Enjoy the red-carpet treatment
Updated: 2006-06-26 11:40

Summer trends are flowing towards floor-length gowns this year
Deciding what to wear to formal occasions can throw even the most assured dresser into a panic. Where dress codes were once easily interpreted - or at least they were by seasoned party-goers - these days they are confusing and have few rules. Is your Balmain cocktail dress smart enough for Glyndebourne, or will that Rochas gown be too grand for a summer ball?

Summer trends are flowing towards floor-length gowns this year

The red-carpet effect is partly to blame. Ever since designers wised up to the global impact of the right celebrity wearing their dresses, we've been bombarded with images of show-stopping gowns at every conceivable event. While this has admittedly given us more ideas, it has also blurred the boundaries of what's appropriate. Most of us know it's not fitting to attend a smart party looking like a member of Atomic Kitten, but it is often less clear just how dressed up we really should be.

Fortunately, floor-length gowns are one of this summer's biggest evening-wear trends, which should simplify dressing for big occasions. The hostess gown - a glamorous, printed style last worn in the Seventies - is back in truly dazzling form.

Some of the most eye-catching examples come from Adriana Barra - a Brazilian designer based in S?o Paulo, whose collection has made its debut at the London boutique Matches this summer. Barra's printed silk and jersey dresses don't come cheap, but they are spectacular and - as Bridget Cosgrave, Matches's buyer, points out - many of the styles are reversible, so you are getting two dresses for the price of one.

Of course, there are plenty of mainstream labels with long, exquisitely patterned dresses in their collections. Missoni and Pucci are reliable sources for breathtaking (and breathtakingly expensive) gowns in exotic prints and patterns.

But there are a lot of cheaper options to be found. Mid-range labels such as Coast and Monsoon have pretty much cornered the market for long feminine gowns, but other labels such as Jesir¨¦ have equally good alternatives.

The temptation with such flamboyant dresses is to accessorise to the hilt, but this should be avoided. They look more modern with glamorous, jewelled flats rather than high heels - although you need to be tall to pull it off. Wear just one piece of stunning jewellery: an imposing necklace, a metallic cuff, or a pair of ornate earrings, and carry a simple clutch bag - Wilbur & Gussie has beautiful silk versions in bright colours and fun patterns.