How to dress festively without looking like a holiday decoration

Stylist Anna Berkeley celebrates the outfits that will ensure elegance for the party season

A woman stands in an elegant room, one hand resting on the wall. She wears and off-the-shoulder gown with feather trim on the bodice
A feather trim can add a festive touch to a sombre dress © Adrian Samson / matchesfashion.com

Please can you tell me where to find festive outfits that feel elegant and not like a Christmas decoration? Also, I have an actual office party, so a pointer or two on that would be gratefully received! 

The festive season is upon us and there are many bonkers sleeves, cut-outs, fringes, bows and diamanté details to contend with right now. If you don’t want to look like an overgrown toddler, read on.

I love a bit of drama at Christmas (well, in my outfit, at least). As I have suggested in previous columns, before you consider what to wear you should be super-clear on the venue, how you’re getting there, whether you’re seated or mostly standing, and what the temperature expectations are. You want to be in the right gear for your environment.

A sleeveless silver sequined evening dress
Mulberry Kelsey dress, rent from £70, hurrcollective.com
A black full-length gown with shoulder straps
Bevza Seashell jumpsuit, €711 (on sale), bevza.com

First, you really must have a beautiful coat to go over your party outfit. If you are tall (over 5ft 6in), go for full length, as this will work with any hem — and you will be in no danger of looking like you’re putting the bins out in the rain. Raey’s leopard coat (£895, matchesfashion.com), Tove’s “Mio” (£995, tove-studio.com) and “Rebecca” coats (£995, tove-studio.com) or Anine Bing’s “Hunter” coat (£855, eu.aninebing.com) are all winners. Teddy coats are everywhere and surprisingly versatile too. Go plain and neat (even John Lewis has a good one!) and relish the cosy hug they give you.

If you’re petite, I would suggest a knee-length coat, which works with any hem that sits above it, or pair it with a slim trouser à la Audrey Hepburn. That is always chic. Try Harris Wharf, Hugo Boss, or Zadig and Voltaire.

When it comes to the outfit itself, I like to start by focusing on a key fabric. Perhaps home in on velvet or satin, silk faille or cashmere, supple silk or sequins.

A black crew-neck sweater
NavyGrey The Neat jumper, £180, navygrey.co
A black jumper with mutton sleeves and nipped-in waist
Isabel Marant Giamili bouclé peplum sweater, £525, net-a-porter

Sequins are a Christmas stalwart. And with good reason. They do everything in one fell swoop. Sparkle and silver-screen glamour? Done. They are, however, awful for the environment, so please consider renting or buy vintage.

There are a few sequin options at rental site Hurr. I like this gold Stella McCartney dress (rent from £184, hurrcollective.com). Wear it with a blazer and ankle boots or matching sandals. Mulberry’s loose-fitting “Kelsey” sequin maxi could be worn with a blazer or you could dress it down with a fine jersey top underneath (rent from £70, hurrcollective.com). Keep accessories plain and let the dress do the talking.

Depending on where you’re going, you could wear a long leather boot with either of these — as tight on the leg as possible. This suede shape from Manolo is very sexy (£1,075, net-a-porter.com) and has the added benefit of keeping your legs warm. If you want a cheaper alternative, LK Bennett does a great sock boot (£367 on sale, lkbennett.com). Finish the look with the iconic lip bag from Lulu Guinness: this fun Perspex style has been in her range since 2008 (£206 on sale, luluguinness.com).

White earrings with round crystals inset
Dries Van Noten crystal-embellished gold-tone hoop earrings, £295, harveynichols.com
A choker-style necklace
Dries Van Noten crystal-embellished silver-tone choker, £295, harveynichols.com

If you want something special, you can always opt for a simple but interesting skirt. I love this pink recycled tulle confection from Raey, which comes in mint and yellow too (£525, matchesfashion.com). I would always use a knit with this type of skirt, so that you can squash it gently into the waistband. Ensure that it has a ribbed hem, like this charcoal one from NavyGrey (£180, navygrey.co). Lisa Yang, Loulou Studio, Allude, Alabaste Cashmere and Joseph also offer great knit options. Add a necklace such as this sparkly choker from Dries Van Noten (£295, harveynichols.com) or its equally fantastic earrings (£295, harveynichols.com).

If you have a shorter neck, choose an open-neck or V-neck style, and wear your hair up. Don’t fancy a tulle skirt? Rixo’s easy Kelly skirt (£235, rixo.co.uk) comes in various prints and iterations, the latest of which has a feather trim. It suits curvy shapes well, as it’s cut on the bias.

A red ballerina-style long skirt
Raey recycled tulle midi tutu skirt, £525, matchesfashion.com
Black boot with a stiletto heel
Manolo Blahnik Pamfilo 90 stretch-suede knee boots, £1,075, net-a-porter.com

A feather adds a whimsical feel to any party outfit and always conjures up the Roaring ’20s for me. If you have a small bust and narrow shoulders, dress the skirt up with a puff-sleeve top such as this Isabel Marant sweater (£525, net-a-porter.com). Or dress it down with a tee or simple knit.

How about a jumpsuit for that office party? It’s always a solid alternative to a suit. This one from Bevza is best for taller women with smaller busts and broader shoulders (€711 on sale, bevza.com) — spaghetti straps and soft cups can’t really deal with full busts.

For a more formal option, look to Galvan. Its signature stretch corset jumpsuit is pure class (£1,095, galvanlondon.com). Slip a loose blazer on top and add a strappy sandal, ankle boot or simple court shoe. For alternatives, see Melissa Obadash, Norma Kamali and Saloni.

If you’re still hankering after a dress, this fit-and-flare draped stretch style from Roland Mouret flatters both straight and curvy figures, plus it semi-covers the dreaded armpit area (£650, rolandmouret.com). Another option in a great colour is this form-fitting stretch jersey from Richard Quinn (£700, matchesfashion.com). Team it with this incredible necklace from Swarovski (£840 on sale, swarovski.com) and a silver, gold or purple shoe.

If you can’t let go of the comfort factor completely, then go for a co-ord: knitted two-pieces, silky pyjama suits, loose velvet suits. Try this from Dea Kudibal (£289, featherandstitch.com) with the accompanying trousers (£239, featherandstitch.com). These can be made party-ready with strong accessories. I promise.

Wishing you a merry time whatever you end up wearing!

Anna Berkeley is a London-based personal stylist and style columnist for FT Weekend. She has worked in the fashion industry for more than 25 years, previously as a buyer for Selfridges and Prada, and a consultant for Margaret Howell. Every month, she will answer readers’ questions about fashion and what to wear. Have a question for Anna? Email her at anna.berkeley@ft.com

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