If ever there is a time to dress up, the holidays are it. From Saturday night cocktail parties to Sunday morning brunches, the focus is on festive attire that befits the occasion and celebrates the season.
The fashion and cosmetics industries really go to town this time of year. Party people can sparkle from head-to-toe, be it with glittery eye shadow or metallic shoes. Throw in some sequins here, some baubles there, and all those memories of casual backyard barbecues disappear faster than you can say "eggnog."
Sure, you can pull out the same old Santa tie or that go-to black dress. Or you can update with a few new pieces.
A bold striped shirt for him. A fuzzy shrug for her.
Think RSVP. Ribbons! Sequins! Velvet! Pearls! - just a few of the party looks spotted everywhere this season.
And there are plenty more.
"I'm seeing a lot of very bright colors on everything from specialty tops to sweaters to dresses. Instead of pale pink, it's fuchsia. And gold is great," said Holly Cercone, owner of the Hollyshop, 927 Elmwood Ave.
The poncho, caplet, shawl and shrug - which Cercone describes as "a sweater that looks like it's too small and has no buttons" - are everywhere this season.
The Hollyshop has a purple shrug that layers over a matching top. Banana Republic tops a strapless dress with a sequined capelet. Ann Taylor Loft offers both crocheted and faux fur shawls. And Kaufmann's lists the poncho - "in fabulous colors, fabrics and styles" - as one of its top gift ideas for the holidays.
Even a casual outfit - a pair of black knit pants, for example - can be dressed up with a festive blazer, shrug, poncho or a special coat, Cercone said.
These toppers - as well as brooches, drop earrings and retro-style purses - all fall into a look best summed up by what Banana Republic calls "Granny's Attic."
The look, as described on the Banana Republic Web site, is "achieved by combining modern twin sets and pearls with satin and brocade pencil skirts and croco-embossed leather pumps. Luxurious accents, such as ocelot-printed linings and accessories and vintage scarf-inspired floral patterns, are key to keeping this look young and modern."
In with the old
Another option this party season: Mix in some real vintage pieces with new ones to create a look that is all your own.
Amy Appelbaum, a local woman who produces a line of bags under the "kitten" label, does just that. She designs hobo-style bags - the smallest of which rest on the wrist and are perfect for evening - from vintage fabrics and jewelry. The fabrics often come from dresses from the '60s and '70s that can't otherwise be altered or repaired, said Appelbaum, who has a background in graphic design.
"I generally wear a lot of black and monochromatic colors, so I use my bags to create one signature piece," said Appelbaum, whose bags retail from $89 to $129 and are sold locally at the Hollyshop and at Laura's Lily Patch and Lotions & Potions in Williamsville (check out www.kittenbyamya.com).
(The party outfit Appelbaum planned to wear to her high school reunion held Friday night in Detroit looked like this: a bright pink poufy skirt that extends just below her knees; a black turtleneck; black tights; black kitten-heel boots - and one of her bags, of course.)
Party skirts, in fact, are another big trend this season.
"Kicky skirts are still going really strong," said Pat Seitz, head buyer at Danahy's, Northtown Plaza, Amherst.
It's all part of the ladylike trend going on in fashion right now; even bubble skirts - hemmed to the top of the knee with a layer of netting underneath - are an option. At Danahy's, a black silk shantung bubble skirt is paired with a white, off-the-shoulder sleeveless silk top, for example.
Look, too, for tweeds with metallic threads, bows, brooches, flower pins and bright, feminine colors, Seitz said.
"The look is tailored, but it's not stiff. It has more of an edge," she said.
Not blown away by bubble skirts - or skirts in general? Dressy pants and pant suits are always in style for holiday parties and can easily be dressed up with dazzling accessories.
Pants paired with bright- or jewel-toned velvet blazers are just one option out there this season.
