Fashion Failures: Why ‘Single Event’ Outfits Never Work

Posted by Jill Chivers in Fashion, Style and Shopping, Shop Your Wardrobe Strategies

I recently attended a fashion festival with my mum. It was a chance to have some together time, and was a very girly day with three fashion shows, each a ‘composite’ event showcasing five or six designers’ work.  We saw a wide range of clothing (all in stores, available for immediate purchase) from swimwear to bridal wear.  Sometimes it wasn’t that easy to tell the difference.

Two interesting things came out of this experience.  The first was it got me pondering about the difference between fashion and style.

The second thing was the post-event survey that we agreed to complete.  When a delightful young woman approached us after the first show to ask our opinions about the fashion festival, I said yes.  I’ll skip past the boring questions she asked, which were quite a few, and get to the two that really jumped out at me:

  1. Did we go shopping prior to attending the fashion festival so we would have something new to wear to the events?
  2. Are we inspired to go shopping after the events, based on what we have seen at the fashion shows?


Being tuned in to shopping messages as I am, I was intrigued by both those questions.  Perhaps I am too far gone in the “fashion” stakes (I don’t believe in fashion, well I believe it exists, but I don’t follow it or believe it has anything really interesting or relevant to say to me on a regular, ongoing basis) but the thought of going shopping with the express purpose of acquiring an outfit for a particular event simply doesn’t occur to me.

I have literally retrained my brain to think “shop your wardrobe”, which is what I do when a new event comes up.

I can’t imagine heading out into the stores to seek out an outfit for a new event, unless it was a cartoon character costume party perhaps.


A special event outfit unlikely to be worn ever again

A special event outfit unlikely to be worn ever again

Shop your wardrobe before you shop the stores

And of course this is something that I advocate for other women, too.

Shop your wardrobe before you shop the stores – it’s a winning strategy!

You  can often be amazed at what hidden gems are lurking in your closet that can be combined in new and exciting ways and pressed into an entirely new service.  Extending both the life of the garment and your enjoyment of it.  Not to mention it costing you nothing!

Here’s the thing: buying a new outfit for a particular event can be a risky strategy.

Why special event outfits rarely work

  • The ensemble often isn’t fully road tested before it’s worn, so it can wear in unexpected, and uncomfortable, ways.  Such as it’s hard to sit in, or drive wearing, or it pinches or rubs or crushes or it performs so poorly in some other way that you end up wishing you were wearing almost anything other than this thing you have on right now.  Which can be especially tough if it’s an important event where you are on show, like an interview or you’re giving a presentation.
  • The outfit isn’t worn after that single event. That’s because it was purchased with the sole intention of being worn at that one event, and so all those “versatility” questions weren’t asked about it prior to its purchase.  Which can mean it isn’t very versatile and goes with nothing (including your lifestyles and personality) now that the event for which it was purchased is over.  This makes it a very high “cost per wear” item, and therefore not a very sound financial choice.
  • We can feel especially guilty about these “single purpose event” outfit for the above reasons. We often hang onto these outfits often long past their usefulness (which may have expired immediately after the event) and they hang in our closets, silently mocking us.  (Yes I believe clothes can mock us.  Please don’t unsubscribe just because of that – there are more strange things about me you’ll miss out on finding out about if you do).
  • You can feel especially self-conscious wearing it, especially if it’s also failing in ways outlined in the first point above.  You can feel especially aware of yourself, the wearer of this New Outfit, and it can make you tune out to the experience of attending the event and the people who are there.  You can be so caught up in your own internal experience of wearing this New Outfit, that you don’t enjoy the event – you can’t get comfortable, you can’t be you, because your attention is constantly being drawn back to how awkward you feel in this New Outfit.

So from a practical, emotional and financial perspective, these ‘single express-purpose event’ outfits can be poor buying choices.  They let us down long-term (and sometimes even before that).

I advocate the shop your wardrobe before you shop the stores approach, even for (and sometimes especially for) special events. It just makes so much more sense.

