There’s just a week to go until we find out who has won the top titles in this year’s Trinity Mirror Cheshire Business Awards. The coveted trophies are presented at a black tie gala dinner at Chester’s Crowne Plaza hotel. Gil Lightfoot ponders the question of what to wear.
THERE’S nothing more exciting than an invitation dropping through the letterbox – but when you notice the dress code is ‘black tie’ does it make you shiver with delight or shake with dread?
The term black tie indicates that the event is going to be a formal occasion and for men that generally means a bow tie worn with a dinner suit. These days the tie doesn’t have to be black and colourful accessories such as waistcoats and cummerbunds often ring the changes.
But what does it mean for women? Does the code still demand a full length evening gown or can you get away with something less formal?
For some women the thought of dressing up is a welcome change – a rare chance to feel elegant in a world that is increasingly casual. For others, it’s a step too far outside their comfort zone.
But these days women aren’t expected to stick so rigidly to the code and dresses of all lengths and styles are perfectly acceptable. You only have to look back at photographs taken at our own Business Awards over the years to see that everything from full length gowns to evening trouser suits have mingled together beautifully over the canapes.
The host for this year’s event, Lucy Meacock, is constantly in the public eye and no stranger to formal events. Fortunately, she’s happy to dress up.
‘I absolutely love getting dressed up for a special occasion,’ she said.
‘I suppose it’s something little girls really enjoy from childhood. When I was six I was a bridesmaid at a really smart wedding. I had a beautiful full length dress and it was magical like something out of a fairytale. It’s one of my earliest and happiest memories.
‘These days, when anything goes, it’s much harder to get it right.
‘I go to a lot of functions for work, for charities and of course fun nights out with friends. I think it’s important to remember there’s a big, big difference between a business do and a night out with friends.
‘For business functions I would never wear anything that was too exposed on top (maybe it’s the fear of doing a Judy Finnegan and bursting out of it). I avoid anything with very thin straps probably for the same reason.
‘I’m often hosting a do such as an awards ceremony so I have had to get used to having my photograph taken a lot – and most photographs don’t show your entire outfit just the top half! I always try to choose something that isn’t black because I love colour. Black can drain all of the colour out of your face as well.
‘If you have to make a speech or go up on a stage always wear shoes that you can walk in. I am not suggesting hiking boots here, just a shoe with an extra strap so you don’t go over on a heel and fall flat on your face.
‘My main problem is always a handbag. I need something big enough for a mobile phone and notes on award winners/speeches etc plus makeup! Luckily there are a lot of metallics around at the moment – and it might not be very ladylike but I have to take a sizeable handbag – it’s a must. You also find your other half wants to put their mobile phone and wallet in your bag as well!
‘The other thing is ask yourself: ‘Do I want to be taken seriously?’ If it’s a business function you probably do and it’s probably important that people listen to what you’re saying – so avoid something very low cut or you’ll have some letch looking down your cleavage all night and he won’t be listening to a word you say!
‘However, if it’s a Christmas do and you’re with good friends there might be someone you want to look down your cleavage all night – so wear something as low cut as you can get away with!
‘For a night out with friends my perfect outfit would be sexy, flirty and feminine and I would have to have very high sparkly shoes! I really love glittery shoes. And I’d have to have wear a dainty bag with a strap so I can sling it over my shoulder and keep my hands free for all the glasses of champagne that I hope will be coming my way!’
Also used to formal functions and dressy do’s is TV and radio presenter Esther McVey who founded the Winning Women networking group. She is also a fan of dressing up.
‘If the code is ‘black tie’ you can dress up as much as you like,’ she said.
‘Really go to town on a special outfit. Black tie occasions are celebratory occasions and people dress accordingly.
‘However, you don’t need to buy another outfit if you’ve neither the time nor the money. A sleek dress, (your favourite black number) accompanied by snazzy jewellery, great shoes and with hair up can really be perfect for the occasion. ‘Frequently it’s the accessories that make the outfit special and there are so many wonderful accessories that you can buy, from faux diamonds for the hair, particularly well suited to short hair, to hair fascinators, jewellery, shrugs and this season, gloves – particularly three quarter length – are the big hit.
‘Try a black dress with red gloves and shoes, for a 1950’s look.
‘Makeup is important too, slightly more, slightly brighter and keep the lipstick touched up – you’ve the whole night ahead of you! More than anything have a great night!’