of your personality into your outfit rather than being totally trend-led. If you love what you're wearing, your inner confidence will shine through

- You can, however, look at key trends for the season and try to incorporate one into your outfit, whether it be the current ‘it’ colour or pattern. This season, with its bright vibrant shades, neutrals and monochrome chic, is a colour free-for-all, so you have plenty of options

Don’t let your hat do the talking. Choose headgear that will complement your outfit, not overshadow it

- If you are wearing a sleeveless or strapless dress, invest in a good-quality shrug that you can slip over your shoulders. Matching your outerwear to your dress is slightly outdated. If your dress is patterned, pick out one of the main colours and opt for a jacket entirely in that hue

- Buy something comfortable that you will feel happy wearing all day long – if your dress is too tight or short, for example, it could spoil your enjoyment

- This applies to heels also – a sky-scraping pair may make your legs look fabulous, but you won’t be able to stay on your feet for longer than a few hours 

- Finally, if you are not 100 per cent certain your outfit is appropriate, it's always best to opt for something that you know is.

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