T.Here is a scene at the beginning of Spencer, Pablo Larraín’s cinematic tale starring Kristen Stewart as the unhappy princess trapped in a freezing Christmas castle, in which Diana’s festive wardrobe is transported onto a shelf in her suite. There are dresses for dinners, suits for lunches, hats for the church, tweeds for the outside. Sally Hawkins, who plays Diana’s dresser, groans and snorts under the weight as if she were dragging a grand piano.
We simple civilians don’t tend to sit by the tree in Chanel suits. We do not risk a diplomatic incident if we are not sufficiently prepared. (“But ma’am… your hair isn’t set to”, Diana is cautioned.) But that doesn’t mean there are no rules. For most of us, the rules of Christmas dress come in the form of tradition or ritual. Or they are formulated in terms of manners, perhaps, or expressed in the language of get into the spirit. If everyone around your table is expected to wear the idiot paper hat that falls from their cracker – even if it’s the completely wrong color for their outfit – that’s just as much a rule as wearing the correct tiara.
This year, I’m all-in for festive fashion. For any outdoor urban seasonal activity – gift shopping at a Christmas market, frankly even just a takeaway hot chocolate in a red mug – you’ll find me channeling a strong Pushkin vibe in white sweatshirt and lace-up boots. It doesn’t matter that I’m in London, not St. Petersburg, or that I haven’t set foot on an ice rink since the 20th century. If there’s anything vaguely Christmas at the cinema, you can find me queuing for black velvet popcorn and my best Wolford socks, dressed up as for a stage at the ballet.
Whether it’s plaid pajamas or new sweaters, the clothes we wear at Christmas would look quirky at any other time. Christmas, with the soundtrack of carols and scented with gingerbread, binds us for a few days to a Victorian stately cheer in contrast to 21st century life. So our Christmas day dresses, with their velvets, ribbons, feathers and knitted sweaters, are the best of the Sunday of modern life.
And even if you love Christmas as much as I do, there’s no denying it’s a busy time of year. Christmas day is a long day. If you have kids, go at warp speed while it’s still dark outside. If you’re cooking, the day can feel like a to-do list that lasts until tea time. You are torn between the desire to look glamorous and the urgent need for fresh air; between the fascination of the afternoon film and the scattering of wrapping paper and satsuma peel. And someone has to put the book tokens in a safe place and we have more AA batteries?
With fashion, as with the rest of Christmas, the best way to stay calm is, counterintuitively, to embrace chaos. Glitter tights with sequin skirt? Absolutely. Pajamas with high heels and jewels? Why not. This is not the time to go for an understated style. A tight black dress and high heels are hopeless for a day when you need to be able to quickly crawl under the kitchen table to retrieve the crucial new Lego wotsit before the dog eats it. Comfortable ballet flats and dresses, enlivened with color and brilliance, seem like a practical choice to me. But what do I know? Christmas is different behind every front door. Except everyone, everywhere has to wear that ridiculous paper hat, right?