Warning: Holiday party invitations will be forthcoming. Instead of the usual scramble/rush/search-the-closet/hit-the-mall- and-shop madness, start planning the affair apparel now. There's the cheery open house at your neighbor's (wool trousers, camisole, tweed shoes), the spiked cider and canape shindig that your best friend hosts (short skirt, high heels, big jewelry) and the open-bar, dance-all-night fete that your boss springs for once a year (silk dress, splashy shoes, cute bag).

Sometimes the hardest part about all this is deciphering the dress code, says Kristin van Ogtrop, Real Simple magazine's managing editor. Black-tie, cocktail wear, festive attire -- it's enough to make you lose your eggnog.

"You can get into a bit of a free-for-all situation and have certain pieces that can straddle several categories," she says. Like an embellished jacket. "You can wear it with a skirt, or a nice pair of pants, jeans or ball skirt, or over a dress. And you don't have to take it off at the coat check."

The trick is to plan ahead -- "like you're planning a meal," van Ogtrop says. Look at everything and the way the pieces relate to each other. A few accessory changes (shoes, bag, chunky necklace), and it's a whole new outfit.

Sometimes people mistake festive for jolly overload. (Reindeer-sweater wearers, you know who you are.) There are gentler ways to suggest merriness: Wear a darker shade of lipstick, pull out the (faux) fur and shine in garnet. "It's a little more dramatic," says van Ogtrop, "but doesn't scream 'Jingle Bells.' "

-- Janelle Erlichman Diamond

Satin shirtdress with graduated hemline and covered-button cuffs with silver bells ($148), Deco sequined evening bag ($38) and Cara knotted sandals ($135) at Banana Republic.Edward An's crimson houndstooth jacket ($268) with duchess satin skirt ($248), and local designer Mona Assemi's cinnabar hearts bracelet, $200 at Alex Boutique, 1919 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Jeweled strappy suede sandals, $140 at Banana Republic.Smart straight-leg trousers in charcoal flannel ($128), twinkly printed camisole in heather autumn floral ($78) and funky, sassy shoes in damson tweed ($138) at bodenusa.com or 866-206-9508.