Martha Ward's breezy guide to summer occasion dressing

We may be yet to cast off our winter tights but those summer occasions – most notably Royal Ascot, not to mention all of those weddings and christenings - will be upon us faster than you think. To avoid the annual blind panic while hunting for "formal daywear", we asked freelance stylist, fashion correspondent for Ascot TV and all-round mistress of the pretty occasion frock, Martha Ward, to talk us through some of her favourite looks for the season from Fenwick. 


Behind the scenes at the Royal Ascot Style Guide launch at Fenwick Bond Street

To launch this year's Royal Ascot Style Guide, Ward presented an exclusive fashion show alongside milliner Piers Atkinson at our Fenwick Bond Street store.

Martha says: "Having interviewed so many race-goers, I realise women love the dressing up part of Ascot. It’s quite an old fashioned idea but they embrace the dress code and are excited about buying something new to wear, whether it’s a new frock or a hat. The Daily Mail include pictures of girls on their knees in mini skirts but I think it's very unkind as they are very few and far between and I have seen it all. 

"I wanted the outfits I chose to be elegant and graceful, without looking too try-hard. Some pieces were at the high end of the spectrum and some were really affordable - but mostly they were smart day-to-day pieces that you could wear again and again."

Showing how it's done: Martha Ward at Ascot 2014

If you would like help with dressing whatever the occasion, our complimentary personal shopping service are here to help. Simply contact your nearest branch to book an appointment. We have personal shopping experts in Kingston, Bond Street, Canterbury, Newcastle, York, Brent Cross and Colchester


Jason Wu

Thankfully dressing up and formal wear are fashionable again. Women are influenced not just by what they see on the catwalks but role models, such as the Duchess of Cambridge, Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron, dressing in an elegant, ladylike way - they have put formal wear back into our sphere. At a special occasion like Royal Ascot, everyone can enjoy the opportunity to dress up. This dress would work in the Grand Stand or Royal Enclosure. I love the sheer lace panels on this Jason Wu dress and I think white is a good safe bet in summer as it’s always chic.

The shape and style - especially the longer sleeve - would work on any woman at any age, it’s an easy dress that could be revived on many occasions (of course, not a wedding) but it’s quite classic so you could go crazy with the hat and accessories.

Dress, £1485, Jason Wu, available at Fenwick Bond Street.


While women are embracing the Royal Ascot dress code, there has been a definite move away from the 50s A-line look that you traditionally associate with the race meet to a more streamlined silhouette dress. 

What I liked about this Preen dress was the unconventional bloom - it’s a return to florals but not in an obvious, ditsy print way. The cut, shape and style is flattering and appropriate for the Royal Enclosure and it is definitely great for weddings, summer parties and birthdays after. I think it is a style that does require a heel, even if just a kitten heel.

Dress, £795, Preen, available at Fenwick Bond Street.

LK Bennett

Formalwear was once resigned to higher end designers, but now the high street is providing really great smarter wear for women at all prices. For those who can’t go to Erdem, there's Coast, LK Bennett and even Topshop where you can get a look-a-like outfit on a shoestring. 

I think this is a sophisticated, tonal look. The important thing about wearing a dress and day coat is that the hemlines should match, if not exactly then it should certainly be in keeping with each other whether that’s on the knee or below the knee. It makes sense to go for the same brand in both as they will be made to be worn together.

I like the neutral colours - this coat would work over a lot of these dresses - and the embellishment on the dress makes it a little bit different, and not so simple it really lifts it and stops it being too mother-of-the-bride. It is a good classic look that allows you to be as adventurous as you like with the hat.

Coat, £450, and dress, £395, L K Bennett, available at Fenwick Bond Street, Canterbury, Colchester, Kingston, Newcastle, Tunbridge Wells, Windsor and York.

Aquiliano Rimondi

In the Royal Enclosure, dresses and skirts should be of modest length and straps should be of one inch or greater. Tops and skirts must also match. This outfit looks like a dress so you are well within your rights to wear it.

When you are investing in an outfit for a special occasion, it is useful to choose something that you can mix-and-match later on. This skirt you could wear with a thin knit for a day of meetings and the top could be teamed with jeans - it's a very useful look.

Nobody wants to buy something that they can only wear once, you want to wear it again and again. I love the detailed embroidery of this Aquilano Rimondi look and the very pretty scallop edge.

Top, £630, and skirt, £575, Aquilano Rimondi, available at Fenwick Bond Street

Eudon Choi

This was such an unexpected sunny colour and shape, it wasn’t fitted, it's fairly shapeless but worn with the right heel its very Gatsby-esque.

Many women don’t go for a drop-waist but it’s actually a very easy piece, this exactly the style I would always push my friends to put on – and the kind of thing they would love that would become a new favourite.

It wouldn’t work if you are particularly short but anyone of any average height can wear it but it is best worn with heel.

Dress, £425, Eudon Choi, available at Fenwick Bond Street

Max & Co

Even though the dress code is slightly more relaxed in the Grandstand - you could wear this Max & Co dress with spaghetti straps for example - I think people still dress elegantly. They go for longer hemlines, cap sleeves, they don’t arrive in mini dresses they conform to the Royal Enclosure dress code. 

I love that this is an elegant length and soft silhouette with very pretty embroidery, it would look very feminine and stylish.

I do think, however, it’s a style that would look best with a heel. At Ascot I’m quite one for a kitten heel, the last thing you want is high, spike stilettos they would look ridiculous 80mm or 85mm is the highest heel and even less - if you are wearing a 50s full skirt then a flat can be fun. 

Dress, £209, Max & Co, available at Fenwick Bond Street


This is my favourite look. I love that style of skirt – it’s very voluminous, lengthy and nipped at the waist - it’s an absolute winner.

It’s elegant and perfectly appropriate for the Grandstand not for the Royal Enclosure. I like the idea of teaming a chic white blouse with a pretty full skirt and this is the kind of skirt that would go on for the summer and beyond.

The lightweight fabric means it hangs beautifully, Vilshenko really consider how their designs hang and sit. It’s a timeless piece.

Skirt, £506, Vilshenko, available at Fenwick Bond Street 


This is a different take on Royal Ascot dressing that wouldn’t normally spring to mind it's not one I would particularly encourage but there is nothing to stop you wearing a trouser suit in the Royal Enclosure. If people don’t feel comfortable in dresses, it’s something a bit different.

I wouldn’t wear a black trouser suit, it has got to be light, but this one by Joseph looks great worn with a pretty pussy-bow blouse and a trilby. Of course, trouser suits are all the rage right now, there are lots on the high street, they will be more on our radar.

Jacket, £395 and trousers, £225, Joseph, available at Fenwick Bond Street, Kingston, Newcastle, Tunbridge Wells and York.

By Claire Brayford