Fashion For Real Women

5 Evening Wear Essentials

Several years ago late on a Thursday afternoon, my husband called me at work to say that he had just been handed box seat tickets to a touring performance of "Mame," starring Juliet Prowse. Would I be interested in going? The tickets were for 7:30 that night.

When the curtain rose three hours later, we were there, as was our hostess and her boyfriend. A third couple, however, couldn't make it. Why? Given the extremely short notice (our hostess received the tickets that afternoon), they had to decline because the woman had nothing to wear. Which was really too bad, because the show was terrific -- and was probably the last tour Ms. Prowse ever did.

Evening wear
Evening wear

Now let me ask you: if you were handed tickets to a show (or dinner or gallery opening or ball) with just a few hours' notice, would you be able to accept knowing you'd be properly dressed?

Most women would have to say "no."

Because, like the gal who missed out on "Mame," most women have gapping holes in their wardrobes that prevent them from going to certain places appropriately dressed. They funnel the majority of their clothing budgets into their primary activity, like work or taking care of kids, and are caught like a deer in the headlines when something out-of-the-ordinary comes along. They're either forced to decline a last-minute invitation, or go with what they have and spend the whole time feeling inappropriately dressed.

It's all so unnecessary. Because with just a little bit of planning, they could be ready for ANYTHING - even a last minute invitation to a touring Broadway show. So let's take a few minutes to discuss an appropriate evening wear wardrobe.

Now if you think this subject really doesn't apply to you because you rarely go to formal functions, keep reading anyway. You'll soon discover that by having just a few of these pieces in your closet, you can easily transform almost any outfit into appropriate formal attire, whether you're headed to an evening wedding, an association cocktail party, or even a New Year's get-together with a few of your nearest and dearest.

So what are the 5 top evening wear pieces you should have?

1. A Dark Dress

This can be a little black dress, if black looks good on you, or navy, brown, red, or even plum. For maximum durability, it should have simple lines and some sort of sleeve. That way, you can add a splash of jewelry and wear it to semi-formal functions like cocktail parties, nice dinners, and the theater, and to more solemn affairs like weddings, bar mitzvahs, and the like.

2. An Evening Top

This can be anything that smacks of evening, from a satin or sequined camisole to a diaphanous lace blouse. Pair it with a skirt or pants, wear it under a suit, or mix it with your other evening pieces for an elegant, classic look.

3. An Evening Skirt or Pair of Pants

A simple skirt or pair of pants in an evening fabric (lace, chiffon, velvet) can take you to a variety of functions for years. Pair them with your evening top, a trendy blouse, a simple top with knockout jewelry - the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

4. Evening Shoes

Sandals, pumps, or slingbacks in metallic, lace, or satin will upgrade almost anything else you're wearing to a more formal status. Pair them with a suit, an evening gown, a simple sheath, or whatever, for a glamorous evening look.

5. An Evening Bag

An evening bag or minaudière, like evening shoes, instantly upgrades your attire to a more formal status. Since you can only carry your lipstick, a key, a credit card, or folded currency in one, it says that you're there for the evening's festivities with nothing more important to do.

Should you have ALL of these pieces in your wardrobe? Ideally, yes, particularly if your lifestyle carries you through a wide variety of activities and you need versatile pieces to go the distance. If your life is pretty predictable with few surprises, consider just adding an evening top or handbag for spur-of-the moment things.

You'll find the best selection of evening wear apparel right before the holidays in November and December, and when stores are clearing their remaining inventories in early January. If your budget's tight, consider shopping consignment stores. You'll also find a surprising array at places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army in the spring, when people do their spring cleaning and/or are disposing of their clothes at the end of the spring formal season.

Having a few eveningwear pieces on hand is always a good idea, even if you don't have a really busy social life. A lacy top or pretty evening bag can spice up just about any outfit enough to be worn to an evening function, allowing you more opportunities to enjoy life to the fullest. So don't turn down that last-minute invitation because you don't have anything to wear; be in your seat when the curtain rises and savor the evening's memory for years to come.


Diana Pemberton-Sikes is a wardrobe and image consultant and author of "Occasion Magic," an ebook that shows women how to dress appropriately for every occasion, regardless of where they live. Visit her online at  .
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