The holidays are a time of sparkle and pizzazz. The crisp air smells of evergreen and cinnamon. The halls are decked with glitter and garland. The food is decadent, the drinks are bubbly.
And the clothing ... Even those of us who spend most of our time in staid business suits and boring khakis tend to kick it up a bit during the last two weeks of the year.
But let's make one thing clear: We're not talking about kitschy red-and-green sweaters adorned with wreaths, stockings or (gasp!) Rudolph's red nose. We're talking about people who spend big at department stores and boutiques on the latest glitzy designer skirts, elegant body-skimming gowns, or custom-made men's dress shirts.
These people don't go the extra fashion mile any other time of the year. The holiday season is their time to dress to impress.
It's not unusual for people to give "me gifts" at this time of year. According to NPD Market Research, the average person will spend $183 on clothing this holiday season, approximately $53 of that on themselves. But the truly fashion conscious are likely to spend much more.
"The holidays are an opportunity for people to go out and splurge," says Clara Henry, director of the fashion-design program at Philadelphia University. "They are festive occasions that require something extra special that may not be in the closet."
It's not all that different from going out and buying an Easter bonnet, Henry says. It used to be, in fact, that the winter holidays were among the only times people bought pretty things to wear - to church.
"It's related to religion, and people will always dress appropriately for God if not for themselves or each other," Henry says.
Add to that the holiday office party and, of course, the prospect of running into cousins and college friends, and you have very important dress-up events.
For many, decking themselves out in fine style takes them back to their childhoods, when their parents put them in dressy outfits and snapped Polaroids under the Christmas tree.
"When I was little, my mother used to dress us in cute little dresses and cute little shoes," says Lisa Holland. "We always had our hair done in little press-and-curls. It was such a time to dress up."
With the kids out of school, a lot of people schedule vacations at the holiday, so new clothes are in order.
This has become the habit of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, dentist Craig Donn, a bearded, bubbly man who hits the Philadelphia area Wayne Edwards boutique a few times a year to prepare for tropical-island jaunts with his family.
"I love to buy clothing," says Donn, who likes to mix colors and prints - and who is not afraid to wear pink pants.
"I have a good time with it," he says. "I bought several beautiful pieces this year. I work hard. I play hard. And this is the time for me to show off my personality."
We spoke to three women who describe themselves as classic dressers who step it up for the winter festivities. Here are their holiday fashion tales:
The first thing Tonia Tecce tells you when you meet her is that she's an entertainer.
More specifically, the petite 50-something mother of six is an opera singer, a soprano who has performed at such select events as Governor Tom Ridge's inauguration. She describes herself as the classic, gold-buttoned-St. John Knits type.
"I think women should always look their best. ... You really don't have to spend a lot to be well-groomed if your hair is neat, your clothing not wrinkled."
As a child, Tecce and her brother and sister always wore velvet and lace during the holidays.
This year, her six children and most of her 10 grandchildren will be visiting her Gladwyne home, where a grand piano is adorned with pinecones and sparkles, and a peach-accented Christmas tree sits just outside the living room. When she's not spending time with family, Tecce will go to fancy cocktail parties and dinners with her husband.
She's looking forward to wearing a floor-length clear-red Melinda Eng gown. Another favorite is a pair of black tailored pants she likes to wear with sparkling black camisoles.
"The holidays are about more energy, more excitement, more fun," Tecce said. "The same way you decorate your house, you should decorate yourself."
Adding some sparkle
Lisa Holland's sense of style revolves around all things casual and comfortable - basically jeans and oversized sweaters.
During the holidays, however, this 44-year-old Peco Energy Co. executive likes to hit happy hour at Brasserie Perrier and Christmas parties at swanky downtown locations.
That, she says, takes a little more sparkle.
"I want to look different from my ordinary self," Holland explains while wearing a cowl-neck cream Tocca sweater and sparkling blue skirt. She sticks to the same basic styles, "and at the holiday time I add flair to it."
At this time of year, Holland sees friends and family she doesn't otherwise get a chance to hang with. The dinners are bigger. The mood is more festive. It's important, she says, that she look her best.
"I love the spirit of Christmas. It's my favorite time of year. I dress up once a year, and I love it."
When she shops for clothing to wear to her job as a real estate marketer, 26-year-old Megan Scanlon usually hits places like H&M.
But when she's picking out special-occasion holiday frocks, she peruses the racks of Philadelphia boutique Molletta.
"I feel less guilty when I shop at this time of year," Scanlon says, twirling around her Center City studio apartment in a glittery black skirt by the fashion designer Ruth.
Scanlon is planning to meet up with college friends in her hometown of Linden, New Jersey, in the coming weeks. Already, she's bought a dress by Laundry designer Shelli Segal from Bloomingdale's and a gold, tiered, silk bolero top, another Molletta purchase. Scanlon plans to wear her new pieces with jewelry and purses from her grandmother's vintage collection.
Who knows? She'll be going up to New York, and maybe she'll wander into the posh Hudson Hotel for drinks.
"Our motto is we don't deny ourselves," Scanlon giggles, holding a glass of chardonnay.