Show of hands: how many of you have dresses kicking around in the recesses of your closet from proms or weddings? Pieces that you love and don't particularly want to donate, but aren't really sure how to wear again? Been there! I am the queen of advocating appropriate fashion, but I'm also a practical gal who hates wearing clothes just once. The philosophical resolution of this conundrum is that sometimes, you have to make the appropriateness. You browse around for inspo and get creative. Why not? It's silly to leave gorge fashion gathering dust and if you love it, you should wear it! And it can be done in super-stylish ways ;)
Whether long, short, be-sequined or plain, sleeveless or sleeved, A-line or straight silhouette, you have options with almost any iteration. The key them is mixing in more casual pieces into your outfit to take the edge of the dress's formalty. Did you choose an all-over sequined or metallic piece? Give it a bit of a punk turn by topping it with a graphic or band tee. If it's boxy, enhance the waist of your look by knotting it at the dress's visual waist. Finish the look with something colorful and lighthearted, like bright espadrilles or pom-pom sandals. For cooler environments, top the outfit with a classic denim jacket. A simple gown needs little more than a cute cardi and coordinating flat sandals to transition into a day or casual evening look. Another option is a slightly cropped blouse- like this- that hits at your waist. Give a lace or tulle gown new life by adding a knotted tank in a coordinating color. If your gown has short sleeves, make sure the neckline is visible above the tank's neckline and that the shapes are similar - this will create the look of a casual vest, a super hot and modern styling. Add sneakers for a sporty vibe. Top with a baseball cap if desired, or a bomber for cool evenings (or arctic air conditioning ;)).
Short dresses -even in sheeny satin! - lend themselves to casual looks just as easily as gowns. The whole knotted-tee-on-top trick works perfectly here, as does a button-down. Think cotton voile, linen, and gingham for summer, denim for any time and flannel for fall/winter. If your dress's fabric has a sheen, go with ballets, lace-ups or similar flat sandals for a low-key, but not super-informal vibe. You're looking for a shoe that bridges the gap between the relaxed feel of your tee and the formal feel of your dress (i.e. you'll probably need to avoid thongs and other ultra laidback flats). A matte fabric, like tulle or chiffon, can handles a more casual vibe - feel free to complete the look with sneakers :). If you're looking for a less athletic feel, try block-heeled or kitten-height sandals or flat espadrilles. With pastels and candy colors, keep your additions neutral to temper the sweetness and prom-esque vibe. If your dress is neutral, the whole spectrum of color is on the menu :).
If you did the ball skirt thing, your task is even easier because you don't have to worry about choosing a top that obscures the dress's bodice. Simply soften the skirt's formality with an off-shoulder top (try stripes for a French chic vibe) or button-down. Femme materials, like chiffon or tulle, pair nicely with a muscle tee for rocker edge. Finish the look with chunky-heeled ankle booties. Add a dash of leather with a moto jacket or a hobo or bucket bag. Bonus points for a chain handle :). Sweet lace or dramatic satin find a nice foil in a polished polo - the prim , cool vibe grounds these grander statements. Play up the sporty connotation of the polo with sneakers or give it a breezy edge-of-the-Mediterranean feel with gladiator sandals (yep, you can do your thongs here ;)).
A couple of notes: these looks can go with "simple-to-none" for jewelry - the dress is plenty of fancy :) The one exception is the punk and rocker-tinged looks, where you can enhance the vibe with studded or neon pieces, or touches of quirky materials like rubber and plastic/lucite. The hardest skirt silhouette to deal with will be the full-on Beauty And The Beast-style poofy A-line. Depending on your occasion, you should be able to treat it like a ball skirt. If it's a really impossible type of poofy, remember that most of that is created with an underskirt (or several) of tulle, which can be removed (talk to a tailor or DIY with a stitch ripper - it's a more precise tool than scissors that will let you cut through the sewn seams underneath at the waist. If you're removing multiple layers, do so one at a time so you can see how it affects the look of the dress. Note: removing "poof" will add length, so you may need the piece hemmed). Hemming is also something you might need to consider in order to be able to wear your dress with flats. Most tailors can do this for under $50. I hope this inspires you to keep your prom/wedding party/formal party dress in your style rotation. Happy styling!
Brie (Hi!) More re: me under About. I'm the moving spirit behind this little life-meets- fashion fairy tale world.