The Changing Case of Dressing Up

Dressing up. Sounds like one of life’s first world problems I’m sure. However, as any female will realise as soon as the prospect of nights out become a reality, dressing up can prove one of life’s most acute social minefields. What you choose to wear on such clandestine occasions is heavily-assessed, and the pressure to look good becomes paramount. However, it can be the perfect opportunity for sartorial escape, experimentation and projecting your inner allure. The border-crossing, occasion-hopping function of eveningwear can be epitomised by Coco Chanel’s Little Black Dress, originally intended for sophisticated social gatherings rather than ‘nights out on the town, mate’, but still making regular, far-reaching appearances, from swanky bars to sweaty clubs.

We all know what we really want to look like ‘when the sun goes down’ (thank you Arctic Monkeys). Whether your thing is five-inch Louboutins or Dr. Martens, the universal aspiration is to look effortlessly but incredibly good. Remember Bianca Jagger on that white horse in Studio 54 circa 1977, or Kate Moss exiting The Box draped in fur- both master the elusive art of looking like you’re having fun, and looking good having it. The ‘Balmain’ girl, who strutted down the catwalk in £1000 pale-wash, torn jeans in 2009, complete with glossy mane, tailored jacket and strappy heels, was a defining moment for many a glamorous urban female. It was the turning point at which the perennial dress became too ‘obvious’, while understated but chicbecame the go-to adjectives. These days Acne, the Kooples and Zara have all got in on the classic with a twist, Parisian-inspired night-time template.

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Balmain S/S 2009

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Rihanna and Cara Delevigne

In fact, the Noughties successfully broke all the rules about what you wear to leave the house after dark. It was now no longer necessary to wear heels when ballet flats meant you could dance longer and androgynous female trouser-suit combos, first seen on the red carpet, suddenly turned acceptable. It became fashionable among the Indie, Hipster types to channel the club wear of the 80s and 90s – decades of denim, crop tops and big hair. Oh, and if you shop on Brick Lane or in Urban Outfitters, and party in Shoreditch, please insert vintage pieces for good historical measure. Across the Continent jeans, a dash of lip colour and mussed-up locks now reign- a beach-swept Elle McPherson combined with seductive Penelope Cruz outcome. This is not to say in the slightest that the party dress and indeed, that dressing up in general has died a slow death. Certainly not if the trusty British nightlife has anything to say. You can guarantee on the international stage that British fillies will happily rock up in the most daring frocks. As soon as Herve Leger debuted the revered bandage dress and body-con went viral nothing else can now be seen on dance floors up and down the nation. Let us not forget also the long-sleeved, crotch-skimming numbers (an attempt at reverse demure?), or the recent cut-out trend that saw Topshop go scissor-happy.

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Miranda Kerr in Herve Leger ‘Bandage’ dress

The more toned down approach to dressing up could be attributed to a feminist wish to avoid physical pain during twenty-first century socialising, however, it may also be viewed as a form of inadvertent, stiletto-ed backlash against the rules and regimentation of the eveningwear of bygone eras. The lower level of the acclaimed V&A ball gown exhibition is testament to the ostentatious and beautiful, if rather overwhelming, dresses that were the flapper and debutante hey day norm. When Christian Dior introduced his ‘New Look’ with a flash of lower leg in 1947, and as hemlines rose with the sixties shifts, women could look now look sexy rather than simply pretty. Previously, looking glamorous, refined, and leaving the rest to the imagination, was how night time attire functioned, however the later twentieth century saw dressing up fall firmly into the hands of the newly independent woman and her ability to spend her entire income on going-out wear. While it may be argued that we are now entering an age of nonchalance, natural beauty and I-just-threw-this-cool-outfit-on mentality, others would throw their gravity-defying Antonio Berardi boots at me and scream: “Impact!”. Please cite Essex for evidence that the higher your heels, the bigger your clutch, and the more exaggerated your eyeliner flick the better. Travel to the bars and clubs of Miami, Malia or Melbourne and witness the results of hours of fine-tuning.

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‘The Only Way is Essex’ Cast

From Coachella, to Mayfair, to warehouse raves, to drinks, we now take more care of how we dress up to party than ever before, even if fluorescent face paint and Converse, not simply Elnett and a whiff of No.5, are the final touches. Remember ladies, there are now no rules.

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