Putting On That Party Style

2nd December 2011

Buying in to festive fun seems compulsory at this time of year, even for those who generally prefer a quiet life, and, of course, a certain degree of sartorial elegance is called for – plus a wash-and-brush-up!

Grace Fuller finds out how to be the perfect party animal, revisiting a feature first seen in Optima some years ago, but fondly recalled…

I have to be entirely honest and say that, as far as I’m concerned, extra preparations for a Big Night Out used to involve little more than using a particularly luxurious shower gel, indulging in a glass of wine as I dressed, paying marginally more attention than usual to make-up and giving my shoes or boots an extra-diligent shine. I put in more effort as a teenager, and all I had at my disposal then was a sandalwood bath cube and a Boots No7 lipstick.

These days, ordinary life gets in the way of hours in the shower or in front of the mirror. I thought that was the case for everyone – until I discovered that an otherwise perfectly sane friend can spend literally hours, over the course of some weeks, preparing for ‘a do’. Her comprehensive checklist covered two full A4 pages (I made her write it down…) and I was truly shocked. Surely life’s for living, not preparing. But – and it’s a big but – she does always look immaculate… beautifully turned out with flawless make-up… and she’s always in demand (for her personality as much as her looks). Moreover, there’s always some quirky individual touch that makes her stand out from the crowd. Maybe, I thought (despite my initial scepticism), there were a few lessons I could learn from her.

Belle, as we called her when we first revealed her tips and techniques, takes this very seriously. Outline planning begins as soon as she enters the event in her diary – not just where and when, but notes on the size of the event, the theme and who’s going. You need to begin to consider your outfit early on, she explained (no last minute rifling through the wardrobe then?) – and if you know who else has been invited, so much the better. A few subtle, or not so subtle, questions can eliminate potential clashes and reduce future embarrassment. Checking out the style, of the event will give an early indication of whether a dress or a two-piece or trousers will be appropriate, and will help to make your later decisions easier, whether you’re investing in something new, or cunningly revitalising an existing garment.

I had assumed that Belle, whom I do know to be a bit of a clothes junkie, would automatically be heading to the shops, credit card in hand, but I was wrong. Obviously (obviously?!), she explained, whatever you wear, you’ll be adding accessories to complement, so even if it’s something you already own you can make it look quite different. You’re looking for an outfit that suits the event, yes, but in a colour and a style that flatter you as an individual. Then you’re thinking jewellery… belt… handbag… shoes… cardigan… jacket… (Or not, in my case. If you always wear black trousers and black shoes or boots, then a black bag will always suffice, and your favourite silver earrings will always suit. It may be dull, but it makes life easier when all you have to think about is the colour of the top).

The little black dress, or its equivalent, turned out to be the least of Belle’s worries. In her pursuit of the body beautiful she’ll have a facial a month prior, or spend some time giving herself a couple of mini-facials at home. Her hair requires masses of attention, too. If she’s planning a dramatic change – from blonde to brown, say – then the appointment will have been booked well in advance for the afternoon of the party, so that, transformation complete, the stylist can blow dry it to glossy perfection. I liked the sound of that…one item on the checklist checked off before you even get home.

If Belle is keeping style and colour essentially the same, then she’ll still allocate a couple of evenings in the week leading up to the event to give her hair some intensive conditioning. She’ll apply this at home, or, to splash out, will book an appointment at the salon and enjoy the indulgence of someone else putting all the effort in. It’s probably her one opportunity to relax that week, in fact, as every other evening seems to be accounted for….

Let’s say that the event is on a Friday. The previous Sunday Belle exfoliates both face and body ‘to revive that glow, and to prepare for the waxing’. She might repeat the process on the Monday too. On the Tuesday she’ll wax, either at home or at a salon, and on Wednesday and Thursday she’ll apply fake tan. Very important, fake tan, apparently, even in winter.

On the day, Belle checks that the outfit is ironed and ready to wear, and picks underwear to match (she clearly has more than I do, I thought, because if I wanted a specific set I’d have to pick them at least five days ahead to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently worn them during the week). Before she goes to work in the morning she’ll lay out her jewellery and other accessories, and make sure that her eyebrows are tidy. If not, eyebrow-plucking goes onto the list for the evening.

Home from work or the salon, it’s all systems go. Shower, with luxurious smellies (at least we agreed on something); then moisturise face and body; shampoo and condition hair if not freshly done, blow dry or straighten as necessary. Then it’s face time. Before applying foundation Belle uses a radiance booster or balm, to give her skin a quick ‘pick me up’, and to provide the ideal base to ensure that her make-up lasts throughout the evening. Once she’s through with liners and lipsticks, mascaras and blushers (all carefully picked to tone and complement both her skin and her outfit), she adds a touch of party glitter for that extra sparkle. And perfume, of course.

Her other tips were surprisingly practical. Make sure your handbag is prepped with phone, keys, compact and lipstick, for running repairs. Have a couple of drinks to get yourself in a party mood, but also lots of water to avoid a hangover. Make sure you’ve eaten. Don’t forget to pre-book the cab. Nothing worse than being all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Despite catching a glimpse of Belle’s delight as she described all this to me I still thought she must be unique – but research shows that the average woman spends three years getting ready to go out. That’s not three years in one hit, obviously (although it might feel like it to those waiting patiently in the car), but over the course of the average lifetime. Is that an achievement or a waste?

The details – before a big event, women typically spend 22 minutes showering and shaving their legs, 23 minutes drying and styling their hair, 14 minutes doing their make-up and so on – are easy to mock. At the time much stereotypical sexist hysteria was vented on the subject, with scruffy male comedians invited to compare their preparatory routines with those of slim young things who work in the fashion industry and therefore have an extra vested interest in looking good.

But there were some pertinent comments, often overlooked because they didn’t fit the sarcastic tone of the item. Women don’t do this just to look good; they do it to feel good. They call it ‘me time’ and it has a really powerful impact on their lives. And that’s where that inner glamour comes from. Sure, Belle looks lovely because she’s devoted days to preparing (and what she spends on make-up per month could substantially reduce the National Debt) – but she shines because she feels fantastic. She’d still look good on a Big Night Out in jeans… but she’d never entertain the idea.

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