Gala: What to Wear?

I just learned that I have been nominated for two National Magazine Awards! 

While this is wonderful news, it brings a new dilemma. There is a gala, which I should attend. And -- you guessed it -- I have nothing suitable to wear! 

My ordinary life does not include many dressy occasions of this type -- and I just purged my "fancy" LBD as dated, ill-fitting, and just plain unfab. 

So, it looks as if I may need to do some shopping! Some information to help guide the decision making: 

The event will be held in early June, in Toronto, in an upscale hotel. Cocktail reception followed by dinner and awards ceremony. I have never attended one of these before, but I have attended the Western Magazine Award Ceremony and dress was cocktail, although many women wore long gowns. 

I am in Canada, so ordering online from Nordstrom's is unfortunately quite tricky and unreliable. Also, to complicate matters further, I live in a small town where brick and mortar options are few. Worse yet, I will only have a three week window when I return from my current trip. I will have one short visit to Toronto during that time and might be able to do some power shopping if I could pick my destinations in advance. 

Online options that would work: J. Crew, BR, the Bay, maybe Shopbop (I haven't tried them.) 

Would love your thoughts for an ensemble and/ or shopping destinations! 

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • tarzy replied 7 years ago
    Congrats! I'm useless for gala outfit suggestions, but I'm excited that you've been nominated!
  • lyn* replied 7 years ago
    Congrats, Suz - do you have a Melanie Lynn in your area? They seem to have very lovely dresses for events such as yours - I am outsized there, so you might be as well. I find Le Chateau quite hit and miss, but you can always pop in there to check, maybe? They just got in a bunch of summer stock and it's so pretty I must avoid going at all costs!!!

    I also have a gala I apparently need to go to - I think I'll just call in sick :p
  • replied 7 years ago

    What about Le Chateau? They have cocktail, formal and wedding/events categories for dresses.

  • Glory replied 7 years ago
    Suz congrats on this fantastic honour! 
    I would check Melanie Lynn definately. Also Laura might have some options - they have tons online so might be worth a look.
    I would also look at - they have free shipping and returns.
    In June it will be quite warm, especially in a banquet hall so that must be considered. I love the idea of a full skirt and fancy blouse. Probably harder to find than a dress though.
    Can you give us a steer on what you might like and then we can hunt for you?
  • Ingunn replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations, Suz! How exciting for you! I think you should wear something classic, simple and in navy :) 
  • Kristin SF replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations!! What a great honor!

    I seem to recall from a previous WIW that you wore a LBD with the most gorgeous jacket (ivory?) that you borrowed from a friend, for another dressy event. That outfit looked so classic and chic. Can you reproduce that look with new items when you go shopping?

    I also think your new tux shirt with a long black skirt would look fantastic, a la Sharon Stone at the Academy Awards (am I dating myself??).

    ETA: Oops color was lavender but you get the idea: http://cashmerejeans.blogspot......shirt.html

  • Vicki replied 7 years ago
    Suz, congratulations, writer extraordinaire, on not one, but TWO award nominations!  This does deserve something special and I like where Ingunn is going with this.

    You are so fit and have gorgeous arms that a sheath, either sleeveless or with sleeves, would look beautiful on you.  Last year there were so many lace options (think Kate Middleton) and I can also see a silky/satiny version of one in a signature color of yours (navy, cranberry, creamy white, pewter, teal, etc.)

    Cheers to the Wordsmith!  Please keep us posted on your shopping trip.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Oh, thank you everyone! 

    I have no Melanie Lyne in my area, alas. Nor a Laura. But could go there in Toronto, though as Lyn says, the sizing is often no good for me. 

    I just found a beautiful navy lace sheath at The Bay -- but it is not available in my size. :-(  

    I fear this may be a problem in general. 

    If I had a really gorgeous black tux jacket I would actually love to go in an androgynous Ellen look -- that would be fun, Kristin! 

    Unfortunately, the LBD I wore in the summer is really too worn and unfab to go to this event, and I do not have the jacket. I looked and looked for something similar after wearing it, but could not find anything like it. 
  • Firecracker replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations, Suz! I am clueless about dressy events and even moreso about shopping in Canada, but you've got some great ideas here already. I love that Sharon Stone look, and you would look great in it. (Um, I imagine you'd button a few buttons, though!)

