You knew where you were in the days of dress codes, writes James Sherwood. The margin for error at Christmas parties was drastically reduced if your host dictated black tie, long dresses, lounge suits or tiaras. But sartorial rules are dead. We are at the mercy of our lifestyle and without the luxury of time must dress every morning to be ready for anything. Only you can decide what works for you when you Dress To Kill. Photographs by Mykel Nicolaou


Savile Row Bespoke Couturier

"Friends tell me it's good to go out with me because women - and men - always come up and admire my suits. So in that respect a well-cut Boateng suit gets you noticed when you party. You can see from the suit I'm wearing tonight that I'm moving on to a quieter Boateng style. I designed the black mohair fabric as well as the black shirt, tie and shoes. The purple detail in the suiting fabric matches the face of my Seiko watch. It's the detail that makes you dress to kill; like the belt buckle and cufflinks in silver and turquoise enamel. I wear two Latvian wedding rings and that's it for jewellery. Men's jewellery has to be stark and modern. Last night I went to the Tomorrow Never Dies premier and drove the James Bond Aston Martin. It's a bit of a Cinderella story: it has to go back at midday. But parties are all about looking right on the night. I'd wear this suit to cruise in the Aston Martin and then for dinner at 192 in Notting Hill."


Editor, Woman's Journal

"Overdressing is the biggest danger in the Nineties. My major ambition is to blend in. I don't even think the concept of dressing to kill for a party is particularly modern. I remember going to a party and the invitation said wear long. And there was Nicola Formby in a fabulously sexy, strappy, little black dress. Next to her, I felt like a meringue. I can't bear clothes that scream, "Look at me". They remind me of blonde weather girls at B list film premieres. But what I call the all-blacks can look as if you lack imagination. I like to look as if I'm wearing clothes effortlessly because God forbid you are seen to be trying too hard. I wore this outfit last night to go to the Sunday Times Christmas party then on to dinner at The Ivy. The heels are Prada stilettos, the skirt Emporio Armani, the top I bought at Bloomingdales and the leather jacket is Kookai. I'm really not sure about jewellery, so I just wear my gold Russian wedding ring and a silver ring from Cartier. I don't look as witty as I'd like to some of the time."


TV Researcher for Ginger Productions

"I don't have time to go home and change so I wear clothes I think will fit in anywhere. But it's more important for me to feel comfortable. I don't dress for occasions even though there are parties every night up to Christmas Eve. The bottom line is I don't really care if I don't fit in. A lot of girls dress for Christmas parties in something they wouldn't dream of wearing any other time of year. I went to the More Christmas party and everyone was tottering around in stilettoes and tight pencil skirts. I was wearing my Agnes B knee-length black skirt, my Nike Airmax trainers, a pair of fishnets I borrowed from a friend and my YMC (You Must Create) knit jumper from Browns Focus. I have a Calvin Klein vest under the jumper because it gets hot in the bars and clubs I go to after work. Trainers are just vital for my life and make-up is not appropriate."


Owner of Simon Carter Accessories

"I've had this John Rochas tartan velvet jacket for ages. I'm a great collector of vintage clothes and thought about turning up in an antique silk dressing gown but thought better of it. The pleasure of collecting vintage pieces is wheeling them out for a Christmas "do" and nobody else is wearing the same outfit as you. I'm not that fond of social gatherings for the sake of a glass of flat champagne and a canape. I'd be much happier dressing to kill for my croquet club dinner. It's a hoot. My joining the club took the average age of members down to 100. I'd wear this outfit for a dinner upstairs at the French House in Soho. Or at an intimate little backgammon soiree. Underneath the jacket, I'm wearing a classic black John Smedley polo-neck jumper and Ralph Lauren trousers. The jacket is sumptuous enough without wearing extravagant ties and expensive shirts. My suede Chelsea boots are vintage Sixties, I do have to dress up most of the time and actually don't feel comfortable in shabby clothes."


History student at Goldsmith's College

"This dress took its time before I finally got it into my wardrobe. John Richmond's brother gave it to a girlfriend of mine who said she couldn't pull it off. I practically tore it off her back and have been terrorising the male population of London in it ever since. It is a very sheer net fabric with broderie anglaise detail, but you can get away without a bra - if, that is, you can put up with men coming up and asking you if you've had a boob job every five minutes (I haven't). I don't know whether other girls would wear it just as a dress. I think I'm flashing quite enough, so wear pants like these black Karen Millen's underneath. Trousers under dresses are such a look this season anyway. I never like to wear girly clothes. The dress may be see-through but it's got a John Richmond attitude to it. It's kind of clubby, kind of funky and not what I call pretty. I used to work for the Hacienda club in Manchester so I suppose I'm quite broad minded about party clothes. And if this dress could talk..."


