Be the school ball belle on any budget

JULIE ROULSTON
Last updated 14:33 22/05/2013

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Want to look your beautiful best at the ball? The first step is to know your style.

Do you want to be fashion-forward? Avant-garde? A classic belle?

Have a think about who you are (or who you want to portray) and then take some time to look through magazines and websites for examples of gowns that reflect that. Do not be distracted by the celebrity wearing the gown! Nothing is going to make you look like Kristen Stewart if you are blonde and curvy, just as there is no way you will channel Beyonce if you are a skinny white girl.

Then, think about colour. Try very hard not to go black - it's (mostly) boring and obvious. White is for brides. What colours suit you best? If you have dark hair you may well be a 'winter' and red, rich blues, greens and purples will look amazing. If you are fair, you may look better in clearer, lighter colours like pink, lavender, turquoise or sea green.

If being on-trend is important to you, consider wine/burgundy (very hot right now), emerald (Pantone's colour of 2013), and metallics which are big too.

Another thing to bear in mind is your age. If you are going to a school ball, chances are you are 17 or 18 and you have the most naturally beautiful hair, skin and figure you are ever going to possess. A simple gown will set off your natural radiance, as opposed to an overly sophisticated or fussy number that will 'wear' you!

When you walk into the room you want people to see you first, then the dress.

Now you are ready to start browsing. Your budget will dictate your options - off the rack; made for you by a dressmaker or clever home sewer; second hand (including vintage). As a rule, don't try to purchase something you can re-purpose - it's too hard. Get your gown just right (at a price point that is appropriate to you) for this occasion and from there you will have a perfect ball gown at the back of your wardrobe that you can call on, should you be invited to another very formal occasion in the next few years.

When you've found the gown make sure the fit is perfect and that the gown is comfortable. Wear it carefully around the house one evening before the ball to see how it reacts when worn and when you move. This is also the chance to make sure you have the perfect undergarments. Does it require a strapless or convertible bra? A slip, or some kind of support garment? (Don't be embarrassed, many-a-celebrity confesses to wearing Spanx on the red carpet). 

Have a think about what to wear over the dress to and from the ball too - a coat? Stole, shawl, cape?

Finally, the accessories. You need to think about shoes, hosiery, jewellery, and a bag (a clutch is more elegant for evening). Again, go to magazines and the web for inspiration. Don't be afraid to be a clever copier - these days more than ever, nothing is truly original. 

If there is ever an occasion to ask to borrow from older sisters, Mums, and aunts, this is it. Take the time for plenty of try-ons of accessory options with your dress, always in front of a well-lit, full length mirror.  

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Don't forget to check your back view!  And above all, make sure your shoes are comfortable - you are going to be in them for hours and chances are you are going to want to be on the dance floor.  

Tips from designer Kelly Coe of Augustine

*Your dress doesn't have to be full length or long, but it definitely shouldn't be super short.

*Fabric-wise, silk or silk satin is nice for a ball dress. Beads, sequins and embellishments can give you a little more glamour. Leather inserts or detail can add a little funk, and cut-outs can be a fun way to show a little skin.

*If you have a lot of sequins or beading on your dress, then keep your accessories minimal. A great way to accessorise is with a headpiece - either a floral or beaded one can look amazing, and they are very on-trend right now.

(Augustine is stocked in more than 30 boutiques nationwide, and specialises in affordable special occasion-wear):

- © Fairfax NZ News

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