Get the look for less - the bargain hunter's guide to special (equestrian) occasions
The summer season of equestrian events is ever expanding, and as the same can't be said of our purses, we wanted to bring you a post containing hints and tips on creating stunning looks a budget for the summer's special equestrian events.
Occasions such as the Royal Ascot, the Cartier Queen's Cup polo at Guards or the Jaeger LeCoultre Gold Cup at Cowdray all have their different outfit requirements and/or dress codes, and costs can quickly get out of hand, especially when tickets are factored in. However, with a little hunting around you will be able to pick some outfits to be proud of and if that sounds good, then read on!
Although the Royal Enclosure at Ascot or the VIP section at any major high-goal polo tournament are notorious fashion parades, for those of us in the grandstand going down the classic route of a pretty dress and accessories is the best plan, especially for those of us on a budget. Smart summer dresses are surprisingly versatile as picking the right style can give you a head start on creating a look not only for the above mentioned occasions, but also for other summer events such as weddings, Henley Royal Regatta, Glyndebourne or even the perennial 'what to wear for the office in the summer' question.
If the budget can only stretch to a couple of items we'd recommend dresses, firstly going for something knee-length, with short sleeves, with the second being something different like a maxi-dress. The first, knee-length option will work with the strict dress code enforced for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, and is also something that will look lovely for weddings, no matter how smart (or not) they are. Although Guards Polo Club does not have as strictly enforced a dress code, you won't go wrong with a dress of this type even for the smartest day at the Cartier Queen's Cup tournament.
To create a different look, we really recommend a floaty maxi dress. Although not something that would work for Ascot, this type of dress fits in perfectly at all but the smartest of polo matches or other summer events. Steer clear of the strapless styles of maxi though, as it's difficult to strike the right look given that most strapless styles are designed for either balls/weddings/other formal occasions or for the beach! The maxi style is perfect for those of us who weren't blessed with supermodel legs, and really captures the spirit of relaxed sun-drenched afternoons at Cowdray watching the King Power Gold Cup finalists battling it out.
We're big fans of scouring eBay in search of that bargain. This is especially the case for smarter dresses as there is often a wide variety of barely-worn dresses available for a fraction of their original cost, meaning dresses costing several hundred pounds from classic brands such as Reiss and Whistles can be picked up for under fifty. For that more bohemian option, we also like Free People for floaty summer dresses, although the eBay options are more limited here.
The high street is increasingly a good source for the pretty, floral tea dress if you're keen to buy new, and brands like Zara, ASOS, Jack Wills and Oasis have a real range of styles and lengths. Of course the downside here is the increased risk of turning up at the event to find someone wearing the same dress as you, but this can be mitigated by what you choose to wear from our next section...
Hats, shoes and bags
The old adage that accessories can make or break an outfit is definitely true for the smarter occasion, and can be a simple way to create a totally different look using the same dress - perfect for those of us on a budget.
Experience has taught us that 2 or 3 hats in simple styles can work across the main summer events, and can be worn year on year with different dresses. Picking a style that suits your style and face shape can be a daunting process if you're new to buying a formal hat, but we found making an afternoon of it with honest (but not too honest!) friends in a large department store made the process more fun. There are some really smart looking hats available in department stores among the fluff and fascinators, and can often be found for around the £50 mark. If you're really organised, wait for the end of the summer sales to pick up a bargain for next year - you'll save even more and will be less likely to come across someone wearing the same hat next year!
You can also hire hats from high-end milliners if you want to be sure of wearing something unique, although this can get expensive during the summer season, especially if you have multiple events to attend. It might sound obvious, but it's definitely worth buying your hat in person rather than chancing it with an internet purchase in the attempt to bag a bargain. It's so much harder to tell what will suit you than it is for a pair of shoes, bag or event a dress and returning or reselling items is so time-consuming!
For less formal events where a hat isn't a necessary part of the dress code, we love the Hicks & Brown Aldeburgh fedora (click on photo to buy from their website), which is perfect for keeping the sun off your face in style during those sun-filled afternoons at the polo.
With shoes and bags, again simple is better in our view - if you're on a budget you don't always want to wear anything particularly memorable, especially if you might want to wear it again later. This season, for example, we have gone with a classic pair of espadrilles from Marks & Spencer as one of our shoe options (as before, click on photo to buy from their website). Although these wouldn't pass the dress code for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, they're perfect for stomping in the divots at polo matches and you can't go wrong with a classic navy!
With bags it's always worth considering spending a little more out of the budget here if you can, as getting the best quality you can afford with a gorgeous bag can lift an outfit more than anything else. We have had some absolute bargains from shops selling second-hand designer bags (some of which hadn't even been used) and a well-chosen bag can be your friend for life.
We really recommend The Designer Exchange as a starting place if you want to go down the designer route, as they verify each item is genuine before sale. If you're into bags and know exactly what to look for however, you can get some real bargains via eBay.
If you prefer something else, we really love the clutch bags available from Albion England for a smart look, and a relaxed afternoon at the polo would be perfectly accessorised with a tote like this one from Fairfax & Favor (as previously, click on photo to buy from their website).
We hope you've found this a useful starting point for creating your 'look' for that special event, whether it's a day at the polo or your best friend's wedding, and that you have a happy bargain-hunt!