Tis the season for peonies, hay fever and wardrobe dilemmas. Everyone I talk to this time of year has a burning what-should-I-wear issue. It could be a wedding, or an ends-in-a-zero birthday party. Summer has always been peak season for what-to-wear fever because summer events are – or can be – the best of the best. When a summer wedding or party is really good, it’s like a mini-holiday. A fortnight’s worth of sunshine and laughter – and quite often a fortnight’s worth of rosé – knocked back in an afternoon like a shot of tequila. Magic.
This summer, the what-to-wear question feels more urgent than ever. After two summers of cardigan-swaddled picnics, we are not at the top of our dress-up game. And with a 26-month backlog of babies, engagements and graduations to celebrate, a wardrobe challenge is likely to be heading your way soon.
Summer parties have always been the trickiest to dress for. First, because they are – see above – potentially the best parties of all. So, you know, no pressure. Second, playing poker with a capricious climate is a national sport in Britain, so a summer party will almost always be outside. Third, there remains a sort of pageantry to summer events – from hats at Ascot to flower crowns at Glastonbury, from wedding white to carnival brights – that feels like pressure to get it right.
Anyway, the answer to your question – about what to wear to The Thing – is a Play Suit. Not a playsuit as in a short-legged version of a jumpsuit, but a Play Suit as distinct from a Work Suit. A suit, but colourful, and worn for fun, not the 9-to-5. I went to a wedding recently where the chief bridesmaid wore a vintage lilac trouser suit with a cream corset top. Sensational. And at almost every chic event I’ve been to this spring, the trouser suit in a deliberately NSFW colour has been the star. An after-hours trouser suit for women has traditionally meant something black and rakish in the vein of Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking, which is a fabulous look but doesn’t sit with the sweetness of mood a summer party calls for. But in fuchsia pink or sage green? A whole new vibe. Instead of a blouse, wear something fitted and sleeveless underneath: a camisole, a corset, even a matching waistcoat.
With any new look, there is still a perfect moment to catch a wave. Had you worn a pastel trouser suit to a wedding in 2019, you would probably have stuck out like a sore thumb among the gingham puff-sleeve midi dresses. Wear one in 2023 and you will be one of a crowd. On the red carpet they are being worn by everyone from the Duchess of Cambridge to Zendaya, so those around you will recognise the suit as a blue-tick party look – but most of them will still be wearing dresses. People will look at you, but they won’t raise their eyebrows in alarm.
Reiss, haute high-street spiritual home of the wedding-guest dress, has pivoted to majoring in coloured trouser suits – my top tip if you’re thinking of investing in a new look. Its hyacinth-blue Cora suit (£250 for the jacket, £150 for the trousers) is elegantly tailored with padded shoulders and a peaked lapel bringing subtle party energy. Its lemon-yellow Etna suit (£268 for the jacket, £168 for the trousers) has a slightly softer, patch-pocketed, notch-lapelled blazer and sensuously curved flares. Both are Bridgerton-level pretty, but way cooler than any ballgown. A summer dress is still as pretty as a picture. But the Play Suit is the look you will have the most fun in.
Hair and make up: Sophie Higginson using Susanne Kauffman and Chantecaille. Model: Lydia at Body London. Suit: Veronica Beard. Top: Reformation. Sandals: Thrift+. Earrings: Dinny Hall