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What to Wear to a Charity Ball? Advice by Fashion Stylist Esma Versace

Last week was Paris Fall 2014 Couture and I’ve been consistently floating off to fashion heaven at the jaw-dropping and glamourous gowns shown on the runway.  As they are still ingrained in my fashion-psyche, I thought it’s the perfect time to provide CharityDOs’ readers with some style advice and tips on how to choose that perfect dress to wear to one of the many charity balls and galas advertised on the CharityDOs website.

A ball, gala or black-tie event is the perfect occasion for you to have your ‘Cinderella moment’ and wear a beautiful ground-sweeping gown, fairy-tale shoes, dazzling jewels and glamourous hair and makeup.  It’s the time for you to sparkle and be red-carpet worthy just like your favourite celebrity.

Whether you’re attending the Hear and Say Annual Thiess Fundraising Ball in Brisbane, the Ronald McDonald House Charity Ball in Melbourne or the Christmas in July Black Tie Fundraiser in Geraldton, Western Australia, by following a few hard and fast style rules you can be as dazzling and glamourous as the celebrities who walk the Oscars red carpet.

Comfort and Fit

What’s the most important style-rule in choosing a gown for your gala event?  Comfort – absolutely, unequivocally, non-negotiable.  If you’re starting point for your gown is not comfort and ease-of-wear then hang up your frock and sit this one out.  Your gown should be an extension of your daily personal style and right for your body, shape and age.  It’s not about choosing the most outlandish, extravagant, un-wearable gown – it’s about choosing a fit and style that works for you because what’s the point of wearing something that might look great but is uncomfortable and almost impossible to wear? 

This is not to say you can’t add a little ‘make-believe’ glamour to your black-tie style, just start from a point of fit and comfort and you’re not just going to LOOK like a princess you’re going to FEEL like one.

Style

Elegant and shapely is the optimal style to choose for your ball gown – garish, over-the-top and showing WAY too much skin (anywhere on the body) banishes you straight to style-exile never to return.  If you’re young with a body like Rosie Huntington-Whitely, then show off your curves with a body-skimming sheath style and if you’re not then highlight your good points and hide the rest.

Some general style rules for various body shapes include an A-line or full-skirted gown to conceal bigger hips and thighs with a fitted bodice to balance out proportion.  Empire lines are generally good to hide tummy areas and for those with a smaller bust.  If you’re shapely you could choose a mermaid style that is fitted and flares out at the knees.  If you have a beautiful décolletage, show off your assets with a strapless gown.

Fabric and Colour

So very important.  Shiny, stiff or cheap fabric is your worst enemy and will highlight every lump, bump and flaw and will not encourage the paparazzi to photograph your journey down the red carpet. Sumptuous and quality silks, chiffons and velvets (for cooler months) are the best and most elegant options.

Don’t overdo the sparkle with over-done embellishments or sequins which will only scream ‘Liberace’ rather than Naomi and avoid too much fabric, i.e. a huge-skirted gown will make you look like a bad version of Scarlett O’Hara.  The colour of your gown should be flattering to your skin tone and age and for ladies over 40, avoid harsh, bright colours or trend-driven patterns. Often a soft pastel shade is a flattering option.

 Fashion-Ballsred carpet

Accessories

Beware overkill and apply the KISS rule to accessories. 

If your dress is highly embellished, keep accessories elegant and minimal and opt for a ‘style duo’, e.g. earrings and a cocktail ring.  Gowns that are simpler in style can be paired with statement-style accessories such as chandelier earrings and a jeweled cuff or crystal bangles.  If you’re feeling a little bling-heavy, perhaps try Coco Chanel’s rule – take one piece off before you go. 

Shoes and Bags

Gala events call for Cinderella-style shoes so add a little sparkle and embellishment, using the KISS rule of course.  Elegant and classic styles such as sexy strappy sandals (think Jimmy Choo), elegant peep-toes or sling-backs with stiletto heels work best.  If sparkly is not for you, tone your shoe with your frock or go for nude to complement rather than detract. Under no circumstance does one wear chunky or closed-in shoes, boots or summer-inspired wedges!

There is only one bag to choose to complement your ball gown and that is an elegant hand-held clutch.  Whether the finish is embellished, metallic or unadorned, this is the only option.

Beauty

There is a fine line between glamour and overdone when it comes to hair and makeup.

For hair, choose elegant and softer looks such as a tousled up-do or natural wavy tresses.  Always!  If you do want to try a more elaborate up-do, then please leave it in the hands of a professional and book yourself into your hairdresser.

Your choice of makeup is dependent upon age and skin tone however a well-blended smoky eye and soft blush is a fabulous choice.  A common error is to pile on heavy foundation which is instantly aging and unflattering.  A dewy, natural finish will always enhance and flatter your look.

Finish off gala beauty routine with a natural sun-kissed glow – provided by favourite tanning salon of course.

Red carpet perfection!

Finally, look to the runway or red carpet for style inspiration when choosing your ball gown.  Celebrities such as Rosie, Kate, Naomi, Julianne and Helen consistently tick all the right style-boxes and deliver red-carpet looks in an age-appropriate and uber-stylish way.

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