With Christmas just weeks away, we're heading into the thick of party season. At this stage, you'll likely have events filling up every evening and weekend until January, but even if you've had decades to master the art of party dressing, most of us still find it a daunting prospect. You don't want to look under-dressed, but neither do you want an outfit that shrieks, "Yoo-hoo, over here!"
And aside from deciphering cryptic modern dress codes (does anyone really know what 'smart casual' means?), we have freezing temperatures and hectic schedules to contend with. If you're meeting friends for dinner or drinks straight from the office or after a busy day, keeping a slinky dress crease-free isn't exactly practical.
We've got the solution: a selection of five key looks that will see you through the season, whatever the occasion.
THE LOOK: Daytime sequins
Long considered strictly a night-time option, sequins are having a major moment this year, and the fashion set love them so much they've brought them into the light. The easiest route into this trend is with a sequinned midi skirt, which will make enough of a statement that you can tone down the rest of your outfit. White trainers and a roomy trench will give a utilitarian finish that is instantly more daytime-appropriate.
Follow Olivia Palermo's lead (above) and stick to metallics rather than harsh black - they add a playfulness that will stop your outfit from looking too heavy or formal. M&S Autograph has a lovely dull gold version (€95) that will pair beautifully with jewel-toned knits or a crisp black blouse, Essentiel Antwerp's rose-coloured midi at Arnotts (€129) just needs a white T-shirt tucked in, or tap into this season's trend for warm neutrals by styling Principles' bronze skirt (€68, Debenhams) with shades of rust and chocolate brown.
The length should be no shorter than a midi (knee-length and above leans too closely towards eveningwear), and keep the silhouette lean but not tight - this is not the time for bodycon sparkle. Offset the glitz with a lightly oversized jumper, slogan tee or a boxy blazer, and streamline your hair, make-up and accessories. A simple yet elegant bag, such as Zara's minimalist backpack (€19.95), will ground the look and downplay the flashiness.
Key accessory Bag, €19.95, Zara
THE LOOK: Jeans and a nice top
Casual occasions are good news for those of us who'd like a break from the Spanx over party season; plus the new slim and straight leg jean styles are far more comfortable and flattering than bootlegs or jeggings. This look works best with medium and darker wash denims, which are dressier than faded jeans.
You can't beat Topshop for price (from €55), and they have a variety of mid and dark blue shades. Victoria Beckham often dresses up her own straight leg pair (€340, Brown Thomas), or go for Frame Denim's cropped style (€265, Brown Thomas). The jeans should be mid-rise or high-waisted; as well as helping to contain a tummy and providing a bit more coverage at the hips, they avoid the '90s nostalgia of low-cut waistbands.
When choosing a top, you can opt for floaty and feminine with a satin blouse or androgynous with a menswear-inspired shirt, but we prefer a touch of embellishment, like Lily Collins' beaded tee (above). Steer clear of anything too heavy or with a very busy pattern, and choose a modest style to keep the look contemporary.
Try River Island's grey floral top (€53), or if you'd rather not show your arms, there's a gorgeous navy embroidered blouse in H&M's Conscious collection (€159) and black and gold beaded one with ¾-sleeves at Miss Selfridge (€79).
You'll want a bit of flash in your footwear to grant the outfit a going-out polish. Show you mean it with River Island's killer heels (€50) and no one will accuse you of being under-dressed.
Key accessory Shoes, €50, River Island
THE LOOK: Suiting
The trouser suit has firmly entered the mainstream in formalwear, even cropping up at last month's royal wedding on scene-stealer Cara Delevingne. On a recent press tour, Blake Lively (above) wore suiting exclusively. She offered plenty of inspiration for dressing up, whether you want to dare autumn's vivid neon hues or put a new spin on classic checks.
We recommend a suit for dinners out for a number of reasons: it is comfortable, glamorous, and far more accommodating than a dress or skirt after a meal. Splashed some sauce on your shirt? Just throw the jacket over it. Over-indulged on the chocolate mousse? Not to worry, the jacket will conceal a waistband that no longer fastens.
