Fashion: How to wear florals without looking like curtains

Floral dress, £29, Girls on Film collection at Little Mistress.Floral dress, £29, Girls on Film collection at Little Mistress.
Floral dress, £29, Girls on Film collection at Little Mistress.
Don't fear the floral print '“ if you know how, it can give you the edge at this summer's special occasions. Stephanie Smith has advice.

When fashion writers start telling you that there is a “grown-up” way to wear something, it’s usually because that something is not the sort of thing they would actually choose to wear themselves.

Florals are a classic example. Frankly, for many of us, fashion writers or not, prints covered in flowers are scary.

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There’s often so much colour, for a start – a backdrop shade and then three, four, five others working their way across it, including green – in itself, difficult to wear at the best of times.

Kevan Jon dress, £190, from Accent Clothing.Kevan Jon dress, £190, from Accent Clothing.
Kevan Jon dress, £190, from Accent Clothing.

When you wear black and navy and grey most of the time, with occasional controlled splashes of colour (as I do), this can be an alarming prospect.

Then there’s the flatterability factor, or lack of it. Surely wearing a print that you suspect is more suited to curtains or a feature wall will make you look huge, like a Cath Kidston teepee?

Plus, there are also all the connotations and associations of floral print. If you think back to childhood family weddings, and remember your grans and great-aunts wearing a variety of hideous and clashing floral prints, usually in polyester chiffon pleats or seam-stretching Crimplene, you may well be reluctant to explore the potential of floral print yourself.

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And yet, and yet … floral prints can be so pretty and striking. There’s a romantic aspect that you cannot achieve in quite the same way with plain black and grey and navy, no matter how chic. There’s joyful exuberance and artistry and delight in the natural world, too. They cheer other people up. When you think about it, what’s not to love?

Alex Kingston at the Chelsea Flower Show, wearing an easy floral wrap dress: Victoria Jones/PA WireAlex Kingston at the Chelsea Flower Show, wearing an easy floral wrap dress: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Alex Kingston at the Chelsea Flower Show, wearing an easy floral wrap dress: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

So, it’s time to try florals. No better time, actually, because the current crop of flower-inspired print is a world away from the busy affairs of the past. They are more sophisticated, often in a pared-back colour palette combining two or three shades. Soft colour teaming plays out in easy shapes – soft pink and navy, duck-egg blue and pale yellow; Dijon yellow with navy and white; china blue and white.

Adding “an edge” is an assured way for the nervous to start experimenting with florals. This means taking a floral piece, perhaps a ruffled boho midi or maxi dress, and then knocking it back with darker neutrals and more casual, workman-like accessories. So, define the waist with a black or brown leather jeans belt (you can replace the belt it comes with, if there is one). Add chunky shoes, block heels, maybe even boots, though heeled perhaps for a special occasion, or try this season’s low-heeled ankle-tie pumps – really chic and wearable. Keep your bag on the workmanlike side too. There’s no need to add frippery to floral flounces; a neat brown leather cross-body messenger back will dress down your floral print dress, especially a boho style, very effectively.

You can go the other way, too. So a one-colour dress, a neutral navy or nude if you like, and add floral print with your accessories.

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There are plenty of seriously glam floral bags and shoes on the High Street right now, all with summer’s special occasions in mind. Boxy bags in an exotic floral print with gold hardware and chain adorned handles will always bring a suitably designer decadent feel, even to simple outfits.

Floral fluted sleeve dress, £45, at Marks & Spencer.Floral fluted sleeve dress, £45, at Marks & Spencer.
Floral fluted sleeve dress, £45, at Marks & Spencer.

Trust in the power of separates too. Find a top or blouse or skirt in a print you love and co-ordinate. Head-to-toe colour is very much “a thing” at the moment, so take a shade from your print and find plain pieces to match in the same colour. A pretty sprigged floral duck egg blue or soft pink skirt, teamed with a same colour but one colour top or shirt is flattering and pulled-together. It’s the elegant and refined way to do florals. Very grown-up, actually.

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