    Can you shop while you're on this trip? Any cool shops or thrift stores where you are now?

  • Beth Ann replied 7 years ago
    What a marvelous dressing dilemma!  A gala!  An award!  The only thing better is an orchestra and a curtain call!

    I'm on the run today, but I'll be musing about this.  I'm looking for dressy-dresses myself, so I'll keep an eye out for "Suz-Style."
  • nancylee replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations, Suz!  What exciting news!  

    You've gotten a lot of great advice already, so I'll echo what others have said and add that ink or navy blue might be a great color for a summer event.  Blue has the simple elegance of black but in a color more suited to warm weather.  That said, you can't go wrong with basic black.

    Whatever you end up buying should make your heart sing since you'll probably be wearing it often in the future.  I'm sure this won't be the last time you receive such honors.  :)
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Thanks, Beth Ann. Firecracker -- I am high in the mountains in a National Park. The only shopping I can do from here is online! 

    Update: Just checked the Bay. NOTHING in my size. Lots of great-looking sheaths, etc. But none that will fit me. At least not online. 

    Now I know what Carole and Unfrumped and Joy were freaking out about being MOTB or G. Mine is not as specific a need (I can only imagine!!) but it's something of the same situation. Oy. 
  • Transcona Shannon replied 7 years ago
    First of all, HUGE congratulations Suz! What an honor. We'll be able to say "we knew her when...." :)

    Now on to business. Agreed that this is a short time frame but it can be done. I assume you want something to fit without requiring alterations since that would add to the time frame? Also, do you have a budget you want to work within? What type of sleeves do you think?

    I'm on the same page as Ingunn in terms of navy - so lovely on you and just as classic as black. Plus if you choose something not "too out there", it can become your replacement LBD.

    Laura/Laura Petites has a fine selection of cocktail and formal wear dresses IMO and the quality is very good.

    Here's just a couple of quick ideas - let us know based on these what is good/not good about them and we can start to help you narrow things down. (I've seen this one in person and it's gorgeous) (may not be dressy enough)

    This is taupe, another fab color on you and timeless IMO, from The Ba

    And speaking of Topshop, you could always liven things up with this dress (which I actually love)

  • Transcona Shannon replied 7 years ago
    Just popping back in as I just read your comments about not having your size in certain items at The Bay. Let me know if I can track down anything for you in person Suz - either from The Bay, or Laura or Melanie Lynn. All three stores are within 1/2 hour from me.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Shannon, how the heck did you find that Lauren dress? It might actually fit in a 2 and yet I didn't find it when I searched by size. Hmm. It is gorgeous and reminds me of the one Diana just bought! But Angie will probably advise me against that neckline, alas....I can't really fill it out. I would try it on in person to be sure, but it's unlikely to work. 

    The lacey one from Laura might...and I actually love the Topshop snake dress, too, and that would not be as short on me as it is on the model! 

    And thank you SO much for your offer of tracking stuff down. I will do an online shop of those stores to see. 
  • Joy replied 7 years ago

    Congratulations! you need to celebrate with a fabulous replacement for your LBD, only it could be taupe or navy. Also, Do you still have that beautiful bronze vintage dressy skirt? Could you find a top you like with it? As I remember, it was classic yet arty. Happy hunting.

  • rachylou replied 7 years ago
    First of all, congratulations!

    I'd wear a pretty dress or fancy cigarette-pants suit, not a gown. Sparkle/shine yes, frou no.
  • Sarah A replied 7 years ago
    Congrats Suz! Not sure about the Canadian shopping experience but JCrew my have some good options... (although I might switch the self belt....) (fuschia on sale!)

    their bridemaids selection seems to have some good things too... that come in lots of colors!  (and no I didnt just pick this one b/c it is called the Sara Dress)

    Hmmmm... will have to go see the other links fabber have posted to shop for my imaginary lifestyle now :)

  • kellygirl replied 7 years ago
    Ooh, congratulations, Suz! How exciting. I've got no experience here but am looking forward to seeing the visuals!
  • texstyle replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations Suz!  What a great honor and fun event to look forward to attending. I'm also not very good at dressy/formal events but I like the rec's you've gotten so far from those more in the know. I know whatever you pick, you will look fabulous and I can't wait to see the options.
  • Mia replied 7 years ago

    Congrats! How exciting.

