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?