It is no coincidence that plush and velvet are synonymous with richness. Velvet, the traditional fabric of the holiday season, is the stuff of welcoming evenings and formal portraits before the fireplace.
Even earliest memories of special dress-ups were the red, velvet dresses with white lace collar that were de rigueur attire for the annual studio photo that was sent off to grandparents and doting aunts.
This season, velvet is everywhere, cut into everything, and it is almost impossible to shop without running a hand over something luxurious and soft.
Velvet wraps up the current romantic revival and its feel and designs are borrowed from days gone by. Velvets which are notable in Renaissance portraits may have an aristocratic pedigree, but today they mix comfortably on all social levels and occasions.
Velvet may go to the office and stay for punch and cookies at the annual get-together.
Velvet may stay home to curl up on the sofa with best friends and a toddy. Or velvet may make a grand sweep and entrance at the gala.
But this holiday season, the grand evening dress is only one of velvet's reincarnations. There are vests, camp shirts, slip dresses, jodhpurs, jeans, slippers, Victorian granny boots, purses, stoles, chokers, cocktail caps and portrait hats, pajamas, sweeping evening coats and even backpacks. Just about every classic clothing and accessory design has been made up in velvet.
And not just in beautiful and basic black. Velvet looks even newer in precious jewel shades of garnet, emerald, sapphire and topaz. And these gems have new and luxurious finishes -- panne, cut silk patterns, crushed surfaces, velours and embroideries -- woven in silk, cotton, rayon and polyester. Yes, polyester as a luxury fabric.
The Polyester Council calls attention to a sumptuous fringed bolero over wide flowing palazzo pants by Bill Blass. It's designer fashion with a practical eye to staying unwrinkled of an evening.
Velvets of natural fibers are crushable and fragile, so frequent wearing will affect the pile. The occasion should be considered in the selection of a garment. A dress that is booked for a night with "The Nutcracker" and a late and lingering supper after, will not sit well and dry cleaning and steaming cannot always revive the shine and creases.
And, as grand and rich as velvet looks, it does not require a major investment at designer salon prices. Loungewear and lingerie departments are on the velvet track and a robe or pajamas in washable velour have the fashion punch without the fussing.
Junior departments, which are trend-driven, have all the looks for less for women who fall into the size range.
The easiest, least expensive way to get in touch with velvet is a black ribbon around the neck. Very pretty and flattering to all complexions.
And do hurry to schedule that picture of the toddlers in their little velvet party outfits. This year's fashionable tots are wearing black and a minimum of accessories. A plush teddy-bear prop is just right.
Who's better at talking shopping than a professional? Joyce Baker, manager of the Owings Mills Shopping Service, has these suggestions for dressing in velvet:
* Velvet is an accessory, not a necessity. Invest in one piece and wear it with a variety of accents. Remember, velvet is a seasonal fabric so get all the wear you can out of it while the weather stays cold.
* If you buy one velvet piece this year, consider a velvet shirt jacket. You can wear it with wide leg pants in another fabric, with jeans, or your old wool evening skirt.
* When accessorizing velvet, keep it simple -- perhaps as minimal as a craft store silk flower worn as a pin.
* A lace bodysuit looks great under a velvet suit or shirt. And velvet leggings can be topped with any flowing top of georgette or silk.
* It's not necessary to pour velvet on from head to toe to feel festive. A vest with ornate closures or buttons can turn any combination of separates into party wear.
* Be wary of crushed velvet. Unless it is beautifully crafted, it tends to look like it got caught in the rain.
ON THE COVER
Staff photos by Amy Deputy; styled by Suzin Boddiford
Hair and makeup by Nicholas Gavrelis for M.A.C. Cosmetics
Modeled by Sara Hyland for New Faces Models
Photographed at the Government House Inn of the Baltimore International Culinary College.
Tunic, $148, and pants, $136, by Fraise at Jones & Jones. Crystal choker, $130, at Trillium.
Mini backpack, $115, at Nan Duskin.