Frocks that rock (or whisper)

By Jan Shure, December 3, 2009
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Black mini dress with sheer top, £130, French Connection

Black mini dress with sheer top, £130, French Connection

Ok, we may not celebrate Christmas, but we do have Chanucah and New Year’s Eve (and, potentially, an office Christmas do), so we are far from exempt from the pressure of finding the fabulous frock for that December soirée or cocktail party.

Of course, the shops are currently bursting with party frocks. They are available at every price and every style — there’s the fairly laid-back kind which could probably give double service for work or Shabbat morning shul, and then be glammed up with some statement jewellery, sky-high heels and a clutch for parties. Then there’s the out-and-out party frock in satin, lace, embellished with sequins, or with one shoulder for added drama.

If you are looking for a relatively low-key dress that needs glamming up, All Saints has a curvily cut, wool and viscose dress with crossover bodice, long sleeves and a trickle of ruffles at the back (reduced to £64) which works perfectly for day-into-evening, as do several of the long- and half-sleeved dresses in silk by Comptoir des Cotonniers, in particular a short black dress with cap sleeve and V-neck edged with pleated frills, at £111.

The high street’s newest superstar, James Lakeland, has a gorgeously cut grey, cowl-neck, cap-sleeve dress with soft pleating at the waist (£175), which transforms brilliantly from a daytime under-blazer affair with opaques and ankle-boots to evening glamour with statement cuff, heels and clutch. His shapely, sleeveless LBD with ruffle collar (£149) fits into the same category — dead-on for daytime with cardi and opaques; and after-six-amazing with — yes — cuff or bangle, high heels and a clutch.

Reiss’s angular, power-shoulder dress with crossover bodice and draped skirt could be dressed down for day under a jacket with ankle-boots and opaques, and then shine by night with clear tights, bondage shoes and the statement double C, clutch and cuff. A very 60s sack dress by Betty Jackson Black for Debenhams (at £75) is another am-pm transformer, with leggings or opaques by day, and statement necklace and chain-handle quilted bag by night.

If low-key is too dreary, and you want full-on glamour, the spectrum of UK retail awaits you; every shop, from high street to Sloane Street by way of the Trafford Centre and the Cross Arcade, is crammed with sass, sequins and attitude. The trick with full-on glamour is finding the right balance between a dress that says “I’ve tried” and one which says “I’ve tried way too hard, and thought I was going to a Tony Page-catered wedding at the Dorchester.”

Jewel-embellished satin shift, £250,

Jewel-embellished satin shift, £250,

If you want to keep it budget, the high street has some great dresses which do not instantly tell their price. Next has some stylish little frocks, both shifts and some with high-waist, embellished with frills, ruffles or jewels at neckline, priced from £55 to £100. Wallis, too, has some strong looks, at appealingly low prices, including a black tunic dress with jewel trim at neck and bell sleeve detail at just £45, as well as a very Audrey Hepburn velvet shift with gentle scoop neck and jewel embellishment at just £50, while New Look has an assortment of sequinned stunners, including a grey mini-dress with gorgeously droopy grey satin ribbon at the back (£35).

James Lakeland knows how to turn up the glam quotient for evenings with a blue silk jersey drape dress with cap sleeve (£199), as well as a hot pink dress with handkerchief hem (£165) for those who want a bit more cover.

Many of the dresses in Reiss’s winter collection would add a touch of glamour to a December night, including a lace print Audrey Hepburn-esque 60s shift with frill collar at £139; a sublime dress with sheer panel and ribbon back in a dazzling (if it suits you) shade of Jaffa orange at £169; and a gorgeously curvy draped dress with cap sleeve in blue or brusied plum (£129).

If you want simplicity, All Saints has a neat little jersey cap sleeve, scoop neck shift with beads and sequins at £76, while French Connection has a sassy black mini-dress with sequin detail at £130, and Linea has a one-shoulder shift with feather trim, £100 at House of Fraser.

    Last updated: 10:57am, December 3 2009