Belfast Telegraph

The dress that changed my life

Maybe it helped win a dream job or woo a lover? Kerry McKittrick and Hannah Goodall ask six women to reveal their all-time favourite dress.

Some women search endlessly for it for years and never find it. Others stumble across it quite by accident but then look after it as if their very lives depend upon it. And who can blame them? For the perfect dress is indeed a garment of wonder, capable of magic, or as close to magic as most ordinary women get.

It can be long, short or somewhere in between. It can be an LBD or any colour, or every colour under the sun. It can streamline a body in seconds. It can cling to your curves in all the right places.

It can be classy, demure, glamorous, fun, alluring, business-like. It can cost hundreds of pounds or can be plucked from a sale rail on a quick lunchtime sortie to the shops. Whatever its provenance, the woman in it will feel like a million dollars.

It’s the dress you’re happy to run into your ex in, that you can throw on at a moment’s notice and look chic at a party, that you wear to the interview that nets your dream job, that you were wearing the night you met The One.

Here we find out which dresses worked wonders for a range of local women.

‘It launched fashion career’

Poppy Warwicker-Le Breton (24), from Coleraine, is in her final year of a Master’s degree in fashion at Kingston University in London. She says:

I did a foundation degree in fashion in Manchester and then went on to do my bachelor's degree. It was my graduate show that really changed my life — and the cocoon dress I designed for it in particular. The collection was nominated for the Zandra Rhodes textile award and a coat in the collection won best garment award.

I think it's the silhouette of the dress that is so striking. It's an unusual feature and because the dress is in a chunky knit I had to put it all together by hand. That's what got me noticed, and it’s become my signature style.

At the graduate show I was approached by the course director of the Master’s degree in Kingston and asked if I’d apply to study there. It's a hands-on course and you learn every stage of fashion from the design to all of the skills and techniques for making garments.

The course director, Nancy Tilbury, took me on as a summer intern. Nancy was working with Phillips and the company had a project where they were designing clothes putting digital technology into fashion. I was part of the team that developed clothes with LED lights for the Black Eyed Peas to wear on their tour.

Finishing my Master’s is taking up all of my time so I haven't thought about what I'll do next. I’d love my own label, though.

But the wonderful thing about this course is that the final show is actually at London Fashion Week in September. I'm hoping that the chance to exhibit there will help get me noticed. After all, I’ve got this far thanks to that cocoon dress ...”

‘My son’s dad fell for me in this dress’

Alexandra Godfrey (22), a stylist, has a son, Nevin (2) and lives in Belfast. She says:

I bought my dress in House of Fraser sale for £60 for a night out at Christmas. It was a silver Paul Costelloe design from Therapy.

I met Simon at The Box in Belfast in August 2009 when I was out for a friend’s birthday. Afterwards he found me on Facebook and we arranged to go on a date. I decided I would wear the Costelloe dress, but I pinned up the skirt to make it shorter for a nightclub.

The date was a disaster. He arrived late in a taxi because his car had broken down. He spent most of the night on the phone trying to get his car sorted. We only got about an hour together. I remember him telling me how pretty I looked and how lovely my dress was.

The next day he texted to say he’d make it up to me. We went bowling, then to dinner and two weeks later we were a couple. Our baby boy Nevin was born 11 months later — he was a bit of a surprise! Simon’s now studying in Birmingham, but always makes time to see Nevin when he's home. Nevin’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me and when I think about him I think about the dress. It symbolises the start of a life-changing journey for me. I don't regret anything, but when I look back at that first date I wonder if it would have gone differently if I’d worn jeans and a strappy top ...”

‘It got me my dream job’

Rebecca McKinney (25) is personal stylist at Victoria Square shopping centre, Belfast and lives in the city. She says:

I did a law degree and then a Masters in communications, advertising and public relations, but I've always had a keen interest in fashion — while still at school I worked in retail and also to pay my way through university.

Once I graduated I worked for an advertising agency dealing with fashion marketing. Fashion was definitely the path I wanted to take, but I had doubts there would be many opportunities in Northern Ireland.

Then one day I found a dress in River Island — and it was to help me win me my dream job. It's a Fifties-style, colour-blocked prom dress and it only cost £35. I didn't buy it for anything in particular — I just fell in love with it the moment I tried it on.

I never thought I’d get a job as a personal shopper. The ad for it was very broad — the work also involves preparing fashion shoots and editorials and styling. Nor did I have much chance to think about what I’d wear to the interview — I got the call for it the afternoon before it was scheduled.

