IT USED TO BE THAT PEO-ple who stayed home on Friday or Saturday nightwere considered couch potatoes, a not-so-flattering description of folks who chose to grow roots in front of the TV. Today, however, it's chic to spend your evenings entertaining in your very own living room.
As with all social trends, this new-found focus on at-home life has brought about a new-found focus on at-home wear. These hang-around-the-house clothes, however, are a far cry from the sweat pants and oversized T-shirts we all know and love (unless, of course, they're made of cashmere).
Now, designers are turning out easy lounge wear and casual evening clothes faster than you can work your TV's remote control. Whether you're preparing a gourmet holiday dinner for 10 or a caroling party for a few neighbors, the key to stay-at-home dressing is comfort.
Loose construction, soft fabrics and easy fit are essential, as are flat or low-heeled shoes and low-maintenance hairstyling and makeup. Entertaining at home means blending comfort with low-key style. After all, it may be simple, but it's still social.
"The whole idea behind entertaining at home is providing a warm and inviting atmosphere for your guests," says Nancy Chistolini, vice president of fashion for the Hecht Co. She adds that she has definitely seen an increase in the number of home parties and open houses in the Baltimore area.
"Many times, parties given at home do not require wearing your dressiest dress or most dazzling cocktail suit," she explains. "Many women prefer a beaded evening sweater and soft trousers. It's special, but a bit more relaxed."
When Ms. Chistolini dresses for one of these intimate gatherings, she likes to wear her favorite black faille pants suit decorated with jeweled buttons. "It's dressy and comfortable but not overdone."
For Tierney Gifford, fashion director for J. Crew catalog, the holidays at home are a perfect time for sheer fabrics. "So many of us have to go to cocktail parties and office Christmas parties and worry the wholetime about still being dressed professionally. Going to a friend's house for a drink is a great time to wear something a little sexier like a chiffon skirt under a jacket. A sheer fabric can be very feminine and sexy at the same time."
Also falling into this not-for-the-office-party category is the pajama outfit. Fernando Sanchez, Josie Natori, Emanuel Ungaro and others are turning out luxurious robes, slips and pajama sets that are almost too beautiful to be confined to the bedroom.
"What I try to do is take basic lounge wear shapes and embellish them with the most luxurious fabrics and trims so that they look more sophisticated than traditional lounge wear. They can definitely be worn out as evening clothes," says Josie Natori, the New York-based designer who is best known for her sleepwear. Ms. Natori recently blurred the line between bedroom wear and evening wear when she introduced an evening collection filled with rich panne and stretch velvets, embroidered laces, printed silk Charmeuse and gold braid trims, all decorating traditional sleepwear shapes.
"Right now our most popular looks are the slip dresses and dressing gowns," says Ms. Natori. "We're doing them in jewel-tone silk Charmeuses that look so elegant and rich. Many women are wearing them with beautiful printed silk jackets or robe-style coats."
Ms. Natori says that this trend toward luxurious lounge wear is likely a reaction to the dress-up-and-go out era of the late '80s. "I think that people are a little tired of going out to look for fun. We want to find a different kind of happiness at home, with our friends. And there's no longer a need to impress friends with outrageous, outlandishly expensive dresses."
Also making big news in the evening wear categories are sportswear separates and exercise silhouettes that have been injected with holiday spirit. The No. 1 example of this sporty chic is the cat suit or unitard, which has gone from the health club to the haughtiest cocktail parties.
Designer Donna Karan has created whole collections based on this versatile piece. Knitted out of every fiber from cashmere to cotton, the unitard works well under a long jacket and is comfortable enough to wear when you might need to sit on the floor or help out a crazed hostess who is buzzing around the kitchen.
Following the appeal of the cat suit is the stretch legging, usually done in wool jersey or one of the new velvets. Worn under a long jacket or layered under a chiffon skirt, the legging is an especially big hit with younger women who don't subscribe to the "skirts and dresses after-five rule."
"It's such a relief not to have to dress up and go out on weekends," says Kim Colby, a Baltimore-based sales representative who attends several functions each week. "My friends and I used to -- home from work on Fridays, change clothes and -- back out to a new restaurant or hot club. It was almost like, if you stayed home your social life disappeared."