Episode #1: The Met Gala, American Fashion, and Formal Wear

Hello, and thank you for tuning in to this very first episode of the True Style podcast, where my goal is not to tell you what to wear, but to help you figure out what you want to wear. My name is Lakyn Carlton and I will be your host for today and the foreseeable future.

As this is the very first episode, I’m gonna take this opportunity to break down how things are gonna work here on the show.

Every episode of True Style will open with a Fashion Fact, followed by the podcast topic of the day, aka, the Pod Top. We’ll close out with a Q&A where I will answer a question, or questions, submitted by listeners like you. There is a link to submit your own questions at TrueStyle.Show, and that is also where you can find written transcripts of this and all future episodes. Now, let’s get into it with a little Fashion Fact, or, shall I say, Fashion Lesson.

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today is a very special day for us fashion lovers. If you are listening on the date of upload, then today, September 13th, is the Met Gala, aka Fashion Super Bowl.

But what actually is the Met Gala? It’s always been a celebrity studded event, so, it’s very easy to forget that it is, first and foremost, a charity ball, with all the money from ticket sales benefitting the Costume Institute at, where else, the Met. And exactly how much money is that, you ask? Models, actresses, singers, socialites, and fashion industry heavyweights shell out $30,000 just for a ticket—but only if they’ve been invited to do so. Now, I know you’re running through the list of past Met Gala attendees and thinking “now I know they ain’t have no extra $30k. And you’re right, they probably didn’t. A lot of celebrities are broke, y’all. They, like many, of the other more questionable attendees, managed to be invited to sit at one of the tables that brands and designers pay nearly $300,000 to reserve. There are also co-chairs that co- host the event along with Miss Anna Wintour. As we’ve never really been inside, we don’t know exactly what Timothee Chalamet, Billie Eillish, and Naomi Osaka will be doing this year, nor do we know exactly what sort of

special acknowledgement Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Oprah, and even Jeff Bezos received in the past. That said, co-chairs are typically chosen due to their contributions to fashion as a whole, but sometimes, as in the case with our Space Cowboy Jeff, they’re chosen because their company sponsored the event for the night, as Amazon did in 2012.

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Since 1948, the Met Gala has consisted of a cocktail hour, and dinner, with a highly curated menu that famously features no garlic, no parsley, and no onion. Themes were not introduced until 1973, and always coincide with the current exhibit at the Costume Institute. While it may seem like it’s always been a thing, it actually wasn’t all that important that your outfit matched the theme, unless the theme that year was honoring a specific designer. It wasn’t a thing, that is, until Rihanna blessed us with her absolutely iconic—no, legendary—Goo-oh Pei robe at the 2015 event titled “China: Through the Looking Glass,” a celebration of China’s influence on Western fashion. And to think, when she pulled up to the red carpet and looked at what everyone else was wearing, she almost turned around because she thought it was too much…imagine a world where we never got that look—designed by China’s first haute couture designer, by the way. Imagine how boring the Met Gala would be…

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This year’s theme has, surprisingly, and yet unsurprisingly, caused a bit of a stir amongst the uninformed. In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, and the sequel, to be held in 2022, In America: An Anthology of Fashion, are both aimed at celebrating both modern and future fashion in, where else, the good ol’ US of A. The jokes flew on Fashion Twitter, with many asking “What even is American fashion?” and others answering with everything from unflattering and vaguely fatphobic pictures of Disneyland goers in fanny packs, American flag bikinis, and, most notably, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake’s head to toe denim looks for the 2001 VMAs, which, I would just like to point out, is referred to as a CANADIAN tuxedo.

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It is utterly silly to even entertain the idea that America has had no influence on modern fashion beyond T shirts and she by Sheree joggers, and even

more insulting to imply that that influence is negligible. I may not be the most patriotic girl in the world, but I fully and wholeheartedly Stan for the American designers that made the US the fashion force that it is today. Designers like Claire McCardell.

Claire McCardell was one of the most innovative, influential, and important American designers of all time, but most fashion lovers today, let alone those with only a passing knowledge of fashion history, don’t even know her name.

In the late 1940s, when Christian Dior was pushing his “New Look”, which consisted of super cinched waists, extremely full skirts, and, above all, hyper-luxurious, hyper-feminine style, Claire McCardell changed the fashion world simply by asking “okay, what do women actually need?”

