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Party-perfect Inaugural wear
Jeanine Poggi, Forbes
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January 20, 2009

It's likely people the world over will celebrate Obama's [Images] historic inauguration by attending a black-tie ball or planning a get-together with friends. Like the Washington elite set to attend over 150 balls taking place this weekend through Tuesday, the best way to note the occasion is with stylish, but subdued, duds.

Gowns and tuxedos are a must for those heading to a ball

"If the invitation says 'ball,' a cocktail dress in not acceptable," says Jesse Garza, co-founder of Visual Therapy a New York-based luxury lifestyle consulting firm.

For women, floor-length gowns from Badgley Mischka and J. Mendel have a fashion edge without going overboard. These silk gowns usually include a focal point of intricate beading or sequins on the neckline or hem, while leaving the majority of the mid-section clean and simple.

Tuxedos are mandatory for men, and are a fool-proof way to appear polished and dapper. Those with grosgrain facing are more versatile than all-silk ones, since the jacket can be worn with dark jeans and a fitted shirt on more casual occasions.

Both men and women should steer clear of showy accessories. A patterned bow tie will appear goofy instead of sophisticated, for example, and flamboyant jewels might appear showy.

Men who want to add an accessory can opt for a metallic or bold-colored pocket square from Hermes, while women can add a pop of color with a short satin jacket or oversized clutch.

The trick is not being too overdone. "At the big ball you do not want to look like you're the First Lady," says Garza. "Choose items that are less Red Carpet and more sleek and classic."

Men attending a less-formal affair might opt for a traditional black, charcoal or midnight suit, which most already have in their closets.

Similarly, women should stick to the classic cocktail dress. The benefit here? There's no need to buy a new party dress, especially just weeks after spending on holiday presents for family and friends.

"If you happen to already have a great black cocktail dress hanging in your closet," says Cynthia O'Connor, founder and CEO of Cynthia O'Connor + Company, a fashion and accessories showroom in New York and Los Angeles, "all you need to add is a costume rhinestone necklace."

Women may also add some glitz with chandelier earrings, a stack of bangle bracelets or a chunky statement necklace. Those who want something a little different, however, might wear a red cocktail dress instead of the usual black.

And a quiet dinner at a friend's house watching the events on television still warrants cleaning up. This is a good night for a blazer or sport coat.

"It's always a good idea to wear a sport coat, especially when you are moving from party to party," says Michael Fisher, menswear editor at Stylesight, a trend forecasting firm. "The blazer can double as outerwear so you do not have to lug a heavy coat."

Most importantly, for men as well as women, don't forsake comfort for style.

"There will be a lot of walking since some of these venues are huge," Garza says. "You want to be able to dance and enjoy yourself without worrying if your outfit will make it through the night."


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