A slouchy silhouette feels more now, especially with a slightly sheer shirt. Make sure the fit is neatly structured, wide-legged and high-waisted. A rich velvet will serve you well - look to & Other Stories for a blue double-breasted style (€178) - while Massimo Dutti offers luxe navy velvet (€249) and offbeat cobalt checks (€289).
Brooches don't tend to get a lot of love among the A-list, but we like Blake's addition (although we can't endorse the tie - add it to your lapel instead). Brown Thomas has a gorgeous range of embellished pins by Ciner (from €265) and bold designs by Marni (from €280). French brand DEMAIN DMN, available at Arnotts, offer a range of very sharp suits with brooches attached; go for a colour clash with the dusty pink checked set (€750) and green dotted pussy-bow blouse (€290).
Key accessory Brooch, €280, Marni, Brown Thomas
THE LOOK: Jumpsuit
Jumpsuits are the ultimate office party solution: a one-and-done piece that looks immediately dressy and smart, relieving any fuss about matching tops, jackets, skirts or tights. Plus, they're called the 'all-in-one' for a reason: you just have to step in, throw on a pair of shoes and you're away. Nothing could be easier after a long day at work with minimal prep time.
The silhouette should be figure-skimming but not hugging (see Michelle Pfeiffer below, a testament to the ageless style of the jumpsuit, in a Saint Laurent number at 60), with a defined waist to make you look longer and leaner without emphasising the size of your bum. It won't cling as you dance the night away, nor will it restrict your movement.
For evening, you can really ramp it up with wide legs, a deep V neckline or a bold print. If you prefer more coverage, Whistles has a range of lovely wrap styles that will flatter the figure (€245, Brown Thomas) or try Warehouse's black version with open chiffon sleeves for a semi-sheer effect (€89). Reiss' berry-coloured jumpsuit offers strappy back detailing and is cut wide on the legs (€345), or for something similar to Pfeiffer's sparkly jumpsuit, Warehouse has an ombre velvet take (€77) and Penneys offers a wallet-friendly version (€20) - just make sure to add a belt to cinch it in.
If your jumpsuit doesn't come equipped with a belt, it can be a handy tool to highlight your narrowest point. A slim belt like & Other Stories' textured one (€39) will do the trick without adding bulk, and is ideal for shorter women looking to avoid overwhelming their frame. Curvier women may prefer this season's wider belt styles, which will act as a visual anchor and draw the eye to the smallest part of your torso, creating an hourglass shape.
Key accessory Belt, €39, & Other Stories
THE LOOK: Caped dress
Call it the Marvel effect, but capes have been popping up all over the red carpet. Meghan Markle delivered serious Hollywood glamour in a bright blue Safiyaa gown with a sweeping cape in Fiji last month, while Claire Foy wowed at the Venice Film Festival in a pink and red design from Valentino Couture. We're looking to Thandie Newton this party season, in a dramatic one-shoulder Brandon Maxwell column at the 2018 Emmys. The look was more sophisticated than superhero, with luxurious cape detailing trailing down the side, and she accessorised with show-stopping diamond earrings.
Go all-out in Alexander McQueen's festive red crepe gown (€2,595, net-a-porter.com) or dazzle in Self-Portrait's sky-blue satin (€438, self-portrait-studio.com). If you prefer a darker palette, a similar version of Meghan's dress is available in navy with crystal embellishment (€2,293, net-a-porter.com), or Wallis has an embellished black dress for €85.
Capes work best with floor-length styles, but you can go short: if you're splashing out, Valentino has a ruffled satin mini in ruby red (€1,890, Brown Thomas), or try Theia's elegant silk sheath, in blush or robin's egg blue (€875, costumedublin.ie). On a budget, check out ASOS (from €53) or Dorothy Perkins' navy chiffon dress (€52).
The look demands a set of major sparklers, so don't hold back - the bigger the better. Oscar de la Renta's classic teardrop earrings (€330, Loulerie) should do the job nicely.
Key accessory Earrings, €330, Oscar de la Renta, Loulerie