>  Holiday Dress
November 30, 2008
All the Trimmings

By Holly E. Thomas and Michelle Thomas - Washington Post Staff Writers

Finding The Perfect Outfit is hard enough day-to-day. And as if the holidays don't present enough challenges (How much eggnog is too much? To regift or not?), they also bring a slew of sartorial stumbling blocks. First, event dress codes call for styles from black tie to the ambiguous "festive cocktail." Throw in guest lists that include the CEO of your company or your significant other's mom, dad, 15 cousins and Great-Aunt Mary, and the challenge is enough to make you want to don fuzzy snowflake socks and stay on the couch.

So what do you wear? Sure, some of your colleagues may trot out their finest Santa sweaters, and others may seize the opportunity to go as short and sequined as possible. A word to the wise: Don't let Mariah Carey be your muse in this situation (or, really, any other). Instead, think subdued shimmer, pops of unexpected color and classic tailoring brightened by fanciful flourishes. Need a starting point? Collect inspiration by clipping magazine images of festive outfits and jotting down colors and trends that you're drawn to, such as the current passion for purple and ruffled embellishments.

We singled out three familiar holiday-season scenarios, then prowled high-end boutiques, chain stores, the mall and the Web to pull together stylish, fresh and -- most important -- appropriate looks for each occasion. Inside, find ensembles for an office luncheon, a New Year's soiree and dinner with your new flame's family. Plus, we suggest ways to stretch your holiday wardrobe well into 2009. And that may be the best gift you'll get all year.

Scenario 1

Office Holiday Luncheon

Most of the time, we advise leaving the trifecta of ruffles, silk and sequins to showgirls and drag queens. But during the holidays, especially for a daytime event, these festive flourishes are a definite "do," so long as they're tempered by menswear-inspired fabrics and understated neutrals.

We opted for a feminine silk top in rich navy. The high neckline and intricate details make it right for the holidays, but it's versatile enough to wear long after the last snow has melted. The girly vibe is toned down by tailored trousers and minimal accessories, and the ensemble is finished with a subtly sequined cardigan and a suede peep-toe pump in a contrasting but complementary crimson. Hello, year-end bonus!


How to Stretch the Look

Swap the trousers for a pencil skirt to take you from work to after-hours cocktails.

Add some sparkle to the rest of your holiday outfits with the embellished sweater. Or, after the holidays, wear it with a white tee and jeans to bring a touch of luxe to a basic look.


Scenario 2

Meet the Parents (for Dinner)

In a season punctuated by over-the-top trimmings, it can be tricky to find a holiday get-up that's sparkly and fun but still elegant enough for a family setting. When you want to make a good impression, sartorially or otherwise, look to such sophisticated, timeless muses as Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn for hemline and neckline guidance. They certainly didn't need a hem up to there to turn heads.

We wanted to find tasteful pieces with a subtle shine and found that this knee-length matte gold skirt and plum silk top fit the bill. The frothy, ruffled cardigan and rose-gold shoes with beaded silver tassels add a playful touch without veering into tween territory. The multi-colored beaded evening bag adds the perfect polish to a Coco-, Audrey- and Great-Aunt Mary-approved ensemble.



How to Stretch the Look

Post-holiday, lose a few frills. For a put-together work look, wear the skirt and blouse with a charcoal wrap sweater and a patent nude pump.

Repurpose the intricately beaded bag with your favorite LBD for a night out.


Scenario 3

New Year's Eve Party

This is your chance to start off the year with your style in the spotlight. With every other party guest sporting black or staid sequins, don't miss the opportunity to stand out in a splash of color and luxe accessories. Look for vivid, jewel-tone frocks with such detailing as lace, beading or delicate pleating.

We chose an of-the-moment dress in an eye-popping violet and offset it with vintage-inspired accessories, including a glittering box clutch and a jeweled cuff. Since fur and feather capelets have taken top billing over previous seasons' coverups, we chose a wallet-friendly (not to mention animal-friendly) faux-fur version and paired it with a mixed-metallic beaded necklace. Strut into 2009 in four-inch suede stilettos from party queen (and apparent shoe designer) Paris Hilton. Now make it your New Year's resolution to always look this fabulous.



How to Stretch the Look

If your typical nighttime look leans more funky than formal, dress down the fuzzy jacket with a black turtleneck, dark skinny jeans and ankle boots. Or, slip the dress over a white tank top and add a cropped leather jacket for an Olsen-approved look.

Don't relegate these shoes to the fancy footwear section of your closet. The neutral color makes them a good match for a pencil skirt and a tailored white blouse.

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