Events editor, Sleaze Nation

"My job demands that I wear what most people would call glamorous party clothes 24 hours a day. Practically every night of the week I have a launch party or club night to go to or I'm doing the guest list. I can't refuse people admission to a club if I'm standing there not looking good. I don't go in for the typical laddish approach to club dressing. Never have. It's more dress to impress and ultimately you want to impress girls. This metallic shirt from Errol Peak on Carnaby Street and Dexter Wong padded pants aren't as wild as I can go. But I do wear a lot of padded trousers, primarily because they are warm when I'm doing the door of a club. I don't know who the boots are by but they're from Size shoes. I'm not fearful of wearing anything other people may think are extreme - like electric-blue PVC pants. When you work the clubs, the goal posts are moved where fashion is concerned. My clothes and I are advertising a club magazine like Sleaze Nation whenever I'm seen in clubland."


EastEnders on-set chaperone

"I call this dress my old faithful. I've had it for so long I can't even remember where it came from: somewhere in New York I think. When I put it on I know I'm in for a good night. You've heard of the man who makes husbands jealous? This is the frock that makes girlfriends livid. I've worn it to Christmas parties when the rest of the girls are wearing too many sequins and I know old faithful looks classy. My heels are from Oasis and the jacket is an original Seventies leopard print my Mum gave me. I actually think the act of getting ready for a party makes you feel more special than the dress you eventually put on. It's the hot bath, the glass of wine and the time putting your make-up on in front of the mirror. Taking your time to get ready is the real pleasure in dressing for a party. Then again, if I really wanted to dress to kill I'd just wear the stilettoes."


Owner of The Fashion Gallery

"I call this my liquid-silver Hollywood siren gown. It is designed by Mariam El Accad as a couture-quality knockout evening dress for a film premiere or a night at the Oscars. The silver train is detachable for dancing, or I could just pick it up and dance like a Forties starlet. I think every woman should be able to turn on the glamour if she wants. I stock Mariam's collection because she designs for women up to a size 18. This dress is incredible around the bosom. You leave your modesty at home - with your husband - with a dress as fitted as this one. The shoes are Gucci's silver spike leather stilettoes with silver metal heels. The earrings and choker are by one of Fashion Gallery's designers, Michal Negrin. If you're going to glitter then you might as well glitter all over. I love glitter for Christmas and wear glitter nail polish or eye make-up. Yes, it takes effort and yes, it takes guts to pull off a dress like this. But I just love clothes. I adore fashion."


Owner of Matches designer stores

"I don't dress to kill. It's more dress to chill. My personal taste is quite severe: you could say uniform. I order about seven suits at the beginning of each season which are invariably very plain and navy or black. My lifestyle doesn't give me the time to spend hours deciding what to wear. With two children, two dogs and a business to run you have to get dressing down to a fine art. I buy Prada, Gucci and Dolce e Gabbana because the cut suits me and the quality of the stretch fabrics means the suit will work hard for me. This suit is by Dolce, the tie is Gucci. The tie is patterned but still subtle. The white shirt is Prada, double cuffed so I can wear cufflinks with it, and the shoes are Prada. My cufflinks are my only concession to extravagance. I can't bear seeing a man in a novelty tie or garish waistcoat just because it is the festive season. Menswear has moved towards layering the same colours and tones: matching a tie to a suit rather than clashing."



"My husband works on all the big cruise liners, and I'm lucky in that I can wear frocks other women save for Christmas parties all year round. It's fabulous because the passengers are older than me and call me young lady and I can still turn a man's head. I bought the velvet opera coat from Camden Market and I wear it everywhere. Isn't it fabulous? I feel like a Russian Grand Duchess when I'm wrapped in velvet. I was a house model for Norman Hartnell in the Sixties. He sent me to Lucy Clayton so I learnt how to carry myself, which is important when you're walking into a party, don't you think? I do wear my hair up most of the time because it's easy to sweep it out of the way. TDK, who have Tina Turner and Raquel Welch as the faces of their ad campaign, voted me their British face this year. The slogan is "Some things last forever" and I think there's a lesson in there for any woman who thinks she can't be glamourous or sexy after a certain age."