Beyond the little black dress

The party season isn't only about dresses. In fact, the new evening wear is more exciting than that, says Carola Long

The party season divides people into two camps: those can't pour themselves quickly enough into something sequinned and clingy, and those who see it as a burden, pressuring them to part with their jeans.

But this season, the array of alternatives to the classic party dress will tempt even the most low-key, sartorial Scrooge into welcoming a bit of sparkle into their lives and their wardrobes.

The dress might have dominated fashion for several years, but now if an item of clothing deserves the epithet "cocktail" or "trophy", in other words if it's a bit shiny or embellished, it's officially evening wear. So we have cocktail shorts, trophy jackets and cocktail jeans... all of which can be fine-tuned to appeal to anyone who dreads turning up to a party in an organza prom dress to find everyone else in paint-splattered boyfriend jeans. Sequinned leggings or a skating skirt can be dressed down with a plain T-shirt, such as Gap's silk versions, and a plain blazer, while skinny jeans, leggings or a jumpsuit can be glammed up with an embellished top or jacket and killer heels.

Another advantage of layering skirts or trousers with a top and jacket is that you can go straight from work to a posh event by changing one or two pieces of clothing. Robert Gates, private shopping manager at Matches says, "Separates can be interpreted in different ways, and lots of my clients don't have a special evening wardrobe; they just want to update a day silhouette." The shop's silver sequinned jacket by Freda, pictured, has sold really well thanks to its throw-it-on glamour and combination of strong shoulders with a softly tailored line.

Not only are separates easy, lending themselves to covering up, they are also the freshest, most contemporary option. Statement jackets, as seen at Balmain, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, along with masculine blazers, are still a strong trend, while Balmain, Balenciaga and Chloé all showed variations on harem evening trousers, in crystal studded fabric, midnight blue satin and black velvet respectively.

Kay Barron, fashion news editor of Grazia, says, "I always opt for trousers. There is nothing chicer than high-waisted, wide-legged silk trousers paired with a cropped jacket or embellished vest. Last Christmas I lived in a red Louise Gray suit, and this season I have a Topshop trophy jacket and black silk harems which look great with super-high heels, and much, much more modern than a safe little black dress."

Our consensus is that trousers, be they a cocktail trouser (always singular please) or leggings, are the coolest look for evening. They may not be as daring as they were in the Sixties, when it was frowned upon for women to wear a trouser suit to a smart restaurant or bar after 6pm, but they still exude a certain cool confidence that's hard to match with a frothy dress.

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