Putting on the Ritz

Hello everyone, my name is Gail Rolfe and this Sunday I have been asked to write a fashion blog about dressing for special occasions, while Tricia enjoys a holiday. For those of you who don’t know anything about me or my style credentials, here is a precis of my fashionable life.

I was the Fashion Editor of the Daily Mail from 1981 to 1995, Lifestyle Editor of Tatler for six years and I have been a freelance journalist and stylist for almost thirty years. I have styled major celebrities like Goldie Hawn for the cover of Tatler, but what I have loved the most is the many years I have spent helping women of all ages to make the best of themselves.  And by the way, I am still as passionate about style and fashion at 62 as I was as an 11-year old whose first school project was about the history of fashion.

How To Solve the Dilemma of Occasion Dressing

I joined the Daily Mail in May of 1981, and the only thing that truly mattered over those first few months was the impending Royal wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles. My task on the big day was to write about the guests and what they were wearing. I think it is virtually impossible to describe the extraordinary excitement, the fear and the thrill of being part of that unique historical moment. As the honoured guests made their way into St Paul’s Cathedral it was like having a front row seat at an enthralling and spellbinding fashion show with royalty, the aristocracy and world-famous dignitaries as the models. For me it was the start of a lifelong love affair with dressing for special occasions.

Hardly surprisingly my fashion pages over the next fourteen years regularly featured how to dress for the social calendar: the Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot, the Derby, Glyndebourne, Henley, speech days, Wimbledon, summer parties, significant birthday celebrations, christenings, anniversary parties, weddings, Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties, engagement parties and the endless charity balls that played such an important part in those decades. They all provided an excuse to feature very special clothes. Not that I really needed one.

In my own life I am that woman who plans her outfit with military precision. As a self-confessed control freak I like to be organised and prepared for all eventualities. From the minute an invitation used to drop through the letter box I started to mastermind my ensemble from head to toe. Like the planning of a summer holiday the process was, and still is, as much fun as the actual event. To me it is a challenge to defeat the vagaries of the British climate, maintain my normal style, still be comfortable and look elegant and hopefully absolutely fabulous!

Rather madly, one year my inspiration started with a pair of shoes, not just any shoes but a pair of boldly striped sling-back heels in red and ivory canvas. To balance the frivolity of the shoes I wore a simple red tailored skirt suit and hat. Sadly, due to a muddy puddle the shoes were irreparably destroyed, but thirty plus years on I still own the suit and the hat.

I openly admit that Diana, Princess of Wales was my style inspiration on more than one occasion. There were only two years in age between us, and I certainly didn’t have her budget, but when in 1986 she wore a striking ivory and black silk polka dot dress by Victor Edelstein to Royal Ascot, a year later I bought some identical fabric, and made myself a rather similar dress. I emulated her love of a feminine tailcoat over a sheath dress on many occasions and the elegant suits she so adored. More recently my special occasion outfits have moved away from sharp tailoring towards a softer silhouette. My favourites in the last few years are midi dresses that can be worn to myriad events, simply changing the mood by the addition of different shoes, jewellery and, when required, by a hat.


Orange dress, £1,695, by Emilia Wickstead. Hat, £462 by Phillip Treacy. 


Coral red dress, £215, by Fee G. Hat by Rachel Trevor-Morgan – Gail’s own. 

All outfits from Moda Rosa, who have just launched their sale!

35 West St, Alresford SO24 9AB https://www.modarosa.co.uk/

I know that my career, “playing” with clothes has helped me in my style choices, but I promise you I have made just as many fashion faux pas over the years. And I know from friends that the very words “special” and “occasion” and “dressing” in the same sentence can fill their hearts with anxiety and angst. But the most important thing to remember is that the heart of any special occasion is joy, happiness, and time to spend with friends.

