Special occasion dressing without the faff factor

— by Alyson Walsh

Irene and Liz


Are these not the best-dressed wedding guests, ever? Chic-as-you-like fashion photographer Liz McAulay (on the right) is mother of the bride, seen here with her mum, at her daughter Flo’s wedding last summer. As a photographer Liz’s everyday style is pretty casual, usually jeans with trainers and white t shirts, ‘ My clothes get pretty trashed in dirty studios and on location.’ At home she says her clothes are much the same ‘but nicer shoes and a cashmere jumper…slightly addicted to cashmere!  Also I tend to buy more expensive jeans, AG, J Brand as they seem to fit me better.’

Her daughter wanted a relaxed wedding, ‘absolutely no hats, no morning coats, just lovely summer dresses and suits, ties optional!’ As mother-of-the-bride, Liz, 55, was pleased about the informal dress code and found this gorgeous Stella Jean dress at Fenwick. ‘ I was going up the escalator in April when all the new stock had arrived and saw this amazing colour and pattern at the back of the shop,’ Liz tells me, ‘I was determined to get my outfit sorted as early as possible, the thought of leaving it and then ending up in mother-of-the-bride-type places, which are really not me, was filling me with dread. I hopped off, tried it on and it just felt so right and me. The pattern and colour are just so cheerful.’  Mmm….no one wants to look mother-of-the-bride, even when they are the mother of the bride (or groom)….

The bride wore Reformation – and guests in colourful dresses

On the day, Liz paired the dress with mismatching accessories to help dial down the print. Eye-catching and wonderful, the standout Stella Jean dress allowed her to look the part and feel like herself. ‘There was so much colour, all the girls were wearing such bright clothes, all totally unplanned and in the background (of the wedding photos) you can see my bright cheerful dress.’ And mother-of-the-mother-of-the-bride, 90-year-old Irene (left), looks fantastic in her top-to-toe tonal Winser London outfit. The swishy wide leg trousers, pussy-bow blouse and statement sunglasses are chic-not-shouty and super-stylish.

My advice when dressing for a special occasion has always been this: if in doubt keep it chic, simple and modern. Never forgo function for fancy-ness. Forget fascinators and frou-frou, eliminate the faff factor and spend your money on a blow-dry instead. To me, modern, well-fitting clothes make complete fashion sense and come under the mandate of wearing something you always feel right in. And if buying a new outfit, choose versatile items that can be worn again and again. Since the wedding, Liz’s dress has been seen on  numerous occasions, awards events and formal dinners and also on a trip to New York with trainers and a denim jacket. Feeling comfortable and confident at any event is crucial – just because it is a special occasion, doesn’t mean clothes have to be fussy, frilly and faff-inducing.


Spots and stripes.Photo: Claire Pepper


There are no wedding invitations on my mantlepiece, but for summer parties and get-togethers, this sporty-yet-smart, faff-free combination could do the trick. Usually, I opt to wear clothes I already own and feel comfortable in, rather than buying something new. It’s easy to whoop up a relaxed outfit by choosing clashing prints or textures, bringing on the bling, or adding a single, statement piece like this polka dot Boden jacket.


*The Boden jacket was borrowed for the shoot and returned.


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  Are these not the best-dressed wedding guests, ever? Chic-as-you-like fashion photographer Liz McAulay (on the right) is mother of the bride, seen here with her mum, at her daughter Flo’s…