Outfit Formula: Casual Holiday Dress

Holiday parties are a lot more relaxed than they used to be, which brings me to the casual holiday dress. It is comfortable, sleeved and insulating. No form-fitting silhouettes that need shapewear. No need to find the right topper because it’s sleeveless. No worries that your outfit looks best with a jacket, because the dress does all the talking. And you can wear comfortable and practical footwear.

A shout-out to Artful Home where they sell eclectic and arty holiday attire from an XS to XXL (size US2/4 to US18/20). Silhouettes are fluid, a little architectural, and provide ample coverage. I found this site through the wonderful Brenda Kinsel, who wears their items with panache.

Here are some neutral and understated renditions to get you started, but feel free to add more colour and pattern. You might also like the combinations for settings other than casual holiday parties.

1. Arty Tartan

A sleeved A-line dress in a pattern made of substantial fabric WITH pockets and a versatile neckline ticks off all the boxes. It’s warm, comfortable, interesting, festive, forgiving and elegant. Throw it on over leggings or hosiery with a pair of flat or heeled shoes, and Bob’s your uncle. Add bling, a clutch, lippie, and possibly fingernail polish. Brenda Kinsel wears this dress with grace and panache. I love her dressier additions of fishnet hosiery, matching specs, low-heeled ankle strap pumps, and sparkly expressions. You can also keep the look more casual with leggings, skinnies, flats or casual boots.

Artful Home Ainslie Dress

2. Magical Movement

This type of drapey dress works on most body types. It’s just structured enough through the sleeves and upper torso, and lets the volume and colour-blocking below the bust create movement and interest. Wear it over leggings, skinnies or hosiery, and add anything from ballet flats, booties, and shooties, to oxfords, Docs, pumps and ankle strap looks as footwear. Add festive bling to dress up or dress down this look as much as you like.

Artful Home Kelsey Dress

3. Cosy Cardi Layers

An A-line shift dress in a jersey or silky fabric looks surprisingly good with a tailored maxi cardigan worn loose like a casual jacket. A fine gauge knit cardigan is dressier than a chunky knit, and can be longer than the dress. Finish off the look with hosiery, boots or pumps, flats or oxfords, and some bling.

Expresso Pebbles Jurk Zwart

4. Sweatered & Booted

A great sweater dress is a beautiful thing because it’s the warmest and most versatile option. The turtleneck midi here has been layered with a cardigan, but you can wear the dress on its own with hosiery and your choice of dressy or casual footwear. You can add a scarf instead of a necklace. Finish off the look with bling and bag that make you smile.

JOSEPH Sally Wool-blend Turtleneck Midi Dress

I wore formula #4 to a few casual events last year, but more frequently when I work with clients. It’s a workhorse olive sweater dress from Banana Republic that is my go-to Winter dress. It’s gorgeous quality and hasn’t pilled, stretched out of shape, or shrunk. I wish I had it in other colours. I dress it up with hosiery or boots, shooties, pumps or heeled oxfords, and pick from my large capsule of handbags and outerwear to change up the palette and the mood. I’m happy to pattern mix up to three patterns in an outfit. I’ve also dressed it down with cream hi-top Converse sneakers and a guitar-strap crossbody bag. I often wear it with a scarf for warmth, which I either drape around my neck indoors or take off. Here are the exact items from my wardrobe that I mix and match to create an assortment of outfits.

Boden
Hengrave Coat
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18
Zara
Textured Cape Coat
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15
Karen Millen
TIE-NECK COAT
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25
Yoox
Furla Across-body bag
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8
Yoox
Furla Handbag
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7

Link Love: Clothing in Politics

Jess Cartner-Morley analyzes how Michelle Obama’s style has changed during this new chapter of her life.

An interesting article about Meredith Koop, who spent many years in the White House working with the former first lady on her wardrobe, and now continues to do so for the book tour.

Two interesting articles by Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic for The New York Times:

Fab Links from Our Members

Jessikams recently rediscovered this series of “sixty second styling” videos on Refinery29: “So helpful, like having a friend’s older sister tell you how to go from geek to cool kid.”

We did not invent clothes simply to stay warm. Rachylou thought this was an interesting article.

Suntiger enjoyed this TED talk on lessons from fashion’s free culture.

kkards wanted to share this article about how Cambridge Analytica used fashion tastes to identify right-wing voters.

Suz found some fashionable outfits from The New Yorker for those like her who work from home.

Fashintern wonders what you think of this Huffington Post piece critiquing a recent Wall Street Journal article about what to wear when you work from home.

