How to dress for a big occasion without buying ANYTHING new

With large scale events back on the calendar and people’s diaries rapidly filling up with rescheduled weddings, your wallet may be taking a sizeable hit from the pressure to stock up on occasionwear. 

But with fashionistas increasingly encourage to give equal consideration to sustainability as well as style, not to mention the cost of updating your wardrobe, how can you make the most of what you already own and still look fabulous?

Sarah Kate Byrne, one of the UK’s best known race day stylists, who works with ITV’s Racing presenter Francesca Cumani has shared her tips with Femail, revealing how to style what you already own to create a chic look without spending a penny. 

Ahead of Ladies Day at Doncaster Races on 9th September, she’s shared styling secrets, such as how she dresed Francesca with a vintage bracelet turned into a headband, and clip-on earrings turned into statement buttons on a jacket.  

ITV’s Racing presenter Francesca Cumani wearing a vintage bracelet repurposed as a headband and clip-on earrings on her jacket to give it a fresh look without buying something new


Sarah Kate advises that ‘statement earrings or a necklace can have a sensational effect’, however . 

However, getting creative with how you wear jewellery cam really take your look to a new level – think brooches worn in your hair.    

‘For Francesca I use some beautiful pieces of costume jewellery in unusual ways, like a headband made using a vintage bracelet by me and clip-on earrings added to the front of her jacket,’ Sarah Kate said.


There’s no need to spend big on a designer outfit if you have a special occasion coming up, but rather look to classic styles for inspiration. 

Trying to copy a contemporary designer look may be a bit too try-hard, but you can’t go wrong with channeling a timeless look, such as the full flowing skirts and tiny cinched waists made popular by Dior in the 1950s.

‘For me, its not about trying to copy something designer, especially contemporary trends,’ said Sarah Kate. 

‘I prefer to look at archive looks and contemporise them – a Dior New Look silhouette for example using a full skirt and nipped jacket, or a jumpsuit blazer combination for a sexy YSL androgynous shape.

‘You can elevate a look with some clever touches like changing buttons, embellishing with collars or cuffs or adding a belt to change the shape.’


We all know that an old reliable outfit that makes you feel confident is a much better choice than something that’s brand new that’s bang on trend. If you feel awkward or uncomfortable, it’s going to come across. 

And Sarah Kate agrees that there’s no need to consign any particular look to the back of the wardrobe, just because it’s a bit dated.   

‘Wear what makes you comfortable and you feel fantastic in, be that a grownup suit or frivolous mini dress,’ she said.

‘Style is personal and we shouldn’t be led by brands pushing their new collections and sales agendas.

‘Think about how you can re-wear an old favourite by pairing it with a new headpiece or clever accessory.’


Sarah Kate advised upgrading

Sarah Kate advised upgrading 


Next time you think you have nothing to wear, look at what’s in your wardrobe and drawers and think about how you could sport it in a different way.  

‘I am a keen scarf repurposer, fashioning them into tops and belts all the time,’ Sarah Kate said. 

‘Dresses can be turned into tops if paired with the right skirt over. A look of mine that went down well was a very short floral minidress that I layered a shocking pink ankle length skirt over. 

‘Belting loose jackets to give you a more structured look is another go to trick of mine.’ 

Sarah Kate wearing a mini dress layered under a long skirt to create a whole new look. She also advises buying occasionwear in block colours, which won't date as quickly as prints that go in and out of fashion

Sarah Kate wearing a mini dress layered under a long skirt to create a whole new look. She also advises buying occasionwear in block colours, which won’t date as quickly as prints that go in and out of fashion 


Naturally the pieces you buy for a special occasion won’t get the same wear as your everyday wardrobe.

If you are going to opt for something new, what’s the best may to maximise your investment? 

‘Put quality of fabric and cut first and foremost because a well-made piece will last,’ said Sarah Kate.

‘Solid colours tend to be more versatile because they aren’t so obvious as a trending print for example. And fit – choose a silhouette that you know suits you if you want to enjoy wearing it for years to come.’


Embrace the idea of borrowing from friends’ wardrobes for the ultimate in thriftiness. 

Or if you’re keen to try out rental fashion, which is having a huge moment, remember that you can get a top-to-toe look, so don’t forget about acessories too.  

Sarah Kate said: ‘Hurr, My Wardrobe HQ and The Bag Butler offer daily/weekly loans of sought after pieces for a fraction of the cost of buying and make fashion more circular with less waste.

‘For me, a winning look typically has a terrific hat or headpiece that sets it off and ensures you stand out from the crowd. 

‘Choosing a hat can be daunting so check out hat rental agencies such as The Cotswold Hat Club, run by Rachel Hawkins. 

‘This hat rental agency offers a premium collection of millinery where you can rent one off millinery, fascinators and headbands with styling help from Rachel herself.’    

The Cazoo St. Leger Festival in Doncaster plays host to one of the most prestigious race weeks of the British horse racing with Ladies Day taking place on September 9. For more details about the Cazoo St Leger Ladies Day and tickets visit www.doncaster-racecourse.co.uk  

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