And don’t forget the beg, borrow and steal approach as well.  If it’s a special occasion and you need a sparkly evening purse and you don’t have one – why not borrow it instead of buying it?  (Begging can also work, although as a long-term approach it has certain downsides.  And stealing is not advocated at all – just for complete clarity).



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    7 Responses to “Fashion Failures: Why ‘Single Event’ Outfits Never Work”

    1. Julia says:

      I can think of one occasion – ONLY one – where a single-use garment is appropriate, and that is a wedding, if you are the bride or in the wedding party.

      Kinder brides (I wasn’t, but I didn’t really know better at the time) will select a dress that can be worn on future occasions. (I have one such, that really needs to be hemmed a bit if I’m going to wear it with flats, but hemming is a relatively minor proposition.) For my sister’s wedding, I wore a nursing dress, as I had 3-month-old breastfed twins at the time of the wedding. (Her other attendant didn’t wear a dress, but wore a lovely vest as part of her outfit.) At least I had the decency to pick a cotton blend for the bridesmaids’ dresses for a June wedding in Texas…. (I was also careful with color choice, in that I picked a color that would look good on all my bridesmaids and didn’t make me look hideous next to them.)

      Any other occasion? Figure out what you want to have in your wardrobe for very special occasions, and buy that when you have the opportunity and time to think about it before doing so, and have the time to hunt down shoes in a leisurely manner. (I still don’t have The Perfect Shoes to go with that one dress, but there are 3 pair that will do, and I wear one of them, depending on circumstances; I’ve also set a price ceiling on “perfect” shoes for that dress, and will not pay more than that if I find an otherwise perfect pair with too high a price tag.)

      • Jill Chivers says:

        hi Julia – thanks for stopping by and commenting. Weddings do seem to be the major exception of ‘one time only’ outfits, although I know a number of brides who attempted to create wedding-appropriate outfits that they could wear again, even if they did require some alterations before being able to do double-duty as a day suit, for example. One of my favourite transformations in the incredible magazine Altered Couture is of a wedding dress that was dyed and turned into 3 new items — a skirt, a top and a wrap. Wedding dresses can become ‘sacred cows’ so I was especially delighted to see that such gorgeous, quality fabric was able to be pressed into service in entirely new ways. My best girlfriend was ‘best man’ for a wedding, and she was 7 months pregnant at the time – she wore tailoured black pants and a tailoured silk shirt with a vest, and some blingy accessories — perfect, and all she bought new was a few pieces of costume jewellery.

        Agree with you about other occasions and first either do a review of what’s already in your closet, or go shopping in it. Only then will you have ‘good intel’ to base a shopping trip on.

        • Julia says:

          A close friend of mine is planning on getting married next year, and her plan for her bridesmaids is to dictate color, but allow a lot of leeway for the cut of the dress, and these dresses will be usable for years to come. Her own mother was married in a suit that she was able to wear for years afterward.

      • ConnieF says:

        Ok, I’ve done the ultimate ‘recycling’ of my wedding dress. I wore it for both the 1st and the 2nd weddings! Now, I’m planning to have it shortened as the classic style (sheath with spaghetti straps) will work for other dressy events. Thank goodness I didn’t think of this after wedding #1 and actually kept the dress, ha ha.

        • Jill Chivers says:

          Loved thsi Connie — indeed the ultimate recycling, wearing your wedding dress at both your weddings! And reworking it so it can be worn for other occasions now is a great idea… so often wedding dresses are the ‘sacred cows’ in our closets, and its a shame because they are usually made from such quality fabric and can be upstyled and revamped in so many ways. Good for you!

    2. esme noir says:

      i am intrigued with the idea that one can feel self-conscious as “the person wearing a new outfit”. if the outfit is uncomfortable or unsuitable,this is a negative experience. however, it can be kind of fun to be wearing something new and different for the first time and enjoying the inner feeling of wearing it. true, it can be distracting, taking one’s attention away from the outer world.

      • Jill Chivers says:

        hi there – thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hear what you’re saying about how much fun there can be in wearing a new item – there’s a ‘novelty factor’ involved that IS enjoyable, especially (well only, in my experience) if the outfit FITS. So, a good point – thanks for sharing it!

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