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Putting on Your Party Best

I think it’s absolutely deplorable how people dress for formal events these days. So much denim! I’m going to hurl! It takes very little effort to put on something else. It is laziness and it’s disrespectful. If I go out, I feel honored to be included as a guest and want to show my respect to the host. It also adds to the atmosphere. I don’t want to look at people who look like the people I’ve seen on the street all day. I realize we’re all busy and we aren’t necessarily up to going to a particular party or event, but sometimes we have to. Rather than slacking off and just showing up, if you make an effort to put yourself together, I think you’ll enjoy the event much better. I get the impression that there’s this attitude that it’s cool to dress down, almost as if it’s a bad thing to dress. Perhaps it was a cute thing years ago, but it’s time to get over it. Dressing gives people something to look at, something to talk about.

—Cornell Collins, designer

Every day used to be a fashion–faux pas day for me when I was a punk rocker in the ’80s. I used to wear my uniform of tattered black tights, 18-hole black Doc Martens, ripped band T-shirt and Mohawk replete with 21 piercings above the waist to every event, including four weddings and a funeral. Back then it was truly shocking. Today people would merely look at you as if you’d just stepped on the Ping-Pong ball.

—Bruce LaBruce, filmmaker

I believe that dressing up for the opera must be defended from all efforts to make it safe and comfortable: Just because one can wear Dockers to the opera does not mean one should. Like W.H. Auden said of opera plots, no good opera outfit can be “sensible.” Defer to opera’s corpulence, its sleazy manipulations, its perpetual exuberance on the brink of death. Give the singers a sight worth their rigor. If you’re forced by a medical condition to wear khakis, line them with kitten fur.

—Juliana Snapper, singer

I always aspire to live up to my outfit, whether it is Comme, Helmut, a Japanese-schoolgirl outfit or a dirty jockstrap. And always with strict shoes.

—Ming-Yuen S. Ma, video artist and assistant professor of media studies at Pitzer College

I would have to say that no matter the occasion, it is always necessary to have unsensibly glamorous footwear and a lot of makeup and accessories — plus a good party laugh!

—Florice Houde, designer

Being a quintessential party girl cursed with Veuve Clicquot taste on a Pabst Blue Ribbon budget, I learned that you do not need a Hilton sister’s bank account to look smashing. All you need is to tap into the creative recesses of your mind. Avoid being trendy. Sure, every gal with a busy social calendar longs to be able to afford haute couture and look like they were styled by Patricia Field, but instead of trying in vain to be a fashionista, be a fashionatrix. Make whatever you have become YOU.

It is all about accessories, accessories, accessories. The best accessories in my book are vintage accessories. If you must incorporate a designer piece or two, go to a secondhand boutique like Squaresville. I found Dolce and Gabbana knee-high patent-leather stiletto boots for a steal! Don’t forget about your hair, either. An elaborate hairdo accented with a Schiaparelli chapeau, geisha-inspired hair ornaments or my personal favorite, Swarovski-crystal-embellished faux flowers that you can make yourself, propel any old rag way over the top. Arm yourself with that tried-and-true punk rock philosophy and do it yourself.

—Michelle Carr, Velvet Hammer Burlesque creator-director

One of the first parties I ever went to — I had just come up from South Carolina to New York City — was P. Diddy’s Labor Day party in the Hamptons. It was a white-linen affair, but I didn’t know that the white party was so intense. I went to Banana Republic — which at that time was like Gucci to me — and bought a black suit. When I got to the party — what’s that they say about the black sheep of the family? I really lived up to that name. You don’t want to be the one wearing black. Now I know in advance to have my shit together. I went this year. I saw girls turned away for wearing black shoes or carrying black purses. This one girl was frantic — she was sitting in the car with toilet paper and polish remover. She had got turned away for wearing black nail polish. It’s all about accessories.

—Rodney O’Neal McKnight, stylist to the stars

In L.A. you want to look as poor as possible, as in struggling actor, struggling musician. It’s the only town in the world where a 3-cent T-shirt from the Salvation Army in Long Island is worth $80.

—James Cox, director

I would gladly wear a black mariachi suit —- very stylish because I am so proud of being a Latin man. I would ask Manolo Blahnik to design a pair of cowboy boots for me. I would have Miuccia Prada design a polka-dot shirt for me with a beautiful tie, and I would request from Mr. Armani the complete suit. I want to revive the mood of the 1940s and 1950s and the way that men used to look. All those actors like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Valentino were all so debonair, so sexy and so masculine.

—Louis Verdad, designer

There is way too much epidermis being revealed at parties these days. Just because self-absorption and navel gazing are popular pastimes doesn’t mean the rest of us want to stare at your bellybutton too. People have forgotten the art of bringing something for the hostess and replaced it with bringing an uninvited guest instead. The art of social introduction has gone the way of the dinosaur in these times of name tags and business cards. But the wonderful thing about L.A. is that neighbors hardly complain about decibel levels. What one must never do at a party is use a cell phone. You’ve been invited to converse with other guests, not to seek Plan B for the evening.

—Darianna Cardilli, documentary filmmaker and film editor

Always dress like your ex-girlfriend will be there. Avoid hats, as drunk people tend to take them off of you, revealing hat head or baldness. Try to arrive “front-loaded” (slightly tipsy) or people will say you seemed sad. Words of wisdom . . .

—Guinevere Turner, writer/actor

Parties are always supposed to be fun, but sometimes they aren’t. The best way to ensure your own good time is to wear an outfit that pleases you so much that it doesn’t matter what is going on around you —- because you have it going on, girl. My latest obsession in fashion is Lycra. Yep, that is correct. Spandex, unitards, dance gear. This season you only need to know one word: Capezio. We are talking about Jane Fonda, feeling the burn, Jazzercise. I, for instance, will don a pair of ballet-pink tights, a mint leotard with spaghetti straps, a pair of woolly warm-up shorts, and matching leg warmers and a satin peach ballroom shoe, not too high, not too low. This look is about Fame —- Fame costs, and here is where you start paying, in sweat. Think substitute dance teacher at Harvey Milk High School. Class is in session!

—Margaret Cho, comedian