The key to making your old faithful summer dress work in 2024? It’s all about accessories

Accessories is a silly word. Sounds like the kind of fripperies you might find in a dressing up box. Surplus-to-requirements bells and whistles, like fascinators and hair ribbons and floral corsages. But the best accessories are, actually, necessaries.

This is more true than ever in summer. It is not an exaggeration to say that the right accessories are essential for good times in the sunny months. You need shoes that you can walk on grass in without sinking. A basket big enough to sling in a water bottle and your sunscreen. Sunglasses so that you can take your lunch hour outside without squinting.

The best summer accessories are necessary, but that doesn’t mean boring. The joy of summer dressing is that it is good mood dressing. Cold weather accessories are all about doing battle with the elements: sturdy boots to keep your feet warm, sensibly capacious work bags that you can buckle closed for a rainy commute. Summer accessories are the opposite: they are for squeezing the most juice out of every day, as long as it isn’t raining. You want sandals you can stay out late in, jewellery that keeps the holiday mood alive when your fortnight is over, hats that add instant glamour.

Accessories can also be a very helpful style hack for people who are fashion-curious but too busy to do much about it. With the right accessories, you can update your summer look without actually getting changed. Some of my favourite summer dresses are now on the verge of falling apart, because I’ve worn them for so many years. They are patchily faded from the sun, the seams coming loose from being pulled on and off over bikinis. I would still much rather wear those dresses than replace them. I love both the softness of the fabric and the heady allure of the memories. And I am too impatient to waste a summer afternoon queueing for a sticky changing room to try on a dress that will turn out to be slightly too short or too hot or to have an annoying fastening.

But if I’m honest, I also know that my old favourite frocks could do without excessive close scrutiny these days, what with the fading and the frayed seams. Which is where an eye-catching new accessory comes in.

The new buzzword in fashion is “excessories” – accessories that have that little bit extra. Pick a choice focal point, and it will update your whole look. Your bag, for instance. The bag you carry says a lot about you – not just about your taste, but about your lifestyle. The best summer bags are a reminder that this is the best part of the year, and we should make the most of it. Put bluntly, what this means is that even if you are going to work, you want a bag that doesn’t look like a work bag. Instead of something blocky in dark leather, go for citrus colours or bleached-out pale neutrals. Straw always works, or towelling – anything that makes it look like you are carrying fresh fruit from the market, even when you are actually toting a laptop and packed lunch.

Next, shoes. The most common mistake in shopping for summer shoes is to blow the budget on expensive, uncomfortable heels that you rarely wear, and then spend every day in a boring pair of serviceable flats that you don’t hate, but also don’t love. We all do it, and it is madness. Invest in a gorgeous pair of flats that are walkable but special – think raffia slides with shells or ankle ties to add a different note – and then wear them for everything.

The excessories-not-accessories trick will lift your outfit and your mood day in, day out and comes into its own when it’s time to pack a holiday wardrobe. If you choose summer accessories that feel special, then you don’t need to pack an extra pair of “smart” sandals for going out for dinner. Just sling in one pair of well-made snazzy sandals, and wear them day and night.

Sunglasses? Make them pearlescent, or neon, or cat’s eye. Or all three. Hats? Why not go for a bucket hat with a stripe, or a baseball cap with a monogram. Or a cowboy hat, for maximum 2024 energy.

Make summer jewellery bright and bold. Instead of layering a stack of subtle necklaces – a drag if you can’t swim in them, and packing lots of delicate necklaces for travel is a recipe for a tangled mess – pick one joyful piece. Bubblegum corals, delicate shells, souvenir-shop trinkets are all you need.

Turn last year’s dress into this year’s happy place.

Model: Amelia Swaby at Milk. Hair and makeup: Sam Cooper at Carol Hayes Management using Living Proof and Lancôme. Hat, £57, Mother Denim. Dress, £35, Rokit. Earrings, €100, Crystal Haze. Pink bead necklace, £128, Monica Vinader. Evil eye torque, €150, and purple bear necklace, €250, both Crystal Haze. Fish necklace, £17.99, Zara. Coral bangle, £22.99, Zara. Green bracelet, £178, Monica Vinader. Star bag, £49.99, Zara. Sandals, £159, Penelope Chilvers. Woven bag, £190, Essentiel Antwerp. Yellow sunglasses, £120, Bonnie Clyde.

All prices correct at time of going to press

The Guardian

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