How to rock that understated look
With the shops full of satin, sequins and Swarovski crystals, achieving precisely the right level of fabulousness for those Chanucah and New Year's Eve parties isn't easy. We find the perfect, low-key pieces for real life partying…
In a perfect world, it would be simple to find the perfect party piece: an artless little frock, trousers or skirt paired with a stunning top, that say: "I'm a clued-up fashion bunny, aware of trend hotness, but have not taken leave of my style sense in a bid to look über-glam."
But it is not a perfect world (just ask Gillian McKeith and Eva Longoria), so it's never that simple. There is always the risk of looking either overwrought or, almost as bad, couldn't care less.
With the right, killer heel shoes or shoe-boots (be brave, it's a party, you are probably not walking far), you can work the ankle-length trouser trend, adding perhaps an oyster satin vest embellished with crystals (Adam, £315), or a silk lurex t-shirt (3.1 Phillip Lim, £300), both at Browns.
Alternatively, team skinny jeans with the same vertiginous shoes, plus a cashmere boat neck sweater (Vince, £125) or a black silk cowl top (Helmut Lang, £220) both at Matches. Or vary the formula slightly, by mixing the jeans with a glitzy little cardi from Monsoon or an embellished chiffon jacket (£45) from A|Wear, worn on top of a simple vest.
And don't panic at the words "skinny jeans"; they work for the not-so-skinny with a longer top, such as Mint Velvet's luscious silk beaded shift in nude, at £85.
A jumpsuit also strikes the right note for formality, especially in black. Wear one under a tuxedo or boyfriend jacket and keep it on if everyone is low-key or discard if everybody's glammed to the nines. Monsoon has a good one at £70, Sainsbury's Tu at a skinted £30.
If you want the text-book example of how a skirt can be perfect for partywear, take a leaf out of the Lanvin for H&M book: for them, Alber Elbaz did a great black tuxedo jacket and teamed it with a tiered lace skirt and white t-shirt.
Black courts plus the Lanvin touches of fabric-covered necklace and flower corsage, would leave no-one in doubt you are ready to party. If you missed the H&M collection (which virtually sold out on the first day) Paprika has a pretty ballerina skirt in black, at £29 and TK Maxx and Next have more grown up versions (TK Maxx in dark navy, £19.99; Next, adorably feather-trimmed, £60).
A pencil skirt works, too, if you pick a glitzed-up sequined version, like the bronze mini by Banana Republic at £59.50, or three-colour mini by New Look, £50. Combine with sky-high heels and a simple silk t-shirt, and if you need to dress it down, a pretty cardi, like a black corsage-print one by Hobbs.
If you crave a dress, key trends are vintage, Mad Men and the 60s. Which means the shops are awash with lashings of deeply flattering lace, cinched waists, sweetheart necklines, swooping backs and sharp little shifts.
Dresses with draping, already a wardrobe staple for their go-anywhere versatility and camouflage for tums, have soared into the stratosphere thanks to royal-bride-to-be Ms Middleton and that Issa dress. Matches already has the Issa spring collection, including a pair of silky draped dresses - one long sleeve, one short sleeve - either of which would look fabulous at a winter party with killer heels and chandelier earrings. Fenwick, W1 also has the new Issa shape: short-sleeve V-neck with side drape, in zingy red at £489. One-shoulder is another major trend, and they're out there at all prices - from 2.1 Philip Lim and Tarvydas (at Harrods), to Banana Republic, Lipsy, River Island, Topshop and lots more - but it's a harder look to keep low-key with all that bare flesh, so go easy on the jewels.
If you want to splash out, there are lots of glamorous yet unglitzy frocks: Osman Yousefzada's scarlet shift with origami neckline, £595; an Etro cap-sleeve dress in palest green with a nicely Mad Men look (£660), Holly Fulton's stunning python print shift (£1,055) and Marc Jacobs's ladylike frock in nude chiffon, £2,205, all at Browns
And if you want to take the safe, Little Black Dress route, the Mad Men/60s revival makes LBDs ubiquitous, particularly when executed in lace. Among the best are a 1960s, silk, A-line, three-quarter sleeve shift by Day Birger et Mikkelsen (£238, Matches); a long-sleeve ruched dress (£285, Beyond Vintage), a silk batwing dress with embellished shoulder (DKNY, £329 at Fenwick, W1), or a brilliant Mad Men inspired long-sleeve, lace shift by Great Plains (£60).