Friday, 24 June 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 24 June

Wedding guests – are you worried about looking too casual or, worse, like mutton dressed as lamb? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I’m very excited to be asked to the wedding of the daughter of a friend, but worried – to say the least – about what to wear. Is a hat essential? I don’t want to look blowsy, or mutton dressed as lamb, or as if I haven’t made an effort. What do you suggest?
Sonia Campbell, Oxted

Dear Sonia,
Clothes shopping is heaven for some but hell for others, particularly in an era of cheap fun fashion often bought online. The less confident need an old-fashioned shop assistant who knows what they’re talking about. Establish clear targets for your wedding outfit before you begin to look and allow plenty of time. Prepare for some demoralising spells. You’ll need a dress and either a jacket or suitable coat, in case the weather lets you down. Hats at weddings these days are optional and often taken off for the reception. Try to find out what other guests are planning or ask your friend, the mother of the bride.

Once upon a time there were rules: speaking of the mother of the bride – she would be in tangerine with café au lait lace overlay. All the other women would also favour the matching dress and coat look, but with fewer trimmings. Now, there’s this freedom. Even so, we’ve all seen amazingly catastrophic guests: quite young people look ghastly in a tiny crêpy frocklet and mad hat, the whole ensemble tottering on life-threatening heels.

Very ambitious heels I do not recommend. Nor, of course, do you want to look as if dressed for a business meeting. But you don’t need to be wildly floral either. Having said that, a good print dress will not fail you. Pay attention to the neckline – any bows, frills or collars might look either frumpy or insufficiently dressy. Conceal flesh that is past its best and avoid the squeezed-in look. If in doubt, simplicity is best. Which goes also for accessories. No dangly earrings, please. Clutch bags are really only for evening – but if you must.

There is no set formula for elegance but I do think that what I call a dress coat cannot fail – but it must be longer than the dress beneath. A dress coat is a coat made of dress fabric (in summer). It is not an overcoat. Our editor, Sam Taylor, has one in an intriguing raspberry mesh, which is a key plank of her wardrobe. If your dress beneath is a busy print, the coat should be plain. You could try a print dress coat, but I wouldn’t. Or the whole outfit could be plain, in contrasting colours: what could be more classic than a pearl-grey frock with a navy dress coat? Neither black nor white should be worn at weddings. Colours should be light and airy for elegance.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Did you hear that scientist Tim Urban is claiming that persistent latecomers could be insane? Chronic lack of punctuality apparently is linked to depression, anxiety disorder and self-loathing. Sufferers refuse to accept ‘how time works’ (a rather magnificent refusal, you might think). They make plans, then set about plotting to ensure they can’t keep them.

I do wonder if Mr Urban isn’t barking up the wrong tree. How about that lateness is a symptom of these various psychological conditions rather than itself an illness? Depression could make you late because you’re too depressed to care. Similarly anxiety: you’re trying to fit everything in and don’t leave enough time to get to the appointment. Some people have a pathological dread of wasting time. They can’t stand being early, therefore are late.

Some people are just selfish and don’t think it matters. On the other hand, some are over-obsessed with being on time and blow up if someone is a few minutes late. King George V was like this. He ran his home as a naval vessel with him as the captain. It wasn’t very homely. All the same, we should aim to be on time as best we can.

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