For a Christmas party or New Year's Eve date, think about reviving a simple black dress with a pair of $39 jewel-tone heels from H&M or tucking a $50 red and white pocket square from Thomas Pink into the front of a dark gray blazer.
The basic strategy: Go for a splash of shine, sequins or prints. To show how easy and affordable it is, I've created several holiday looks by taking festive pieces, all priced under $100, and pairing them with simple, solid-colored basics you can pull out of your own closet.
For men: Start with a pair of dark gray or brown wool trousers and a white T-shirt, then add a preppy argyle vest from J. Crew ($49.99) and a red chunky knit scarf from H&M ($20) or a pair of red plaid Jack Purcell sneakers ($75), or both. It's more subtle than a Santa hat, but with cheery color to get you in a party mood.
When dressing for a more formal occasion, start with your go-to black pants and white dress shirt and top it with a red and green striped bow tie from Thomas Pink ($60). Trade your black blazer for the cozy and less predictable look of a gray wool cardigan from Martin + Osa ($74.50). Or add velvet to anything for a more dapper look. Try a pair of navy blue velvet pants from H&M ($59.90) with a white dress shirt and a black and gray argyle sweater from Club Monaco ($89).
For women: Sparkle and shine are easy to come by thanks to inexpensive accessories and costume jewelry. Start with a solid black T-shirt. Tuck that into a ruby red tiered pencil skirt from Forever 21 ($27.80) and accessorize with, say, jeweled silver pumps ($34.99) from Sigerson Morrison for Target, a crystal and grosgrain necklace from Club Monaco ($59) and perhaps crystal drop earrings from Ann Taylor ($35).
The basic white button-down gets a makeover with a fuchsia ombre skirt from Ann Taylor ($19.44). Carry a jewel-tone satin clutch from J. Crew ($98) for another unexpected pop of color. If you're a jeans and flats kind of woman, a beaded satin necktie from Converse by John Varvatos ($99) and black sequin high-tops from Converse ($90) will liven up a white T-shirt and dark jeans.
Keep in mind that you can get a lot of party mileage from even one special piece, whether it's a beaded tie or those blue velvet pants.
Looking for a basic little black dress? You might try a flirty strapless version from Target ($39.99). Slide on some opaque black tights and a floral appliqué bib necklace from Topshop ($38), and add a jolt of color with a pair of purple platform sandals from H&M ($34.90) that really pop out from the darker pieces. It's an ideal outfit for a New Year's Eve event or night out.
A more conservative look is a pink velvet dress from H&M ($39.90) that takes shape when cinched with a silver beaded belt from Ann Taylor ($36). Accessorize it your way, or try versatile black jeweled flats from Simply Vera Vera Wang ($59.99) and a fringe evening bag from H&M ($12.90) that tempers the drama of the dress.
The fun of inexpensive statement pieces refreshes your wardrobe and takes some of the stress out of holiday dressing. And that makes you realize it's possible.
Magsaysay is a Times staff writer.