Mastering the Art of Quick-Change


It's easy to spot some who have come directly from the office to a cocktail party or dinner date: They still look as if they should be seated behind a desk. Many people don't have time between the end of the working day and the start of a night on the town to drive home, change clothes and make it to a show or dinner.

Still, it is possible to go directly from after-work to after-five in style. The solution, fashion experts say, is choosing clothes that can go from day to night, then changing the look of the outfit with accessories.

"I see men and women all the time who look like they can run into the office from the dinner table," says Sandi Clark, image consultant and owner of Image Works in Irvine. "We need to put some fun in our lives. When I leave work, I don't want to look like I'm still there."

Image Works teaches clients to perform tricks with accessories that can be carried to the office in a briefcase. Often the consultants counsel men and women to start with a basic suit in a solid color that can be dressed up or down.

Women, for instance, can change the look of a neutral garment such as Image Works' white wool gabardine suit with a cardigan-style jacket simply by substituting a gold-knit tank top for a silk shell blouse, Clark suggests. Then they can pile on the evening accessories: a dressy belt buckle, gold shoes, a gold heart-shaped evening bag and "gold dazzle earrings."

In fact, going from the boardroom to the dining room might just mean a bottom-line change--such as adding rhinestone shoe clips for evening sparkle to the plain black pumps one wore to the office, she says. Changing one's hosiery from a corporate-looking neutral sheer to colorful tights also will liven up an ensemble.

Around a dress, a plain leather strap belt could give way to a glitzy rhinestone-studded cinch.

One can also transform a suit from conservative to sexy by switching a sedate silk blouse with a lower-cut lace body suit, says Geri Savidge, spokeswoman for Ann Taylor in the Brea Mall, MainPlace/Santa Ana and South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.

"It changes the mood of the outfit," she says. "With some suits, you can even remove the blouse entirely, then add interesting earrings and a fun necklace.

"It's not just adding to, but taking away."

Clothes that are simple in style yet made of fine fabrics are best suited for quick-change artistry. One example: Ann Taylor's wrap-style dress of black wool crepe, tailored enough for day, but with a white shawl collar and cuffs that recall a menswear tux ($178). Dressing it up requires little more than switching from dainty pearl stud earrings to glitzy gem drops.

Other soft, textured wool crepes--in coat dresses, suits, skirts--"take wonderfully to evening looks," Savidge says. "They have a softness and shape to them that goes either way."

Avoid linen and cotton garments that wrinkle easily.

"You don't want to look like you wore your clothes all day," says Jeanette Anderson, manager and fashion consultant with Episode in South Coast Plaza.

For versatility, nothing beats a little black dress, she says. Episode has a basic black wool crepe dress with a scoop neck, long sleeves and kick pleats ($238) that can transfer to evening with the addition of a cropped quilted jacket, a long strand of crystal beads or pearls and opaque black stockings.

Men, too, can loosen up their look for evening with a few small touches such as changing a tie, switching belts or adding a colorful pocket square, says Orvey Hampton, manager of the Tom James Co. of Orange County in Garden Grove. Hampton's company provides a full tailoring service in clients' home or office.

"Choose a tie you may not feel comfortable wearing to work, something with a bolder pattern and brighter colors," he says. "It gives a whole new appearance."

Men also have the option of removing their jackets and slipping on a sweater over their white shirts.

"These are things they can do right in their office without a big production," Hampton says. "Most men don't want the hassle of going home."

Robert Grace, sales associate with Amici in Fashion Island Newport Beach suggests men wear a single-breasted Armani-style suit in black, navy or charcoal that can be worn with a wide range of furnishings.

"The less that's going on with the suit, the easier it is to work with," Grace says. His first suggestion: "Ditch the tie and cotton business shirt."

After working hours, replace them with something colorful, such as a printed silk shirt with blue or purple tones by Zanella.

"Open it at the collar," he says. "It's more inviting. Especially if you're on a date."

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