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the Gauntlet

Be Merry: finding the festive fit

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When the time comes to dress for festive occasions the myriad of choices can be overwhelming.

"What ties go with what suits?" and "How do you tell if a dress fits properly?" are all questions we ask ourselves. Add that to the seasonal stress of exam times and most of us would be willing to surrender to the good will of what lies in our closet -- mothballs and all.

Rule number one for suits: never underestimate a good fit. Fellas, if you want to look like you borrowed your father's suit for your first junior high dance then by all means, ignore rule number one. A well fitting suit or dress can make the difference between looking professional or sloppy.

For a casual affair, ladies should try a blazer with a loose fitting blouse beneath. Pair with black jeans, or wide-leg trousers depending on personal style and body type. Guys should stick to dark wash jeans and a casual dress shirt.

The guys have it easier when it comes to formal wear. A pair of slacks and a collared shirt is standard. What accessories are paired with this outfit set the scene, however. Consider a slim tie, red or green -- white if paired with a navy shirt -- and well-polished shoes. Runners are a no-go here, a shined shoe is all about attention to detail. Ditch the wrist-watch and make an old fashioned statement with a pocket watch and a trilby hat to match.

For women who are shorter, a dress that ends just above the knees will be more flattering than trousers. A pencil skirt with an embellished top -- like beaded, laced or sequined -- creates a sophisticated statement that is appropriate for dinner parties and formal get-togethers. Be careful when adding a belt to this outfit, though. Belts work best if the top is unadorned, so a heavily embellished top and belt will makes the outfit look unbalanced and top-heavy. If the belt is a necessary part of the top, remember to let it sit at the naturally smallest part of the waist -- usually part of the lower ribcage.

Never let it be said that the only places to wear a dress is to weddings, funerals and prom. Black is often the default choice and it is easy to let ourselves be seduced with the idea that black is a slimming and thus necessary. A well fitting dress will look nice whether or not it is black. Go for red, a power colour and sexy in its own right, unless it clashes horribly with your complexion. Even if you do choose the little black dress, pair it up with a broach, silk scarf or a brightly patterned clutch. You can also pair it with a cloche hat and a thick-knitted scarf.

A thinner woman can wear the standard jazz dress complete with sequins and look amazing. For those with a bit more curves, stay away from empire waists -- the ones that start just below the bust -- and go for a more A-line cut. As a rule, A-lines are flattering on most body types. They emphasise the waist and create a flattering hourglass shape. Do not be afraid to go for a suit either, just be sure that it fits well. Many women have issues with gaping buttons. Either they buy a shirt to fit their waist or to fit their breasts, but this is not an easy trade off. Buying a larger shirt often is the better choice and while tailoring is costly, it is worth the money.

Gents, the three-piece suit lives again. Keep the trilby and add a waistcoat. The waistcoat had a comeback a few years ago, but this incarnation needs to be fitted and can be any fabric pattern -- plaid, paisley or plain. The waistcoat can be worn without the jacket and paired with a colourful tie and a white shirt.

Fit trousers to your body -- do not go baggy if it obscures the entire shape of your backside. Conversely, too tight pants are not only uncomfortable to wear, but they make other people uncomfortable as well. They will not know where to look and there are simply some aspects of your body a stranger should not know about you.

The holiday season is difficult and anybody who says differently is a terrible liar. The most important aspect of any outfit is comfort -- but do not take the idea of comfort too far and shroud your body in shapeless clothes. Be proud, comfortable and colourful -- those are the rules.

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