What cool girls wear to parties
And there's not a dress in sight...
*Please note, this is a very long post filled with an extra long shopping list so click ‘see entire email’ if you are reading this in Gmail so you can see it all.
She is not the first person you spot, but she is the only one you will remember the next morning: a woman whose style is so distinct, so unselfconscious, so just right, that you wonder why anyone else bothered.
I’ve been thinking a lot about party dressing recently. It’s a term I loath, what with its suggestion of sparkles and crushed velvet and general overexcitement, but also one that fills me with dread. It’s the only time of year smart, rationale women who have never worn a sequinned suit in their entire life, suddenly feel it’s THE missing piece to an otherwise fulfilled life.
Anyway, last week my colleagues and I I threw a big shindig for some of our writers in London. We held it in a vast bookshop-cum-bar-cum-warehouse right by the River Thames. It was a pretty special occasion, what with me essentially not having left the house since the last party we threw over a year ago. I would have to do a speech, be photographed and meet a bunch of people whom I had only ever met over Zoom and who, as such, thought I was nothing more than a pair of head and shoulders.
There was just one problem: when I opened my suitcase at the hotel I was staying at for the night I realised I’d forgotten to pack an outfit. The party was in two hour’s time. I mean seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up.
What to do?
I rushed to my normal harbour of sartorial safety, Cos, to find they’d suddenly decided to only sell ‘party’ dresses for women with size 34 inch hips. I ran over the road to brave H&M where there seemed to be an awful amount of sequinned leggings and shirts covered in diamanté, then had a mild panic attack wondering what sort of wash you’d have to put this stuff on. (Hand wash? 30 degrees? DRY CLEAN ONLY????). Next door Arket appeared to now only be dressing people who were into bushcraft and armed robberies, since there seemed to be little else beyond rails of fleece gilets and balaclavas. Finally I alighted on Liberty.
To my international friends reading this, Liberty is a dangerous place. It’s essentially a department store, but because it’s housed in a creaky old mock-Tudor building with lots of rickety staircases and warped wooden floor boards, you someone feel less guilty about dropping a small fortune on a dress you will never wear again because it feels like you are, in some weird way, contributing to British heritage.
I had been here before- throwing money I didn’t not have at a party outfit that would neither make me feel ‘myself’ nor contribute in any meaningful way to my existing wardrobe.
I tried on a Cecile Bahnsen dress because at least I knew it would fit a woman with normal proportions, but quickly realised my life and wardrobe had no space for a dress that was basically a very expensive/stylish marshmallow. I considered a black velvet suit for a fraction of a second before realising I had been here before and did not want to spend the evening feeling like a security guard. Then, just at the moment I was about to start sobbing on the shoulder of the lovely shop girl, I spied a plain, grey flannel suit all alone in the corner of the shop. To the naked eye it was very ordinary. Plain. A little oversized. Trousers long and forgiving. Mannish in many respects. The sort of outfit one would normally pass over in favour of something more ‘exciting.’
‘Would you like to try it one?’ she asked? I nodded.
She brought it over and hung it in the perfect caramel changing room light. And as I stood there, staring at it, it made me think about all the women I remember at parties. They were never the ones in a sparkly dress or wobbling around on a pair of embellished heels. They were Alexa Cheung in a pair of ballet pumps and denim at a cocktail party; the photographer Laura Bailey at a ‘serious’ fashion party, in all black save for a giant velvet bow in her hair, which you only noticed as she walked out of the room. It was a much older woman who tipped up to a ‘black tie’ event full of twenty-somethings in Paris in a plain navy suit, a pair of white trainers and earrings so long they tickled her collar bone. This was what cool women wore to parties- outfits that defined them as opposed to outfits that defined the party.
And so that’s what I did. With just 30 minutes to go I bought the grey suit. I felt for the first time in years truly, madly, deeply myself. It felt very cool indeed.
The Ultimate Cool Girl Edit
Now a round-up of what sharp women wear when they go out ‘out’- as chosen by some of the coolest women around
The Statement Belt
‘I like to scrape back my hair and put on a sexy top with black trousers,’ says author and always the best-dressed woman at any party Pandora Sykes. ‘I do also like really big obnoxious gold chain belts from Etsy and eBay. I have a great one with hearts on that I think is just the right side of naff with an all black outfit and minimal jewellery.’
The Bermuda Short
‘I like a cool pair of Bermudas with very high heels or pointy flats if I can’t bothered,’ says fashion photographer and OG style blogger Garance Dore. ‘Another option is to pick one colour and go full monochrome, pink is amazing, or white of course.’