Fashion S.O.S! Ball gowns and bar mitzvahs edition

Another week, another cry for sartorial help... Phoebe to the rescue!
Publish date:
September 20, 2012
fashion, style, bar mitzvahs, ball gowns, fashion sos

Dear Phoebe,

I have a family bar mitzvah at the end of October. On the invite it specifically says Black Tie/Ballgown. Now to me, if you say ‘ballgown’, I see Come Dancing outfits. Problem is who even does ballgowns? Am I going to have to hire something? Also, I have very specific body issues - I carry all my weight on my size 14 hips and bum. They are big and ugly. The legs are ok. HELP ME please.

Danielle x

Now you see I love ‘dressing up’ so much that an invitation with Black Tie/Ballgown on it would make me squeal with glee. I think the times we’ve living in allow us far too few opportunities to wear fancy frocks so any chance to flounce around in something with a petticoat under it should be embraced. Also such specific sartorial instructions are excellent – far better than the dreaded, vague ‘smart casual’ – whatdoesthatevenmean?!

So, ballgowns: for inspiration you could do worse than take a wander round the V&A’s glorious exhibition, Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 which runs until January 6 2012. There you’ll see the most exquisite examples of formal evening dress from the past few decades, ranging from the gorgeous debs’ frocks of the ‘50s, all ladylike pastel chiffons, right up to the daring and avant-garde creations of the new generation of British designers (Gareth Pugh, Erdem and of course McQueen).

If you’d rather conceal your hips and bum, then a ballgown is perfect! The ideal one will show off your shoulders and décolletage, nip in at the waist (whether you have one or not – ballgowns have great internal scaffolding), skim over the hips and fall gracefully to the floor. Or if you do like your legs, I would bend the rules a little and opt for one that finishes just on or below the knee – all the better to see your shoes with, my dear...

Again, I would always advise looking for a vintage solution if you have a decent store near you – I swear by the brilliant Vintage Emporium off Brick Lane for exquisite ballgowns and all sorts of lovely things. But if that’s not an option there is so much to be found on the high street and online, you are spoiled for choice.

I do understand your reservations – you do not want to look like a Come Dancing contestant or a bridesmaid in something shiny and naff. But this will not happen, because I’ve found you all these options!

J Crew Arabelle Long Dress in Silk Chiffon

H&M Exclusive Conscious collection chantilly organic cotton/silk gown, 299euros,

And yes you definitely can hire a beautiful ball gown – in fact if you’re not likely to wear it again, this might be the most sensible option. Sites like Girl Meets Dress and Juno Says Hello (who very kindly dressed us for the xoJaneUK launch party) have an amazing range of carefully picked, pristine frocks from decades gone by.

Bernice polka dot chiffon dress £135,

Angelina metallic ballgown, £325,

Ben de Lisi cowl front maxi dress, £160,

Ben de Lisi sequin bodice maxi dress, £175,

Coast Savannah maxi dress, £194,

Embrace the drama, be as fabulous and over-the-top as you like and have fun!

And if there's a fashion dilemma I can help you with, email me at or comment below.