Dressed To Excess

Party Dressing

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When it comes to party dressing, I'm with Goethe: Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid. The belle of the ball doesn't do beige - unless, of course, she enters on a palomino. Women invoke their diva privileges after 5, but now that it's holiday season, we have more carte blanche than ever to sprinkle ourselves with pixie dust. Rhinestones wink in low lighting; inky velvet conjures mysterious femininity. The mere act of sliding on a slinky stiletto is transformative. Ever since I was little, I have adored glamorous women who could enter a crowded room and command the space with an Auntie Mame attitude that says, "Now the party can start." If, like me, you are over six feet tall with bright butterscotch hair, then invisibility isn't really an option anyway. When I shot up to 6'2", I knew I could either mooch around like Madame Lurch, all ballet slippers and surgical stockings, or meet my destiny as a Valkyrian party person in a six-inch heel—preferably in Perspex, with gold fish circling within.

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This was facilitated when my life as an Australian convent girl morphed into that of a couture catwalk model in Paris—where, due to my height, I was egged on to make big fashion statements. Being the belle of the ball was the entire point, so I assumed the position. My basic uniform was patent-leather go-go shorts bought in the Harajuku markets of Tokyo, and a Saint Laurent shell in alternating red-, green-, and white-sequined stripes, paired with Lacroix thigh-high pirate boots. That was day-wear. Parisians would stare back like gaping fish. I never put on a scarf when a boa would do, and as far as parties were concerned, I'd rather have given marrow than wear a flat shoe.

By nightfall, I'd go ape in evening gowns: a white Grecian column dress dangerously slashed up the leg; a silk number in a distinctively 1930s bias cut that draped modestly across the neckline but left a triangle of bare flesh at the back. It is the most come-hither thing I have ever owned.Then I really got bold. In Tangier, a girlfriend and I got wind of a party in Malcolm Forbes's old palace. Having snapped up antique Moroccan wedding robes, we donned the camp finery like Renaissance potentates, pinned tribal jewelry to our turbans, and smeared carbon around our eyes. Then we swept past the astonished guards—without an invitation.

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Another time, we went to an opera gala in Paris dressed in homage to A Midsummer Night's Dream, draped in forest-green fabric over ballet leggings. We stretched stockings over wire hangers to make fairy wings and glided up the ornate marble staircase triumphant—having clocked up a grand total of 30 bucks on our outfits.

I transformed myself for every occasion. However, I did learn along the way that the farther out on a limb you go, the more likely it is to snap. Context is everything: A skintight Bob Mackie number covered in bugle beads is pure showbiz—but shameless limelight- hogging if you're at a wedding. I violated this no-grandstanding code when I took my demented-heiress look to a French country-house party, entering in a corseted evening gown crookedly accented with a blue fox fur and a hat with a net. As it turned out, I was playing against the crowd in a very wrong way. Amid the worn knits, cozy slacks, droopy hems, and baggy corduroy, I suddenly looked like Witchiepoo from H.R. Pufnstuf, alienating everyone.

Judiciously holding back can be more powerful and fabulous—showcasing one erogenous zone at a time, be it legs, boobs, or back. Reveal the goodies all at once, and you can wind up looking like the blonde Greek chorus currently trailing Hugh Hefner.

But as I start high-kicking through my late 30s, the question won't just be where do I stop, but when. As it happens, I have a far stricter judge than myself to deal with now. The other day, in my rush to drive my 9-year-old son, Spencer, to school, I threw on a traditional djellabah robe that I bought at the Berber market in Marrakech and put up the hood. Spencer beseeched me to drop him off around the corner. "But darling," I said, "it's so Obi-Wan Kenobi. He's your favorite!" To which he replied, "Yes, Mum—but that doesn't mean I want you looking like him at school!"

I'm learning: There's a time and a place. That said, people don't go to the ball to see World Wrestling Federation sweatshirts; they want eye candy, so give it to 'em. When the jungle drums call you to the party this holiday season, kiss that pumpkin coach good-bye and crank it up a notch.

Remember, if she's any fun at all, your hostess is counting on you.

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