The holidays are here, and invitations are beginning to pour in for charity balls, client cocktail parties and the company's annual holiday affair.
Without fail, the thought that comes to mind is: What do you wear?
Figuring out "the look" for this year can be puzzling. But fashion gurus in the Baltimore area say it does not have to be complicated.
Building a small collection of the most crucial clothing and accessories and knowing what to avoid, they say, will help guide your holiday style.
Whether in red, black or other shimmering colors, styles for women are going flirty, romantic and more feminine.
Blouses are punctuated with frilly collars and puffy sleeves. Mermaid-figured evening dresses with short trains are back, reminiscent of the 1930s and '40s.
"It's back to old Hollywood," says Gabrielle Kauper, chief executive officer for gown designer Eleny of New York. And the romantic, feminine look extends from casual ensembles to high-glamour attire.
For the dressy casual look that can go formal, the basic white shirt continues to be a classic that supports most ensembles.
In fact, stylists encourage women to keep the white shirt as a wardrobe staple.
"Skirts and blazers are so exaggerated this year, you don't want to overkill your outfit," says Lisa Woodard, owner of Star Won Fashions in Baltimore.
Frilly tops work well for casual functions when paired with something form-fitting, like a fitted vest.
The key is to mix fitted pieces with textured elements, says Pascale Lemaire, a wardrobe stylist and former editor at Baltimore magazine.
In a throwback to 1980s style, Leggings and deep necklines are all the rage again.
Lemaire cautions that not everyone can wear leggings. Women with bigger legs should avoid leggings with an eye-catching print. The leggings "should be the accent, not the focal point," she says.
For a more formal look, dresses with plunging necklines, sequins, asymmetrical designs and lace are very popular for balls and banquets.
Lurex, the metallic thread that gives sweaters shimmer, is being worked into skirts and pants with subtlety instead of the familiar wide tracks of gold or silver.
Lurex "is much more subdued than last year," says Gail Kandel, owner of Vasarri boutique in Pikesville.
And formal shoes have a broader range, from thin heels to thick ones. For the casual dressy look, women can opt for chunky boots with lots of detail instead of stilettos.
"Even a flat boot is considered dressy this year," says Toni James, owner and stylist at the Katwalk Boutique in Baltimore.
If you don't want to buy a new outfit, accessorize existing ones.
Waist skirts with thick belts and French cuff tuxedo shirts can make a smooth transition from the office to the holiday cocktail party.
Don't be afraid to mix old with new, stylists say; just avoid doing too much in one outfit.
"If you wear last year's jeans, put it with this year's boot," says Karen Ciurca, merchandise manager at Vasarri.
Bubble skirts or dresses with a bubble bottom should be paired with a fitted top. If bubble skirts make you feel as if you're in a deflated pillowcase and pencil skirts don't quite cut it, you may be happy to know that pleated skirts and pants are back.
"Pleats give you that little bit of volume everyone is talking about, but then it's slimming through the hips," Kandel says.
For men, the looks don't change much, but individual flair can make any guy stand out.
Men can sport a velvet jacket with a textured button-down shirt in chocolate brown, pink or lilac.
"Texture makes the outfit more interesting," Lemaire says.
If the budget is limited, Woodard says, stick with neutral colors.
An alternate look for males, Woodard says, is pairing the velvet jacket with a fitted T-shirt and pants with a cuff.
"Men have to have a great fitted leather jacket and straight-leg jeans," says James.
Dark-wash jeans are still a strong choice for men who're attending casual functions, stylists say, but opinions differ on whether women should keep dark denim in the wardrobe rotation for holiday affairs.
But getting a stylish holiday look doesn't have to drain your wallet, stylists say.
"If you're on a budget, places like Target should be your best friend," Woodard says.
Those with fashion sense should take risks rather than don the usual attire. "Don't do what you always do," Ciurca says. "Don't play it safe. Step out of your box."
And whatever you do, fashion experts agree, keep the snowflake sweaters at home.
To see more holiday looks, go to baltimoresun.com/unisunfashion.
velvet tapered jacket
ankle boots "booties"
fitted coat in tweed or plaid
fitted or A-line sweater dress
a large handbag with lots of details (embroidery, stones or different skins)
straight-leg dress pants
a wide belt in leather or patent leather
basic white shirt
dark-wash straight-leg jeans
tailored velvet jacket
V-neck sweater in dark purple, green, burgundy, royal blue or chocolate
three-quarter-length coat in wool or plaid