“There is no doubt a new dress is a help under all circumstances.” So begins the chapter in Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes in which Pauline is bought a black velvet frock from Harrods for an audition. (“Plainly made, with a white collar and white cuffs, and a tight bodice with rows of buttons down the back.”) The sentiment, and the dress, made an enormous impression on me as a young reader, and Pauline in black velvet is my enduring Christmas Day style icon. (I don’t know why I associated it with Christmas, but I’m not alone: when the BBC made its version with Emma Watson as Pauline, it was shown on Christmas Day 2007.) Don’t worry – I am not still wearing pre-teen party frocks. But I have bought a black-and-white circle skirt to wear on Christmas Day, probably with a fitted black crew neck sweater with lace inserts, which is basically a grown-up version. This is what Christmas should look like – to me.
I always have lofty intentions for my Christmas Day look, but it never really comes off. I choose a nice party-ish dress (last year’s was gold and spotty from Anthropologie) but it rarely emerges from behind the hideous floral apron shielding it from spitting fat and gravy splashes. It is also the one day of the year when you’ll see me in flats – usually sheepskin slippers – worn mum-style with tights and a wonky paper hat that falls into my eyes during my turn at charades. It’s a half-hearted waiting game until I can respectably get back into pyjamas and stuck into the booze. One sartorial tradition I always abide by is festive red lipstick, usually a posh one. It makes me feel Christmassy and special even when I otherwise look like crap.
My role model for Christmas Day chic is Betty Grable in the alpine cottage in 1953’s How to Marry a Millionaire. In pursuit of this admittedly obscure look, I wear the same, extraordinary thing every year: a handmade 1950s jumper with huge Aran sleeves, red embroidered flowers and a dirndl-style lace-up fastening. Paired with a velvet circle skirt and red lipstick, it’s a get-up that is miles from what I wear normally and that is exactly why I love it. Christmas Day is a special occasion and it requires a special outfit.
If you have a reasonably joyless wardrobe as I have (don’t pity me, it’s intentional), then Christmas Day dressing can be hard. Novelty jumpers, shiny bits and party dresses just aren’t me. But 25 December is the day to suspend your disbelief and, for me, sartorially, that means wearing high heels and impractical jewellery – stuff that normally doesn’t get a look in with two children and a daily commute and stuff that doesn’t necessarily go with anything else. On Christmas Day, I will give the Stan Smiths a rest and wear a pair of brand new grey high sandals from Marks and Spencer (inspired by Valentino and a certain Jess Cartner-Morley who I shamelessly copied) and far too many rings and bracelets. But I’ll wear that with my regular cropped jeans and navy rib jumper so it’s kind of playing at dressing up without really dressing up. I’ll top off with a paper crown from a cracker – surely the most minimal yet effective accessory ever designed?
Circa 2009-2011, Christmas Day meant a gold, bubble-shaped sequinned skirt with a black long-sleeved leotard and opaque tights (basically I looked like a stagehand wedged into a bauble). I have since developed a less literal look, wearing DM boots (to encourage postprandial walks), leggings and an over-sized Aran jumper. I accessorise with the paper hat from the Christmas cracker, making a beeline for my favourite, the green one.
For various reasons, I tend to spend Christmas Day with only my family. One of the upsides is not having to get dressed. I still do, though, because winter walks aren’t much fun in pyjamas – a fact I learned the hard way. Monochrome has always been my default setting when it comes to dressing up so it’s pretty understandable that this has segued into casualwear (when I dress like Drake) or hypercasualwear (when I dress like a small child who does yoga), the latter being my Christmas Day choice. So it’s black stretchy trousers, ideally something designed as maternity wear, a black silk t-shirt from Cos, something with a hood (see above) and my gold Casio watch and gold hoops, mainly because my sister has discovered Instagram.