Christmas parties offer an annual opportunity to make an effort - something that you perhaps wouldn't have done at any other point in the year. In theory, that is, because regardless of how good your intentions are, these events have a habit of creeping up on you (however far in advance they're penciled into your diary) and those fantasies of sequin dresses and smokey eyes can very quickly give way to a reality of whatever-you-wore-to-the-office-that-day, plus sparkly earrings and/or red lipstick.
To help you make the most of the festive season, sartorially speaking, we've concocted an eight-stage list, to help anyone who isn't yet Christmas party-ready to prepare...1. Decipher the vibe
This might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people will shop for an event without having actually registered the details. It's a very busy time of year, after all.
Whether it's a work 'do', a low-key shindig with friends or a fancier sort of soiree, the type of event is entirely relevant, as each will require a different kind of dress code. The location is similarly crucial. Does the place have a dress code of its own? Or is it more posh pub, less exclusive members club? The point is: do you research.
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2. What do you actually want to wear?
Gone are the days when an occasion - or location - forced you into a dress. No longer does a black tie dress code mean a floor-length gown (a sleek trouser suit is an equally appropriate option), nor is a sequined skirt out of the question for a Christmas dinner (worn with a simple silk blouse or t-shirt it can look positively low-key).
So ask yourself: do you want to wear a dress? Would you rather don sleek separates? Or would you be more comfortable in a jumpsuit?3. Look to lesser-known brands to avoid doubling up
This is easier said than done, we grant you, as few of us have time to deviate from a last minute lunchtime Zara dash. But if you do cast your net a little wider you will reap the rewards, in that you will significantly lessen your chances of turning up to the party to find someone else in an identical dress.
Those with deeper pockets should head to Matchesfashion.com and Net-a-porter, both of which offer a same day delivery service (a saving grace for eleventh hour party panics), while giving you the chance to peruse niche labels.
Three other brands that offer excellent party options, and that fly under-the-radar in comparison to the high street giants, are Intropia, Bimba y Lola and Uterqüe.
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4. Dust-off - or invest in -some jazzy jewellery
Even if you're a simple gold pendant or pearl studs kind of woman for the rest of the year, a pair of show-stopper earrings, a chunky cuff or a statement necklace are party season musts, that will likely be just the finishing touch your outfit needs.
High-neck pieces - like Kitri's satin polo neck blouse - look fabulous worn with XL earrings and a tousled up-do, just as voluminous sleeves lend themselves well to substantial bracelets, and simple or low neck-lines to long necklaces.
5. Look for makeup inspiration
If there is ever a time to have a bit of fun with your makeup, it's party season. Gold, silver and bronze are festive season stalwarts and with good reason: they are flattering and go with everything. But don't rule out brighter options - think tangerine eye shadow (see Mac) or turquoise mascara (see Marc Jacobs) - which will look fabulous against rich christmassy hues like emerald and plum. Have a poke around on Pinterest for inspiration.
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6. Make a wise footwear choice
The elongation abilities of pin-thin stilettos might be persuasive while you're standing in front of the mirror at the beginning of the evening, but by the time you've walked outside to your cab or, God forbid, the tube, you will be full of regret than no amount of blister plasters or gel 'party feet' can provide the antidote for.
The good news is that comfortable shoes don't mean skimping on style: jewelled flats, velvet platforms, glittery boots and colourful Mary Janes abound.
7. Only take the essentials with you
Party bags are meant to be mini. Even if you're heading out straight from work, be sure to take a smaller bag with you and leave your extraneous stuff at the office, because there's nothing chic about swinging a tote around the dance floor which is busting that the seams. Of course there will likely be a cloakroom, but far better to opt for an embellished drawstring pouch or embroidered cross-body bag that will add to your outfit rather than weigh you down.
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8. Don't fall at the last hurdle
Ditch the parka. It's all about an outfit topper that will add to, rather than detract from, your party outfit. Padded velvet and weighty woolen styles are both a good place to start in terms of jazzy coats that actually keep you warm. Add a jewelled brooch to the latter if it's looking a little bit work-y.
Faux fur and teddy bear coats are also excellent options that will add glamour while also helping you avoid catching your death. And jacquard coats are suitably festive, although these tend to be fairly lightweight. Opt for a size up so that you can add layers underneath.