I’ve had more questions about special occasion dressing than ever before this year. I suspect it’s because we’re all so glad that we can celebrate again and when it comes to weddings, some are so long awaited that they really do deserve an extra special effort. It’s great to have an excuse to dress up again too isn’t it? But can we remember how to do it? And with the growing creep of casualisation has occasion dressing changed? These are all the things I was discussing with my friend Nicky over coffee a few weeks ago. You see she has a very big event ahead – last year her youngest boy, Toby, surprised us all by announcing that he’d asked his girlfriend Liv to marry him. It’s a salient event for both of our families because our boys have grown up closely alongside each other – in a way I feel as though I’m just a step away from being mum of the groom myself. And so rather than just write a standard post about SS22 dresses for weddings, graduations and special occasions, I thought I’d take you with us as we went out on Easter Monday to find the all-important outfit for Nicky – and to help you really feel a part of it, I’ll give you a little bit of background first.
You’ve seen Nicky and her family on the blog quite often over the years – I’ve written about our mum and son trips, camping adventures and everyday get togethers at home. Nicky and I have been friends since Toby and our middle one forged an instant connection on their very first day at primary school. In fact it wasn’t long before they informed us very seriously that when they grew up they’d be getting married but they just had to decide ‘who would wear the girl suit’!
You’ll be doing a quick calculation now and realising that our gorgeous couple Toby and Liv are just 20, both still at university studying Sports Therapy but living a different student life to our boys, spending more time on outward bounds pursuits than in the pub.
Just like our boys, Nicky and I bonded instantly in the playground too…
… we found that we shared the same relaxed approach to parenting our boys, believing that our job was to nurture the people they already were rather than press them into future expectations. We were more into fresh air and sunshine than after school clubs and the dads were of the same mind too.
We almost share a birthday – although she likes to point out that she’s a full four weeks younger than me.
And even as awkward teens at different secondary schools these two have kept their bond; they still pick up wherever they left off, even though they see far less of each other these days. Our boy is looking forward to being a groomsman at the wedding and can no doubt be relied upon if spontaneous speeches about Toby are required!
Nicky and I have seen each other through some tough times – she was there for me through the difficult days of my parents’ long cancer journeys. And when our boys were still very little she developed Transverse Myelitis. One winter she was struggling with a nasty flu-type virus but was too busy to take time off work. In the playground one morning she mentioned how weird it was that on top of everything else, her legs had started to feel numb too. Just a few hours later we had a phone call saying she was being blue-lighted to Preston hospital. Transverse Myelitis is an inflammatory attack of the central nervous system, it’s very serious – the effect is similar to a spinal injury and she continues to battle with the outcome all these years later. She handles it with great fortitude though, I can’t imagine that I’d deal with it as stoically as she does.
Over the last couple of years we’ve hit menopause together and faced our empty nests. The fact that our families are so close gives us a shorthand to how the other is feeling – we know each other’s boys and husbands so well that we don’t need to explain anything. So you see this trip to choose an outfit for the wedding was a special one even though we both felt a bit out of our depth and just far too young to be doing something so grown-up!
SS22 dresses for weddings, graduations and special occasions
When we first talked about it, Nicky asked me where I thought we should start and I immediately suggested an appointment with one of the free personal stylists at John Lewis and Partners. I mentioned our plan to the team I work with there and they were keen to help – in the interests of transparency, they gave me a £200 voucher for Nicky to use if she found anything she liked. Our appointment was booked at The Trafford Centre store in Manchester with the very lovely Adam who started off as a personal stylist for men and then trained to style women too.
We arrived early with a plan to spend an hour looking round the store to see what we could find as a starting point… but we couldn’t find anything that Nicky liked at all. Not a single thing. It didn’t bode well. Feeling a bit disheartened we went for lunch and I encouraged her to trust the process – I’ve tried the personal styling service a few times here as you know and they’ve always found something that surprises me.
And then it was time to go and meet Adam, here he is listening carefully to Nicky explaining her particular likes and dislikes.
