Red carpet affair: Make the most of gala fashion

We sure shouldn’t take romantic advice from celebrities or look to them for how to raise children. But if there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s looking fabulous at black-tie affairs. (Well, they’re also good at having affairs, but that’s a different story.) Gala events give noncelebs the chance to up the glamour, let go of fashion inhibitions and for that one night, to truly be a movie star.

San Diego summers are filled with galas, from this month’s Patrons of the Prado event to August’s Jewel Ball to September’s Monte Carlo gala. The events benefit beautiful causes and are crowded with beautiful people. By following a few tips, gala fashion can be just as luminous as the event it’s worn to:

One in a million:

It’s as appropriate to pull out all of the stops and head to Neiman Marcus for some Gucci and Lanvin as it is to do some vintage shopping. The result is often similar: a one-of-a-kind dress, as very high-end designers often put out only one or two of a dress when it is so expensive and lavish. When choosing from more affordable designers, such as BCBG, the chances of repetition increase, but really, at an event with hundreds of people, dress twins (or triplets) are much less noticeable than at, say, an intimate wedding.

Dress type:

Stick to floor-length gowns, because really, how often does one get to wear one of those? According to Nordstrom Fashion Manager Dana Walker, silhouettes this season were slender and long, yet angular, creating a modern approach to fashion.

“What looked the newest was the floor-sweeping gown with a modern feel, which highlighted a strong shoulder,” she said. “This could be achieved through a strapless, one-shoulder or even halter gown.”

Walker recommends dresses in summer-friendly fabrics such as “lightweight chiffon,” “sexy jersey” and “sophisticated satin.” Stay away from velvet, which is weather-inappropriate and can often be unflattering.

When dress shopping, take a friend along, but listen to your gut. If a dress is too hard to move in when in the fitting room, no matter how fabulous it looks, it isn’t the dress to buy. Having to use the restroom happens, so if the dress consists of a corset lacing halfway down the back, either dehydrate yourself the day of the event or skip the dress.

Live in color:

Look for bolder colors and avoid black unless the cut is spectacular and bold enough to merit such a choice.

“This awards season, the red carpet featured so much color,” Walker said. “There are so many beautiful jewel tones to choose from, but what really dominated were all different shades of blues, from light sky blue to an intense cobalt.”

It’s true, most white dresses are either tacky or fit for a bride, so look elsewhere unless you’ve dreamt about it for three nights in a row. (If you’re single and the dream comes complete with a groom you’ve never met before, re-evaluate the dress. Seriously.) Instead, Walker recommends checking out the whole color palette of pale and muted neutrals, such as blush and crème.

“The most modern-looking new trend in color is metallic,” Walker said. “You can try it in a fabric with a metallic sheen or go all the way in a complete solid in colors like gold, bronze and pale platinum.”


Unless one finds a pair of Christian Lacroix’s jeweled chandelier stilettos on sale for $39.99 and then happens to stumble across a miraculously complementary Prada clutch marked down to $50, it’s pretty hard to justify building an entire outfit around accessories. Put that drool-inducing fashion fantasy aside and pick the dress first. Metallic accessories complement almost everything besides a metallic dress; i.e., a siren-red, one-shouldered gown would look amazing with gold snakeskin stilettos and an envelope-style clutch in a slightly different shade of gold.

“This season, accessories are more sculptural, and it’s really not about dripping in rhinestones,” Walker said. “It’s more about one strong statement-making piece, be it a bold necklace or a strong earring. These strong accessories should be worn as single items because really, you are creating a work of art.”

As for shoes, go for that really strong, teetering-tall heel.

“It’s not about dainty straps anymore,” Walker said. “It’s about a strong platform that really anchors out the modern silhouette.”

Listen to the suits:

For men, it’s all about Bond, James Bond (take or leave the martini). Look to the British spy for inspiration: a streamlined, nonfussy, dark suit, with tailoring that speaks for itself. This is the time to go high-end. In fact, for “Quantum of Solace,” former Gucci designer Tom Ford made Bond 350 suits, so it would be safe to say the man knows what he’s doing. Choose expensive-looking, unostentatious accessories: a polished, narrow black dress shoe (try Kenneth Cole for a cheap thrill), a watch, small cufflinks and a satin tie.

What the gala chairs say

Las Patronas’ Jewel Ball chair, Jennifer Greenfield, knows a thing or two about gala fashion: People are still talking about her green Lanvin from last year. “I saw it in a fashion show and instantly fell in love,” Greenfield said. “For this year’s ball, I am looking for hot and spicy colors to go with the Silk & Spice theme. Both of the dresses I am looking at are in the Indian theme.”

Elisabeth Bergan, the Patrons of the Prado gala co-chair, will be wearing a black Pamela Roland chiffon gown she found at Neiman Marcus in Dallas. “Men, please don’t let anyone talk you into weird colors,” she said. “Black tie is just that. And women, pick the dress before the accessories. It’s impossible to find something to match silk elf shoes, even if they are by Christian Louboutin.”

Monte Carlo gala chairs Matt and Nancy Browar, whose gala has a “Club Monte Carlo” theme, think there isn’t a man in town who doesn’t look good in a tux. “I am eying a flowing Gucci gown, and Matt will be in a tux with a contemporary tie of some sort,” Nancy said.