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Ask Val: “Show” Dresses


In a word: Everywhere. But some may be surprised to know that MOST of them were thrift store purchases. This is due largely in part to my admiration for Miss Elizabeth whose legacy I try to upkeep by wearing traditional evening gowns and classy cocktail dresses.

What’s neat about scouring thrift stores for gowns is that a lot what I find is actually from the “Liz Era” aka the glittering 80s! A time where NO ONE apologized for being excessively GIRLY! Which sometimes has me pondering whether or not I was born in the wrong decade…. :-/

Though when you stumble upon a vintage 80’s dress certain alterations must sometimes be made. For example: shoulder pads. While I am a big supporter of the modern interpretation of an exaggerated shoulder, the 80’s shoulder is simply too severe to be taken seriously in this day and age. It’s too boxy, too manly. But if you find a dress with shoulder pads you can always either remove them yourself or have a seamstress do it if they’re sewn in.

When I can’t score a deal in thrift stores I often turn to stores specializing in proms & weddings. Camille La Vie is one of my favorites:

If you have a discerning eye you can spot the gems amongst the duds. Which means figuring out which ones are too bridal/bridesmaid/prom or the ones that are too over the top. I attribute this to the fact that teenagers going to prom often see the event as the ONE night they can “go all out” so they tend to pick dresses with way too much detail. Don’t let this happen to you. Keep it simple in terms of ornamentation.

Another area to tread carefully in is color. For a gown you have to remember you’re dealing with a large amount of fabric which can easily overpower you. YOU need to wear the dress. The dress should never wear YOU. So pick a color that you find flattering in large doses. The photo of me below in the bright orange dress is a great example. The dress fit perfectly but the color was a little too neon for me. It cheapened it a bit, in my humble opinion.


Fit is also something I should point out. I like doing either a fitted bodice with a flared skirt or a long, straight column gown. My favorite of course is the wildly popular hi-low hem. Something about how it moves when you walk. Your legs are on display but you have a glamorous train. Longer hemlines around a wrestling ring however, can be very tricky! So I normally prefer something short at “work”.

I also REALLY love that a gown or sexy cocktail dress gives you a free pass to rock an updo! Bonus points for an updo with anything strapless. Add a huge statement earring or necklace and you’re done.

When shopping for your fancy frock here are some special details to keep an eye out for:

–Sequins Make sure they’re sewn in securely.

-Bold Colors Go for jewel tones or RICH shades. Nothing too loud.

-Classic Black The safe choice. You can dress it up with huge jewels!

–Backless dresses Men LOVE this. Very sexy but you’ll need an appropriate bra.

–Long Trains Let it fly! Embrace your inner princess!

–Boning in the Corset  The BEST dresses have this. It’ll transform your figure and hold everything in place. If your dress doesn’t have boning built in consider getting a nude, low backed, strapless bustier to use underneath your dresses. Example below from “Jezebel” lingerie (Purchase HERE)


Be careful with:

–Feathers In large doses they can look cheap. Same goes for ruffles.

–Thin/Inexpensive fabric Can highlight panty lines and imperfections. Anything too tight will also lower the elegance factor.

–Cutouts Keep it to one or two SMALL ones at most. More than one can take you into stripper territory. And no one wants to go there…

— Loose gems/crystals/sequins If they’re already flaking off before you wear it, it’ll become an even bigger mess. Just say no.

–Too long Hemlines You do NOT want to be worried about tripping all night. Have it hemmed if need be.

Hope this was helpful to you, Liz! Thanks for writing in. Here are a few of my favorite dresses that I’ve worn in the past….


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