How to wear... the party dress
As the festive season kicks off, Meadhbh McGrath celebrates the return of high-octane glamour
After years of streamlined minimalism, we're finally dressing up again. For autumn-winter, fashion wants you to layer sequins on velvet with statement furs, sparkling sandals and diamond dazzlers - and nowhere is this more apt than at Christmas time. So abandon your familiar smart-casual staples and go all out with the new high-octane evening uniform.
Perhaps in response to the rise of streetwear in recent years, the autumn-winter catwalks heralded the return of highly stylised glamour. At Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello celebrated 80s New York hedonism with gleaming vinyl, frothy lace and blinding rhinestones. There were chain-mail dresses at JW Anderson and Paco Rabane, ultra-luxe velvet at Chloe and Gucci, and all-over sequins at Emilia Wickstead and buzzy new brand Halpern, already spotted on Amal Clooney and Kylie Minogue.
Christmas party season is the ideal moment to embrace fashion's new mood of ostentatious glamour and thankfully the high street is alight with sparkling festive pieces.
Such sequin-smothered partywear is the polar opposite of the understated ease of athleisure and the clean lines of modern workwear, so the invitation to dazzle can be understandably intimidating. But fear not - consider the party dress the ultimate escapism. Cover yourself in luscious velvet or glittering crystals and you can't go too far wrong.
If you lean towards an LBD every year, now is the time to obliterate that old reliable. Try a modern update on classic black like The Kooples' crepe pencil-cut dress with elegant lace inserts or M&S's asymmetric hem midi, and up the bling factor with some bejewelled courts.
Velvet is always a festive favourite and this season the sumptuous fabric is reimagined with power shoulders. Robin Wright opted for one of Saint Laurent's shimmering velvet mini-dresses at Cannes and you can pick up a similar number with 80s-esque padding and silvery sparkles running through at & Other Stories.
Texture is big news this season, whether you go for frivolous feathers or the baroque opulence of a jacquard dress. The metallic shine and jewel-toned palette is perfect for Christmas. Amp up the look with a faux fur stole and rich velvet pumps or tone it down with ankle boots and a biker jacket.
Cate Blanchett offered a masterclass in how to wear sequins in gold Gucci at the recent Thor: Ragnarok premiere. Warehouse has an excellent range of long-sleeved, high-neck sequinned dresses or if you'd prefer more length, try Studio by Preen's dazzling violet midi dress from Debenhams. A pair of barely-there sandals is all you need to complete the look.
Red is the hottest colour of the season and is fabulously festive for Christmas too. Oasis has just launched its Red Dress Collection of seven rich red designs - our top pick is the entrance-making pleated midi, which is guaranteed to turn heads. Take your cue from Max Mara and go red-to-toe with tonal pumps and a red coat, or style with black tassel earrings and heeled sandals.
Of course, this isn't to say you should throw all caution to the wind. If you want to show some skin, choose wisely. In your 40s and 50s especially, a little skin goes a long way, but forget the shrill cry for attention of abundant cleavage and take your pick between bare arms or legs, á la Robin Wright.
If you're keen to wear tights, stick to 20 denier, and a matte sheer black will look much more elegant with sandals or courts than an opaque pair. No matter what age you are, life is too short to endure agonisingly high heels and most of the time you end up looking like you're trying too hard anyway. Instead, opt for something comfortable and let your dress do all the hard work for you.