The Fair Isle Trend

Fair Isle is a knitting technique that combines two or more colours to create a distinctive pattern. It gets its name from an island in Shetland just north of Scotland. I also think of Fair Isle knitwear patterns as Norwegian and Icelandic, so very Nordic.

We see Fair Isle knitwear every season because its a classic. From time to time, classics have their fashion moment and are also on-trend. That’s happening with Fair Isle knitwear at the moment. So right now it’s a Trendy Classic. I enjoy when classics are put on a trendy pedestal because it creates a more diverse and less fickle world of fashion.

Fair Isle knitwear comes in many colour combinations and fabric compositions. You’ll also find Fair Isle sweater dresses, hats, socks, hosiery, leg warmers, vests, pyjamas and gloves. Typically the pattern is positioned around the yoke and shoulders of the item. Sometimes the pattern covers the body of the item or is repeated on the sleeves. Sleeves silhouettes are often raglan and necklines are high to best accommodate the distinctive pattern around the yoke. Take your pick.

Hobbs
Madeline Sweater
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Hobbs
Greta Sweater
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Hobbs
Ashleigh Sweater
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5
Hobbs
Georgina Sweater
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3
Boden
Agnes Fair Isle Jumper
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Topshop
Fair Isle Cardigan
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2

Fair Isle pullovers can sometimes be bulky, boxy and too long, so pick the fit wisely and make sure it’s just flattering enough. The yoke detailing and high neckline can accentuate a large bust and broad shoulder line. But again, if you choose the pattern, level of contrast in the pattern, and fit wisely, you’ll offset those visual challenges. Contrary to popular belief, raglan sleeves do not accentuate broad shoulders. Their magical diagonal lines narrow a broad shoulder and widen a narrow shoulder, so raglans work on all of us.

Fair Isle has been thought of as overly classic, Preppy, juvenile, heavy, masculine, too much pattern, or too après-ski. I don’t have those negative associations. I see Fair Isle knitwear as a classic that can create fun outfit juxtapositions when combined in interesting ways. Or simply wear it like a classic with jeans and boots. I’m liking Fair Isle pullovers semi-tucked into trendy jeans and high-waisted pants. I like the cropped versions untucked. I also like them with high-low midi skirts.

Eloquii Fair Isle Sweater

MSGM Fair Isle Crew Neck Sweater

I currently have two Fair Isle pullovers. The cream is several seasons old, and the watermelon is brand new. They’re fun to wear with my assortment of high-waisted jeans and white boots. I semi-tuck the watermelon Fair Isle to lengthen the leg line from the hips upward and to give the oversized silhouette some structure.

We’ve talked about Fair Isle a few times over the years, and there was always less love for it than I expected. I wonder whether this will change now that it’s a Trendy Classic and widely available. Do you like and wear Fair Isle?

Roundups

Assorted Items

Top picks for the week cover boots, toppers, skirts and jeans.

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Assorted Items

A top picks list for cosy toppers, bottoms and footwear.

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Striped Items

Striped items are generally a crowd-pleaser and these ones are quite unique.

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Early Fall Items

An explosion of colour is what we can expect from Boden throughout the year. Here are some recent top picks.

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Summer Shoes and Dresses

A few dresses and tops, some shorts, and lots of comfy sandals make this week’s top picks list.

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Assorted Summer Items

Some dresses, shoes and pyjamas on this week's list of top picks.

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Update: My 2018 Nordstrom Anniversary Sale Purchases

The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale (NAS for short) is my favourite sale of the year. I’ve been participating for as long as I’ve lived in the US, which is fifteen years. I’ve learned to go in to the sale with a strategy, and to make informed decisions that prioritize purchases within my budget. Some NAS assortments are better than others, and some years I make better choices. This year’s NAS purchases were particularly successful and interesting.

It’s been five months since I brought home my NAS goodies, and I’ve put every item through its paces. I haven’t retuned items, or bought items later when they went back on sale.

Overall, I’m very happy with the quality. All clothing items have been through many laundry cycles and have handled extremely well. The footwear is robust and well made.

Unexpected Workhorses

The white Western shooties were a fun, nostalgic and trendy purchase that I thought I’d wear from time to time. Turns out that they are one of three pairs of shoes I am wearing constantly. They’re more comfortable than I thought they’d be, so much so that I can wear them shopping with a client all day. They add a trendy component to my outfit, which is a handy styling tool. I tried to duplicate, but they’re sold out in white.

