Love it or loathe it, Christmas party season is almost upon us, and with it that eternal dilemma: what to wear. But fear not, because our new Fashion and Style gallery at the National Museum of Scotland has all the inspiration you’ll need. We’ve studied the couture creations on display and come up with five top tips for rocking that fabulous festive frock.
1. Give ’em the old razzle dazzle
According to Academy award-winning Hollywood costume designer Edith Head: ‘Some people need sequins, others don’t.’ At a Christmas party, however, most of us do. And this gorgeous Jazz Age dress from 1927 has all the bling you need to brighten the dreariest festive ‘do’.
In the Roaring Twenties, decadent dresses like this, dripping with beads and sparkles, celebrated women’s new-found freedom after the First World War, as the flapper girls set about changing the world one sequin at a time. With its risqué hemline and dare-to-bare neckline, it’s a frock that’s made for fashionable, champagne-fuelled fun. So if you’ve the urge to break free this Christmas, don some Great Gatsby-style glitter and get on that dance floor…
2. Embrace your inner princess
The stick-thin, androgynous appeal of the flapper girl was not for everyone. But fortunately for those 1920s ladies blessed with curves, there was Jeanne Lanvin and her richly romantic robes de style.
Embellished with flowers in pretty pastels, these glamorous gowns were Disney princess dresses before Disney princesses even existed. With its elegant dropped waist and full skirts, the nostalgic silhouette appealed to a war-weary population increasingly concerned that modern life was rubbish.
Feel the same? Take a leaf from Lanvin’s book and look to the past. Because when it comes to dressing up, vintage never gets old.
3. Be decadently difficult in va-va-voom velvet
Inspirational fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli once declared that ‘In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous.’ And fashion doesn’t come much more eye-catching and out there than this beautiful black velvet jacket. (Okay, maybe it does – this Schiaparelli evening gown, worn by Wallis Simpson, has a Salvador Dali lobster on it…)
Extravagantly embellished with pink glass grapes and embroidered with luxurious gold leaves, the design was a personal favourite of Schiaparelli’s – she wore a very similar jacket to be photographed for Vogue.
So if Christmas do’s are a difficult Christmas don’t for you, make like Elsa and embrace vintage velvet. As the designer herself points out: ‘Dresses that are truly beautiful are never unfashionable.’
4. Get a New Look
No, not the shop, dummy – Christian Dior’s fabulous New Look of 1947, which swept aside dreary wartime fashion on the ration with flirtatious, feminine, wasp-waisted dresses with vast, voluminous skirts. Likewise, fellow French designer Jacques Fath took post war luxury to new couture heights, and this exquisitely crafted ball gown is no exception.
Fancy following in the famous footsteps of Fath fans Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo or Rita Hayworth? Then say goodbye to 21st century austerity and hello 1950s fabulous.
5. Become BFFs with an LBD
As Karl Lagerfeld once said, ‘One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.’ And OMG, who would dare argue with Karl? Certainly not model, actress and all round National Treasure Joanna Lumley, who bought this particular black satin number in 1964. Created by Jean Muir, the British designer dubbed, appropriately enough, ‘the new Chanel’, it was not only Lumley’s first Muir purchase after becoming her house model, it was also her first LBD.
So if flapper fringes and belle of the ball gowns seem OTT to you, it’s time to turn to the dark side and start dreaming of a black Christmas. For as Coco Chanel herself famously noted: ‘When I find a colour darker than black, I’ll wear it. But until then, I’m wearing black.’
You can see all these dresses and more in the Fashion and Style gallery at the National Museum of Scotland. Want to know more about our costume collection? Check out Mode, your personal guide to the gallery. Luxuriate in couture details with close-up images and 360 views, and discover everything from sumptuous fabrics and bespoke craftsmanship to cutting-edge design inspiration and fashion history.