The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Deciphering party dress codes with good shoes, great jewelry and a place to stash stuff

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - The holidays are often a highly social season that provide a good reason to wear the things you might not often have the occasion to pull out of your closet: sequins, a fancy red dress, the sexy black one.

But should you? Or will everyone else be wearing their cozy cashmere sweater and favourite riding boots?

"People don't know how to dress anymore — it's anything goes, which is a huge problem," says Marie France Van Damme, a fashion designer and author of the new book, "RSVP: Simple Sophistication, Effortless Entertaining." ''People are either overdressed or not dressed at all. They should be looking for the happy medium."

The invite — or make that the more likely Evite — probably won't give you the guidance you're seeking. Hosts want to kick off the party with cute conversation, not an edict about what to wear. And even if dress code is addressed, it's probably "cocktail casual" or "holiday glam," which can mean a whole lot of things to different people. Even the formal "black-tie" directive seems to be open to interpretation.

"As soon as you get an invitation, the first question is, 'What do I wear?' Or at least that's what I think," says Lisa Axelson, head designer at Ann Taylor.

Style expert Amy Tara Koch goes straight to the fine print to see what the venue is. She says that gives the biggest clue; a party at someone's home will dictate a different dress than one at a restaurant.

A house party gives permission to be a little more daring, whether it's a plunging neckline or a fashion-forward combination, mostly because there's an assumption that you know the hosts well enough to be invited into their inner circle and you could very well know the other people there, Koch says. A restaurant party could still be a gathering of your more intimate friends, but it also could be with work colleagues or extended family — you know, the relatives you only see in December.

Axelson, however, sees a big difference in the appropriate attire if the party is at the country club or the neighbourhood bistro. She also lets the day and time guide her: probably nice trousers or a pencil skirt and embellished-neck sweater with flats for a Sunday brunch, maybe something with some glitter for Saturday night.

An afternoon open house is practically an invitation for something colorful, says Koch. Her plan this season is to break out a bright shirt, fur vest, leggings and tall boots.

There are very few dress-code mistakes that can't be fixed with a great shoe, says Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. The other option is a lovely necklace or earrings to draw people immediately to your face.

Both Axelson and Koch encourage easily removable accessories that dress up or down an outfit. It could be the statement necklace that tucks under your collar if it's a more relaxed crowd, or a beaded wrap or tailored jacket — maybe one with sparkle, Axelson suggests — that can be hung with the coats if needed. No one will be the wiser, they say, and you'll walk in knowing you have options.

It's not a bad idea to keep "a few spare parts" in the car as well, in case you've shown up on the casual side, says Koch.

"My transition toolbox is textured tights, long dangling earrings, a very long, vertical scarf, a cuff bracelet and a brighter lipstick," she says.

Van Damme purposely carries a clutch to parties, which blends better than a big overstuffed handbag, so she can slip things in or out without drawing attention.

She'll always choose a sleek and chic silhouette over something froufrou: It's respectful and stylish, she says.

Generally, Axelson thinks separates, cigarette or dark-denim pants with the pleated or slinky tank and cardigan, for example, offer more flexibility. "With a dress, once you've made a commitment to it, you are staying in it."

What about brocade or jacquard skinny pants with a great blouse? You'll probably feel comfortable in it and treat walking into a party like you were stopping into the corner place for coffee, Sherin says.

But Van Damme puts her foot down on denim. "I don't think jeans are right for a cocktail party or most parties — maybe with a fabulous, fabulous top, but why not put black pants on instead?"

No one is going to the trouble of hosting a party for guests to look like they rolled out of bed, she says.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Gary Lawless & Tim Campbell on the Jets' inconsistency - Jets This Week Oct. 16

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose comes in for a landing Thursday morning through heavy fog on near Hyw 59 just north of Winnipeg - Day 17 Of Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge - May 24, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Challenges of Life- Goose Goslings jump over railway tracks to catch up to their parents at the Canadian Pacific Railway terminalon Keewatin St in Winnipeg Thursday morning. The young goslings seem to normally hatch in the truck yard a few weeks before others in town- Standup photo- ( Day 4 of Bryksa’s 30 day goose project) - Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Are you still on the Bombers' and Jets' bandwagons?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google