A soft fluff of feathers framing the face. A sprinkle of sequins scattered about. The glitter of gilt trim giving that overall glow.
These are the details that make the fashion difference this holiday season. Whether the outfit is a body-conscious Lycra tank dress or an easy-flowing crepe trouser suit, it's the trimmings that count.
"Embellishment is the key to the season," says California designer Monica Harri, who creates the Hearts and Monica Heart lines that can be found in such area stores as Casual Corner, Merry-Go-Round and Paul Harris.
"The biggest new trend is pearls. They've been around as necklaces for a long time, but they've never been incorporated into garments to the extent they are this year. They're used on shoulders, as allover studding -- in every place possible."
Colored stones, gold studs, paillettes (large sequins), crystal drops, whimsical buttons and rhinestones are just a few of the other popular trims that decorate this year's party clothes.
"There are a lot of jackets that have rhinestones all over," says Ms. Harri, "but it's not done in a way that's tacky. Overall I'd say it's a more tasteful season than some -- it's not all glitzy or all lame."
And just what do all these beads and baubles decorate? You name it. The brief little slip dress is still prevalent -- especially when adorned with some sparkle -- but many other choices exist this year, from evening shorts, to catsuits, trouser suits and all shapes of dresses.
(Hemlines, by the way, are definitely remaining short for the festive season, says Ms. Harri.)
Among the newer dress choices, she says are "fit-and-flare dresses, where they're fitted at the waist and then the skirt flares. And there's also a lot of ensemble dressing -- where you'll have a matching coat with a slip dress or chemise underneath."
Depending on the temperature of the day, she says some women will wear the outer jacket in lieu of a cloth coat. Once at an event, she says, "you can take off the coat or just unbutton it to show off the dress underneath. When you're going dancing, you'd probably take off the coat, but if you're just walking around, you might keep it on."
Holiday colors: Black remains the universal favorite for evening. "I think it usually works best when you're adding things on to it," says Ms. Harri, "but we also have cream and brights like royal and fuchsia."
At the local clothing boutique Rococo, co-owner Linda Scherr covered all the bases by ordering the classic, long-jacket dinner suit in three ways -- in ivory trimmed with maribou, in black decorated with different-sized metal buttons and in red ornamented with chiffon rosettes.
Stretch it out: One of Rococo's most popular holiday items is the Lycra stretch catsuit that comes embellished with sequins or gold coins. The styles include both the basic leg, the stirrup, long sleeves and the halter neckline.
"Stretch is more important than ever before," she says. "The big difference now is that this year's Lycra is more forgiving. Last year Lycra was lightweight and very body conscious, so mostly only the very petite girls wore it. Now instead of cotton with Lycra, it's a heavier more substantial man-made fabric that allows the bigger women to wear it quite comfortably. "Women )) who would normally wear a big shirt or sweater over leggings aren't wearing it with these."
Lycra stretch is also incorporated into more classic styles at Rococo, like the two-piece Chanel-style suit gilded with a choice gold coins, pearls or jewels.
For those women who still want a little extra help beneath these body-conscious styles, Ms. Scherr's begun carrying the Hipslip undergarment in response to customer demand.
"It gives someone with a less perfect figure a little extra support," she says. "I have girls here who are a 10 or 12, who can almost make it into Lycra, and they're telling me it takes 10 pounds off so they can fit in comfortably."
Quick changes: Drop-dead, body-hugging clothes are only one part of the holiday story. For other women and other occasions, something more understated is required.
"The majority of our customers are looking for something that's versatile, that they can wear for day and evening," says Ms. Harri. "That's where the dinner suit becomes important. With a little more makeup or an earring, you can change the look."
A basic black suit can be transformed by more than just makeup or jewelry. A gold Lurex turtleneck or lame tank top, for instance, can work magic.
The specialty store Octavia is carrying metallic dickies that offer similar versatility with a simple suit. Available in mock turtleneck style, surplice wrap and ascot, they come in gold, silver and a gold and silver print and are priced around $45.