Fa la la la….. Oh, crap!

I was raised in the land of Santa Sweaters, so it’s really not my fault that “Holiday Dressing” stymies me so.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Lifestyle probably figures in here.  For me, the month of December equals 1-2 weeks of frantic “speed teaching,” trying to finish the goals of the semester, followed by 3-6 days of grading and completion of required paperwork.  Then there’s the frantic office-and-file-cleanup period, followed by a (blessed) semester break.

By the time I hit the obligatory holiday party period, I’m in this bizarre mental and physical zone in which I’m just recovering.  I don’t really notice, too closely, where I am or what is happening to me.  I just know that I am not at work!  And, oh yeah, that I have to buy a whole sh*tload of gifts in about 3 days.  And that I also may have to get myself on a plane to go visit family for the holidays.

So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that, when dressing for holiday events, I stand in my closet with a puzzled look on my face for a long, long time.

One of my favorite little fashion books, Kimberly Bonnell’s What to Wear: A Style Handbook, says that “Nothing’s quite as depressing as generic workday clothes trying to pass as weekend party wear.”   This phrase has stuck with me over the years because, unfortunately, this is exactly what I try to do!  By now, you know me well enough to know that I am not going to maintain a closet full of sequined items that a) will only be worn once a year, and b) will always be remembered and/or photographed, so that it will be painfully obvious that I’m wearing the same Festive Party Item year after year after year.

What’s a practical, frugal person like me to do?

Fortunately (?), I don’t have to attend that many parties each year.  Very few, actually.  My social calendar is marked more by casual gatherings in friends’ homes, meetings at restaurants, and the intimate holiday dinner with family members.  Since my family members are low-key, practical folks, I can get away with pretty much anything.

But I want more.

What I really need, of course, is not a little sequined party dress, or a floor-length velvet skirt.  What I need are 2-3 items that can instantly dress up an outfit, mixing and matching with more “ordinary” items.  Separates, as always, are the answer for a practical person like me.  I think.

In the past, there have been a few key items that have worked well for me:

The dressy shoe: One that can be worn with trousers or skirts is best.  With the right shoe, you actually can make “work clothes” pass for parties.  I had a great black pair that worked well in this regard.  They had a glossy, fabric sheen; an embossed design; and a heel that was (for me) dramatic and showy while still being walkable.  With classic trousers, as long as I added a little bit of sparkle on top, I could make it work.

Alas, though, they became uncomfortable as my foot size changed.  Also, I found that I could rarely wear them because (duh!) there is often snow and slush on the ground at this time of year.  Using a shoe to dress things up in winter is problematic here in New England!

The sparkly or festive top: A red velvet scoopneck tee sufficed for several years.  Under a black jacket, it looked like I was trying, but not too hard.  Then I switched to a purple velvet tank, but the color just didn’t “pop” enough.  It was too muted, so I got rid of it.  And the red top, alas, is long gone.

The velvet jacket: This also worked for several years.  Unfortunately, it was a hand-me-down, so the fit wasn’t quite perfect.  Plus, I’ve decided that I really, really, really shouldn’t wear black anymore.  It just looks too severe with my coloring.  But guess what?  It’s really hard to quickly and easily dress things up a little without using black!

This year, I am facing the holidays without a single item that can provide the festive “pop” that I need.  Yikes!  Fortunately, the social calendar is especially light this year.  But if that changes: the way I see it, I need at least one of the following items, and probably two:

1) A dressy top.   It will need to blend with classic trousers — either in brown stripes or a grey tweed — or a brown pencil skirt, as these are really the only “dress up-able” bottoms that I have right now.  My jackets, at the moment, are not very dressy.  So I’m thinking I may have to go with an elegant look that still provides decent coverage — maybe a 3/4 inch sleeve.  I’m just not sure how to get the “sparkle” factor.  Velvet?  Sequins?  And as for color — I’ll probably have to stay on the red/rust/brown/burgundy/purple continuum.  I haven’t figured out what else works with my color palate.

