The wardrobe stretchers - take a lead from Linda Barker and Emma Thompson with fashion to dress up and down

Nothing to wear for that wedding or the races? Think again. Fashion editor Stephanie Smith has tips on how to dress up - and down - easy key pieces to create a variety of special event looks.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 6th May 2019, 11:46 am
Updated Monday, 6th May 2019, 11:51 am
One day a shirt dress, the next day a fierce long jacket over an LBD or your skinny jeans. That's value for money. Cheetah print shirt dress, £69 at
One day a shirt dress, the next day a fierce long jacket over an LBD or your skinny jeans. That's value for money. Cheetah print shirt dress, £69 at

So you’ve got three weddings coming up this summer, plus a posh 50th wedding anniversary gathering and at least one ladies’ day at the races to attend. And there is not a single “special occasion” item in your wardrobe that hasn’t already been seen by most of your relatives and friends.

This is precisely the opposite of the concept of “all dressed up with no place to go”. On the contrary, there are lots of places to go and absolutely nothing to get all dressed up in.

Ok, perhaps I am exaggerating (just a little) but this is certainly how many of us feel as we ponder what’s on offer in our closets and drawers and boxes (I’m a fan of using large bedding boxes for clothes. They hold loads and are easy to rummage through. Why’s it not a thing, I’ll never know).

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Yorkshire's interior design darling Linda Barker attends the TRIC awards in London wearing a cheery smile and an even cheerier print jumpsuit. It's the simple and elegant way to do sunshine yellow. Add a hat and it's perfect for the races too. Or team with white sneakers and jacket for dressed- down weekend ease. Stephanie Smith / Ian West/PA

Now, in the interests of sustainability and eco-friendly fashion, it’s a good idea first to take a look at what you already have before dashing out to the shops in search of new delights. Because a few tweaks and a switch of accessories could mean that there is a season’s worth of beautiful outfits, already fitted and paid for and just waiting for you to rediscover them. Look out for jumpsuits and dresses with a simple silhouette, for unusual midi and maxi skirts, silk shirts and cashmere, and jackets. Get them washed or dry-cleaned, pressed, then consider repairs, switches of buttons and maybe alterations to give them a new lease of life. Ask around to find a good alteration shop close by to help with this, and look out for fashion photos for inspiration and to show the alterer what you are after.

Any little (or long or midi) black dress you have is ripe for special occasion recycling. No one remembers the detail of an LBD that you have already worn, only that you looked elegant. Be careful wearing a black dress to a wedding, however. It’s perfectly acceptable to do so, and no longer considered rude, but it can look a little attention-seeking if you go for an all-black look with black hat and shoes – as if you have come as the bad fairy in a pantomime. If you want to wear a hat, make it light or bright and jaunty. Choose shoes and a clutch bag in a bold colour too but be careful not to look overly co-ordinated. Try a patterned or multi-colour (floral, animal print) embellished clutch bag and then one colour or metallic toned shoes that subtly pick up on one of the bag’s tones, or try coloured silk or black kitten heels with a jewelled or bow decorative touch.

Consider that some shirt dresses can be worn as long jackets. See the picture of Emma Thompson, as this effect could easily be achieved using a shirt dress. It’s a lovely way to recycle and it’s a great idea for holidays too, over shorts or loose trousers and a vest top.

When buying a new piece, look for versatilty and lots of ways to wear, so that you can style it up and down for a variety of events and occasions. The Kin by John Lewis kimono style dress featured here can be worn on its own with heels or over leggings or trousers and you can change the look with statement necklaces and scarves.

Emma Thompson's layered monochrome look could easily be achieved using a shirt dress as a long print jacket. Here she attends the gala screening for Say My Name at the Odeon Luxe, Leicester Square, London. Isobel Infantes/PA Wire

Linda Barker’s yellow print jumpsuit is dressy with heels but would also work well with flat sandals or chunky boots, with a jacket over.

Don’t underestimate the power of separates too. With a bit of bold and clever matching and judicious clashing of colour and print, skirts and tops can team up to create a striking and co-ordinated special event look. Check out the animal print skirt and top from River Island as an example. Together they look almost like a dress but both can be worn separately for completely different outfits. Try a statement skirt with a simple white shirt tucked in (and a wide belt if needed) for an easy but effective take.

A loosely structured dress like this works with heels for night and with trainers or flats and leggings or cropped trousers for weekend style. Kimono style dress, £199, in soon, by Kin at John Lewis.
Print separates can mix and match to form a dress look, or team with block colour pieces to create endless outfits. Animal print top, £28, and skirt, £30, from a selection at River Island.
The Little Black Dress is a dress up/down classic. Accessorise with prints and accent colour for lots of different special occasion options. No one will guess it's the same dress. Black double strap eyelet detail dress, £59 at