The wedding service is being held at a very classical venue but the reception and evening event will be at the local rugby club. As such Nicky didn’t want a very formal mother of the groom type of outfit, instead she was keen to have something that would be easy for her to wear again and again. She talked about her favourite colours – she was thinking of green or perhaps pink and she mentioned that she doesn’t like jungle prints or midi-dresses. She doesn’t mind her arms or legs being on show but like all of us she’s feeling a bit sensitive about her midlife midriff so didn’t want anything that would cling to that. And the Transverse Myelitis has left her with a bit of a balance issue and a limp so even though she loves them, heels are no longer an option – the outfit had to work with flat shoes.
Adam explained that classic mother of the bride or groom outfits are very rarely requested now. You know the kind of thing, perhaps a satin shift dress and matching jacket with formal hat. As such, John Lewis & Partners have adjusted their stock accordingly and now buy in for the new, far more relaxed approach to wedding dressing which is interesting. It makes sense though and of course it’s far more sustainable to have an outfit that you can wear again than something that will sit in a dustbag for years.
Fully briefed, he headed off into the store leaving us with the bottle of Prosecco you can see above (and that was one of many moments when I thought I should have accepted Mr MC’s offer to drive us!). We were feeling a bit nervous having already disregarded everything we’d seen on the shopfloor so we were interested to see what he’d come back with. And we were amazed when he reappeared with twelve different dresses – here he is, talking Nicky through each one…
… explaining why he thought particular pieces would work well for her. The plan was for her to try everything on until she’d whittled them down to her favourites, then Adam would help her to accessorise them and find ‘the one’. And before I show you the try-on I’ll add that Nicky is 5ft6 and a size 12.
SS22 dresses for weddings – the try-on
We started with a dress that I’d already pointed out on the shopfloor, I instantly thought it would suit her. She liked the cut and the colour although felt she’d need to upsize so that it was a little looser across the middle, it was certainly a dress that she could see herself getting a lot of wear from. Unfortunately it isn’t online so I can’t link it but you should be able to find it in store and you can see it here in black. It’s from Reiss and it’s made from 100% linen. Adam explained that because it’s so simple, he’d find strong accessories to add drama if she added it to her ‘maybe’ pile – which she did.
Reiss linen dress, (green available in store)
Moving on to something quite different, Nicky had said that she likes a shirtdress style and this was also in her preferred knee-length.
We both felt it would be really good for work or a holiday but somehow it lacked oomph for mum of the groom.
I loved this dress instantly because it has my favourite halter neckline. It’s hard to see from the photos but the colours are navy and lemon yellow with a touch of pale blue.
Blue and yellow halterneck dress
I think it might have been a contender if it hadn’t had the cutout at the middle which made it feel more like a holiday dress.
Blue and yellow halterneck dress
This pale blue and pink wasn’t a colour combo that I could imagine Nicky in…
… but when she tried it we both quite liked it. This dress has great panelling at the waist which is really flattering and Nicky said it felt light and airy. Obviously we can’t be sure what the weather will be like in July but she’s worried about feeling too hot so the wafty fabric appealed to her.
Now this dress has been on my radar this season because I’ve seen it being used in the ad campaign. At first I thought it must be Me+Em because it’s so similar to a print they used last year.
I haven’t been able to capture the elegance of the way that this dress moves with you – another moment when I wished I’d brought Mr MC because he’s so much better at taking photographs. You can see Nicky’s humouring me here – I absolutely loved it with its knee-length front…
… and dipped back. But Nicky didn’t – it was more my style than hers. If you do like the fabric though there’s also a co-ord top and skirt in the same print.
Nicky wasn’t sure about this one at all – she’d made it clear she didn’t like midi-dresses, particularly floaty ones but Adam persuaded her to try it…
… and you can see she was surprised. The sweetheart neckline and the half sleeves were so flattering and the print is a little more pink than it looks here – it was added to the shortlist.
We’d chatted about jumpsuits in the car, Nicky’s first thought was that they’re too tricky to go to the loo in but she was happy to try one.
And again she was surprised by how much she liked it – but although jersey would have worked for a wedding guest, it felt a little too informal for her important role.
I’m very familiar with this dress and yet I haven’t seen it on anybody other than the model.
It’s so simple that I was really surprised by how lovely it looked on, it really suited Nicky – a classic case of it looking better on a real person…
… and the scooped back makes it extra special. It has lovely weight when it moves too.
