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What to wear on a first date

Generally, in my line of work, I'm never short of style advice. I'm surrounded by women happy to offer a second opinion on what to pack for that work trip, which shoes to wear to which restaurant, what to wear to a job interview.

But ask what to wear on a date, and suddenly a tumbleweed rolls by.

For this piece, I polled a number of experts (some style, some dating) for advice. Two recommended clean knickers. Not a bad start, but personally, I think this is a rule for everyday, and not just first dates.

The rest offered tactful-but-unhelpful suggestions that fell into two camps. One: it doesn't matter what you wear as long as you're comfortable; and two: just be yourself.

Neither adage is terrible advice, but nor are they helpful when you're standing in the mall at 11am on a Saturday morning. The problem is, no one really wants to tell you what to wear on a date, for fear of sounding sexist or old-fashioned, so they stay quiet.

But it's like shopping for a wedding without a dress code - nobody wants to be the woman sitting on a hay bale in blush silk.

"First impressions matter," says Anna Berkeley, fashion stylist. "People make snap judgments in a few seconds."

The number of seconds is up for debate and, in psychological study, the most common theory seems to be seven. Seven seconds. Not exactly time for my sense of humour to shine, is it?

I've been told by more than one (now close) friend that they weren't keen on me at first, but I won them over. Seven seconds isn't long enough for that - I'll need at least three dates.

Since you're unlikely to reach the sharing-of-souls bit if you're dressed like a ninny, your outfit needs to outshine your bad jokes, and get you to date number two.

So, on to the practical advice. As for age, this advice stands whether you're dating first, second, or third time around. Or fourth. I'm not here to judge, just recommend a frock. "I don't think dating wardrobes need to change depending on age," says Berkeley. "The older you are, the better you will be at it."

Ines da Silva, consulting editor of Debrett's and Bicester's Guide to British Style, says: "If it's an internet date, be consistent with how you present yourself in your profile too, rather than opting for a drastic last-minute makeover which might confuse your date."

Ah. Well. As my profile includes photos of me wearing a PVC trench coat, a yellow leather skirt, a green leather jacket and silver ankle boots, that doesn't exactly narrow my options.

The last first date Sophia Money-Coutts, features director at Tatler, went on was in March, "and I knew he was a bit 'trendier' than me, so I bought a pair of Nike Air trainers to wear along with a pair of dark blue, skinny Paige jeans and a white silk shirt from Equipment. I have never owned 'trendy' trainers before and he not only complimented me on my trainer choice that night, he is now my boyfriend. Thanks, Nike."

Which brings me to the first outfit option: jeans and a "nice" top. If you're not the trendy trainer type (and I'm not), Berkeley always recommends a pair of heels. A silk shirt, rather than cotton one, will stop you from feeling too corporate.

"It's boring, but dressing in a relatively conservative way is perceived as showing status and confidence. And remember, too, that men often judge something that's overly fashion forward unfavourably. So save your paper bag waists, furry shoes and oversized everything for the second date."

Second on the list of date-safe outfits is the LBD. In my case, it's not so "little" - I prefer sleeves and below the knee hemlines, so pipped for Kitri's slinky wrap dress. Lisa Armstrong, fashion director of The Telegraph, notes that black gets harder to wear as you get older, and colour more flattering, so your version of a LBD might not actually be black, but navy, burgundy or even red. Whatever the colour or cut, this should be the dress that you put on for cocktail parties when nothing else in your wardrobe feels right.

So far, so safe. On to door number three, behind which waits the "loudest" of my recommended outfits.

"I think it's nice to make an effort on a first date," says Frankie Graddon, fashion and beauty editor at The Pool, who met her boyfriend of two-plus years on Tinder. "I'd expect him to, and would be put off by a scruff bag. But nothing overly fancy."

For me, she says, this translates to a printed dress and platform heels, dressed down with a leather jacket - since she also happens to be my best mate from uni, she knows my style better than most.

"I'd say whatever makes you feel fabulous, regardless of whether it's appropriate," is my mother's advice; "you need your clothes to be your friends in stressful situations."

Hence the leopard print dress: definitely not a safe choice, but it's something I'd wear to dinner, or even the pub. If you love stripes, florals or bright colours, then why hide that on a first date?

"Specific outfit choices definitely send messages," says Berkeley, "so if you want to say you are fun and creative, choose print, or yellow."

As for what to avoid, Whitney Wolfe, founder and CEO of dating app Bumble, suggests that "if you're someone that has never worn heels, don't choose your first date to wear those stilettos for the first time".

Money-Coutts suggests avoiding "colours which show up sweat patches if you, like me, sweat an alarming amount when nervous. And probably just don't go along to a first date, or even a second or third date, in a wedding dress."

If all this seems like a lot of faff, bear in mind, the seven second rule applies to your date, too. Hopefully, in a bathroom not too far from your own, your prospective date is going to the same pains.

And if not? I don't think you should rule someone out over a dodgy pair of trainers, but we each must draw a line. Mine is short-sleeved shirts. If you're dating men, the latest concern in the online sphere is "hatfishing" (a play on catfishing, or posing as someone else online) when men cover dodgy haircuts and bald patches under hats on their profiles.

According to Jonathan Heaf, features director at GQ, "there's only one cardinal sin for men on first dates. Or, forever, in fact. The square-toed shoe. If a woman (or man) sees this underneath the pub table on the person they may well be three pints away from sleeping with I can strongly advise they do one thing: run. Run and never look back. Delete his number, unfollow, repent and try to forget the whole sorry episode."

If you're dating women, that's a different kettle of fish altogether - and possibly one that calls for the aforementioned "paper bag waists, furry shoes and oversized everything".

One of my housemates, dating a woman for the first time, admits she takes more care to dress stylishly now than when she's dated men. "With guys, you want to look good, obviously, but you can be relatively safe in the knowledge that they probably have a limited idea of what's fashionable or 'on trend' for women at the time - or that they don't care."

Since you're likely to go on more than one first date, you can try out a few options to see what you feel both sexy and comfortable in, and what makes the best first impression.

And here's the best bit: once you've found that outfit, you can wear it time and again; your next date won't know the difference.

WHERE TO START: A DATING CAPSULE WARDROBE

An LBD: Though it doesn't necessarily have be black, or particularly little.

A silk shirt: Comfortable, classic and chic.

Well-fitted jeans: Stick to whichever brand makes your current favourite pair, then look for a smarter option. Black or dark indigo is best for evening, and a bit of stretch will be most flattering.

XXL earrings: If in doubt, add earrings. They'll dress up most outfits, or distract from a bad blow-dry.

A bold option: If you love print and colour, don't hide your light under a bushel.

A confidence-boosting pair of heels: I love the comfort and height of platforms, but even the tiniest kitten heel will do. If flats are your preference, look to this season's jewelled styles to add a bit of glamour to your look.

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