May 31, 2009

How To Dress For A Garden Party

As a lover of themed parties, I am very excited for the garden fête I'll be hosting in a couple weeks. However, some of my potential guests have already expressed the age-old question "But what will I wearrrrr!?" For those of you experiencing trepidation about this, I present:

A Tutorial

Garden parties have long been a way for sophisticated people to entertain guests while showing off the grounds on their estate and wearing fabulous outfits. Since the grounds of my estate consist of a average-sized lawn in average condition and one flowering bush that technically belongs to the backyard neighbor (that I'm praying is still in healthy-looking bloom by the time of the party), the fabulous outfit part is of utmost importance. The rules are fairly simple: dress up and dress for the summery outdoors. From there you can go a lot of different directions. (Another rule I would like to add is: wear something you wouldn't wear normally. It'll make it more fun, I promise.)

As garden parties have been around so long, every generation has it's own take on costume. Since I expect many outfit pieces will be coming from thrift stores, and as everyone has their own particular favorite styles, all eras are acceptable. Take your inspiration from whatever suits your fancy (and whatever you have the pieces for). Be Emma Woodhouse at a garden party. Be Scarlett O'Hara at a garden party. Be Daisy Buchanan at a garden party. Be Jackie Kennedy at a garden party. Whatever suits your fancy. (Men can similarly be Mr. Knightly, Rhett Butler, Jay Gatsby, Jack Kennedy.) I personally will be wearing a dress my mother bought for a dance in the late 70s/early 80s sometime, but it has a kind of turn-of-the-century feel to it (no more detail than that, it's a fantastic piece and worth coming to the party to see). Have fun with it.


Wearing a dress is expected, though if you want to be the girl that rocks a white pantsuit or something, more power to you. Light fabrics (in color and weight) are recommended, as it will be warm out, but don't limit yourself if you are in love with that navy dress. When looking for a dress, feminine details like lace, ruffles, and ribbons are a good idea. I know you all have at least one outfit you wear to church or weddings or such in the summertime, so if you don't have the time/money to go all out, that outfit will be fine (particularly when paired with some good accessories).

The key to doing this right is accessories. Hats and/or parasols will help protect your complexion from the sun and add a unmistakable air of refinement to your ensemble (a slide show of appropriate and inappropriate hats here). Fans, gloves, brooches, handkerchiefs, etc. will also be excellent additions to your look. A collage of some appropriate accessories:


Men should probably wear a suit. If not, then perhaps a dress shirt with a vest or sweater. Classic suit pieces can be worked into various personas: the prep student, the country gentleman, the old-school gangster, the barbershop quartet guy(?). Do what feels right to you. As with the women, fabrics should be light in color and weight (all of you who spent $1000+ on a designer white linen suit once and then never really had on occasion to wear it, here's your chance, you can thank me later). Ties and hats are definitely a good way to give your outfit a little flair. There are numerous options out there for ties and hats, so have fun with it. You may not, however, wear a piano key tie or one of those hats with a little spinner on top. If you show up in either, you will be forced to sit in a timeout corner while everyone else sips their mint juleps and gossips about you (in the most genteel way we can manage: "Harold has rather let himself go since Evelyn left." "It comes down to bad breeding, I say") . Other appropriate accessories include: handkerchiefs, canes, pocket watches, cuff links.

Follow these rules and this could be you:

Additional Tips and Inspirational Photos

Don't be afraid of lots of white. Labour Day is months off:

Do reconnaissance at other garden parties if you have the chance. Me and Extraordinarily-Well-Dressed Guy at a recent garden party (the party was pretty terrific; mine will be better):
Wear something you can move in somewhat for croquet and badminton. The Most Awesome Badminton Outfit Ever:

I hope this is helpful. See you at the party! (Note: if anyone reading this wants to attend, will be in the area on June 13th, and didn't get an invitation via facebook, let me know and I'll give you details.)


elbailandosol said...

Where might one procure a parasol?

Allison said...

Oh Andrea, how I love you. I hope that I will be able to create an outfit appropriate for such an excellent and refined social event.

Steff said...

The whole time I was reading this post I was thinking about the Great Gatsby and dressing like Daisy Buchanan... and then I saw that one of the pictures you posted is a scene from the movie (book is better but the movie was good too) and I knew I was on the right track! Since I'm not a facebooker... may I have an invitation via email?

Andrea said...

I think one would probably be able to procure a parasol at either a costume/party shop or one of those Oriental Trading-type stores.

Valerie said...

How I wish I could attend your garden party wearing an outrageous Eliza Doolittle hat. It's a secret dream of mine that fancy hats will come back into fashion and that all women will be like Lucy Ricardo and want to spend all their money on fancy hats. Women would be hat-crazed instead of shoe-crazed. Or both equally.