One more thing to add to the to-do list for your holiday party: Find an outfit that creates a celebratory mood, is welcoming and warm (but not hot), can hide a little sauce splatter and has pockets to stash remotes, phones and, for the ladies, lip gloss.
It's the delicate balance of being chic and comfortable.
"I can't imagine any more pressure when you're putting on a party — when you are so focused on wine and food — and you have to look beautiful as well," says Simon Kneen, creative director of Banana Republic. "Men have it a little easier, but you still have to make it look effortless and easy to manage."
Dressing for the role of host is a little bit different from a guest, with many more practical considerations. Just like every other aspect of the party, seasoned, stylish party-throwers say you'll likely want to do as much preplanning as you can.
Even last month, Kneen knew what he'd be wearing next time he entertained: a poplin shirt, sleeves rolled, with a tie. Meanwhile, Manhattan-based designer Shoshanna Gruss will pull one of her many cocktail dresses with subtle slash pockets out of her closet and pair it with a chunky necklace or sparkly cuff bracelet.
"I have some fun statement pieces that I don't get to wear often," she says. "You're setting the rules so you know you'll be appropriate."
It would be a letdown, she adds, for guests who've put thought into their outfits to find the hosts in something they'd wear any other night.
"It feels funny to put on a dress and high heels at home, when you know you're not leaving, but it sets the tone," Gruss says. "And, it will feel weird to have the heels on when you're checking on everything at the last minute, but it won't once the guests get there. Your guests will appreciate it."
Minnie Mortimer says she likes to emerge from her bedroom all dressed up, especially now that she lives in more casual Los Angeles after growing up in New York and Palm Beach, Fla. She sees the holiday gatherings in her own home as an opportunity to wear the maxi dresses she loves but finds difficult to navigate when getting in and out of the car or walking for several blocks. Maybe something in a jewel tone — which takes a little splatter better than something light.
This year, Mortimer will jazz up her look with a glittery hair pin. "I really like the holidays to be about a little bit of sparkle. It's hard to do the rest of the time or it looks too much, but during the holidays, it looks appropriate," she says.
Men don't have to go quite that far, says Tyler Thoreson, head of Gilt Groupe's menswear editorial and creative divisions, but they shouldn't be in jeans, either.
"You will be tempted to wear jeans. Don't. Think cords instead," he says. He likes deep-red, fine-wale pair. It's an injection of "holiday without going overboard."
Anyway, since you'll inevitably use your trousers in lieu of a napkin or kitchen towel as you prepare the meal, cords will serve you better, according to Thoreson: Corduroy pants hold up after multiple washes. The dark denim you'd otherwise wear doesn't do as well with many washes.
—Men's accessories: Think comfortable shoes, says Thoreson, because you'll be on your feet. Oh, he adds, and you're likely to spill something at some point. He recommends lug-soled wingtips.
Banana Republic's Kneen says any shoes at all are better than slippers.
—Invitation dress code: Mortimer says she likes a little guidance from the host, even if it's just a vague suggestion such as "holiday-party dress."
But, Gruss says, remember, it's family time. Wear the more conservative cuts and save the sexy Herve Leger-style bandage dress for another occasion.
—Beauty: Makeup should be maintenance-free, says Ricky Wilson, Dior Beauty's celebrity makeup artist. "I take the same approach I do with a client attending a red carpet event. You have to keep in mind that you have many people looking at you with little or no time to look at yourself." His picks include false eyelashes or at least waterproof mascara, and liquid eyeliner.
For the lips, he suggests a neutral waterproof lip pencil underneath a lipstick AND a gloss. You want staying power, he says.
—Photos: At some point, someone is going to snap a photo of the host, so Wilson says you may as well take one before any guests arrive, just so you know what it will look like. Snap it just before the party starts. "Make sure you have your outfit on and hair close to done if not finished," Wilson says. "This will give you an idea of how you will look in the photographs."
—No outfits: An "outfit" already has too many parts for a multitasking host, says Kneen. Women should stick to a simple-shape dress in a flattering color. Even black works when the house is decorated, as long as there's some point of interest created by an interesting or conversational accessory, he says.
"As the hostess, you're naturally the center of attention, but you compliment your guests on their outfits and let them shine."
Kneen adds, "You want people to feel at ease. You want them to relax and stay longer."