Although Nicky had said she wasn’t keen on jungle prints, they’re such a key trend that Adam had brought some for her to try…
… and it was yet another surprise success. She liked the way that it draped over her middle and she knew that a good bra would add extra oomph. She’s borrowed a styling trick from our friend Meg here with the pashmina over one shoulder and it did add to the outfit.
And another jungle print but with a navy background – we both love navy. This is made from a silky jersey so it’s stretchy but still feels luxe.
She’s on a roll – ‘doing a Meg’ again with the pashmina. This was another winner in my eyes, I thought it looked great on her figure but Nicky felt it was too clingy on the tummy and it wasn’t available in the next size up.
And there was a surprise number here, neither of us are particularly drawn to yellow but this fitted in with Nicky’s suggestion of a shorter length.
It was a sweet skater style but it felt a bit too girly.
And last of all was a simple number in pink and blue…
… the pashmina lifted it but the colours felt too pale for Nicky’s skintone.
SS22 dresses for weddings – decision time!
And so it was drumroll time. I’d noticed that two dresses in particular had made Nicky light up and hold herself differently… but they were both a long way from her original brief. It goes to show how powerful an appointment with the personal stylists can be – they encourage you out of your tried and tested zone, helping you to see yourself in a whole new light. The problem we had was that Nicky loved both dresses and didn’t know what to do. Being a bad influence I suggested she bought them both and wore one for the more formal setting during the day and the other for the rugby club in the evening. So she did.
Which ones were they? Remember she’d said she didn’t like jungle prints… just look at her face when she tried this one!
… and remember she said she didn’t like floaty midi-dresses? And yet her face did the same thing with this one too!
I’m so pleased for her because she’s found dresses that suit her and yet they’ll feel special because they take her beyond her usual look. There’s such a great contrast between the elegance of the first one and the relaxed, young mum of groom feel that the second one has. They both need accessorising – she tried a few things on but decided to think harder about hats, fascinators, hatinators, headbands, bags and shoes and may well go back to see Adam again. He explained that they’re quite happy just to work on accessories for an outfit, even if the rest hasn’t been bought at JL&P.
Dahlia print dress, Hatinator (available in store) Bag
Yet again I’d really recommend a personal styling appointment, it’s a free service and even with my shopping prowess we just wouldn’t have found anything if we’d been on our own. You need to plan ahead though – Adam ran us through his diary for the next couple of weeks and it was jam packed with weddings, graduations, holiday packing and summer wardrobe refreshes. Our appointment was for two hours which just gave us time to try everything on in a relaxed way and have a laugh while we were doing it. It’s the first time I’ve been with a friend and it does make it fun – you can book a group session if you want to which would be a great girls’ day out.
So here we are, ready to head home with not one but two bags.
I need to say a big thank you to Adam and John Lewis & Partners for giving us such a lovely day out. It did indeed feel seminal… the first of five such days for the two of us perhaps… but I’m hoping my turn won’t come just yet! Of course I’ll show you photos of the dresses in action on the big day but we still have three months to wait for that. In the meantime I hope it’s given you a few ideas for any weddings, graduations or other celebrations you have to look forward to this summer – you can find their complete occasionwear category here. Isn’t it great to be able to plan with confidence again?
So I wish you a relaxed and sunny bank holiday weekend. We’re breathing out a bit after our presentations last week – they all went well which was a huge relief after the months of work that went into them. And actually we’ve decided to recoup our energy with a guarantee of warm sunshine so we’re heading away for a week. I’ll be dusting off my much neglected Instagram account so if you’d like to see where we’re going, what we’re up to and get some ideas for holiday outfits, you’ll find me @midlifechic. And there will also be a blogpost while I’m away because I wrote one while I was thinking about what to pack – so prepare for bright summer outfit ideas. I’ve found a few pieces at great prices from retailers I don’t usually cover so I’m going to send it live on Tuesday before things sell out. Enjoy the extra time this weekend – and thank you for reading, as always.
Disclosure: thank you to John Lewis & Partners for working with me one ‘SS22 dresses for weddings, graduations and special occasions’
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