It is hard to imagine a fabric more suited to the winter party season than black velvet. And in a period when bright colors are being worn for day, black velvet provides a pleasing counterpoint.

There are "velvet" jeans (corduroy cropped so fine it appears to be velvet), and velvet jackets that integrate easily into daytime ensembles. While the velvet costumes sketched here are limited to after-5, a change of blouse -- or none at all -- can give a suit added versatility.

The term "velvet" designates a pile weave; the fiber determines its serviceability. Acetate velvet is used often for its luxurious appearance, but it is not durable and if pressure is put on it when damp -- even just the buildup of body heat against a vinyl chair -- it can never be restored. Cotton velvet is the toughest.

The secret to making velvet look its best is getting all the pile to stand straight up in the same direction. Experts recommend dampening a cloth with a dry-cleaning solvent and applying it on the surface , not the reverse side, to remove spotting.

Several fabric stores suggest velvet boards for steaming velvet. Letting garments steam in the shower or pressing with a towel above and below fabric are recommend by fabric suppliers, who stress that the iron never touch the fabric directly.