The party season: a month of competitive little black dresses, anxiety and the age-old dilemma of "What do I wear?" So where do we start?
In terms of clothes (the rest comes down to etiquette, something I assume you are all on top of by now), the trick is not to be wholly dictated by the word "party dress"; after all, it is only December and a few celebrations. Let's start with a few rules.
If you are not normally partial to a few sparkles, it's not generally the time to try it out - think of things as a cheerful extension of your wardrobe rather than an anomoly. It's important to feel like yourself, not a trussed-up version of. Look to accessories to brighten things up: rich, jewel-encrusted clutches and shoes in this season's colours, such as indigo electric blue or emerald green, are a great investment and can be worn again after the party season dies down.
Stay clear of wearing one of the big hitters from the high street, as the risk of someone else turning up in the same look is high. If your budget doesn't stretch to designer wear, try adding a few vintage accessories in order to stand out from the crowd. Colour is a great way with which to experiment without having to invest in something that will sit in your wardrobe for the rest of the year gathering dust. Although most of us use black as a fallback, navy is equally classic and softer against most skin tones, working particularly well with both gold and silver accessories. If you are feeling a little braver, metallic hues work particularly well; stick to gold if you are blonde and silver tones for brunettes.
Of course, shape plays an important role in the equation. For those with an apple shape (a round middle with slim arms and legs) you need to draw attention to your best assets. Wrap dresses give the illusion of a waist and a side fastening will draw the attention away from the stomach. For the lucky ones with a coveted hourglass figure, make sure to emphasize your shape rather than hide behind it. Your main feature is the waist, so make sure it is the focus of your dress shape. A pencil skirt suits best on your bottom half and a capped sleeve will add volume to the shoulder, balancing out the hip. If you are worried about your thighs, play with draping, especially from the waist down, so that it skims rather than clings. For those with the pear shape (bottom heavy), a classic feminine silhouette is your aim. If you have toned arms and shoulders, strapless dresses with a nipped-in waist and flared skirt will help draw the eye away from the hip area. Play with accessories such as statement earrings or a large necklace, as they will keep the eye reverting back to the top half of your body.
An athletic shape is often harder to dress than most of us think; although slender, the lack of bust, waist and hips can often appear boyish in a dress. In order to feminise, we need to create volume with the clever use of pleats, ruffles or excess fabric. A cowl neckline will give the illusion of a bigger bust and a heavy necklace will detract from a smaller bust.
The problem with party dressing is that it all ends up somehow looking the same, so try your best not to fall into the common traps we, as consumers, are cleverly steered into. Besides, it's meant to be a party, so try and relax, safe in the knowledge that a big, bold smile always carries us farther than a big, bold frock.