Considered one of the foremothers of Sportswear, Claire’s trademarks included pockets on everything from trousers to evening gowns, zippers on the side of dresses instead of the back so women could dress without assistance, durable and easily accessible fabrics like denim, cotton, wool and jersey, and absolutely no corsets, crinolines, or girdles. Her pared down minimalism quickly inspired European designers to make simpler, more comfortable clothes, with consideration for what the working woman wanted out of her clothing, instead of just the wealthy. By the 50s, even Dior was designing more relaxed sheath dresses, and Balenciaga was redefining silhouettes by releasing the waist seam and creating garments that hung away from the body without needing to be tailored perfectly. The American Look won out over tiny waistlines and shaped suits, bringing in boxier styles including Coco Chanel’s famous suits, and, eventually, trapeze dresses that would remain popular through the mod 60s, with practicality and, above all, affordability and comfort becoming more and more important to the women of the time.

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Because of Claire, and other US designers that, unlike their European counterparts, were predominantly female, America is well-known for pioneering the art of comfortable casual wear, and inventing jeggings…so it’s no wonder many of us struggle with what to wear to fancier events, and why the idea of getting all dressed up can be downright uncomfortable. Which is why today’s Pod Top is all about formal dressing.

While I do think it is important to have whatever your personal equivalent of a

little black dress is in your closet ready to go for spontaneous events, it’s unreasonable to expect all of us, especially as we get older, to own a full wardrobe of formal wear ready to go for anything. That said, if you have even a passing interest in building a more sustainable lifestyle through clothing, the idea of buying something to be worn once or twice is wasteful at best, unethical at worst—depending on how often those once or twice events come along in your life. That’s why I am a huge fan of renting the clothes it just doesn’t make sense to own. Which brings me to today’s not-sponsor. Yes, that’s right, I said not-sponsor. As this is the very first episode of True Style, we haven’t quite gotten to brand deals just yet. But, if we did have a brand deal, today, it would be Rent the Runway.

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Rent The Runway is the OG clothing rental service. They have thousands of garments of hundreds of designers, all available to borrow for your next wedding, gala, birthday, date, or even just because. I personally love renting because, well, one, it saves me money. I don’t have 1200 dollars to spend on a Zimmerman dress, but, I do have like 70 dollars to borrow one. But, also, it gives me the freedom to try out new silhouettes, details, and designers to see if they work for me.

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Now, most of us aren’t going to cocktail events weekly or even monthly. Hell, some of us will maybe see one semi-formal event the whole year, and maybe a single black tie event in our lifetimes. So, it’s not really farfetched to have no idea what the dress code on your invitation means. But that’s what I’m here for.

If you are a feminine presenting person, the simplest rule of thumb goes as follows:

White tie or black tie events require a floor length gown. Just formal can be a gown, or a dressy jumpsuit or pantsuit. Cocktail attire can be a knee length or shorter dress, but also dressy separates like a blouse and skirt. Dressy casual is most common, and can really be anything as long as you look put together.

Now, I know I just made that sound really easy. And it is…that is, until it isn’t. See, there is a such thing as formal fabrics. For one, you will never look

appropriate at a formal or white or black tie event wearing a knit, even if it is a lovely sweater. That rules out leggings completely, no T-shirts, basically, nothing that stretches, including those spandex body con dresses, regardless of length.

A sweater dress can work for dressy casual in colder climates, as long as it isn’t meant to be oversized, but, if that’s your flavor for winter weather, I’d go for tights and pumps instead of boots so that it’s more dressy and less casual.

For day time, linens and lightweight cottons are perfectly acceptable, but for night, satins, silks, and chiffons are the way to go, unless you live in a place where the night is just as hot as the daytime. If the event is black or white tie, you can even kick it up a notch fancier and go for heavy textured brocades, delicate sequins, and beautiful velvets or taffeta. Keep in mind, for daytime events, synthetic fabrics are going to be a lot more uncomfortable if you’re out in the sun all day. Polyester satin in particular is very good at clinging to damp skin and showing sweat stains, and, fabric aside, a dress that drags the ground might not be the way to go if you’ll be spending substantial time walking through grass, as it could lead to green stains along your hem.

Now, because of the aforementioned no knits rule, you’re probably gonna struggle to find formalwear that fits your body perfectly without the aid of spandex. If you’re renting, you’re sort of out of luck on the alterations front, which is why you should always try multiple options (in multiple sizes), before settling on that perfect outfit, not to mention, maybe invest in shape wear to smooth out the parts of you that designers don’t always consider while designing.

Even if you are keeping it fairly minimal, things like jewels on the cuff of a sleeve or a collar, sparkly belts, and lace trims can make all the difference between bland and boring, and elegant simplicity.

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It’s also important to consider location. Not simply indoor vs. outdoor, but also, where in the world are you, Carmen Sandiego?? A halter top dress made of sheer layers of chiffon is perfectly appropriate if you’re near a beach, but might not go over well if you’re in Iowa. Basically, you gotta match the vibes. Is this a fun and youthful cocktail event in New York City where a velvet mini dress will fit right in? Or is this a gala filled with your old fashioned family in

Dallas where you better switch that velvet out for some sequins and take that mid-thigh length down to the knee? I would say if the crowd is a bit older or a bit more family-oriented, you’re gonna wanna go less sexy with less cleavage and longer lengths. If it’s more of a party where you can let loose, however, not only can you go a little shorter, but also a little less conventional. Maybe opt for a jumpsuit, or a fun patterned blouse with a nice midi skirt.

