BY DESIGN : A Red-Letter Day : A touch of just the right shade may be all that's needed for a festive holiday appearance.


Some women don't have a problem on Valentine's Day. They pull out the same white dress with big red hearts they've worn every year since the Reagan Red Years and complete the outfit with a heart necklace and earrings, a heart scarf and bright red shoes.

Not everyone likes to be so bold, especially if they work in an office where they're considered outlandish if they bring their lunch in anything other than a brown paper bag. There are ways to show that one is in the spirit of the day without leaning too much on the side of bad taste.

"There are always people in the office who wear something distractive for a holiday," says clothing designer Carol Steele of Newport Beach. "They look cute for 10 minutes, then you want to tell them to change. A little subtlety goes a long way to make an outfit look great."

For just the right Valentine's Day look, the answer may be right in front of your face. "Start with the perfect lipstick," says Sandy Miller of Twice the Style in Costa Mesa. "Take some time to select just the right shade of red that goes with your skin color, and also use matching nail polish."

Accessories, of course, can holiday-ize an otherwise dull business suit. "Just a simple heart pin on the lapel, either in gold or red rhinestones, makes a statement," Miller says. "You could also wear it with a scarf that has some red in it. You're saying, 'I'm involved in the holiday, but I don't want to look like a walking lace billboard.' "

A woman can wear a red blazer with a suit skirt, Steele says. "Or go with a red vest or blouse. I've also seen women show a little flourish with a bright red handkerchief stuffed in a jacket like a pocket square."

For a more sophisticated Valentine's night, stay away from outfits that make you look like you just stepped out of a cartoon. "Big polka dots, lots of hearts, they're not for a date at a great restaurant. Valentine's night is the time to wear that stunning red dress or a great red silk skirt with a black top."

Because red is such an attention-getter, Miller says, many women are reluctant to wear much of it. "Some people are insecure about being a focus for the evening. But there's so much black out there that, when you're in a room and you've got an accessory or outfit that's just the right red for you, you command the room."

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