Dressed for the occasion Whether you're attending the social event of the season or a casual gathering at home, holiday style is in the details.

November 29, 1998|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Sun Fashion Editor

When it comes to holiday dressing, there are two schools of thought. One says women should go for major glamour around this time of year, slipping into taffeta ball gowns, snazzy heels and velvet wraps. The theory: Dress to the nines, or don't go out.

No, no, no, the other side replies, women should continue enjoying the casual life, throwing on easy trousers and sweaters, perhaps in more luxurious fabrics. Celebrating is best, they say, when you're comfortable.

But everyone agrees on this much at least: Whether you're dressing up or dressing down, holiday style is in the details.

"This season we're seeing so much embellishment - vintage-inspired jewelry, delicate embroidered bags, satin or velvet ballet flats, beading," says Mark Schaaf, lead fashion coordinator for Nordstrom on the East Coast.

Hilary Martin, manager of public relations for Ann Taylor, phrases it another way: "It's like a celebration of decorating yourself - daintily and prettily."

December looks are playing off autumn trends. Shades of gray are going metallic. Fur trims a jacket. And a cashmere sweater is finished with sweet flowers. Such elements add to the festivity of the season - and a woman's style.

"This is a time of year to put some fun in your wardrobe," Martin says. "We have a silver dupioni pantsuit that takes the palette of gray, so popular for fall, and gives it a fresh look for holiday. It's modern and beautiful - and not something that you'd wear to the office."

But Schaaf believes that hectic lifestyles often require women to look for clothes that can do double-duty - taking them from the office to a party.

"There's a sportswear influence in holiday dressing now," he says. "It could be pairing a sweater set with a velvet trouser. ... There's still a certain amount of dressing up, but there's the other side: You can feel put together and special but still be comfortable."

Where you're going certainly plays a role in how you dress. A neighborhood open house is hardly the place to don a gown, and flannel trousers are best left in the closet during the New Year's gala.

But regardless of the holiday destination, hunting for the right outfit can elicit angst and trepidation in even the strongest-willed shopper.

"That and a bathing suit are the worst things to buy," says Carolyn Moss, fashion director of ready-to-wear for Macy's, East Coast Division. "It's a hassle. ... You have a vision in the back of your mind of what you want, and you can't find it."

Her best advice: "If you're not a strapless diva, don't go to an event in something like that. The whole evening is going to be ruined. Wear something you are comfortable with, in a dressier fabric, rather than going against type."

That doesn't mean women should be ho-hum about their style.

"When everything has become casual and comfortable, holiday is an excuse to get dressed up," says Sima Blum, owner of Trillium in Greenspring Station. "There's a femininity in being dressed up. ... And this is a time of a year when you can pull out all the stops."

For fancy occasions, she likes a satin ball skirt, stiff and full, with a velvet body suit.

If women aren't prepared to buy a new outfit, she recommends an accessory, such as a beaded choker. "The dog-collar look is really wonderful," Blum says. "That can take what you have and make it very important."

When the invitation says black tie, Schaaf of Nordstrom recommends the elegance of an elaborately beaded column dress a la Badgley Mischka.

"Or if you're going the more casual route, you could wear a long gray wool flannel skirt, one of the key items of the season, with a beaded sweater set. You're taking a sportswear piece and pairing it with something more precious. Donna Karan did a lot of that," he says.

While satins, taffetas and velvets are favorite fabrics for this time of year, there are new interpretations these days. In velvet, burnout and cutwork are popular, but there's also ombre, varying shades of color.

Color this season varies from silver and black to winter white and berry red. Flesh is also a popular hue, because slip dresses, camisoles and strapless tops allow for maximum skin exposure.

"Winter is all about covering yourself up, but holiday is the time when you can show a collarbone, your arms," Martin says.

Yet in December, that can be a nervy - and chilly - thing to do. Adding a sheer blouse or jacket can help you feel more secure. Wraps, boas and shrugs (think abbreviated bolero-style jackets) also can provide the security, warmth and coverage to pull off these revealing outfits.

These accessories are also practical. "If you're out somewhere, you don't need to check it," Schaaf says. "You can keep a wrap or shrug with you. We've seen some wonderful faux fur or quilted wraps that have an insulating effect. ... They're a way of covering you and adding flair."

And in a feather boa or velvet wrap, what woman wouldn't be ready to strut her holiday stuff?

"As I always say," Schaaf adds, "it's better to be overdressed than underdressed."

TOP HOLIDAY TRENDS

* Wraps, shrugs and boas

* Velvet burnout or cutwork

* Beading

* Embroidery

* Silver

* Jeweled handbags

* Vintage jewelry

* Sweater sets

* Sheer fabrics

* Satin ballet flats

* Glittery hair pins

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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