The 3.1 Philip Lim skirt was a splurge and one of my best purchases of the year. It feels and moves magically, and is extremely pretty. Its heavier weight and coverage works well in my climate, and it’s smashing with the white Western shooties, hosiery and the body-con Topshop pullover I bought to wear with it. I have worn these items together with all sorts of toppers over and over again. They tick both the pretty-but-not-precious and the dressy-but-relaxed boxes.

Expected Workhorses

I saw the black floral dress in the NAS catalogue and wanted it right away. The length, weight, fit and non-crease fabric are fabulous. The dressy yet playful vibe is versatile, and it packs well too. I can walk at a fast pace because of the flared skirt component. I have worn it over and over again with a variety of toppers, hosiery and footwear, and wish Nordstrom would repeat the style and fabric in another pattern. It’s an excellent Fall & Winter dress.

The navy shirtdress (my birthday dress) is one of my favourite dresses of the year. It’s Modern Retro and a gorgeous classic that works well with pointy toe flats. For me, it’s a Spring and Summer dress, and since I had a long Summer this year I wore it till the end of September. I don’t keep the dress for special occasions — I JUST WEAR IT.

I felt like a million bucks in the navy dress after putting it through its paces in the middle of the NAS, so I repeated the style in a light blue stripe to have a more casual option. I wore the light blue even more than the navy. I LOVE my NAS dresses

I started wearing the cashmere wrap in October, and it’s been around my neck a few times a week. Luxe, warm, and drapes beautifully. The o- trend earth tone is a bonus. Works well with my outerwear, complements my brown and cream footwear, and doubles as a wrap for at home. Sam our Yorkie likes to cosy himself in it too.

Steady Worker Bees

I don’t usually buy very Summery items at the NAS, but now that I live in Salt Lake City part of the time, I wear Summer wardrobe items for longer. I wore the green stripe knit top with my green old green specs into early September and enjoyed it.

The cognac oxfords were a Summer and early Autumn shoe, and I’ve enjoyed them more than I thought I would. I wear them with bare feet, and love them with white jeans. Extremely comfortable, and I have belts to match. They work well for my walking lifestyle and add a casual integrity to my outfits. Gorgeous on-trend earth tone too. I will wear them again in the Spring.

Wild card Success

I prefer streamlined footwear styles without much adornment. That means minimal hardware, buckles, bells and whistles, and preferably more dressy than rugged. Yet I fell for these because of the yummy shade of chocolate, extreme comfort, and insulating high shaft. They were a wild card that worked out well. I reach more for my white and cream footwear but these are worn regularly too. I like them with white jeans. They are fab for city walking, great in rain, and nice with my brown and light blue capsule. As long as I add dressy polish to the rest of my outfit, I feel fab wearing these rugged-for-me boots.

Failed Experiment

This is my first pair of perforated booties, which I thought would be great for Summer or early Autumn. They fit well, look good, are very comfortable, and I adore the colour. I’ve worn them three times and that’s it. I thought I would wear them with hosiery and socks to extend their wear into cooler weather, but that looks too casual for my style. I like to wear them with bare feet which means they are Summer shoes. Thing is, I don’t want to wear cognac booties in the Summer. I would wear white perforated booties in the Summer, so they would have worked if they were white. I’d rather wear my toffee oxfords with cream soles, which is what I reached for instead of these when I wanted brown Summer shoes. So I Iearned that perforated booties are Summer shoes for my style, and they need to be in a traditional Summer colour if I’m going to wear them.

Four Sets of Toiletries

I have four sets of the exact same toiletries that I keep in different locations. By toiletries I mean beauty and skincare products, hair products, grooming products, make-up, and a bottle of Flower eau de parfum by Kenzo. I have one set to use in our home in Seattle. A second set that stays in our loft in Salt Lake City. A third set that I keep packed in a travelling toiletry bag in small travel-size containers. And a fourth set of spares that I store in Seattle so that I can replenish immediately when I run out.

It’s practical and efficient having multiple toiletry sets because I have two homes. I’m in Seattle most of the time, and in Salt Lake City for one or two weeks a month. I travel to see my Dad in the Netherlands every three months, and Greg and I travel a bit during the year. Keeping four sets of toiletries that are ready to use in multiple locations minimizes packing and unpacking time, keeps me organized, prevents me forgetting items, and allows me to use the exact products that I have carefully chosen over time.

It was quite the upfront expense, but once I got over that I was relieved to have the system up and running. Apart from lipstick and lip balm, I don’t carry a toiletry or make-up bag in my handbag, so thank goodness I don’t need a mini fifth set.