And so the party invitations begin arriving. Come to our office holiday drinks. Come to the Christmas banquet. Come to the champagne and chocolates celebration. Events every evening; cocktails every cocktail hour; lunch every lunchtime. When are you supposed to do any work? And how are you supposed to think about getting work done when you need to spend at least an hour every night figuring out what in the world you should wear to said events that will be (a) not too conspicuous at work but still allow you to look festive afterwards or (b) right for a quick switch in the office loo and not prone to wrinkle when shoved in the tote bag for easy transport?
Besides, most of these invitations are not personal, they are professional, which creates an additional layer of complication: looking both full of cheer and like the sort of person who can be reliably trusted with someone’s business is a hard balance to strike. I know this time of year is supposed to be fun and replete with merriment but, personally, I find it all overwhelming. I have empathy with Ebenezer Scrooge.
Consider the sartorial instructions that have landed on my desk in the past week: “Dress to Sparkle”. “Dress: Winter Glamour”. “Dress Code: Untamed”. Dress Untamed? To a party where my closest contact is the chief executive of the host company? You have got to be kidding. It’s such a terrifying idea, I can’t even begin to decode it.
Winter Glamour seemed more feasible. This was for a Tiffany & Co-hosted event at London’s Somerset House to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree and inaugurate the ice rink. So far, so fine. The problem, however, was that the ice rink is outside, and the day and night before the party it was raining. So tell me: how do you dress glamorously when you plan to ice-skate on a slippery rink while raindrops keep fallin’ on your head and the chances of you fallin’ on to a very wet surface keep rising?
When faced with such a situation, as far as I can tell there are a few possible approaches. There is the Ignore the Weather and Wear What You Want approach, as exemplified by Thandie Newton, actor and tree-lighter, who stood happily in the cold and wet exhorting everyone to make “big Christmas wishes” such as world peace while wearing a very sleek, low-cut, perfectly tailored black coat and some strange spidery tree-ornament-like things in her hair. Personally, however, my core temperature mitigates against this.
Which brings us to the Invest in a Fabulous Coat approach, as a very wise colleague of mine once advised. Her feeling was that coats are a much less complicated sartorial statement than a dress or skirt, being less dependent on, or revealing of, body shape. She pointed out, too, that they are the first thing everybody sees, especially come cooler weather. (Therefore, get some basic black underthings and a few different weight coats to go on top.)
To a certain extent this is true but it doesn’t quite solve the ice-skating dilemma (you don’t want your beautiful coat sliding across a semi-frozen surface), and it doesn’t work for the anti-layering brigade (you know, the ones who favour bare legs, even in winter, because they hate tights).
Finally, there is the Fashion Knows Best approach, which experience is rapidly teaching me is the correct one. For example: as I sat there in Marios Schwab’s show last February and watched the big, quilted coats-cum-dresses parade past, all I could think was, “God, when are you supposed to wear that?” Shows how much I know: clearly, you were supposed to wear it to a fancy ice-skating party in the rain. Had I been smart enough to suspend my disbelief, I wouldn’t have been in such a bind over the Tiffany event. And given that Schwab wasn’t the only designer struck by a sudden fit of puffa-love for winter – Ungaro, SportMax, Viktor & Rolf and Gareth Pugh were all thinking along the same lines – I should have figured out that there was method behind the seeming madness.
Such garments are often used to exemplify fashion’s far remove from reality and pooh-poohed by cultural snobs in an “Oh-it’s-silly-fashion” way, but I have come to think they demonstrate fashion’s wisdom. For every dress there is an event and designers create with this in mind; just because you haven’t had the invitation yet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the dress. It’s the sartorial equivalent of preventive medicine: invest now and avoid a future crisis.
Speaking of figuring things out first, I was contacted recently by Heather A. Vaughan, a fashion historian, who asked me to point out that reference to a Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences pattern book and The Donna Reed Show’s creator William Roberts in a piece I wrote on shirtdresses published in April 2006 were sourced from “Icon: Tracing the Path of the 1950s Shirtwaist Dress”, an essay by Ms Vaughan published in “Clothesline: the On-Line Journal of Costume and Dress”.
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