I don’t know about you but I have missed the frisson of excitement that comes with an invitation to almost any kind of event, from a totally formal church wedding to a bohemian laid-back non-religious service in a barn. From the treat of going to the theatre, ballet or opera, to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, to a friend’s significant birthday whether it’s in a bar or in their home. The thrill of dressing up may have been dormant for the last eighteen months, but it is time to dust off our finery and allow our “special occasion outfits”  to leave the shelter of the wardrobe and blossom once more.

So, why is it that dressing for special occasions can be so fraught? I believe it is because these occasions celebrate important moments in the lives of our family and friends. For that reason alone, they are deeply emotional, sentimental and even nostalgic. We want to honour the day and what we choose to wear becomes overwhelmingly important whether you are the mother of the bride, or groom or a family friend. So, I have compiled a list of tips, advice and guidelines. I hope they help.

How to Get it Right

1. Do NOT leave shopping trips to the last minute.  Do NOT hope a miracle will happen and you will discover a hidden gem loitering in the back of your wardrobe days before the event. Both of these options will only lead  to panic buying and more often than not, expensive and unsuitable mistakes.  Some of us love to shop alone, confident in our taste and style credentials, but I always believe a second opinion can be a good idea. If they can’t shop with you, take a photo, and send it for approval or a resounding no.  

2. Ensure that what you choose is utterly comfortable. You may try on many outfits, and they may all be chic, sophisticated and elegant, but if you feel the slightest discomfort in a changing room, multiply that by many hours and it will have been a disastrous buy. So, spend time moving around, sitting down, even dancing until you are certain it feels in perfect harmony with your body. A local tailor who can work miracles is your best friend for special occasions when perfection is the only aim.

3. Always do some research into the venue. Nothing is worse than sitting in a draughty Scottish castle, stately home, marquee with no heaters, or country barn when you are wearing a floaty chiffon number more suited to a heatwave and lack a commodious shawl, or coat to keep you warm. If the event is during the winter the same guidelines apply, but try to wear layers where one can safely be removed, still leaving you looking stylish. Remember to ask will you be walking on grass, cobbles or anything else that prevents walking normally and safely in heels? That way your choice of shoe can be tailored to fit the environment.

4. Do not fear to ask details of the precise dress code. One person’s idea of informal or formal may be wildly different to yours. Will most guests be wearing a hat? Is a cocktail dress suitable or will every other guest be wearing floor length gowns? Is it better to overdress or underdress? If the event is a wedding, your job is to look elegant, chic and sophisticated but never steal the bride’s day. But if you are going to an evening party feel free to be as glamorous, alluring, and captivating  as you wish. 


Shirt dress with Venice print, £895, by Suzannah. Hat by Lanvin – Gail’s own. 


Shirt dress with pleated skirt, £595, by Sara Roka. Hat, 239, by Vivien Sheriff. Patent pumps by Jimmy Choo, Gail’s own.

All outfits from Moda Rosa, who have just launched their sale!

35 West St, Alresford SO24 9AB https://www.modarosa.co.uk/

5. If you are shopping at a local boutique always ask if they have dressed anyone else attending the same wedding/milestone birthday/anniversary party. The very last thing any woman wants is to find herself standing next to someone in an identical outfit. Sometimes the best boutiques for special occasion dressing lie outside the obvious city destinations. Find a good one near you, visit regularly and get to know the staff and the labels they carry. With a friendship built on trust you will hopefully get advance warning of new arrivals.

6. Style dilemmas that could only exist in 2021: the original 2020 wedding was in March and now it’s in August. The venue has been changed from formal to relaxed summer elegance. In some cases there is no alternative other than to start again. But look on the bright side, you will have an outfit ready to wear on another occasion.

7. If you are on a tight budget and support sustainability take a look at the flourishing rental market. When Carrie Johnson chose to rent her wedding dress and all of her outfits for the G7 conference, it was a pivotal fashion evolution moment. It provides a welcome inexpensive alternative to splashing out on a rarely worn item. Those to try: My Wardrobe HQ website, ByRotation app, Hurr Collective’s website or shop within Selfridges, Rotaro, and Onloan, plus BagButler and Cocoon, who rent out designer bags and jewellery.  Equally, scouring the many preloved websites for luxury designer labels such as Chanel, Valentino, Yves St. Laurent, Dior, Oscar de la Renta, Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin  can be an excellent alternative. And you may just bag a style steal as well.