    Do you have a BCBG? Here in Vancouver they have lots of gala appropriate gowns and small sizes. I could also see you in vintage for something like this but I appreciate that your time is limited. The skirt Joy mentioned sounds interesting. I also can empathize because putting together this type of ensemble can be expensive and time consuming.

    If you can elevate an existing piece with great statement jewelry or bag or top that will have a life outside the awards circuit that might be the way to go. Who wants to spend a bundle and only wear once or twice?

  • Susie replied 7 years ago
    Suz, congratulations on the nominations; that is such an honor!

    I don't know if they ship to Canada but you could try "Rent the Runway" if you want a special dress but know that you will only wear it the one time.
  • Susie replied 7 years ago
    Ok, sorry, I checked and they only ship in the US.

    Do you have any bridal shops in your area?
  • replied 7 years ago
    OH MY GOODNESS! That is beyond exciting Suz, the heartiest of congratulations to you. You really deserve this honor.

    The only thing I can think of that hasn't been mentioned is to go to that fancy high-end consignment shop (was it in TO? I can't remember) and see if you can find some small size couture dresses. Good luck!
  • Karie replied 7 years ago
    Congrats to you! What major dept. stores are in your area? I would go check out their stock for formal/dressy wear and check out JCrew. They have pretty formal dresses.
  • Mona replied 7 years ago
    I am so excited for you, Suz! Congratulations!
    You know I am a total novice when it comes to dresses but i am sure you will find something great from above suggestions.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Thank you, everybody. I just talked to my husband, who reminded me that I will have a day in Calgary before I come home; he suggested I ask my friend to take me shopping there. So maybe that is what I will do. Claire, brilliant suggestion for Thrill of the Find....they do carry amazing stuff there. I could email her in advance to see what she might have in stock, too. 

    Mia, we do not have BCBG in my city but maybe in Calgary. Thanks again!
  • Angie replied 7 years ago
    CONGRATS!!! We will be rooting for you :)

    So you've solved the shopping problem - DRESSY. That's my only other input. And a question. Can you order from  Zappos and Amazon?
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Angie, thank you -- Zappos won't deliver to Canada. Amazon will (I think) because Shannon has done it. Or at least they will for some items. Not all. 
  • Debbie replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations! I have no idea where to tell you to shop but I know you will find an amazing dress.
  • Angie replied 7 years ago
    Yay, Amazon!

    How about Kamalikulture? Is this still too casual?

    I'd pile pearls onto this:

    Here is the collection - sleeveless sheath? I just realized you run warm. I am always cold so it's natural for me to want to cover up:

  • anne replied 7 years ago
    What wonderful new Suz!! Congratulations!
  • Gaylene replied 7 years ago
    First of all, congratulations on your nomination. My son was up for one of the awards a few years and had a good time at the event. As a male, it was a lot easier for him just to pull out a suit and tie!

    I'd second the J Crew suggestion if you are looking online; most of their dressy wear is geared to weddings, but some of the dresses are quite wearable for other events.

    I have a couple of Calgary suggestions, though. First, if you are up for going through a mall, I'd suggest you check out Chinook Mall on Macleod Trail. The section near the future location of Nordstroms has some nice shopping including BCBG, Armani Exchange, Burberry, Judith and Charles, etc. This location is supposed to eventually also house J Crew, Eileen Fisher, and some of the other US retailers.

    Another suggestion is to do what my DIL does and call a personal shopper at Holt Renfrew, located in the city centre, to set aside a few items in your size and price range for you to check out. The Calgary contact number is (403) 269-7341. If your time is limited, that might be a better option than wandering through a mall trying to find something in your size. Holt can be expensive, but, some of their house brands are quite reasonable. For example, their Calgary store has the following peplum top and matching color-blocked skirt that could be interesting. And the price is quite reasonable.

