London's Oxford Street currently resembles half a mile of surreal winter wonderland. Silver-wigged mannequins burst out of mirrored walls. Snow queens wear Spandex under burnt ostrich feathered coats. Archangels are frozen into action poses and sport the sort of creations last seen on the Star Ship Enterprise. There are intermittent blizzards of white polystyrene balls and enough injection moulded sci-fi sets to fill the Warner Bros studio lots.
It's all very millennial, in a future-retro-cum-celebration-of-galactic- travel kind of way. But what about the clothes? When retailers set about brainstorming their Yuletide window scenes, did they really imagine that the dawn of a new century would induce us to ditch our cosy cashmere and buy scratchy synthetics that would make us look like Captain Wilma from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century? Of course not. Retailers are praying that their high-impact window displays will get us into the party mood. They hope that all we'll want for Christmas is a wardrobe full of party- wear. And given that this will be a season of non-stop knees-ups, from now until 1st January, they have a point.
Beyond the Bacofoil window statements, you'll find plenty of choice. The question is: do you want to live out your fantasies or not? If you've spent all year dressed down like Cinders, a lavish party is as good an excuse as any to wave your magic credit card and become Cinderella for a night. This is your best chance to get out of those bland-as-a-rag neutrals, shake off your tasteful, neat separates and escape your repressed wardrobe, if only for a night or two.
A frou-frou party frock might not be the height of fashion, but if it's going to help you arrive at your fairy tale dream, who cares? If a meringue- shaped confection is what you're after, head for a department store which still has an eveningwear department (Selfridges calls theirs the Millennial Salon, if you please), usually to be found on the top floor in no man's land along with hats and suitcases. Are You Being Served, anyone? Don't forget to take a pair of dressy shoes for the full effect; trying any party number on with grey woolly socks can prove too much of an imaginative leap for even the most ardent fantasist. And remember not to expect too much from your metamorphosis, even Cinderella didn't go home with her prince at midnight.
The office party is perhaps the most popular for the escapist who sees herself as the femme fatale. Out come the dominatrix heels, the boob tubes and bottom-cheek-grazing micro-minis, not to mention the make-up and hair spray. Abracadabra! The most diligent, unobtrusive, mousy girl has transformed herself into a Supervixen. She gets a kick out of dumbfounding her colleagues and even surprises herself with just how naturally she carries out those pelvic thrusts on the dance floor.
Just don't be surprised when you catch her throwing on her duffel coat and changing into her sensible flatties at the coat check.
If you're not a changeling when it comes to party frocks, the key to a successful Christmas season is to stick to what suits you. Don't, whatever you do, try and become something you're not overnight. It's perilously easy to get side-tracked by the rails of spangly creations en route to the more subdued racks, especially when it's a panic-stricken, blood-pumping last minute desperation buy. There's nothing more uncomfortable than walking into a party dressed as the proverbial disco dolly when in fact you're a Little Black Dress kind of girl. Talking of the LBD - or the LBO (the Little Black Outfit), the more with-it alternative - it's probably the easiest and safest buy.
Dress it up with accessories that you will use more than once - a dainty, beaded bag, a pair of kitten heels and a heavy cashmere wrap (a great, if expensive, alternative to that thread-bare duffel coat). And wear it dressed down for the rest of the year. After all, an LBO isn't just for Christmas.
If you want to snap out of the sensible mould, and find yourself getting into the millennial spirit, the trick is to buy subtle separates that nod at the party season without screaming Christmas tree. Keep it low- key but wear it with attitude. A faint drizzle of glitter, a glimmer of sequins, the softest shades of velvet in simple shapes work best - like Etro's shell top and Warehouse's Capri pants.
Then again, you might want to ditch anything even vaguely reminiscent of Paper Chase wrapping paper and go for colour instead. From candyfloss to fuchsia, lilac to purple, the stores are full of vibrant shades. Worn head to toe, colour has got to be the cleverest move for Christmas, since you can wear it beyond the current sub-zero temperatures and it will certainly be the best way of standing out against all that black and metallic.
Top left: Turquoise paisley glitter top, pounds 110, by Etro, 14 Old Bond Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-495 5767; silver sequin skirt, pounds 75, by French Connection, 249 Regent Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-399 7200; multi colour bangles, pounds 2.50 for 50, by Claires Accessories, stores nationwide, enquiries 0121-682 8000
Main Picture: Lilac velvet top, pounds 25, by Warehouse, stores nationwide, enquiries 0800 915 9902; silver leather jacket, pounds 150, by Oasis, 292 Regent Street, London W1, enquiries 01865 881986
Centre: Purple vest, pounds 12, by Warehouse, as before; pink glitter skirt, pounds 170, by Whistles, 12 St. Christophers Place, London W1, enquiries 0171-487 4484; studded belt, pounds 10, from Ad Hoc, 153 Kings Road, London SW3, enquiries 0171-376 8829; ribbon wristband, from a selection at VV Rouleaux, 6 Marylebone High Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-224 5179; black mules, pounds 49.99, by Office, 55 South Molton Street, London W1, enquiries 0181-838 4447
Bottom left: Black sleeveless mohair jumper, pounds 42, by Jigsaw, 126-127 New Bond Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-491 4484; black glitter Capri pants, pounds 55, by Warehouse, as before; black scarf, pounds 4, from Cornucopia, 12 Upper Tatchbrook Street, London SW1, enquiries 0171-828 5752; zebra print cuff, pounds 20, from Whistles, as before
PHOTOGRAPHER: ANNA STEVENSON n STYLIST: HOLLY WOOD n MAKE-UP: KIM BROWN USING BENEFIT AT ROCKIT n HAIR: CRAIG MASON AT TONI AND GUY n MODEL: SARAH HOLLAND AT MODELS ONEReuse content