8. Try not to wear black. Yes, Kristin Scott Thomas may have made it work at one of the weddings in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” by adding a fabulous hat and jewellery, and it can be chic and elegant, but ensure that any hint of funereal dressing is erased.

9. A final thought: don’t wait to be invited to an event to buy a beautiful dress. If you find one on a random visit to a shop or spot a gem online, buy it immediately. It’s never a bad idea to have something you adore hanging in the wardrobe. An event will always come around, and if it doesn’t follow my advice wear it with trainers and host your own party.

Here is a list of the women who always inspire me: Helen Mirren, Queen Letizia of Spain, the Countess of Wessex, the Duchess of Cambridge, The Queen, Miranda Kerr, Diana, Princess of Wales, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly, Princess Caroline and her daughter, Charlotte Casiraghi, Marie Chantal of Greece, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. If those don’t work for you, turn to Pinterest and search for occasion dressing. You will never lack for inspirational ideas.

Do follow me on Instagram @myageisirrelevant where I talk about staying stylish at any age.

Gail x

From Tricia: Thank you Gail for writing such an interesting and inspirational guest blog while I take a much needed break! 

Next Tuesday’s Tricia Talk (see details below) is with Dr. Beverley Searle who is CEO of a fantastic small charity called Unique which supports families like ours which has a child with a rare chromosomal disorder. One of our Super Troopers, Sue Seston and her husband Tony are currently walking the 800 mile Hadrian’s Wall Challenge as a Super Trooper Midsummer Fundraiser for Unique. If you feel able to support this amazing effort here is a link to Sue’s page: http://bitly.ws/esnS

Upcoming Event Information:


Makeup Magic Monday - The Importance of Brows and Lips to Frame the Face

Makeup Magic with Tricia Cusden and Sally Deung: we are going to be hosting a LIVE Zoom session in which Sally and I will talk all about the importance of your brow and lip makeup to frame your face.

We will be running you through our favourite hints, tips and tricks, as well as discussing two BRAND NEW products. Take an exclusive look at our new Long Lasting Lipsticks, as well as the new 'Blonde' shade of our Bring Back Brow Shape.

Day: Monday 5th July 

Time: 11am

Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88063818768?pwd=Mmd3eWFOQTc0V25GTE9mdWFPVkxjZz09

Meeting ID (if needed): 880 6381 8768

Password (if needed): LOOKFAB


Teatime with Tricia - Beverly Searle, CEO of rare chromosome disorder charity 'Unique'

Unique is a small charity supporting, informing and networking with families living with a Rare Chromosome Disorder or some Autosomal Dominant Single Gene Disorders associated with learning disability and developmental delay. When my granddaughter India was born, Unique was a fantastic support to our family.

Beverly Searle has been involved with Unique since 1990, after the birth of her daughter, Jenny, was born with a chromosome deletion which left her profoundly disabled and very medically complex. Beverly has since become CEO of Unique, and liaises with and helps families dealing with similar chromosome disorders. She is a decorated biologist and has a PhD in biological sciences.

Day: Tuesday 6th July 

Time: 4pm

Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83590895633?pwd=d0F5dzdtbW4rYmVCYlNhSHh1MnJnZz09 

Meeting ID (if needed): 835 9089 5633

Password (if needed): LOOKFAB


Film Club - Radioactive

Available on Curzon Home Cinema or Amazon Prime

Day: Friday 16th July 

Time: 4pm

Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88921017357?pwd=WnhLcG5BaG1lWDJCaDFNVXVLanBPZz09

Meeting ID (if needed): 889 2101 7357

Password (if needed): LOOKFAB

You can also keep an eye on the weekly schedule of Events which will be updated every Friday at 5pm (GMT) here: https://www.lookfabulousforever.com/a-bright-spot-for-your-day