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What to wear to school dinner dance

by Kayla

My school is going on a trip to Hershey, PA, this Spring and we are going to have a dinner dance in the evening. I was wondering what I should wear. I'm more on the heavier side and I don't like to show my shoulders. I would appreciate it if you could help me, thanks!

Jane's answer... Hi Kayla. There are a few things to consider to answer your question. First consider:

  • The formality level of the event-- Find out where it is being held. Is it in an up-market hotel or restaurant? Or in a school hall? Consider the setting and how smart that setting is. The smarter the setting, the higher the formality level of the event, and vice-versa.

  • The dress code-- Have you been told what the dress code is? Is it smart casual; semi-formal/cocktail; or formal? I would imagine it's more likely to be smart casual or cocktail. For a cocktail, or semi-formal dress code a 'dressy' dress (more on this below) between mid-thigh and knee length would be appropriate. If the code is smart casual you have a wider set of options, including: a long, floaty dress; a nice skirt or dressy pants and an evening top; a smart dress

  • How warm the venue will be
  • -- Will you need a nice shrug, cardigan, or jacket, for warmth?

If you haven't been told what the dress code is try and find out. You can:
  • Ask the organizer

  • If something similar was held last year, see if you can find photos of what the girls wore to give you ideas

  • Ask your friends what they are going to wear, use their answers to give you ideas of what level of dressing will ensure you look appropriate and therefore feel comfortable

Characteristics of evening clothes

  • Evening clothes are usually made of finer fabrics such as lace, silk, satin, tulle, and sheer fabrics

  • Fabrics with some sheen and shine look more evening-like than those with matt surfaces

  • More often than not evening dresses and tops have no sleeves

  • Shoes should have a lighter look to them. A skin colored, or nude-colored, heeled sandal can be a good choice. Or choose a metallic color. The color itself doesn’t have to be light, as long as the shoe doesn’t look too heavy for the outfit

  • An evening handbag should be smaller than a day bag. A clutch, or small purse is appropriate. It doesn’t need to match your shoes, but it should be somehow related to your outfit. This can be with color, texture, or theme

The next thing to consider is yourself! Think about:

Your body shape

You've told me you're on the heavy side, but that doesn't tell me what your body proportions are. (See if you can work out your vertical and horizontal shapes here.)

The idea is to see what clothing shapes will suit you best. For example, if you have a triangle horizontal shape should you add apparent width to your top half to balance your hips, without adding bulk to your waist. The aim is always to create (or keep) a more hourglass or inverted triangle horizontal look and to make your torso and legs look balanced in length.

Since you've told me you're 'on the heavier side' you will want to choose clothes that skim your body, rather than body-con, clinging clothes.

Since you don't like your shoulders you will want to cover them. You can either do this by choosing a sleeveless dress, or a dress with short, or even long, sleeves. Alternatively, since many evening dresses are strapless, one shoulder or have thin straps, you can cover your shoulders with a nice evening shrug, cardigan, or jacket. If you don't like your shoulders because they are broad and square (rather than tapered), make sure you avoid a horizontal line in your clothing near your shoulders. For example, avoid a wide, shallow neckline, unless it is broken by a shrug or jacket.

Your coloring

It's very easy to automatically go for black. After all it's considered suitable for evening wear, it makes you look slimmer and there are a lot of clothes available in black.

If you have very dark brown or black hair and a strong contrast level between your hair and your skin, then yes, black may be a good option for you. However, it can also be a boring color! Especially at the moment, when there are so many lovely color choices around. Please understand that any medium-dark to dark color has the same slimming effect as black, so do consider other colors too!

Your best colors will be those that echo something about your natural coloring. For instance, for many people, wearing a color similar to their eye color is a good choice and it makes your eyes more noticeable. However, this doesn't work for everyone -- if your eyes are a very warm color, for instance, and your skin undertone is not warm, then wearing your eye color is not a good idea. For more about understanding your best colors read this article.

And last, but not least, your personality

Are you conservative in your clothing choices? Or do you like to stand out? Do you like a soft feminine look, or a stronger edgier look?

Outfit inspiration

You haven't told me your age, but I'll assume you're around 17.

Having worked out the dress code, the level of formality of the event, and your shape, and keeping in mind your coloring and your personal clothing preferences, I suggest you find inspiration by looking at pictures in your favorite magazines, fashion blogs and online stores. Pay attention, not just to the dress or clothing, but also to how it is styled (that is, look at the shoes and jewelry and any outer wear) and whether or not you like how it is styled.

Online clothing stores are getting a lot better at giving ideas for total looks. For instance look at:

Here are a few ideas:

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