It was Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli who observed that in difficult times fashion is always outrageous. The current appetite among women, then, for fashionable but practical cocktail wear that serves more than its primary purpose is as strong a sartorial indication that things are on the up as the thigh-high hemlines that stalked confidently down the runways at Louis Vuitton, Antonia Berardi and Loewe.
Many of us might playfully dream of looking like a decadent glamour puss dripping in diamonds, but in reality we want to look more modern than that, and build a wardrobe that is relevant rather than retro. There’s been a cultural shift, too. Those days of keeping clothing for “good wear” are long gone, partly because looking polished and well put together is now considered cool (it’s the Victoria Beckham effect – whereas once we ridiculed her for looking painfully over the top, now we revere her for striking the right sartorial note every time; she almost makes me wish Kate Moss would ditch the distressed denims a little more often), but more importantly because it makes us feel and look in control. As Karl Lagerfeld put it, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.”
So designers have steadily created a crossover between career and cocktail hour with chic separates that offer something extra-special – feather trims, embroidered metallic threads and embellished collars. A statement skirt in a jewel colour looks perfectly presentable in the office when worn with a silk T-shirt and a masculine blazer, but it will sing for evening if styled with a feathered bustier. It’s all about taking daywear dictates to the dance floor and bringing cocktail wear codes back down to earth. In other words, clever cocktail dressing (and elevated daywear) comes from creating drama – not an over-the-top sartorial scene – with clever contrasts; mixing masculine and feminine, modern and vintage, haute couture with high street. There’s so much more to party wear than just a little black dress.
It’s a little bit experimentation and a lot of fun. Essentially, it’s dressing up to feel good (in clothes that feel good to wear – think velvet, brocade, silk and satin) rather than to appear “party perfect”. This must be why fashion editor Carolina Issa, model Natalia Vodianova and actresses Diane Kruger and Amanda Seyfried always look like they’re having such a great time. They personify this modern ease with evening wear. They look current and fresh and they move freely and fluidly – no tit tape disasters for these women. This is cocktail wear with class.
So, with the party season only a whisper away, it’s time to start seeking inspiration for your office to after-dark wardrobe. Here are some pieces that have caught my eye…
These leather trousers are the perfect day-to-night item. Simply swap the trainers and T-shirt for heels and a silk top.
Wide-leg leather trousers, Boutique, €295 at topshop.com
This metallic thread pleated skirt is so glamorous, yet so easy to dress down for day. I’d give it a tuxedo-style spin for evening by pairing it with a black blazer and super high heels.
Limited edition skirt, €79.95 at Zara
A sequin T-shirt will make a great pairing wth denim and trainers for a cool daytime look. But throw it over a mini skirt for evening to ensure a short hemline looks chic not cheap.
Gold sequin embellished T-shirt, €47 at River Island