San Francisco Chronicle
DRESS CODE : Four outfits for the holiday season, from casual to chic

Silvia Rubin | December 2005

So last week’s mail brought an invitation to a holiday dinner at your cousin’s house in San Rafael; next week it’s your office party, assuming you’re not experiencing downsizing. Your girlfriends are getting together for drinks later in the month. Then comes New Year’s Eve.

The perennial question: What to wear? Making heads or tails of all those different dress codes like "dressy casual'' (well, which one is it?) may seem daunting, and does take some thought, but there are a few simple rules to remember.

Avoid too much makeup and too much flashy jewelry and don't wear anything that no longer fits -- none of that works in your favor, no matter what the occasion and no matter how beautiful, thin or rich you may be.

Our advice for the common woman, the one with an average figure and an average budget, is to invest in a few pieces that can serve double or triple duty and rotate them, as suggested in this feature:

Try a festive velvet skirt, a pretty camisole with beading, a wrap with a bit of shine; a ruffled sweater or romantic blouse, a pair of comfortable satin or metallic flats, an embellished jacket, a pair of dark-wash jeans (they don't have to be skinny, just fitted). "A pair of metallic leather flats are so versatile,'' suggests Colleen Abrie, a South Bay image consultant who runs Concepts of Style (www.colleenabrie.com). "Instead of glitter in a dress or a top, put it in the shoe; it sends a more casual but still dressy message.'' Your clothes tell a story, she says, and not everyone wants to spend hours figuring out what to wear." If you don't want to put that much thought into it, my advice is to keep it simple and veer towards timeless looks.''

Bay Area fashion consultant Micki Turner (www.mickiturner.com), who styled this shoot, thinks a flirty velvet skirt is a must-have for the holidays.

"You can wear it with a lace top for a party or a fitted sweater or cardigan for after work with friends; you can make it more downtown with boots, more uptown with dressy flats or heels, and it's soft and feminine.''

One more thing to keep in mind, Turner says: "Think high/low; in other words, mix velvet with a funky boot; mix a jean with a glittery top. Think dressy and not dressy all in the same outfit, and you will fit into any situation.''

Here are some ideas for holiday outfits that we think can go just about anywhere and should work for different age groups and lifestyles.

The 12 days of holiday dos and don'ts

DON'T: Wear red head to toe, no matter how much you believe in Santa. (Ditto for reindeer sweaters and jingle-bell earrings.)

DO: Try to pick up a color of your outfit in your jewelry, bag or shoes.

DON'T: Pair a velvet jacket with velvet pants or a skirt (too "Nutcracker''). One piece of velvet per outfit is enough.

DO: Wear something expensive to balance the inexpensive pieces in your outfit.

DON'T: Wear a full, ankle-length skirt (it's aging and not flattering); try a mid-calf or just-below-the-knee skirt instead, with boots, ballet flats or heels and textured hose.

DO: Try high boots with a cocktail dress just for fun.

DON'T: Wear hose with strappy sandals.

DO: Wear good lingerie -- a sag, a droop or a bulge will ruin your look and is easily preventable with the right undergarments.

DON'T: Wear your regular winter coat to a dressy party; brave the cold or bring an all-purpose black pashmina.

DO: Leave your everyday handbag at home; small bags are best for dressy occasions (a gold or silver makeup bag can sub for an evening bag).

DON'T: Wear a size too small of anything. Remember, at a cocktail party people will be looking at the back of you as well as the front.

DO: Find the best-fitting pair of unembellished dark-wash jeans you can and wear them with an off-the-shoulder or low-cut sweater, a pair of dangling earrings, a small evening bag and heels, if you're in a party pinch.

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