Holiday Dressing for Cocktail Hour or Casual Gathering

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Ready for holiday dressing? No, I don’t mean the kind that goes inside a turkey! The weather has changed here in Northern California (finally) and it’s time to start thinking about what to wear for the holiday season. Maybe you have a formal fundraiser dinner that you attend every year. Or perhaps you need a cocktail dress for your office Christmas party. Many of us celebrate the holidays at home with family and friends but we need something a little dressier than sweats.

For those of you who have been complaining about strapless gowns, take heart. The “designer gods” have listened and are showing many styles with sleeves. Or just one sleeve. Armani and Oscar de la Renta both feature formal gowns that are not strapless so it’s just a matter of time before the knock-off kings follow “suit,” so to speak.

Both design houses are showing gowns of gorgeous blues, sea and sunset colors, with layers and ruffling that flatter the body. Armani is using velvet in a soft drape-y way with architectural details. He uses diagonal lines to complement the body, a design feature of which I have always been a fan.  Oscar de la Renta not only has many gowns with beautiful feminine draping but he is also using lots of prints in his Fall collection. Prints are a very personal preference, but using them in evening gowns is something new and fresh that you may want to consider.

Remember, too, that if you fall in love with a dress without sleeves, there are many options for adding sleeves. Check with your dressmaker about this.

Cocktail dresses are really short on the runways, so if you have the legs, go for it! If not, there are many styles that are being shown in knee length or just above the knees. Strategically placed ruffles and ruching are still really popular and every figure can find a flattering shape. Also, think about what to wear over your dress.  For our milder California weather, you may want to consider a tailored jacket out of a metallic or jeweled fabrics. Leathers of many textures, colors and embellishments are really popular right now, too, and leather is always a good investment. It lasts a long time and is always in style.

For a more casual at-home look, consider sweater dressing. Big oversized sweaters over leggings or skinny jeans are popular coast to coast and in Europe as well.

Dolce&Gabbana, Dries Van Noten, to name a couple of my favorites, are showing slouchy sweaters and tops out of lightweight fabrics perfect for our California winters. Layered with cocoon coats, pagoda shoulders, and belts and necklaces, the look is reminiscent of the ’80s Flashdance styling, with new-millenium fabrics and colors.

I have to mention the classics as well. There is so much great tailoringgoing on in the world outside of Northern California. Dries Van Noten, Donna Karan, Dolce&Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, and of course, the master tailor himself, Giorgio Armani, all show skillfully tailored coats,jackets, pants, and shirts. The colors are camel, black and blue-grays. Perfect fit, perfect construction, classic tailoring combined with thoughtful details like tailored ruffles, pleats, ruching, and geometric sectioning to make suits with attitude.

And remember, if you can’t find what you want in your home town, don’t be afraid to order on-line from a name-brand company. Or take your ideas to your tailor or dressmaker.

Note: This is a “best of” column that first appeared on on Dec. 16 2010.

Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or

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Barbara Stone
Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or
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