  • hedgiehog replied 7 years ago

    Suz, huge congratulations on your nominations! Whilst I have no wardrobe or shopping suggestions, I just wanted to tell you I'm happy for you. :-)

  • replied 7 years ago
    Congrats, Suz, how exciting!!!  Can't wait to see what you choose.
  • Caro in Oz replied 7 years ago
    How fantastic - congratulations Suz. I love the idea of navy for you - you would look stunning in a tux too:)
  • Lyn D. replied 7 years ago
    Just wanted to send my congratulations Suz!!
    Does this mean you are a celebrity now? :)
    (You are to us anyway.)
  • unfrumped replied 7 years ago
    Mega congratulations! Totally no help on Canada shopping and gala shopping anyway--but you will look fab. Happy hunting!
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Thank you, everyone! No, Lyn, I am most definitely not a celebrity. And I won't actually win a prize, either...(I am not being falsely modest; it's just that I have a pretty good idea of how these things go from past experiences.) Having said that, it's a huge honour to get the nominations themselves, so I am pleased as a summer poppy! 

    Gaylene, calling Holts in advance is a fabulous suggestion. In fact, the friend of a friend who loaned me a jacket in the summer used to be a stylist of some sort (I think  she was actually an interior designer, but she is very into fashion, too) and she is close to my size. So I think she will have suggestions, and given her lifestyle, she probably is good friends with the stylist at Holts! 

    Angie, I LOVE the Kamalikulture dresses and think I might order one...but not sure they would be dressy enough. Or at least I might need an accessories intervention as well, to make them dressy enough! But that would be do-able. They are very reasonably priced. 

  • Diana replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations on the nomination, Suz! 

    Re: the Ralph Lauren dress.  There are a lot of very similar versions of the dress with different fabrics, sleeves, and necklines.  It might be worth popping over to the Bay and seeing what versions they have on offer.

    Here is a boat neck but it has cap sleeves which I remember you are not crazy about:
    And a cowl neck version (is this too low?):

    A long one (maybe too dressy?):

    Not a ralph lauren, but also interesting, a cobalt/black sheath, asymmetrical neck:

    ETA: WAs actually trying to find this RL dress for you but they didn't have it on the Bay website:

  • Mia replied 7 years ago

    Holts is where I would go. Definitely make an apt and give a budget etc. Calgary is probably perfect store too.

    I love that peplum top and skirt Gaylene! So versatile and modern looking. At that price point maybe some killer shoes and/ or bag!?? Gee, I might have to check it out as we are invited to a wedding in Sept that specifies formal wear....Ack! What will I wear?

  • Krista replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations, Suz! What an honor!

    There's a Laura at the outlets on Division St. up by the 401.  They have a petites section as well.  There's also a Jones New York there - sometimes they have nice dresses too.

    Happy to hit a Laura for you here in Ottawa if you need.  The Holt's is also here and not far from my house.  I can pop up there on an evening if necessary.  Just PM me if you need to!
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Krista, how could you know that and I don't? Sheesh?! I thought they were gone for good when they moved out of our RioCan...hmmm. 

    And thanks for your offer. 

    Thanks, Mia. I agree about that cute peplum - it's a great outfit. 

    Diana, you are SO sweet to find links at the clunky Bay website for me!! I love the RL dress you were searching for. Alas, not at the Bay, but maybe elsewhere. And I really like the Jax one!! The angles definitely appeal to me and I can see that working well if the fit were good. And I love the blue. Maybe I should order it. I can always return anything to the Bay if it doesn't work, and there's no delivery charge. Thank you!!! 
  • rae replied 7 years ago
    I am late and not versed in Canadian retail, so I just wanted to congratulate you! Wow, it is cool just to *know* a real, live, acclaimed writer. High five and hugs!
  • merwoman replied 7 years ago
    Chiming in to add my congratulations! And wanted to say while you will want to feel fab in an extra special outfit - your beautiful smile is what everyone will notice first.
  • Rambling Ann replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations!  A chiffon maxi skirt and a bustier-style top, if you could work either piece into later outfits, could be smashing, especially with a dramatic necklace. I'd spend money there, because the dinner tablecloth will conceal the bottom part for a good part of the evening. And comfortable shoes for your walk to the podium to accept the award.
  • Makrame replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations!  This sounds very exciting!  Looking forward to seeing your gala outfit!
  • Sveta replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations from me too! You may not consider yourself a celebrity but you are our YLF celebrity for sure!
    I also can check some stores for you if you like - there are Laura, Melanie Lyne and The Bay in our mall.
    There are 2 LBD at BR which may fit you: this one and this one if you want to go a classic LBD way. They will be stunning with your toned arms and shoulders and blonde short hair.
    Some from Le Chateau: peplum lace, cobalt fitted sheath - I think neckline is not too deep and the color is stunning.
    Another option - how about a stunning top with Leith trousers? I am not sure if the fabrication is dressy enough but I can see them on you with a sleeveless sparkly fitted top...
    I am so excited for you! I have never been to Gala in my life so it sounds very intriguing!
    Again - congratulations on your achievement!!!!
  • Peri replied 7 years ago

    Congrats!! How exciting!

