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Celebrations abound during the warmer seasons. Fashion writer Katie Day looks at the world of occasion wear, its history, current styles and gets tips from professional makeup artist Kim Tuliau-Moeroa.
Celebration is in the air.
With great endurance we are navigating a global pandemic, which is reducing the frequency of gatherings and opportunities to don our occasion wear.
The opalescent glow of our most glamorous garments, nestled in the corners of our closets, may not have been given the opportunity to shine for the durations of our lockdowns. However, as we adapt to this new way of life, creativity and inspiration has found its spark once more as reasons to celebrate life are plenty.
Why not glam up for dinner at home one night even if it is not a special occasion? With declining restrictions we also have the chance to go out again and support local hospitality businesses, so why not put that extra effort in and give your lockdown buys an airing?
But there is hope those special garments will get an airing for upcoming race days and Christmas events.
Occasion wear has visually and tangibly communicated the significance of ceremony for millennia. In ancient Egypt Queen Cleopatra VII’s royal power was denoted through fine linen dresses woven with gold thread and laden with precious stones. Ancient Greece saw dresses of silk and linen, exquisitely gathered without seam, giving ethereal presence to the wearer.
Occasion wear transformed into elaborate layers of ornately embroidered fabrics during the medieval period. Silhouettes, fabrics and accessories of formal wear continued to transform, reflecting the broader societal influences of each era, bringing us to a more recent history of dress which has seen occasion wear journey with haste.
The turn of the 1900s was celebrated in corseted Victorian gowns adorned with frilly lace collars alongside men’s three-piece suits, collars precise through starching. The 1910s witnessed a transition between the Victorian and Edwardian era, giving room for a playful charm to inhabit dresses, details of lace and ruffles danced upon the ever so slightly subsiding hem and necklines.
Soirees of the 1920s welcomed streamlined silhouettes. Diaphanous fabrics such a silk chiffons were introduced with intricate beading offering an iridescent quality to movements made. Men’s suits mirrored a streamlined design aesthetic, with a narrow cut silhouette and shallow waistcoat.
Minimal elegance graced 1930s dress, fabric draped across the figure with the bias-cut designs introduced by couture fashion houses of France. Three-piece suits continued for men, with a wide leg pant to refresh the look.
The 1940s emerged concurrently with the Second World War, leading to a dramatic decline in fabric supply and a utilitarian approach to dressing. Uniform became the norm and dresses featured clean, straight or A-line cuts, sans trim, to minimise fabric usage.
Despite adverse conditions, the 1950s heralded a hopeful post-war future through revolutionary dress designs such as Christian Dior’s ‘‘New Look’’. The waist was reintroduced with fullness added to skirts, incorporating luxurious fabrics such as silk chiffon and organza once more. Suits embraced a softer structured long-line tuxedo jacket with narrow curved lapels meeting at a single button point. Waistcoats made variable appearances and accessories favoured a cummerbund and bow tie.
Liberation and exploration reflected in 1970s formal wear, featuring psychedelic prints of newly introduced synthetic fabrics and freedoms continued to maximise in the 1980s through bold silhouettes presenting extravagant shoulder details in loud colours.
Maximal turned minimal with the sleek barely-there looks of the ’90s. Thin shoulder straps framed long-line dresses and beaded or metallic fabrics offered subtle ornamentation. Minimalism and ease translated into menswear, casual fitting, sleek line suits were styled with an essential T-shirt and thin belt.
The 2000s saw dress and suit increasing in opulent textile and volume before the financial crisis of 2008, drawing hemlines upward and reducing silhouette once more. Expansion and contraction of dress echoing the zeitgeist continued, bringing us to our current moment in time.
If you are still looking to buy that special piece, the trend this season is for many dresses and suits to take on a soft, cushioning form with eased silhouettes, tiered engulfing skirts and puffed sleeves made of gossamer fabrics. In contrast to these gentler forms, we are also observing a desire for freedom expressed in the excitement of sequins, straps, saturated colours and sweeping skirt lengths.
Bobbi Brown pro-makeup artist Kim Tuliau-Moeroa recommends “the bronze smokey eye - it doesn’t really outdate and it’s something that suits every eye colour’’.
‘‘Over the last couple of years, I’ve also noticed a lot of requests for a soft pink and golden look, which is softer and more romantic yet still a classic glam look.”
Reflecting on occasion wear makeup trends and with mask wearing necessary in many places, she says “brows are very important and I don’t think they’ll ever go away - fluffy brows are always in’’.
‘‘Recently, with the lockdowns, a lot more people are focusing on eye makeup, going for graphic eyeliner and pops of colour, especially pastel blues, greens and pinks. Everyone’s got a lot more time to be creative and dress up the eyes.”
Tuliau-Moeroa’s makeup philosophy centres around celebrating radiance from within.
“I love creating a lit-from-within glow ... It’s just about enhancing what’s already there and empowering women to feel good, not only when they’re made up but in their own skin as well.”
As the warmth of the spring season inspires creativity and celebrations with our close family and friends, may our occasion wear also celebrate the essence from within.
• Featured dresses can be found at Hype and Slick Willies, Dunedin.