Carola Long: 'Satin dresses and beaded bags became the de facto wedding uniform'

I've never actually seen a wedding invite where the dress code stipulates that "ladies" should wear lurid satin dresses from Coast and feathery fascinators (below) resembling a dead pigeon with a blue rinse, but you can't throw a bouquet at a wedding without hitting these looks. Somewhere along the line, together with fussy beaded bags, pashminas, cropped boleros and satin Wag shoes, they became the de facto wedding uniform. However, just because weddings are essentially conventional, it doesn't mean that what we wear to them has to be. This look is about as dated as agreeing to obey.

There are few more reliable ways to make yourself look unhinged than overloading your head with feathers, net, crystal and fake flowers. However, if you are of the opinion that a wedding demands a decorated head, bypass feathery, ribbony combs and choose an understated hairband – say with a slip of net or a few costume jewels – or one with a vintage look. The V&A gift shop has a surprisingly good selection of these.

Many a wedding outfit is also let down by a bad "cover up"; in fact anything explicitly termed a cover up is probably best avoided. Nicole Farhi has a sweet short-sleeved cape with a flat bow dubbed the Grace Kelly cape (£200, nicolefarhi.com), which strikes the right demure note. It's quite hard to find stylish smart jackets – anything too structured or with lapels won't work – so try vintage shops for Fifties-style duster coats or jackets of the type that used to come with matching dresses. Now, of course, they don't need to match, and neither do shoes and bags.

However, the trend for nude or putty-coloured heels handily offers up footwear that will go with anything and looks more sophisticated with pale or bright colours than black. With nude shoes – and at a summer wedding, generally – you need nude legs, or at least the appearance of them; Pretty Polly's "Naturals" tights are practically invisible, but it's worth checking the colour in daylight to avoid that waxwork leg look. Otherwise, you could spend the day feeling as uncomfortable as the silence after a particularly inappropriate best man's speech.

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