    This is what I would wear to a gala. Probably more that you are thinking...and others, I've looked at some of the links...but gala! Just the word is fab.


  • shevia replied 7 years ago
    I have not read a single comment (I will!) and will certainly have no idea what you should wear (but am dying to see what you find) but I have to say CONGRATULATIONS! Wow, what an honor! I am very excited for you!
  • lyn* replied 7 years ago
    BTW; Can I get your autograph? :)
  • amiable replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations!  I'm sure you will find something super fabulous!
  • Nadya replied 7 years ago

    Wonderful news! Congratulations, Suz.

  • Ariadne replied 7 years ago
    Suz!!!!  Congratulations!  What a huge honor (very much deserved)!  I'm so excited for you.

    Great suggestions in this thread.  I especially love the Jax ones, Angie's picks (with the right accesories), and the cobalt Le Chateau.

    Don't forget that ZARA offers free shipping and free returns now.  Club Monaco I think has free or low-cost shipping, and Aritzia has $8 shipping and $8 returns (free to the store).  

    I vote order a ton of stuff online now, and keep anything that's a possibility until after you go to Holt's in Calgary.  That way there isn't too much pressure on that single shopping trip.
  • Nicole D replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations and best of luck!  Have you heard of Rent, Frock, Repeat?  They will send you two sizes of a dress so you can choose which one is best for a fraction of the cost of buying a new one that might just sit in your closet.
  • Vix replied 7 years ago
    SUZ! What a fantastic honor.

    I'm useless aside to say go dressy. Don't underestimate fancy-pants separates though. [Ooh: what ABOUT fancy pants?]

    Or is that amazing metallic (?) jacket you borrowed for some other fancy event too warm to be worn?

    Is there any hope of finding something while you're traveling?

    I'm all questions, but I blame the vicarious thrill of your nomination.
  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Vix: jacket does not belong to me, sadly, and was borrowed from a Calgary friend (and I will be in Toronto). 

    Yes, there is hope of finding something - -my husband reminded me that I have a day in Calgary before I return home! 

    Nicole - thank you!! I am going to follow up on that link. Amazing! 
  • Sveta replied 7 years ago
    Ariadne, I did not know Zara ships / returns free in Canada, this is great news - thanks! (eh, more potential damage of course...)
  • Jyoti replied 7 years ago
    Hey Suz!

    I just went shopping for a grad banquet gown for myself, and I'm in Calgary, so if you're in town and need some help with where to look, I swear I've been to every store here that even tangentially carries dresses. xD  Let me know!
  • replied 7 years ago
    Late to this thread and no buying suggestions, but I just wanted to say CONGRATS!
  • Neelie replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations!  If you have a day to shop in Toronto I highly recommend the store Want on Avenue Road.  They have a huge selection of cocktail dresses and gowns and are very very helpul.  Here is the website, though it does not really do the store justice.  Good luck!
  • Parsley replied 7 years ago

    Congratulations, Suz!
    I'm afraid I'm no help with Canadian shopping, but I can't wait to see what you decide to wear!

  • Suz replied 7 years ago
    Jyoti, that is so sweet - thank you! I will let you know. And Neelie, thank you for the suggestion and the link. And thanks to everyone else, too! What a great group. 
  • Linda replied 7 years ago

    Congratulations! What an honor! You mentioned that you could order from J Crew. They have some beautiful dresses in their wedding collection that could easily fit the bill. I'm partial to the navy silk chiffon. I just checked and they have long and short dresses in navy. My daughter had her bride's maids wear J Crew dresses and all of them said that they either wore the dresses or plan to wear them again. They are very "unbride's maidish" if you know what I mean!

  • krishnidoux replied 7 years ago
    Congratulations! That is fantastic!
  • ElleH replied 7 years ago
    I'm not sure what to wear but I wanted to say Congrats!!!!!

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