Come December and its long list of festive invites, I have only one party-attire mandate: to never show up looking like a parody of seasonal cheer. Sure, it eliminates the breadth of standard holiday options, especially if you’re not the “my favourite colour is sparkle” type or the very thought of velvet takes you back to an unsavoury time in style history. But with this cull, one stellar alternative buoys to the surface: the slip dress. It’s slinky, sophisticated and, in my experience, the perfect formal foil—everyone will think you dressed up even though you literally just slipped something on.
If fashion lore tells us it’s the simplest way to turn up the glamour, the abundance of iconic slip-dress celeb moments seared into our collective memory proves it.
Back in the mid-’90s, a baby Gwyneth took to the red carpet in an ivory-coloured slip and matching shawl, the silk gleaming through even though the photos have a pre-digital patina. Kate Moss is Kate Moss the Style Icon thanks in part to more than two decades’ worth of industry-shifting slip-dress looks. (That white John Galliano number at the ’95 CFDA Awards? Divine.) Zendaya has been building her own fashion resumé with a steady stream of slips, the most recent a simple black one she wore to sit front row at the Marc Jacobs show.
Besides the undeniable air of glamour and the approving flashbulbs, there’s very little that connects these stars sartorially, and that’s the point: The slip dress serves to elevate its wearer to her best singular self.
This chameleonic quality was seen on the fall/winter runways too, with designers putting their own spin on the slip dress’s party-circuit potential. At Alexander Wang, a rose-flecked negligee was supported by not one but two basic workwear underpinnings (an oversized collared shirt and a black turtleneck), leading me to believe that the office-to-evening style hack isn’t just a mythical manoeuvre. Jonathan Simkhai’s Pepto-pink version, complete with a sexy cowl neck and a hip-high slit, was paired with oversized plaid trousers for the show-opening look, and it was a sight to be seen: The extra-liquidy drape of the dress mimicked the movement of the pants with every swishy strut.
Michael Kors’ Studio 54-inspired take was perhaps the most beguiling of the bunch: a rose-gold iteration that was pre-wrinkled (in a cool way) and finished with feather trim. You could picture Rihanna wearing it, spilling out into the street with a glass of red wine in hand, or perhaps Meghan Markle in a more modest version as she performs her duchess duties.
The power of this dress is in its duality: Even the simplest one lets you ask “Who do I want to be tonight?”
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This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of ELLE Canada.