2) Special shoes: Yes, the dream continues, crazy as it is.  Unless I splurge on a pricey pair of dressy boots, I’m going to continue looking for something that just doesn’t work with snow or sleet or ice.  How crazy am I?  I’m thinking about going with a flat, since these seem like more practical items for occasional use.  They might be more reasonably priced (and thus “disposable?”) than pumps or boots.  But alas, they will not fit with my (long!) bootcut trousers.  So it will have to be the brown pencil skirt …… even though it’s a little bit, um, plain.  Practical.  A little too basic and inexpensive to be special.  (heavy sigh).  Back to square one?

3) A dressy bag, special necklace, or sparkly scarf. Hmmm, maybe this is the way to go.  Except I really don’t feel like looking for any of these things.  Why is it that accessories are harder to figure out, find and match than actual clothes?

How pathetic am I?  See?  I told you so.  Maybe I should just stay home with a Santa Sweater.  Blessedly, I don’t own one.  I’m not that far gone.  Give me some credit!

I did take some comfort in reading this article, in the LA Times, which questions why women feel compelled to don glittery party wear at this time of year.  I loved the tone of the article.  It’s kind of like, “Why do otherwise sane women get blinded by glitter in December?”  (I’m paraphrasing, of course).  I was hoping that the author would conclude that we should buck the trend and Just Say No to Sparkle, as a form of social protest.

But no.  By the end, the author decides that a sequined scarf and gold shoes might be the way to go.

Sigh.  And truth be told, I’d like to sparkle a little bit, too!  It’s so damn dark at this time of year.  So I guess I’ll need to stroll through a few stores (in between the speed teaching and grading, of course), with an eye to finding a couple of the items above.

I am open to any and all suggestions, as always.  Have any readers found the perfect item for festive “pop?”  Or will you be hiding at home in Santa Pajamas?


About Anne @ The Frump Factor

Reflections on beauty and style, for women who weren't born yesterday. Bring your sense of humor and "Fight the Frump" with me!
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15 Responses to Fa la la la….. Oh, crap!

  1. Annie Joy says:

    Hmmm – hiding out in Santa pajamas doesn’t sound all that bad. One Item that I’ve held on to was purchased several years ago from QVC. It’s heavy on the sequins and came in several colors (I chose black; probably would go with champagne or a lighter color now). It’s really a collar, but is large enough that it can be tied and/or draped many different ways. I’ve worn it several times and have always received compliments. Other than that, my response is usually the same as yours — “Oh, crap!”

  2. I once wore those sweaters and there are times I am still tempted LOL HONEST! And I hate bad fashion…though being poor and only time I get out is for a walk or to Wal Mart and the Dollar Tree for the grocery shopping I am the proverbial badly dressed middle aged woman, complete with sweater cap and sweaters from several seasons ago that have the pills all over!

    When I used to have occasion to dress up for the holidays I would do the velvet more times than not…just a touch or a whole dress. But my always go to is a black dress, seamed stockings, black patten pumps and then glitz it up with my accessories from earrings and hair clips or other jewelry…has always worked well for me.Timeless and beautiful.

    • That does sound like a great, classic holiday outfit. I’ve never really tried fancy stockings — maybe that will be my next frontier.

      With your sense of style, I highly doubt that you look like a badly dressed middle aged women (pills notwithstanding)! 🙂

  3. Liz G. says:

    Another great post, Anne. I’ve been enjoying all of them. This one reminds me of a pretty scarf that’s been in my drawer for years because I never think to wear scarves . . . it’s made of a velvety fabric, black with a bright-red, fluted edge. I’m going to check it out and, hopefully, skip the frantic holiday outfit shopping this year!

  4. Melinda says:

    Through my daughter, I discovered The Garment District in Cambridge, MA. It can be fun to join the crowd of dollar- a- pound shoppers–I scored quite a few items the last time I was there–designer for cents! I am always surprised at the eclectic mix of people holding up garments and sharing tips. But, for people who aren’t interested in “mosh pit” shopping, it is definitely worth it to take the stairs to the second floor. I have purchased several jackets that are not only dressy, but can also make it to work. : – ) The Garment District second floor has clothes grouped by decade and there are many clothes that I might consider Festive Party pieces at very good prices. I do agree with Liz. Scarves are a great way to dress things up–I only wish I had someone to put them on me, since everyone else seems to look so elegant, and I feel like I have an Elizabethan ruff around my neck.

