Credit: Hilary Henegar

As if the mad dash to find the perfect—then good, then good-enough—gift for everyone on our lists and the juggling of all the party commitments as guests and hosts aren’t taxing enough already, our minds can’t help but wander, even as we sip on eggnog lattes in a rare break, to the looming question that seems more pressing every day: What are we going to wear to all those parties without breaking the budget or falling victim to the “conspicuous consumption” holiday bug?

Dressing for the holidays should be fun rather than stressful, and—with a bit of creativity and strategic, well-considered purchases—need not be expensive or wasteful. There are ways to look great and feel better about your choices, and pre-empt the guilty feeling come January when you are standing in front of the closet, credit card bill in hand, staring blankly at the cocktail dresses hanging in your closet that you’ve worn once and don’t know what to do with anymore (not to get too suspiciously specific… ahem).

1. Reinvent what you have: accessories are your friends.

Every now and then when we finally get around to organizing our closets, we usually come across a few forgotten gems. So dig deep. The cocktail dress that you wore a few years ago to a cousin’s wedding can be spruced up with a silk scarf or a wrap shawl, which in turn can be given a splash of luxury by adding a jeweled brooch.

Get creative with a shawl and jeweled brooch

Not sure if you should bring out that little black dress (or whatever is tried-and-true for you) yet again? Of course you should! Try punching it up with a statement necklace: go for chunky and bold or layered elegance; or try upping the glamour quotient with long satin gloves. For some dramatic flair, try pinning a faux peacock plume to the dress strap or the top of your strapless number, or sweeping up your locks in a loose chignon and showcasing vintage chandelier earrings.

If you have a flowy or tunic-style dress, a chunky belt worn under the bust can be a quick and fun way to reinvigorate the outfit while helping to create the illusion of an elongated figure, slimmer waist and fuller-looking bust.

If your dress is already quite colourful or has a floral print, then a simple strand of pearls or glass beads with a cropped cardigan will do the trick.

Want to think outside the dress? Get a fun and flirty ruffled top and pair it with a closet staple, such as a simple black skirt or dark grey dress trousers. When the holiday party season is over, you can keep wearing the top, perhaps toning it down with jeans or a cardigan.

So even if you need or—let’s be honest—want to buy something new, accessorizing an oldie-but-goody should cost you less than a new dress or two. And with smaller pieces come greater versatility in creating different looks in the long term.

2. Hit your local vintage consignment store.

To attend her partner’s very first holiday dinner at his new firm, our very own online editor Hilary Henegar found a beautiful pre-loved BCBG Max Azria dress for $95 at Front & Company (pictured), one of the stalwart consignment stores in the Mount Pleasant area of Main Street. “It’s like brand new and fit me like a dream!” the savvy shopper gushed.

Hilary got this BCBG Max Azria dress for only $95!

Take advantage of the scores of consignment and vintage treasure troves in Vancouver to find gently worn designer dresses and one-of-a-kind accessories at a fraction of regular retail prices. A slim-fitted velvet black blazer can instantly reinvent an old dress; and that funky vintage brooch can turn out to be just the touch of old-time glamour needed to make your dress stand out. It may take some effort to sift through the myriad choices to find what suits you, but it is guaranteed to be a fun adventure and will definitely pay off. It can even serve as a great ice-breaker or conversation piece!

The website Secondhandsavvy.com is a great resource, listing consignment shops, garage sales, auctions and much more for British Columbia’s dedicated secondhand shoppers.

So call up your best friend, go for a power snack and start exploring!

3. Borrow and share.

Your girlfriends are always there for you—whether it’s to lend a sympathetic ear at 3 a.m. to help ease a broken heart or to make sure your favourite desserts from that little place on the other side of town are there at your surprise birthday party. And they can also be your best fashion resource!

Chances are that you have similar tastes, and even if you’re not the same size, you can always share accessories. You’ll be amazed at how many different outfits you now can put together with the power of the combined wardrobes. It’s a great opportunity to save money and have some fun along with the way.

4. Support local designers: Make a long-term investment.

If you can’t (or don’t have to) resist the urge to buy a brand-new outfit, try to veer away from stores that offer low prices for mass-produced items that are of low quality or that are too at-the-moment trendy to be wearable for the long term. (I’m looking at you, Le Chateau!)

Vancouver boasts of many local talents, such as Lav and Kush, who offer unique, timeless designs that are made of sustainable materials. The famous Pamela dress made by Narcissist Design Co. ups the sustainable ante with a versatile design that can be worn eight different ways—you can do the halter twist version for a sleek and sophisticate look at an office function, and then make it strapless with a sweetheart neckline for after-party drinks with friends.

Hit up hot spots like Main Street, South Granville and Gastown or art markets like Portobello West for inspiration. Vancouver.com also has a useful directory of retailers that feature local designers.

No matter which route you choose, remember that every piece that you’re wearing should complement each other and function as one engaging number. Sometimes there may be an urge to showcase your great finds all at once, but remember that this can be dangerous. Make sure your outfit doesn’t end up with competing elements that so overwhelm the senses it makes people seek relief by reverting their eyes to the Christmas tree.

Ultimately, what you’re wearing is less important than how you’re wearing it. So have fun being creative and flash that radiant smile—how can you not, knowing that you look great and saved money along the way!


Davinia Yip


Davinia Yip enjoys discovering new things, especially ones that she can eat or wear. She feels lucky to be living in Vancouver, and even luckier to be able to write about it from time to time. Twitter