Four weddings and ... nothing to wear

Without so much as a hint of left-on-the-shelf sour grapes, Belinda Morris seeks some off-the-shelf fashion solutions as she prepares her wardrobe for a hectic round of weddings
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The Independent Culture
Between Easter and the end of summer, six of my nearest and dearest friends are tying the knot. And I'm not happy. Been there and done it myself, so it isn't left-on-the-shelf, I-want-a-party-too, sour grapes (although a few of my electrical goods could do with replacing). And I'm not questioning their taste or good sense. I'm thrilled for them all, really I am. But six? I ask you ... and the really irritating part is the overlap.

If you drew a Venn diagram of the guest lists of these weddings, there would be this huge circle in the middle, with all the same people in it that I'll be sharing bucks fizz and canapes with for the foreseeable future. So that's six new outfits, obviously.

The only consolation is knowing that I'm not alone. An unusual dilemma for ancient me, but for your average twentysomethings lots of weddings is par for the course. So based on the assumption that, unless they're all It Girls, my problems are their problems, I offer my personal research for the general good.

The issues as I see them are: (tick as many as you like)

Lots of weddings and the same people at each.

In a fair world I want to wear something different to each.

It's not a fair world.

Budget as tight as 100 per cent Lycra.

Last year's suit doesn't fit/looks dated.

You're supposed to look smart for a wedding.

Office smart doesn't count - who wants to wear a business suit to a wedding?

But can a fortune be justified for an outfit that will never be worn again (See No 2).

I don't want to look like everyone else (see No 6).

I probably shouldn't wear black.

Do I have to wear a hat?

How do I go effortlessly from church to disco?

And so to the rules. Some can be broken, others are pretty much sacrosanct. It all depends an the wedding. But whether it's in a ploughed field or St Paul's Cathedral, the one thing you never, ever do (barring some ulterior motive, like it's your man up there) is upstage the bride. So, the long, scooped neck, ivory lace number is out, as is anything that shows an unseemly amount of heaving cleavage or buttock. Bear in mind the bride's family (whose guest you probably are) who may be easily shocked.

Dress codes are not written in stone, but the clues are in the invitation. If it came by fax or e-mail then it's likely to be a laid back do with not much parental involvement. Slacks are fine. It's the gold embossed cards with a family crest you need to worry about. If Lord and Lady X request the pleasure it would be wise to take a hat. Everything in between is a matter of taste, judgment and common sense.

All very daunting, but it just so happens that fashion is on our side. Never have so many flashy fabrics and swanky suits been seen on so many high street rails. Not just for wedding guests, but because, says the PR girl at Giant, so many younger women are wearing tailoring these days. Not just for work but for pubs and clubs as well, so they want something a little different - at a good price.

The clever thing about Giant's tailoring is the multi-purpose element. Like the black and white pin-striped stretchy jacket that can be worn over a matching slip dress with rose embroidery on the bodice, or over a boob tube and pants. Respectable in the church, raunchier later on, a second outfit if you buy all the pieces (just over pounds 300) and okay for the office.

If you want something glitzier, there is a gold brocade long-line jacket with matching pants or a stretchy gold slip dress; a silver jacket with fine pale blue piped lapel edges over a pale blue jersey, embroidered shift dress, which could be worn with a matching cardigan. Look for Giant concessions in department stores.

Good old M&S should not be overlooked either. For less formal weddings there are pretty Ghost-style frocks; crocheted shift dresses over matching slips; fine viscose knit dresses with matching long line cardigans and Suzy Wong brocade shifts in cornflower blue or sand; no coat or jacket needed if it's a warm day. Chose from the paler coloured tailoring if you want to wear a suit. A silver grey trouser suit (pounds 145) with flat front, straight leg trousers, or a polyester crepe wide legged trouser suits (pounds 120) are perfect for summer office wear with a T-shirt, but easily dressed up with a stretch devore top (pounds 23); lacy knit chinese-style top (pounds 26) or a fine silk pastel cardigan (pounds 32).

If you have to go all the way with hat, matching bag and shoes, but begrudge the expense, then M&S can help. Even the most extravagant feathered confections are under pounds 50, a pair of lilac suede-look slingbacks with a silver snaffle, pounds 25 and a lilac beaded bag a mere pounds 16.

But the best value and the most dramatic hats are at BhS - fabulous pink fluffy feather or long black and white feather jobs, from pounds 35, great with their silver dupion frock coat (pounds 90) and floral brocade-look shift dress (pounds 60).

If you're in Selfridges, John Lewis or Allders, look for Tattoo which has a good selection of equally well-priced glitzy tailoring. An ice blue brocade long line jacket (pounds 95) and matching shift dress (pounds 55) with a short skirt or slim pantas alternatives, for example.

Oasis has brocade skirts and skimpy tops which can be hidden under knee length jackets; a gold pin-striped trouser suit that can be dressed up or down and a lustrous navy fitted jacket that covers up a matching bustier dress (until the band comes on).

For casual affairs there is Nougat's crocheted, scalloped hem dresses with matching cardigans; fluid viscose crepe separates and embroidered linen-look dresses in warm colours - all well under pounds 100.

For at least one wedding I'm going to treat myself, but feel sure that Press & Bastyan's dusty pink V-neck viscose dress with scalloped hem and pointelle detail will be endlessly useful, as will the ice blue empire line chiffon dress with glitter print and ribbon trim. Both way under pounds 200.

Finally I'm going to have a rummage in London's best vintage clothing shops. Steinberg & Tolkein on the Kings Road is stuffed with expensive designer labels, but you can find a decent 50s or 60s suit for under pounds 75. Cornucopia in Pimlico has, right now, a 60s Chanel-type pink suit at pounds 35 and a Hardy Aimes dress and jacket in magenta and green for pounds 65. Both have awe-inspiring choices of costume jewellery and dinky bags. Sorted.