Little cocktail dress shines on seductively Fashion: Modern designers refine the satin sheath in time for the classy affairs that the holidays bring.

November 16, 1995|By Suzin Boddiford | Suzin Boddiford,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The neat little cocktail dress is back to stir things up for the holidays with a decidedly modern twist. For the first time in years, glitz has given way to low-key glamour in this season's ladylike satin sheath.

Undeniably seductive in all its incarnations, it still retains a sense of refinement. Inspired by women of great influential style like Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn, the old sleeveless sheath continues to have staying power. Modern executions, however, don't scream retro. Designer Donna Karan recently dubbed the sheath "the foundation of dressing -- the new bodysuit."

But face it, monitoring the waistline, with tempting holiday goodies starting to pour in, is no fun. That is where the shift, the looser, straighter sister of the sheath, steps in as a perfect party dress option. Now you can go ahead and enjoy seconds.

"Last year's spaghetti strap dresses are this year heading to the proms," says Alix Rodman of Dressy Affair boutique in Ruxton. "Instead, the ladies are asking for a simple sheath or shift with a little sleeve, illusion top, or coordinating jacket. They still want to look sexy, but just a bit more covered up."

Another cover-up option this season is the hot pink, short satin trench. Just skip the coat check and wear it open over a trusty little black dress. A dress and coordinating jacket or coat also make perfect evening companions. That's good news for those without "Terminator" triceps who don't feel comfortable baring their arms.

What carries these basic shapes into the Nineties is texture. Holiday is the shine season and there's plenty out there, from satin dresses to metallic knit twin sets to the latest Lurex pinstriped suits.

"The newest standout styles are moving away from embellishments to fabric combinations like crepe and satin or crepe and velvet," says Ms. Rodman. Eveningwear is gradually shrugging off its dark mantle and venturing into brighter territory. Although basic black is considered a classic, it is beginning to take a back seat to color, signaling a major shift in spring '96.

Stephan Gaylord, owner of Montage d'Elegance in Pikesville, believes in navy or hunter green as the new evening black.

"Rich chocolate brown is the newest dark, the ultimate entrance maker," says Heather Femia, regional fashion director for Nordstrom. "When it comes to color, think of flower hues from pastel rose to deep geranium, instead of the typical holiday jewel tones."

And don't leave out red satin.

A tailored cocktail suit is at the top of Trillium owner Sima Blum's list for the holidays. "A satin tuxedo jacket with rhinestone buttons atop matching trousers or a slim skirt is smart and seasonless," she says. "Even a metallic pinstriped pantsuit worn with a colorful satin blouse is a versatile look for any casual party and perfect from the office to dinner.

Ms. Femia agrees that the cocktail suit is enjoying a rebirth. "Although this time around, the only glitz may be just in a button, not all over," she says.

At Cole Porter boutique in Pikesville, holiday signals a time to break out the velvet. "Don't just save it for evenings out on the town," says Cole Porter, "but wear a velvet jacket with jeans or a jeans jacket over a long velvet skirt. It's mixing the unexpected that shows true style."

Blame it on next year's Olympics, which will introduce ballroom dancing as an exhibition sport, but the full-blown ball skirt has returned. This season, it looks newest with a light, fitted top or a cashmere cardigan.

Nothing takes a killer dress farther than a strappy little shoe. Unlike last year's towering stilettos, this season's hot shoes have a more sensible, curvy "Sabrina" heel that can dance 'til dawn.

Also back is the bow, whether wrapped around a handbag, centered on a belt or glove, smacked on the side of a shoe, or set in crystals for a pin, the ultra-feminine detail evokes the proper, gift-packaged style of the '50s.

"Since fashion has become more simple and understated, the only way to individualize your look is with accessories," says Kit Fellows of Kit's Millinery in Pomona Square. She believes we have not seen the last of the little cocktail hat and that a feather in your cap is the modern way to party.

The approach to accessories should be equally as spare as the clean lines of the clothes. Just one important piece of jewelry can make an outfit a success, according to Rona Rosengarten of Treasure House in Pikesville.

"A great retro pin, one long thin strand of beads, a velvet flower corsage, can all change the look of a garment," she says. "Necklaces and earrings are delicate, almost antique-like in garnet, pearl and jet, and when it comes to pins, bugs are really big -- from butterflies to bees."

Plenty of selections abound for hair jewelry, everything from classic jeweled combs and embellished headbands to rhinestone bobby pins.

And keep your eye out for the glitzy oversized cocktail ring that sparkled through the Fifties. It's made a comeback as a single geometric-shaped, colored stone. What bauble could be more perfect to flash while toasting the season?

On the cover

Styling by Suzin Boddiford

Hair and makeup by Christian Harte/Award Agence

Modeled by Michelle Howard/Nova Models

Photographed at the Explorer's Lounge of the Harbor Court Hotel

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