Fashion: dress sense

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A FRIEND informs me that it is her office Christmas party next week. Next week! It's not even December and already she's having to think little black dresses, high heels and sparkly, glittery things. Needless to say, she's in denial about the whole thing and is contemplating wearing her flattest shoes and her most sensible suit, with not so much as a hint of lametta in her hair. I don't blame her. The Christmas spirit is not something you can force on anyone. Nevertheless, she doesn't want to look like a Scrooge and say, "Bah, humbug!" before the season of goodwill and party frocks has even begun.

Office parties are a funny thing. They remind me of school, when the bell would ring and instead of going home, everyone would disappear into the changing rooms to put on their glad rags and the silly shoes which would normally make the headmaster's blood boil (mine were black patent leather with ankle straps and wedge heels from Ravel). They would emerge feeling flustered and foolish until the lights were dimmed and the disco began.

So too with the office version. Gaggles of women disappear into the toilets armed with strappy bits of nothing, shiny scarves and bags bulging with lippy and mascara. Half an hour later, they've egged each other on to new heights of glamour in the safety of the loos, only to exit into the twilight zone. No, they have not been beamed down into Studio 54 or (there is a God, after all) Stringfellows. The office is still as it was - and the fluorescent lights are as bright as ever. Embarrassment sets in, to be followed swiftly by alcohol poisoning.

So, the fashion editor's advice. What's a girl to wear for a party season which kicks off ever earlier? Tip one: avoid black, especially if it comes from Marks & Spencer and you want to avoid looking as if you've just come off the production line with 20 cloned colleagues. Two: avoid anything that sparkles before Christmas Eve. Three: don't do short. Four: don't do long. Five: don't even think about it ... whatever it is.

Chances are, of course, that the little black something which is too long or too short, and definitely too brief, will be the answer. Perhaps it has something to do with safety in numbers. Or with the fact that you bought it for last year's office party and haven't worn it since. Then again, that's a very good reason for sticking to the sensible suit and shoe option. At least you won't feel as if you're back at the school disco. Bah, humbug! !

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