Contrary to popular belief, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs isn’t the founding father of bangin’, all-white bashes. No, that honour goes to Mr. François Pasquier, a Frenchman who arranged a picnic with his friends—all dressed in white so that they could easily find each other—at Paris’s Bois de Boulogne nearly 30 years ago.
Today, the aptly coined Dîner en Blanc has been adopted by cities all over the world, including Vancouver, where—love it or hate it—the wildly popular event returns for its fifth rendition on August 18. This time, 6,000 Vancouverites—2,000 more than last year—will converge at a covert spot to dine, sip, and dance the night away.
With so many new slots, however, comes a slew of DEB newbies who are likely wondering what to expect, and perhaps most importantly, what to wear. (The outdoor gala is one of the most Instagrammed affairs in Vancouver, after all.)
To help you plan your all-white ensemble, we asked three Dîner en Blanc veterans what rookie mistakes they (and others) made during their first year—and what you can do to avoid them.
The event is dubbed Dîner en Blanc for a reason: you’re expected to wear white. And while off-white, nude, and other neutral pieces may seem fine when you’re getting dressed at home, you can bet that they’ll stand out in a sea of crisp, true whites—and not necessarily in a good way.
“When you’re there and everyone’s wearing white, your outfit looks almost dirty even if it’s an off-white or cream,” says fashion blogger and three-time DEB attendee Alicia Winnett by phone. “You don’t notice until you’re with everyone.”
To avoid sticking out like a sore thumb, look at your get-up in natural light, especially before taking it home from the mall or shop. If you’re still unsure, compare the pieces to other whites you have in your closet, or if you’re shopping, the brightest whites in the store. You may be surprised at how many “shades” are out there.
“If you have to ask if an item is white enough, the answer is no,” adds five-time DEB table leader Laurent Munier.
Playing it safe
Sure, a simple white dress or a button-down and shorts will do—but considering that Dîner en Blanc is a departure from the everyday, you may be disappointed if you decide to play it safe.
Compared to renditions in Paris and New York City, for example, local stylist and DEB table leader Crystal Carson notes that Vancouver’s version goes particularly over-the-top. “Think about it the way people get into Halloween in Canada,” she tells the Straight by phone. “It’s the same thing for Dîner en Blanc.”
As long as they’re white, no accessories, hairpieces, and even forms of body art are off-limits. Previous events have seen everything from feather boas, face paint, and DIY flower crowns to towering Marie Antoinette wigs, frosty lipsticks, and impossibly long falsies.
If you’re attending with a large group, get creative by matching your attire. Carson notes that you can even contact your table leader—accessible through the member log-in on Dîner en Blanc Vancouver’s official website—to coordinate a theme with others who will be sitting near you. It’s not only an easy way to play dress-up but a fun icebreaker, too.
Shopping at the last minute
We realize it’s a little late to get a substantial head start on shopping, but you shouldn’t leave your all-white hunt until the eleventh hour either. “White clothing in Vancouver is not available all the time, so buy it sooner than later,” stresses Munier by phone.
The good news is that many shops are currently conducting sales for their summer merchandise, which often includes at least a few white pieces. But don’t limit yourself to big-name department stores: Munier recommends scouring independent boutiques and thrift stores along Main Street and in Gastown for truly one-of-a-kind finds.
If you’re having trouble putting together a knockout ’fit, Pinterest is a great one-stop shop for style inspiration. Munier also suggests watching YouTube videos from past DEB functions in Vancouver and other cities, so you can emulate what previous attendees have done. And it isn’t too late to do some online shopping.
Failing to layer up
Although layering is never a bad idea in Vancouver, it’s especially important for Dîner en Blanc. The event runs from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.—rain or shine—and between assembling and disassembling your table and mingling with guests, you’ll likely be doing quite a bit of moving.
Therefore, accessorize appropriately and bring a removable layer like a white blazer, jacket, or cardigan. Ideally, you’ll be able to easily tuck it away in your bag, or if it’s a shawl or scarf, make it part of your ensemble. Look for pieces made from breathable fabrics like cotton, linen, or chiffon, and if you’re preparing for rain, keep in mind that your umbrella must also be white or transparent.
“Packing layers and making sure you’re not standing there in a little dress, freezing cold, at the end of the night is something to think about,” says Carson, “especially because we’ve had such a hit-or-miss summer in Vancouver.”
Rocking the wrong footwear
It’s a misstep once made by Winnett, Munier, and Carson, and one that they continue to see others falling victim to at Dîner en Blanc: wearing the wrong shoes.
“The first year, I wore pointed-toe heels and that was a huge mistake,” shares Winnett. Aside from the pain factor, she notes that it can be difficult to walk in stiletto heels at DEB’s top-secret spots. (Past dinners in Vancouver have taken place at the Telus World of Science and David Lam Park—both sites that include soft, heel-eating grass.)
Carson recommends trying to make flats or wedges work with your outfit or, at the very least, bringing a pair of comfortable shoes to wear during the transportation and dance portions of the affair. If you’re planning on wearing a floor-length dress or maxi skirt, you can potentially get away with rocking runners underneath.
Guys should opt for a comfy sneaker or loafer, and bring an extra pair of shoes if they’re iffy about their main kicks. Ladies who wouldn’t be caught dead in flats should consider investing in a pair of plastic heel protectors.
“It’s a classy event, so you want to look good and feel stylish,” says Carson. “But comfort is number one.”