Reader Request: Perking Up Your Evening and Dinner Outfits

perking up dinner outfits

Brenda popped this one into the suggestion box:

I’d like some thoughts on day versus going out to dinner clothes. I wear dresses and jackets/blazers to work, and they seem dressy enough to wear out to dinner. I’d like to pick up some ideas for adding a little “wow” so that my dinner outfits still feel like me, but they also feel a little special. P.S. In the Portland, Oregon area, so many people wear jeans to everything and tank tops are common in the summer, even at fancier places. I need to blend in a little!

Here in Minneapolis, things skew pretty casual, too. But that doesn’t stop me from putting on the glitz when I’m feeling the urge! Since Brenda is working with a base of outfits that feel dressy enough for dinner and evening events, but hoping to perk up her looks a bit so they feel more special, let’s start there:

Try statement jewelry

Seriously, friends, what did we do before giant, flashy, fun pieces of jewelry became the norm? In my opinion, the quickest and easiest way to take an office-friendly outfit and make it seem more fun and evening-ready is to add some sparkly jewels. A big, eye-catching necklace would be my weapon of choice, but a stack of bracelets or gorgeous chandelier earrings would work, too. Slapping such items onto an actual suit might seem odd, but sweaters with slacks/skirts, or jackets with dresses? Ideal. And statement jewelry works beautifully with jeans, too.

Want more help with jewelry?
Necklaces and Necklines
Necklaces and Necklines Revisited
Finding Quality Accessories
Jewelry Resource Roundup
Balancing Earrings with Hairstyles

Swap your accessories

If you’ve been wearing solid opaque tights at work during the day, switch in a pretty patterned pair. Add a bright patent belt to your dress, or throw on a printed scarf. Do a stack of bright, funky bangles. Items that might feel cumbersome or annoying during the work day may be easier to tolerate during the evening hours, so consider adding new touches or switching out a few key accessories before heading out for the night.

Want more help with accessorization?
Accessorization and Figure Flattery 101
Successfully Deploying Your Tights
Finding Quality Accessories
Building Accessory Collections
Working Those Colorful Tights
What Belting Can Do for You
What to Do with Brooches
Flattering Hats for Every Head
Accessory Balance
Befriending the Scarf
Belted!
Other Already Pretty posts on accessories

Slip on amazing shoes

Most shoes that work for work are at least slightly practical and comfortable. More spectacular and less pragmatic footwear can be saved for nights perched at a flashy bar or chatting with friends over cocktails. Shoes can truly transform the feel of an outfit, so just swapping in a more glamourous pair can change how you look and feel.

Want more help with shoes?
Incorporating Colorful Shoes
Casual Shoe Basics
Shoe Basics

In terms of general guidelines for day versus evening clothes, that is SO subjective. Especially in environments where super casual dress is the norm. My thought is that – in most non-dress-code-contingent cases – evening dress is down to personal choice and preference. Picking items and embellishments that make YOU feel special and dressed up will help you create evening-appropriate looks. Because, naturally, you can wear statement jewelry, patterned tights, and great shoes to work or at home or just about anywhere. They are not the sole domain of nighttime gallavantery! But if you deploy them with the idea of feeling and looking fancy in mind, you’ll feel and look fancy. In fact, just dressing differently might be the key. If you do glitter and bright colors for day, try a sleek, minimalist look for evening. If you wear your fanciest shoes wherever you go, focus on a different part of your outfit or look for dinner: An intricate updo, patterned blouse, or artful set of layers.

What else would you suggest to Brenda for going out and dinner ensembles?

Image courtesy Dana LeBlanc.

  • Eliza

    I have a similar situation, where I wear basic dresses during the day, and then accessorize them for night. One thing I like to do is add a long, shear scarf as a belt/sash. This trick adds a little texture and movement to my stiffer ‘day’ clothing. I usually knot it asymmetrically in front, and let the ends trail to just above my hem.

    To get myself into the right mindset, I also sometimes add a very subtle drop of perfume for the evening. I typically use unscented products, so that change makes a big difference in my mindset, though I keep it so light that I doubt most people around me would notice the addition!

  • Jennifer

    I find that a little perk-up in make-up and hair makes me feel all fancy too. This might include bolder eyeliner, sparkly eyeshadow, red lipstick, a hair updo, or a sparkly headband ~all things I don’t do at work~ helps me feel special for a night out.

  • Ruth

    There is something that always amuses me about the fact that one of the few places where most of us can bear to wear fancy shoes is out to dinner, where we are sitting down all evening. And where are our feet? Under the table, where nobody else can see them. And where else would we wear them? Maybe to the theatre or cinema – where we sit in the dark! Dressing for dinner should definitely concentrate on what you are wearing above the waist, where people can actually see it. Maybe those old ladies who always wore hats when they went out to tea had the right idea!

  • Laurel

    I love to put on special perfume for going out.

  • LydiaG

    I agree with the suggestion to add a scarf, or necklace — for me, this adds pizzaz to the outfit.
    I always go bolder with makeup (especially lipstick). I usually walk, so I keep shoes comfier than work, but if driving, I wear dressier shoes. I also change up my purse if there is time (usually there is not).

  • ThirtiesLady

    What about adding more ‘girly’ accessories (if that works with your style) than you would during the workday? I love sparkle, but sometimes it feels like too much, especially when everyone else is casual and you’re already dressed up. I find that I enjoy being able to wear my slightly more whimsical pieces, including flower hair clips or pins, after work or on the weekends. These pieces aren’t sparkly or fancy, but they’re a little over-the-top retro or ‘too girly’ for a workday. (Whimsical prints, flowers, things with lots of ruffles, clusters of cute brooches, etc. all fall into this category.)

  • http://saveyourpinmoney.blogspot.com sigourney

    I choose a top with a flattering/framing collar for work and add long earrings for the evening. It works quite easily and well.

  • Brenda

    Thank you for the suggestions! The idea that I’ll try first is statement jewelry. That will be easy and fun.