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Most of the time, the formal events in our lives are something we’d love to look back on. This is why I stress making sure you’re dressing like yourself, and injecting your own style into your fancy clothes. A lot of times, the reason we struggle so much with these occasions is because we’re defaulting toward what we think we’re supposed to wear, and not actually asking ourselves what we want. If you don’t really wear a lot of black, then do you necessarily need a little black dress? How about a little red dress as your go-to? Or even one in your favorite color with an easy and versatile silhouette so you can wear it with different shoes and jewelry. Speaking of shoes and jewelry, don’t think that your only options are stilettos and diamonds. For those who haven’t quite mastered the spike, wedges and block heels are perfectly fine for a daytime event—as long as they’re not a super casual cork wedge. Kitten heels are back in full force and there’s plenty of fun colors and embellished pairs that you can wear anytime. You could even do a pointy toe flat, especially one in satin, or with a brooch on the toe.

As for jewelry, don’t underestimate the power of a statement earring or necklace. And, of course, a lady does carry a purse at night, so opt for a unique clutch if you feel so inclined. There’s a reason Judith Leiber makes thousands off each of her silly jewel encrusted bags shaped like swans, hot dogs, and even stacks of money. Because they’re an easy way to have a little fun, even at the stuffiest of events.

Formal events, in my opinion, aren’t always the place where you want to experiment. Sometimes it does pay to get your event style down so that you can focus on, you know, having fun, and not whether your legs are showing too much or whether you should’ve worn a bra after all. Maybe you’ll decide dresses aren’t for you at all, in which case, you may want to invest in a nice trouser and jacket. Or, perhaps you’re on the other end of the spectrum and know that florals, ruffles, and lots of sparkle are your thing. Look at what you wear most during the day and try to translate it into evening wear. If you just tend to dress very comfortably, make sure your dress for that wedding is

comfortable too. Maybe opt for something without a waist seam so you don’t feel so restricted, or even a trapeze shape that hangs away from the body. If you prefer to be a little more sexy, there’s no reason to not be, but keep a little decorum in mind. High slits are an easy way to be sexy without being too over the top but make sure to find that balance between cleavage vs leg. And never, ever wear undergarments that will show through, including panty lines and bra straps.

Of course, I’m a huge proponent of wearing whatever makes you feel comfortable and happy, but, there’s a few rules to know if you’re starting from scratch. For instance, midi lengths tend to make women with shorter legs look squat. If you’re under, say, 5’5”, I’d say stick to skirts above the knee rather than just below it. If you are top heavy and need support, I’d recommend sleeves so that you’re not tugging at your bra all night. Also, if you are on the busty side, avoid anything with a seam above the waist, also known as an empire or ahm-peer waistline. That said, empire waistlines look fantastic on pregnant women, as well as more rectangular body shapes. If you are apple shaped, or carry more of your weight in your lower stomach, consider wrap dresses that flare away from the body. Wrap dresses are a pretty universally flattering silhouette, so I also recommend them for those with smaller breasts. Slip dresses are having a huge moment now, but, depending on the event, they can skew a little too sexy, especially if there’s a slit involved and a low back, so I’d maybe skip it if you’re gonna be around your judgmental aunties. Plunging necklines will almost always require tape, and, if you’re going to go for a high necked sleeveless style, you know, the kind with side boob, make sure it’s tailored to fit you, or you may want a bit of tape to keep the girls from spilling out of the sides as well.

When you’re trying on a dress for a formal event, don’t just look at yourself from the front. If there’s going to be dancing, raise your arms above your head, maybe pop a squat, toss a leg up if that’s how you get down. Make sure that, from every angle, you’re secure and comfortable.

Last but not least, let’s talk color. White is perfectly appropriate for most day time summer events, but you may want to go for a beige or taupe at night, especially after Labor Day. Pastels can look a little juvenile in the evening, especially on less curvy body types, but jewel tones flatter everyone: think deep sapphires, emeralds and rubies. Defaulting to black can make things easy, but be sure that you’re running a lint roller over your LBD before you get in the Uber. And, it’s almost always better to contrast or complement, rather than be too matchy matchy. Those pinks may have looked the same in

the store, but, on camera, you may end up in a fuchsia dress with magenta shoes.