Of course, different parties call for different clothes. Here are some ensembles suggested by the Gap to pull together for various functions:
Cocktail parties: Black velvet blazer tied with a bow; printed silk cami with scalloped lace trim and pin-tuck detailing; black velvet pants; sequin flower pin.
Swanky shindig: Pink belted strapless sateen dress; rhinestone pin; black mohair shrug; glitter velvet chain bag.
After-work outing: Charcoal brown velvet pants; pale pink silk cami; sequin flower pin; pastel multistriped wrap poncho; leaf green rhinestone hobo bag.
Family gathering: Gray sateen trousers; light sugar plum satin-belted cardigan in angora-cotton blend; aqua camisole; snow-white rhinestone hobo.
As for shoes, one popular style shown in fashion magazines is high-heeled dressy sandals. But here is the lowdown: You really cannot wear this style shoe with hosiery. It just looks wrong. And if running around Buffalo with bare legs this time of year already has you shivering, don't choose dressy sandals.
Instead, opt for sling-backs, which have closed toes. You can wear them with hosiery.
"That's the beauty of a sling-back, but your hosiery should be flesh-toned," said Tricia Kelly, of Tricia's Shoes, in the Walker Center, Williamsville.
Another option: "Full-coverage high-heel pumps - your 3-inchers. They always make a classy statement," she added.
So what can a guy do to look up-to-snuff this season?
Three things, said Tim Hare, of Riverside Men's Shop - which just opened a second location at Northtown Plaza, Amherst.
Go for a bolder shirt - something striped, patterned or with some kind of interesting cuff - and wear it with attitude, untucked. Ben Sherman is one label to look for.
The look is geared for the 30s and younger crowd, Hare said.
Go for a camel-hair blazer - or something cashmere. "Cashmere is a big buzzword going into Christmas," Hare said.
Cashmere sweaters. Cashmere sport coats. Hare's tip: Stay away from boardy-feeling cashmeres.
Consider side vents. "Suits with side vents are coming on and coming on. Most of my sales people have one. There's more of an English flavor to it," Hare said.
And when in doubt?
"Break out the Christmas tree bow tie," Hare said.
So, what are you wearing?
Here are 12 of the top trends for dressing up this holiday season:
Fur trims -- often faux -- including detachable collars.
Ponchos, caplets, shrugs and shawls.
Brooches and other vintage-style jewelry.
Party clothes in jewel tones -- such as sapphire, amber-gold and emerald green -- or soft shades like champagne, aqua and lavender.
1950s-style evening bags -- beaded, metallic, very ladylike.
Velvet blazers in rich hues.
Metallic makeup (but don't overdo it).
Ribbons -- on sweaters, shoes, skirts and as closures. You can even tie a pretty ribbon around your waist or through belt loops instead of a belt.
Holiday hosiery. Designer Cynthia Rowley calls them "not-so-silent tights."
Sequins on everything: scarves, caplets, camisoles, handbags.
With bells on
Here are some simple guidelines for dressing up this holiday season:
Don't let your outfit compete with the Christmas tree, or your makeup with the tinsel.
Don't lug your everyday handbag into a cocktail party. Opt instead for a great evening bag, perhaps in shiny metallic.
The simpler the dress, the fancier the shoes can be.
Never wear open-toe shoes with reinforced-toe hosiery.
Do not get too matchy-matchy with your bag and shoes. Choose a small clutch or purse that complements rather than exactly matches your shoes.
The sparklier the dress, the less you need on your neck, arms or earlobes.
One bold piece of jewelry should do the trick. Piling on the cocktail rings, rhinestone brooches, pearls, tiaras and bangles spells overkill.
Don't wait until the afternoon of the party to go shopping for a new outfit.
Wear the right underwear and undergarments.
Be creative: Replace the standard buttons on a cardigan with rhinestone ones, for example. Or pump up your pumps with dressy shoe clips.
Whatever you choose to wear, make sure it is comfortable -- or you simply will not have a good time.
Sources: In Style magazine; "Swell Holiday," by Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig; and other News and wire sources