Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Formal Wear on the Fly

Dear Belle-

Hi! I am a follower of your site and would like your input on what to wear to the Gridiron dinner on March 20.  Also, places around DC that have a good gown selection.

Thanks so much!

To My Dearest and Most Beloved Liz,

I will agree to provide you with style advice, if you agree to let me accompany you to the Gridiron Dinner as your date.  I realize that securing an invite to the prestigious event is harder than getting a kidney, but I think my advice is well worth the expense.  After all, it’s not like I’m giving fashion advice away for free at the rate of three posts per day, available on the Internet, for all to see.

I await your reply with bated breath and gown in hand.  Your humble servant,


Living and working in Washington, D.C. occasionally provides we regular folk with the opportunity to attend formal events.  These events usually have very specific dress codes.  In the case of the Gridiron Dinner, the invitation demands that attendees don the much-feared and misunderstood white tie.

The most formal of all the dress codes, white tie demands, and will accept nothing less, than a full length gown.  However, procuring such a gown (at a price point that won’t put you into the poor house) is easier said than done.

If you must buy a dress, I suggest Nordstrom’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus.  Riveting insight, I know.  There is also Rizik’s in the Farragut North area, but this store has half the department store’s selection at twice the price.

If spending a lot of money on a gown that you may only wear once doesn’t appeal to you, you might try calling a few consignment shops and asking them if they carry gowns.  You may be able to secure a designer gown at an affordable price.  But if I were in your shoes, with little more than a week until my event, I would rent a gown.

Yes, I said rent a gown.

There are two Internet companies that rent formal attire.  The first, Rent the Runway, has a limited selection of gowns but their customer service is impeccable. I have rented from them three times and I’ve never had a problem.

Don’t know what size you’ll need? Rent two sizes for the price of one.  Still doesn’t fit? Drop it in the mail within 24-hours and receive a full refund.  Want to rent another style just in case? They will discount the second choice if you rent them for the same time period. 

You could rent this backless Yigal Azrouel gown (retail $1,400) for $200, or…

this classic Robert Rodriguez gown (retail $725) for $100.

If neither of these gowns strikes your fancy, you can also rent formal attire through Wear Today, Gone Tomorrow.  The site has limited sizes and styles available, but the prices cannot be beat.  (You certainly couldn’t buy a gown for this price.)  And while I have never rented from them, I know a few people who have and they all had positive experiences. 

This Sue Wong gown would be flattering on most body types and could be borrowed for a mere $70…

or you could rent this Shoshanna strapless gown for a mere $55.

If you aren’t sure that you will get the wear out of an evening gown, don’t buy one.  But if you intend to make a purchase, please consider the following guidelines:

1) Choose a classic style.  A simple, elegant gown can be worn for decades without looking dated.  A backless, deep-V gown in the color of the moment will sit in the closet glaring at you for years, a reminder of your poor financial decision.

2) Please, don’t choose black.  There are so many women with black evening gowns that you will never stand out from the crowd if you are wearing black.  Try buying a jewel tone (emerald, sapphire, amethyst) or grey gown instead. However, if you want to buy a black gown, choose one that has something extra to offer.  Tina Fey’s Michael Kors gown may be black, but it still has panache.

3) Never, ever, ever buy a gown that doesn’t fit you unless you have the time and money to alter it.  Too often, I see women tugging and pulling on their gowns because they are either too big, too small, or too long.  This is not attractive.

When you buy a gown, ask the sales person how much it will cost to hem the bottom, shorten the straps, nip in the waist, etc.  Then figure these costs into the price of the dress.  A beautiful dress can look just as bad as an ugly one if it fits poorly.  So please, buy a dress that fits or put in the effort to make it fit. 

If you need an invite to either Rent the Runway or Wear Today, Gone Tomorrow, I will be happy to provide you with an invitation.  In exchange for a ticket to the Gridiron Dinner, of course. 


    1 comment

  1. Rich Reams says:

    Hi there…where can I rent a nice evening dress in Washington DC??/ My sister was chosen CITIZEN of THE YEAR Nationally, by the National Assoc of Social Workers….and they are honoring her in DC this weekend, and honey I know she has nothing in her closet that is right…I want to get her decked out…kind of a big thing for our family. She runs a non profit who repairs the homes of the elderly. She’s a size 16…I need someone who can make her feel special like she does everyday with the seniors she helps.

    July 23, 2014/Reply