An image consultant’s strategy to take you into the New Year and beyond

Christmas is only a week away and according to the media you have been serenely browsing the stores for the last two months in search of the perfect Christmas outfit for that one special occasion. Presents have been wrapped, scented candles purchased and your online grocery order is in the bag – along with the Christmas pudding you made last year.  As far as I can see that’s all about as likely as Santa turning up on Christmas morning waving a Tiffany diamond collar and leaving a ready cooked turkey dinner on the table!

I’m afraid I can’t help you with the present side of things but I can help you on the style front. You don’t have to resort to trawling blank eyed through acres of black shiny fabrics and random glitter. You need a strategy!

What the pundits don’t seem to understand is that we are rarely shopping for one occasion – that is pretty simple and I’ve seen people do well even without the guidance of a stylist. Real life just isn’t like that. A good example of this was when I went shopping with a client of mine recently for an outfit she could wear for her husband’s 40th Birthday party. She also wanted to wear the outfit over Christmas in Scotland and at a New Year party. I’m guessing that the outfit will also show itself at the office party, dinner with those special friends she hasn’t seen all year and at a family birthday party in the spring.

So did we find this perfect piece? Yes we did. Our strategy was clear – find the perfect simple plain dress and then customise it according to the occasion.

The Dress Itself

We chose a simple black wrapover with sleeves from Selfridges which suited my client perfectly. The dress is the key piece – get this wrong and the strategy fails. Choose the style according to your shape – a little shift dress looks great on the petite, go for a wrap if you are curvy and enjoy some of the shaped and gathered styles around if you are slender. Empire-line styles are a safe bet for most but remember – choose the best quality dress you can afford. It’s likely to visit the dry cleaners more than once and needs to look its best in broad daylight as well as by candlelight.

Skirt lengths and necklines are crucial as this dress needs to work hard for you. For a flattering length your skirt should sit either just above or just below the knee. Too short or too long and you’ll lose out on versatility and wearability.  If necklines are too low you risk being uncomfortable during the day – too high and you may cramp your evening style.

Care should also be paid to sleeve lengths. As well as a style to suit your proportions you may want to wear a wrap or a shrug to cover your upper arms as well as keep you warm – do be careful with shrugs because these really only sit well over simple strappy sleeves. If you can find a dress with longer sleeves then I find elbow length both flattering and flexible.

This seems a pretty long checklist, especially if time is short, but there are so many simple dresses in the stores at present that a day’s focussed activity should see you in the perfect style. If black isn’t your best colour do look for other dark neutrals that will suit your colouring better. However if you are really stuck go for a flattering style in black but choose some great accessories in your best colours and metals. With the right dress, like a good makeup base, you have the foundation for whatever look you choose to add to it.

Glam it Up – the party look

Choosing accessories for this look is a bit of a cheat as they are everywhere and don’t cost a fortune. Layer on necklaces and bracelets; get your sparkle fix from your wrap or bolero cardigan. Alternatively this year is all about fake fur, so try a leopard skin stole or a feather boa. Add a touch of glamour with a strategically positioned brooch and a fun handbag whilst sheer tights and evening shoes will complete the picture.


Dress it up – for a dinner party


You need to work a little harder to get this look right. Try chic stylish jewellery in chunky gold or silver, or maybe focus on a bright semi precious stone pendant. Skip the sparkle, but go for rich colours in quality fabrics such as a silk scarf knotted around the neck, or an Indian shawl. For an added edge try opaque coloured tights with ankle boots, or this season’s infinity scarf curled around the neckline.

Dress it down – it’s Christmas Day and you’re cooking


This is often tricky as you need to be comfortable but you still want to look good. If Santa didn’t bring you that Tiffany collar we spoke about then wear something special on this special day. Simple pearls, that heirloom locket, the charm bracelet – this is a day for memories. A little cardigan in a simple contrasting colour, or a print will look good and prove easy to manage on the day. Start off with boots and opaques and then move into a little pair of slipper pumps for comfort.

But remember, the key to this versatility is the dress. You must love the dress so much you want to marry it – you may even find you see more of it than your partner over the Christmas season! Once the dress is purchased everything else is plain sailing. I often find that instead of another shopping spree to buy accessories, my clients happily unearth from drawers and cupboards those beautiful accessories that they couldn’t resist but had nothing to wear with before. And of course if you save money on the accessories it does help to justify choosing that perfect dress!

Merry Christmas.

Christmas Party Style All Wrapped Up