For clients who are going for interviews I would normally advise them to go for a more corporate look, such as a suit, but I didn’t do that for this one — I suppose instinctively I knew it just had to be something a little different. So I wore the River Island dress — after all, it’s a fun dress that reflects my personality. Plus, putting it on gave me a lot of confidence.

I found out the next day that I got the job and I started a week later. I've been here for a year and I love it. And, yes, I still have the dress, too — it’s perfect for any occasion. I can dress it up with heels or go for a more casual look with flats. Every time I wear it someone stops me on the street to ask where it came from.”

‘My wedding gown was free’

Helen Kelly (31) is a learning manager at an art gallery and comes from Belfast. She lives in Brighton, England, with her husband Mick (30), an events manager, and they are due to have their first baby next month. She says:

I got engaged to Mick in June 2010 and we set our date as May 14, 2011. My sister and I went to Blush Bridal on the Lisburn Road in Belfast and after trying on a few wedding dresses I fell in love with a gorgeous David Fielden gown. At £1,800 it was over my budget but I put down a deposit.

Caoimhe from Blush suggested I enter the Face Of Blush — the winner gets their dress for free. Entrants had to describe their perfect wedding day in 10 words. I submitted a box with 10 Polaroids in it and each Polaroid had a word on it.

I got a phone call at work telling me I’d won — and just screamed with excitement.

I got the deposit I’d put down on my dress back. I also had a fashion shoot that would be used for Blush's marketing — I was photographed in lots of fabulous dresses during a shoot in the Duke Of York, Belfast, where Mick and I met. Happily, they didn't use the dress I’d chosen for the shoot — that one was kept back as a surprise for my wedding day.”

‘It got my style noticed’

Louise Vance (31) works as a solicitor when she isn't hosting fashion events, and currently lives in Belfast. She says:

Fashion has always been a love of mine but, it was never something that I considered as a career path. Growing up I devoted myself to my studies. I followed the typical path of doing A-Levels then going to University of Ulster and doing a law and governance degree. In my head, law was the career that I was going to pursue.

I bought the dress for £180 in my favourite shop, Karen Millen. It was a beautiful knee length silk dress, in pink with a floral pattern and I just had to try it on — I knew without a doubt in my mind that this was ‘the' dress. I bought it for the Catwalk for Survival fashion event in the Europa Hotel, Belfast, to raise money for cancer research. I’d been going to fashion events for the past four or five years so I got ready that night just as I would for any event.

When I turned up there were a lot of photographers there. My picture appeared in local magazines and was also all over Facebook. After that, people would tell me that they’d seen my photo. They’d comment on my style and ask if I was involved in fashion. Then Noriki Productions asked if I would do some work on camera. I did a few interviews for the launch of local fashion designer Nor Lisa's autumn/winter collection, Plainly Peculiar.

The first event I hosted was the Fashion, Beauty and Lifestyle Fashion Show on April 1. They asked me if I wanted to host it on the day. I didn't have much time to be nervous and it proved an exhilarating experience.

I’m working in more of a consultancy role as a solicitor now. I couldn't work full time and have the time to do all the other things I love doing. When I graduated from university with my law degree 10 years ago I never for a second thought I would end up where I am today. And I definitely think if I had worn something else that night things would have worked out differently. What happened seems to have been a result of my own personal style and this dress in particular.”

‘It made me lose weight’

Colleen Quinn (30) is a nurse for people with learning disabilities and lives in Newry with husband Graeme. She says:

Graeme and I have been together for eight years and after five years we moved in together. We did what lots of other couples do — nibbled in front of the TV, had lots of nice meals and Chinese takeaways. I'd always carried a bit of weight but over the next couple of years the pounds piled on. I didn't do any exercise and at my heaviest weighed 16 stone 6lbs.

I started watching what I ate and doing a bit of walking and lost a stone and a half on my own. Then, I joined a Unislim class and months later Graeme proposed so I’d a goal to slim down for. I went for a fitting for my wedding dress in January 2011 — my wedding was in November. The dress I bought was a size 14 though I knew I’d need to have it taken in for my wedding day — I thought I’d get down to a size 12 by then.

In the end, on my wedding day I was down to eight stone three pounds and my dress had to be taken in to a size 8-10. I never thought I’d ever have fitted into a dress like that.

Friends and family were as amazed as I was — because I’d lost the weight quickly many hadn't seen me before I walked down the aisle. I'm 2lbs heavier now and take Unislim classes myself. And I still look at my wedding dress with pride!”

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