December 06 2010
I always find Christmas the hardest time of the year to dress for. The pre-amble of parties and lunches is a doddle – there are plenty of glam dresses available for day or evening. But retreating to the bosom of the family – in my case an eclectic mix of ages and tastes, mostly rural-based – for a few days is a sartorial minefield. It is as easy to frighten the horses (and elderly relatives) by looking fiercely on-trend as it is to appear disrespectfully informal (even if the tracksuit is cashmere).
It is not easy to create a balance between recognising that this as an occasion and acknowledging that it is essentially a large-scale domestic one, and I have never been able to work out “smart casual”, which is as near as you get to guidance for a country drinks party. This year I have high hopes of avoiding faux pas, having discovered Shirckets, a new idea from Patsy Seddon, founder of Phase Eight. Mainly in soft silk velvet and in Christmas-friendly colours such as bois de rose, burgundy or olive green, they are what they say on the tin – a cross between a jacket and a shirt, soft and easy enough to camouflage the Christmas pudding excess but well enough cut to stand out in fine company.
Details such as toning silk ruffles, buttons and embroidery make them very distinctive. My moss-green favourite (£199) has vintage-looking waterfall points and a trompe l’oeil waistcoat effect in autumn-shaded brocade, and it works as well with jeans for a country lunch as it will with dark silk cigarette pants for Christmas night. So far, reaction has been “You look nice” rather than “Ooh, whose is that?”, which is exactly what I wanted. And if there is a hint of Kate Middleton-esque new Sloane about it – well, celebrating tradition and unchanging British values is something that Christmas seems to suit.