    • Liz G. says:

      Elizabethan ruff or limp piece of rope–those are my usual outcomes! Anne, any tips on how to tie a scarf elegantly?

      • Funny you should ask, Liz, because I have a hard time with scarves, too. I’ve tried many, many techniques, but always come back to the 1-2 standbys that work for me. I’ll show you in person sometime! (Hint: I can really only do things with long, thin scarves. Squares are lost on me!) I’ve also stumbled upon some youtube videos that show some techniques.

        But yeah, sometimes I wind up looking like I’ve sustained a neck injury and am wearing one of those whiplash collars!

    • ooooh, great tip, Melinda! I keep hearing about this fabled Garment District, but I never go and then I forget that it exists. (Though the Mosh Pit image scares me….. more than a little!) As for the scarves, I am also somewhat challenged in that department……

  5. BigD says:

    I am with you, Sister!
    I just can’t pull off a lot of glitz without feeling like a $2 hooker.
    Here’s how I solved this problem: I found a beautiful swing jacket that has a slight sheen to it, and the finish of the fabric is a tone-on-tone. It’s a pretty greenish-blue color. It’s deeper/darker than turquoise, so I don’t know what to call it. It also has a distinctive prominant 60’s-style collar that screams “pin me!”.
    For Christmas I wear it with a big white poinsettia pin with a little bling to it.
    The whole thing works great with a black turtle neck (ideal for those of us who get cold) and black dress pants or pencil skirt (usually with my good ol’ black boots).
    Also works with my black sheath dress, if I don’t need the turtle neck warmth. (I should try Stephanie’s fancy hose!)
    The color doesn’t scream Christmas, but the pin does. And that (with gold earrings) gives me just enough bling to make me feel like I’m not an utter frump.
    The fact that the jacket has a stylish cut makes me feel like I’m on it. And, the sheen makes it a little dressy for work. (Though I have worn it once all day when I had a special Christmas lunch).

  6. Terri says:

    Hi! I’m here from a comment you made at Fashion over Fifty. I’m a teacher too and can’t even begin thinking about parties until finals are over. At this point, we have just one invitation for what will likely be a fairly informal get together. A pair of silver or gold flats might dress up a look. The silver especially are work worthy too, but admittedly they won’t go to well with the brown pencil skirt.

    Perhaps lace, a pale satin blouse–say in pink?

  7. Pam says:

    Hi Anne, I just discovered your site through Rags at the Machine. I am going to add you to my blog list and follow you on Twitter. Please stop by and check out my blog as well.
    I just wore a velvet jacket and a sparkly jade green top for a holiday evening and loved it. Though there was nothing really overtly Christmas on my body, I felt very in the season when we went out. I thrifted most of my holiday sweaters a couple of years ago after watching What Not To Wear and being convinced that they aged me!!

    • Hey, thanks for visiting and for adding me! I truly appreciate it and am off to visit your blog as soon as I finish typing this. And I definitely agree that rich, soft fabrics and vibrant colors are a great way to go. Who needs a sequined Santa on her chest? 🙂

  8. Lise Marie says:

    May I add velvet to the mix? I do not wear velvet. And then December hits and I am pulling velvet out of my closet like some holiday uniform! WHY??? Is it regulation in my feeble brain that nothing says festive like velvet?

    Now, one thing that I would like to add is that we pack a lot of social activity into one month. So I find inexpensive but real *sparkly* statement jewelry. Then a little black dress becomes a party in itself. And accessories (vintage, goodwill)) can come rather inexpensively. For example, don’t buy a new dress, get a great statement bracelet and add that with diamond studs (the ones from Claires are fine) and you are ready. Use those old jewel clip on earrings and attach them to your shoes…etc. Less investment for more outcome and more time doing what I love….sitting in my favorite pj’s reading a book.

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