Giving everyday wear a touch of holiday flair

The Baltimore Sun

Most years, as fall slowly slips into winter, many of us feel the need to update our wardrobes with something appropriately "holiday."

But with the economy about as bad as a re-gifted fruitcake, fashion followers will be happy to know that this holiday season, all that autumn-appropriate gear you bought two months ago - knitwear and tweed and faux-fur vests - still will work for most holiday parties.

"You'll see knitwear in everything for the holiday season," said Toni James, owner of Katwalk, a fashion-forward boutique on Read Street. "People are wearing knitwear in dresses, coats, shawls. And it's appropriate for evening affairs as long as it's a fitted look, not bulky."

In fact, experts say that with only a few additions, much of what you already have in your wardrobe can morph into something that gives off a holiday vibe.

For example, men already may have a wool, tweed or corduroy jacket in their fall closet.

"Believe it or not, for the holidays, men are wearing a lot of corduroy," James says. "They're wearing cargo corduroy pants and a lot of sweaters also, with details like pockets and hoods."

Meanwhile, designers have labeled the past couple of years the "Year of the Dress," making it a good bet that most women have a few great dresses hanging on the rack.

That's good news because "dresses are the hottest thing going" for the holidays, says Gail Kandel, owner of Vasarri, an upscale boutique in Pikesville.

Many of the dresses in Kandel's store are of medium weight, and crafted from what she calls "12-month fabrics" - which makes sense during these cash-strapped times.

"I think that [having versatile materials] becomes important during times like these, because when you're feeling [financially] insecure you want to buy something that you're going to get a lot of use out of," Kandel says.

So how does a dress that looks good at a friend's late-fall wedding also look great at your boyfriend's office holiday party?

Accessories, accessories, accessories.

"Instead of the traditional pearls, women are doing a lot of bold jewelry," says Lorayne Thornton, owner of Utopia, a Bel Air boutique that specializes in designer evening wear.

"Big jewelry is back," says James. "Chunky necklaces, bracelets, earrings, a lot of jewels. It doesn't have to be gold or silver, although gold is back. It's more so jewel tones - emeralds, rubies and that type of thing."

Kandel says holiday shoppers are going for jewelry that is reminiscent of the ultra-luxe designer Bulgari, with big colored stones or stones that are all black.

Jewelers also are taking those gems and putting them in chain mail, or studding them with diamonds.

"The jewelry is unique and it's very new," Kandel says. "So even if you wore, two years ago, a long black dress, put one of these fabulous statement jewelry pieces on and you have a new dress; you have a new look."

Jewel tones in greens and reds are festive for most holiday seasons, but this year those popular colors seem even more appropriate. "Because it's a somber economy, I think people are looking for more color," Kandel says.

In addition to glitzy jewelry, this season, handbags are hotter than ever. But even those are dressed-up for the holidays with sequins, crocheted elements, colorful snake or alligator skins or even fur (real and faux).

Deep purples and burgundies are the must-have colors for the holidays, paired with gray, however, instead of black. And faux fur in vests, shoes and coats adds a luxe element to even the most casual look.

"Believe it or not, people still want to look good," James says, explaining the abundance of fur, jewels and Swarovski crystals on many holiday designs, despite the somber financial mood of the nation. "They don't want to look like they're poor."

And if there's one party this winter where glamour is fully expected, it's an inaugural ball.

If you're lucky enough to be invited to one this winter, remember that when dancing with the president, casual is out and fashionably formal is in.

"It is a rare and a great occasion, so you really don't want to stand out in the crowd for wearing the wrong thing," Kandel says. "You want to wear something very elegant."

But even for a ball for Barack Obama, smart shoppers can find fashions that give more for their money.

As Thornton says, one never can go wrong with a black dress - especially one accented with bold jewelry this year.

Kandel, however, recommends a colorful dress to offset the sea of black often seen at many inaugural balls. To make that colorful dress work for the next holiday season, Kandel has a suggestion:

"I might buy a long dress that I could then cut off to tea length or cocktail [length]," she says. "And that way I'd have a totally different dress the next time I wore it, even if it's with the same crowd of people."

Tanika White is a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun.

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