The 7 most flattering party dressing trends of 2019 - and how to wear them

From left, Queen Letizia of Spain, Greta Gerwig, Sienna Miller, Sheherazade Goldsmith, Angelina Jolie, Katie Holmes and Lupita Nyong'o
From left, Queen Letizia of Spain, Greta Gerwig, Sienna Miller, Sheherazade Goldsmith, Angelina Jolie, Katie Holmes and Lupita Nyong'o

If “party season” officially begins after Hallowe’en, I made my first effort of the year last week at a black-tie gala: a floor-length gown by Needle & Thread, in an unmissable raspberry coloured tulle. 

At the swish London ballroom, almost all of the men had played it safe in smart-but-boring black tuxedos, but the women had taken a more scattergun sartorial approach. One woman was in a tux-inspired jumpsuit, another in a ballerina skirt, another in gold brocade. 

But there were as many howlers as there were high-fashion nods. I saw forgivable summer dresses and dodgy mismatched pashminas, but, in the worst instances, black denim and Skechers trainers on the dance floor. There was no orthopaedic cause – I checked.  Some might argue that I’m being pernickety about the dress codes. I’m not cross; I’m just disappointed. The subjects in question have wasted a prime opportunity to enjoy Making a Bit of an Effort.

Forget JOMO (the apparently trendy Joy of Missing Out), JOGADU is the Joy of Getting All Dressed Up, and it’s a mood that facilitates all of the season’s most fun-to-wear trends. Feathers, satin, tulle, sequins, velvet and brocade fabrics are all over the shops, spanning from Ralph & Russo’s £22,000 evening dresses, to H&M’s new tulle-focused collaboration with Giambattista Valli, priced from £12.99. 

On the red carpet, women from Angelina Jolie to Queen Letizia of Spain are experimenting with confidence-boosting fantasy fashion regardless of whether it’s an evening gala or the middle of the afternoon.

There are wearable, comfortable iterations of the perennial party trends that don’t compromise on enjoyment and new trend nuances to explore. If you buy well, you will re-wear these party pieces again and again. The only thing that’s resolutely out this season is doing anything in half measures…

The party cape

Greta Gerwig in Gucci Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Capes are the new hero coats this season, but also the party cover-up to covet. A fluid chiffon or satin topper will add an extra dimension to any party outfit, whether it’s a full-length gown, a midi dress, or black cigarette trousers and a spangly top. Capes alter your overall silhouette dramatically, and serve to elongate the upper body and cover the arms. Different cuts will flatter in different ways; harder, straight hemlines will give a more graphic semicircle shape, while soft petal panels tend to look more ‘open’, showing off the slimmest part of your wrists and a bit more of whatever you’re wearing underneath. Dolce and Gabbana showed boudoir satin cropped capelets on its autumn catwalk, while Prada did lace overlays. Greta Gerwig’s matched her pink Gucci cape to a coordinating dress last week, embracing beading, scalloped edges and a bejewelled necktie in one fell swoop. 

Martini sleeves

Sheherazade Goldsmith

Slim sleeves, with a cocktail kick at the elbow akin to an upside-down Martini glass, are one of the most flattering features to try this party dress season, best championed by cult labels Batsheva and The Vampire’s Wife was worn by Sheherazade Goldsmith . With high crew or square portrait necklines, the silhouette you’re looking for is essentially a streamlined prairie party dress, rendered in sweet-wrapper foils and crushed velvets.

On the high street, Nobody’s Child does mini length versions which can be worn with fancy tights (see Katie Holmes, pictured below) while Mary Benson creates limited-edition batches in constellation prints, for a version no one else at the party could possibly have.

The beauty of the Martini sleeve is that the rest of your outfit is well-fitted and fuss free - the entire party is located in one excess fabric firework on your elbows. But that little bit of flare makes the whole thing read as fanciful.

The EPT

Angelina Jolie in Givenchy

The EPT, or extreme party top, extrapolates and exaggerates all of the features of a regular party top. Bows have become hip-loading great fabric sashes with dance-floor-grazing tails. Halternecks and one-shoulder tops are dramatically draped in high-impact, high-shine materials. Angelina Jolie, in sculpted lilac Givenchy, did a great job of letting her EPT do all the talking, by pairing it with slim black trousers and black heels. 

Feather trims 

Queen Letizia in a feather top Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Nothing says “I’m here to party” like a ruffle of feathers (ethically sourced or faux, of course). Last month Queen Letizia of Spain bought a new corset top to wear to an evening reception and had more plumage added to the bodice, just for the thrill of it.

Light feather trims can be found on everything from cami tops to posh pyjamas. Getting dressed up on a “non-occasion” is fun, too; try Kitri’s new plumage-hemmed trousers with mules and a black jumper, if you are hosting a dinner party over the holiday season.

The new diamanté blitz

Sienna Miller

Sienna Miller has been wearing  diamantés and she’s not even on Strictly Come Dancing. Once the height of naffness, stick-on rhinestone embellishments have found a new home on refined party dresses. Miller’s beige plissé midi dress is the ideal neutral canvas to prevent bling embellishments from looking tacky. Inspect any stonework carefully; there should be no trace of a stringy glue gun, or a peeling-off mosaic of faux-marquise stones. Application should mix different stone shapes and sizes in an organised, yet natural way, rather than a severe pattern. 

Trophy skirts

Lupita Nyong'o 

Everything else about your outfit can be completely plain if you just wear a dazzling trophy skirt. Lupita Nyong’o, in crystal encrusted Alexandre Vauthier couture, wore a black polo-neck jumper with hers and still managed to look like she was done up to the nines. Maximalists will love the edit at Never Fully Dressed, while magpies should fly to Whistles for the best metallics and sequins. 

Fancy tights

Katie Holmes

Sheer tights are back, with subtle polka-dot prints and lurex flecks serving to add just the right amount of interest without being overbearing. Making your tights the focal point of the outfit will require showing some leg, even when, technically, they're completely covered up.

It’s an option that still makes many recoil, but note how Katie Holmes balanced her look with a long-sleeve satin minidress. You could equally do an A-line midi with your fancy tights but you must be shoe-conscious. Metallic or black suede heels or flats are the only thing that works with this look. Leave the Skechers at home. 

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