One last note on shoes: if you’re going for pumps, never go for leather. Suede, nubuck, satin, or patent leather almost always look great, but a leather pump, especially in a neutral tone, is a little harder to get right especially at a lower price point. If you’re in Louboutins, disregard this, but, if you’re just trying to buy some versatile shoes that will go with everything, go for a nude heel first, while you look for a black. There’s nothing worse than seeing black shoes that just don’t match the vibe of anything else in the outfit, while a nude shoe will almost always work, especially if they are as close to the skin as possible, meaning a caramel, sable, chocolate, or whatever your own skin happens to be.

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Whew! Did you write all that down? Eveningwear can be tough for even the hottest model or A-listiest celebrity. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what you look like, or where you are, when dressing for an event, it pays to keep three rules in mind.

One: Be comfortable. Don’t go for things you’re going to have to tug at and adjust all night.

Two: Have a bit of fun and inject your own personal style into what you’re wearing.

And three: Always match the mood of the event. Take location into account, but also time of year, what sort of crowd will be attending and what sort of venue it is. And, of course, dress code. Pick something practical that makes sense but also that makes you feel amazing, and you’ll be fine.

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For our Q&A today, we have two questions. The first is from Dorothy who simply wants to know how one dresses for afternoon tea.

Now, these days, high tea is not a particularly formal event, and most venues will request more of a smart casual dress code, unless, of course, it’s with Queen Elizabeth or someone equally important…like Queen Latifah. Naturally, and I don’t want you to think I’m insulting your intelligence, bestie, I promise

this isn’t meant to be condescending, but, if you’re going to wear a dress to tea, ideally, it should be tea length. Which is to say, of course, below the knee but above the ankle. And it should be flared or gathered, not too fitted to the body.

If you’d prefer separates, a lightweight, fitted sweater pairs perfectly with a nice A-line tea-length skirt, or you could even go super chic with a satin or silk midi skirt. For shoes, stick to a lower heel, or even a kitten or flat. Again, pointy toe flats with a bit of embellishment are a great option, and slingbacks are very classic, but a closed toe mule can add a more modern flavor, either with a heel or without.

I personally would go with a pleated midi skirt, a printed blouse, and a low heeled slingback. I wouldn’t overload on jewelry: I think a dainty necklace and small gold hoops is enough, and, of course, a tiny purse. While a lady does always carry a purse, she knows how to pick one that suits her needs and nothing more. Please do not bring your Neverfull down to the teahouse!

Of course, you could replace any skirt with a well tailored trouser. While printed skirts are the norm—usually a floral print—there’s no reason you couldn’t put that on a pant and have a little fun with it. I don’t think Queen Latifah would mind.

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Moving on to Di, with a much harder question for this LA girl. Thankfully, I lived in Chicago before I moved to the land of sunshine, so I have plenty of experience dressing for formal events in the winter, which is our final topic this episode. Now, Di lives in Ontario, which, admittedly gets much colder than, anywhere I’ve ever personally lived—outside of that one polar vortex I survived in Chicago—, but, regardless, the rules are the same. I would say first and foremost, if you are going to formal events regularly when it’s—what was it—negative 30 degrees Celsius, you may want to get a more formal coat. Now, this is not actually that imperative if you are going places that have coat checks, which most venues do, but, it still pays to have a toasty go-to in a neutral, or even a jewel tone, that you can easily wear over your gowns.

I’d say for most dress codes, excluding maybe black tie, you can get away with wearing a skirt and a nice turtleneck instead of a gown. A floor length ball gown silhouette with lots of pleats and gathers in a heavy brocade would

be gorgeous at a gala, and a maxi length pleated chiffon skirt would be perfect for a more formal wedding. For black tie, you could opt to wear a long sleeved, high necked gown with a thin layer underneath, as long as it doesn’t show through, and, obviously, you’re gonna wanna put some thick tights underneath whatever you’re wearing. For a cocktail event, a shorter length dress with knee or thigh high boots—especially statement boots like, say, the gold Stuart Weitzman’s I have on my Christmas list if my boyfriend is listening, or a colorful suede—would definitely turn heads.

That said, if you’re not feeling a dress at all, try a jumpsuit! Or a good trouser. Layering a turtleneck under a blouse can keep you warm and give some great layers, especially if you were to go with, say, a neutral blouse and a pop of color on the turtleneck, or even contrast with a patterned blouse, or, just a tried and true black one. It’s also very easy to wear a boot underneath a wider legged pant for some extra warmth, or even layer tights underneath a more fitted pair.

Well, that does it for this first episode of True Style. I hope you enjoyed it. If you didn’t, please, never tell me, I can’t handle criticism. Next week’s topic will be White After Labor Day: Why? Why Not? And Who Cares! I hope to see you there. Or, like, you know, I hope to see you represented as a little number underneath my listener count. Thanks for listening!

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