New York Any good gift-wrapper knows that a satin or velvet ribbon tied up into a perfect bow can elevate otherwise ho-hum wrapping paper. Why not apply this principle to holiday party clothes?
Ribbons, bows and vintage touches are inexpensive, easy ways to add sparkle to any outfit, especially this year, when the runways are full of girlie-girl touches.
"The one thing that is a great thing to buy is a lot of really soft vintage-y looking satin ribbons," says fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, who suggests wearing ribbons around the neck, as a belt or tied as a bow in a T-strap shoe.
Rowley and best pal Ilene Rosenzweig, a former style editor of The New York Times, draw inspiration from everything from the flapper to "That Girl" in creating their irreverent, sexy "Swell" style, which has led to book deals, a Glamour magazine column and a line of products at Target.
In "Swell Holiday" (Atria Books), their fifth book, they offer ingenious ways to be festive, flirty and original when putting together holiday party outfits.
You'll need confidence and style to spare to pull off some of their ideas -- like covering the front of a dress in jingle bells, wearing a vintage nightie with satin ribbon around your waist or topping off an outfit with a tiara -- but you won't have to worry about running into your doppelganger at the punch bowl.
Sparkle it up
Rowley and Rosenzweig, interviewed together, riff on each other's ideas about everything from fur cuffs ("You can't do match-y. That's dorky. I think it's better to have a bare sexy thing with it just on one wrist," Rowley corrects Rosenzweig) to ribbons sewn into underwear. (Rosenzweig likes it sewn into a bra so it peeks out of a low-cut top, and Rowley suggests adorning panties with ribbon ties that stick out the top of pants.)
But the suggestions in the book aren't just pipe dreams; the "Swell girls," as they call themselves, have road-tested most of them.
A T-shirt with a fur scarf decorated with ribbons?
"That was from last Christmas Eve," Rowley says.
Over-the-elbow gloves layered with bracelets and rings, and a sprig of "Holly Golightly?"
"You wore that on the millennium. It was the perfect example of the black shift with the gloves," Rosenzweig says of Rowley's "Breakfast at Tiffany's"-inspired outfit.
Vintage stores and fabric stores are potential treasure troves of adornments: boas, brooches, button covers, feathers, men's ties, lace, costume jewelry and scarves.
"For the holidays you want to stay at home, you're going to parties at home, you're not putting on the full cocktail dress and heels to be a hostess at home. The idea is to have some outfits that are your normal clothes, but you sparkle them up," Rosenzweig says.
For example, pair a camisole and a cashmere cardigan with your prettiest pajama pants for a luxury slumber party look. If you're the hostess, you can add what the Swell girls call "the classic fashion fix-all": a little embroidered cocktail apron.
Go easy on red
For occasions that merit a more demure dress code, like the office holiday party, you can still whip up an elegant look without breaking the bank.
"The hardest thing is dressing for the office holiday party because you're feeling really festive but at the same time it's business," says Constance White, eBay's fashion spokeswoman and style director.
White, the founding fashion director of Talk magazine and a former style reporter for The New York Times, suggests starting with a black dress or pants -- something most women already have in their closet -- and adding the shimmery, colorful accents of the season.
"Anything with rhinestones right now is great and really hot," White says. "And every specialty store, every department store, at every price level, has some great satin tops."
Take an outfit you already have and sparkle it up with jeweled or metallic heels, or a snazzy clutch that is beaded, embroidered, colorful metallic or monogrammed.
Red is a classic holiday color, perfect for gatherings with family and friends, but White says crimson overload is downright gauche at an office party.
"That is not a good time for the lady in red," she says. "Just a touch of red is really nice."
If you're not as comfortable as the Swell girls when mixing and matching vintage jewelry and clothes, White suggests starting with one piece, like a brocade coat, a fur jacket, a brooch or an art deco necklace.
"That's enough to get the vintage look but prevent you from looking like you just walked out of your grandma's attic," White says.
Parties that begin right after work present another challenge -- either you wear your party dress all day long, bring a change of clothes or attend the party wearing your regular workaday style.
"I think the big message out there is sort of day into evening. We have these single piece outfits, I like to call them completer pieces, that can change an outfit," says Carole Alexander, president of knitwear company Joseph A. "I don't think the consumer is up to spending a tremendous amount on an outfit."
Jeweled detailing around the neckline of a scoop neck sweater or a three-quarter sleeve V-neck can turn black pants or a skirt worn to the office into a holiday evening look. Or a sparkly sleeveless V-neck can be worn with a suit jacket during the day, then alone to the holiday party.
Instead of taking off your jacket, Rosenzweig and Rowley recommend wearing the suit with nothing underneath, then piling on glass-beaded necklaces, or wearing the plunging neckline with attention-getting earrings.
"With chandelier earrings, right now you can't go wrong," White says. "They're big, they're dramatic, they work whether for office or holiday party. Hey, if they can work for Nicole Kidman they can work for you."