Saturday, December 1, 2001 Print Edition, Page L11


I'll be home for Christmas

By DEIRDRE KELLY,
Globe and Mail


With cozy house parties standing in for over-the-top galas, relaxed chic is replacing ballroom glamour this holiday season, DEIRDRE KELLY reports. A sparkly sweater and sharp tuxedo pants may be all you need.

For the holidays last year, Danielle Iversen paid $525 for a Shelli Segal low-cut black velvet dress that she wore to more than a dozen blowout events.

This year, she has downgraded to a $59 sleeveless black cotton turtleneck, decorated with sequins and with an angora feel, that she plans to wear to the homes of friends and family.

Big splashy parties are out this season, says Iversen, something of a party expert in her capacity as a Toronto-based publicist and events planner for high-profile clients in the entertainment industry. And so are the ballgowns that go with them.

"No one wants to go out for the holidays this year," she says. "The trend is for house parties and dressy cocktails. Corporate parties that are traditionally held at bars and restaurants are being cancelled. It's natural right now to be with loved ones."

Iversen, known to spend lavishly on holiday wear, is among many people paring down and opting for items that are both comfortable (and comforting) and less showy this year.

"That dress from last season was very sexy and showed a lot of cleavage," the 32-year-old says. "It will now be sitting in the closet all holiday season. I won't be wearing it to one event."

With focus on home entertaining and the more spiritual aspects of the holidays -- giving instead of receiving -- stores nationwide are gearing up for a very mellow festive season.

But many retailers had already anticipated a downturn in the economy and planned for a season of darker colours and separates, a trend made for the consumer staying home for the holidays -- so inventory is moving.

The Bay is reporting that black pants and simple black dresses are among its top-selling holiday items.

Talbots, with 20 stores across Canada, says its customers are opting for silk charmeuse blouses and short-sleeve turtlenecks made of Lurex, material that has a glittery feel without the overkill.

"Women are looking for things that feel good against the skin," observes Talbots spokeswoman Betsy Thompson. "This season, they want clothing that's entirely comfortable and versatile -- things they can dress up and dress down."

Andrew's, a retailer in Toronto's tony Yorkville, is also seeing a rush on elegant separates, which have more mileage and are less expensive than a dress.

Beverley Lerner, who buys the store's evening wear, says gowns are not selling, but lace pants with beading and simple long skirts with a bit of train are: "Women still want a little oomph."

And luxe knitwear is an obvious choice.

"Knitwear definitely is more popular this year," Lerner says.

"It's a little less dressy than a beaded jacket or top and cozier -- soft and warm against the skin. That's the feeling people want for this season. They want to feel comforted."

Sometimes that feel-good sensation comes from helping others, and this season fundraisers and charity events are bigger than ever, says Maureen Atkinson, senior partner with the J.C. Williams Group, an international retail consulting company headquartered in Toronto.

People bombarded by daily images of war and terror are feeling that if they must go out they shouldn't be frivolous.

"If there are big boffo parties this season, they're for a purpose," Atkinson says. "Otherwise, people are staying at home with their families."

Sharon Halpin, a personal shopper employed by Holt Renfrew in Vancouver, reports a rise in the number of customers needing help in dressing for a holiday fundraiser.

She suggests elegant blouses with a wrap waist to wear with a simple skirt or beautifully cut pants. Halpin is also big on accessories this season, because they are versatile and generally affordable. And she is big on the tuxedo suit, in either ivory or black, because while elegant and potentially very sexy, it is also versatile and practical -- key concepts in a recession.

"Women are looking for value right now," Halpin says.

"They are no longer interested in buying a dress that they will wear only once. They want to stretch their dollars. And the tuxedo suit is a good buy because you can wear it a variety of different ways -- with a little beaded top for a charity fundraiser or an elegant satin blouse with French cuffs to wear to an elegant dinner party with friends."

Sarah Collins, a Toronto image consultant, says the look this holiday season isn't casual. It's understated. Sober times set the stage for less fussy dressing.

"With home entertaining, whether you are the hostess or the guest, the point is to look respectable and fashionable. You are not going to a dinner party this season in a cable knit sweater.

"You are going in a pair of leather or suede pants with a blazer and cashmere sweater accessorized with faux jewellery. That's still what I'd call dressy -- just not overly so."

Stay-at-home style

THE CLOTHES

Just because it's a friend's house doesn't mean you can show up in sweat pants and unwashed hair. Show your host respect by dressing with understated elegance. Try a tuxedo pant suit, dressed up or down with a bustier or lace shell. Pants are acceptable -- dress them up with a terrific top. Plunging necklines have table appeal as do crisp white shirts and your man's cufflinks. Lurex tops shimmer but are still comfy.

THE POWDER ROOM

Don't overperfume in intimate quarters. Don't over-shellac your hair with sprays -- it doesn't have to survive the macarena, after all. Don't overplay makeup. No one likes red lipstick stains on their good crystal. If you are not overly excited about your wardrobe, black always works with a splash of red nail polish.

THE DETAILS

Vintage costume jewellery is all the rage this season. Add sparkle to a basic black cashmere sweater with a brooch, necklace or dangling earrings. A basic black skirt gets a lift with fun, textured opaque tights. High-heeled boots are always elegant. But if you're the hostess, wear strappy open-toed shoes, since you have no slush piles to dodge. Nothing overly glitzy in the way of purses. You're not at a black-tie event.

FOOTWEAR ETIQUETTE

You may have to double-pack if it's snowing outside. Wear winter boots and change into footwear carried in an elegant shoe bag. Never arrive in scuffed shoes. Footwear should look polished. Hosts: Allow footwear in your home. Shoes are an integral part of an outfit. Provide a floor mat and clean up any dirt the next day. Guests: Be prepared to leave your Guccis at the door if your host or hostess is particular about the hardwood flooring; you have to respect their wishes (which means no holes in socks or stockings just in case).