Something like 30 years ago, I had to hurriedly buy an outfit for a fancy affair. I wound up in Carolyn Charles. She would become a favorite of Lady Di several years later, but that day I knew only that I had to be some place glamourous, with famous people, in a few hours. I spent an inordinate sum of money, mitigated only slightly by pounds sterling translation.
This weekend I was invited to an Oscar-watching party. Dress code – fancy. As it happened, my closet and I were in separate parts of the Bay Area. Purchase required. And I knew, without a doubt, that I didn’t need a new serious dress.
Off to T.J. Maxx we went. An experiment, to see if a) I could find something and b) whether I might extract some useful principles. Things looked good, right from the start. To whit.
5 Principles For A Budget Red Carpet
I’ve never shopped at T.J. Maxx before, but dresses seem to be a strong point. I gathered veritable armfuls, and made my way to the dressing room. First try, sequins. Hmmm. I’d already had some fun with those, back at Lavish!
Principle #1: Unusual metallic sequins are almost always a safe bet. Unless you’ve been there, done that.
I also worried about te Big Shiny Rectangle. I prefer to gesture at my waistline somewhere, rather than hang fabric directly from shoulder to knee. And it was a loud rectangle – those sequins were in fact paillettes and they clattered a tad.
Principle #2: Find a simple but flattering silhouette. Budget complexity is rarely successful. In my case, flattering means taking your kind advice and owning my shoulders. Baring them, even. It also meant wearing the dress backwards. The intended front view was what we can only call, in all kindness, cheesy.
Principle #3: Look for a color that flatters you. A lot. So I went long, and blue, as you see above. I tried out red, and purple, but why bother? Of course I really wanted Penelope Cruz’s Oscar dress color, but I doubt she chose her outfit in 45 minutes, and I doubt she shopped at T.J. Maxx.
Principle #4: Take a strong trend or two for a test drive. Along with the dress, I bought nude (for me) shoes and a lavender wrap. More experimenting. Below you will see the nude (beige) platforms, still on trend. Should they have been patent leather? For evening? No. But given the 45 minute shopping excursion I’m pleased. And 80s electric blue with lavender and beige counts as color blocking. Impunity. I personally think this blue ought to be called Joan Collins, but what do I know?
Behold the receipts. Wrap, shoes, dress.
One caveat. The earrings and bracelet above are real. But a similar impact could have been achieved with some additional judicious budget shopping. Cuffs are everywhere.
Principle #5: Hair, makeup, and underpinnings matter more than you might think. My hair is sort of a mess in this photo – but if you imagine I had curled it, Grecian ringlets down my back, then I’d have a “look” going. If you imagine my shapewear hadn’t also been in another part of the Bay Area, well, no need to get into details.
So what would blowing the budget have gotten us? A more sophisticated color, certainly. But most impact would have come from a heavier jersey, probably silk. It would have hung with more gravitas, more style. But can you imagine how much fun it would be to have someone with a microphone ask you what designer you are wearing? Impunity trades off quite well for fabric quality.
Note: This post was inspired both by this one at Une Femme D’Un Certain Age, with a real stylist, a real red carpet, and a real sophisticated blue, and Terri at Rags Against The Machine, whose persistent style experimentation I admire.
Note: My gosh you all have been so nice in the comments. Thank you very much.