By KATHY O’NEIL
As we wistfully contemplate the last days of summer, the Cleveland social calendar shifts into high gear. Among the most anticipated events are the elaborate galas that dot the fall evening landscapes. The summer’s warm temperatures dictated a casual vibe that most women and men appreciated in June and July. But Labor Day marked the finish line for summer attire, and the need to transition into more formal eveningwear for the season’s fundraisers and special events.
A few elaborate parties stand out from a fashion point of view this season. These often stipulate a long ball gown and tuxedo. Both the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Museum of Art have major galas in October. The Christ Child Society in December is another dress-up evening for its attendees. Years ago, when most benefits were formal, wearing fancy dress was de riguer. Now a days, you see cocktail dresses or beautiful pants and tops more often than not. Maybe that is why women look forward to pulling out the stops with a major dress and an up-do when fall galas return.
There is something supremely elegant about a long dress. This year the fabrics for formalwear are beautiful. Embroidered tulle, printed satin, and bejeweled long skirts are a few of your choices. Strapless necklines remain the most popular, but you’ll see more one-shoulder styles and greater glitz than ever before. The ’80s surfeit of sequins is not quite back, but the oh-so-plain Vera Wang party dress with just pearls will be harder to find. Many of the strapless looks are combined with a cropped jacket, shrug, or a cardigan. In October, a pashmina may be all you need for the evening chill. Lovely knitted fur or fur-trimmed accessories can provide a change up for the nights when you need something more substantial.
The trendsetter might select a dress trimmed with lace. Lots of all lace or appliquéd lace designs can be found. The newest looks have lace inserts or a lace coat. Cleveland may not be the location where a plunging Hollywood neckline is a common sight. Any evening gown, however, can show off a girl’s assets, with some discretion. One just needs to know what is appropriate and what is flattering versus what’s just “out there.” A lot of styles have a fitted top and then a flowing sweep of a skirt. These dresses are often belted. You will see many long or short dresses with a simple monochromatic top and then a lush printed or jacquard skirt that has a jeweled belt.
Jewelry is a major focus in formalwear. A simple top shows off the bling. The more-is-more at the neckline in 2014 is everywhere. Real or costume oversized necklaces and earrings are the jewelry of choice at night. You put on one showstopper and then lay off the rest. Just one major piece draws attention and will flatter your hairstyle or dress neckline.
The jumpsuit, often designed like a tuxedo, can make one look instantly pulled together. They can be halter, or jacket styled, with either a flowing trouser or a classic tuxedo leg. This is the perfect look for the tall, thin, more androgenous woman who looks fab in anything. The other plus is that with the right accessories, it looks great at black-tie events. This season’s jumpsuit is more than just a tuxedo jacket with attached pants; it is a softer, more feminine look which gives it more versatility, if you can carry it off.
This is the season to give your hairstyle a more formal look. The magazines are suggesting a French twist , an elaborated braided bun or even an up-do with a thin headband. Just changing your hair style for an evening can make a huge difference in your overall appearance.
A word about footwear. Some of the most popular and pretty shoes are the lovely fancy sandals or very high heel pumps you see at a fashion shoot. Use your head. It is a very long walk to the party rooms in the new Cleveland Convention Center. Plan ahead. No one wants to arrive at a party in all their finery and think, “My feet hurt so badly!” Been there. Done that. If you are going to stand most of the evening, kitten heels are your friends. Some platform styles are easier to wear than a simple pump. Shoes do make the outfit though, so keep that in mind when you are putting together your ensemble. If ballet flats are your preference, just be sure they don’t show very much. They are a basic, casual shoe, even if they are made of suede or peau de soie. It looks really off under an elaborate dress.
Evening bags are smaller, too. Please, please change your handbag, or go without one if you must. A leather tote, hobo or any purse with a lot of hardware looks awful after five. Really!
It is the beginning of a busy, benefit season. All these nonprofits are deserving of our support and will provide a great, fun evening. Gear up! This is one of the best times of the year to truly dress up! Cheers.