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AN INVITATION TO DRESS UP.

Byline: Barbara De Witt Daily News Fashion Editor

It's time to hit the cummerbund trail again.

The annual black-tie season begins next week with the L.A. Opera's opening night of ``Carmen'' at the Music Center, followed by enough dress-up opportunities to keep your social calendar filled until June '99. But don't count on your little black dress for everything.

It may look dated, now that the fashion police have relaxed their standards and theme parties are back in style. In addition to seeing the term creative black tie, you'll be seeing invitations to wear something from the roaring '20s, the swing dance era, or the cocktail-crazed '50s. But don't worry about finding a dress, as designers have gone back to the past and made it our future.

This year you'll find gowns in all price ranges, inspired by numerous decades. The '20s flapper dress with beaded fringe has made a comeback, right along with dropped-waist gowns that might have been worn in the big-band era. Cocktail suits and tiny feathered hats inspired by the '50s are new, and it's ditto for the slinky sequined sheaths of old Hollywood.

If it sounds like a costume parade, you're right. Anything that looks too spare ... too early '90s ... has been upstaged by luxe looks and flashy details. But a feather boa, fringed piano scarf or velvet shrug (a tiny capelet with cap sleeves) could freshen it up and get you to the party in style.

THE INVITATION SAYS:

Black tie - Yes, this means you must wear a tuxedo and a black bow tie. A single-button jacket is the most popular style and can be worn with a cummerbund (pleats up) or a brocade vest, plus those shiny tuxedo pumps. The newest styles have satin insets in both peak and notch lapels and satin accents on pockets and sleeves. For women, it translates into a long, formal evening gown with dress-up shoes. If you've got a fur coat, this is the time to wear it.

Creative black tie - Ah, a little freedom from the traditional black-tie ensemble. You'll still wear a tuxedo, but you can wear a collarless dress shirt without a tie and black suede Hush Puppies instead of tuxedo pumps. For an edgier look, try a four-button cardigan-style tuxedo jacket, a classic smoking jacket or a club suit with traditional tie like Tom Cruise wore to the Oscars. For her, it could be a short or long evening dress worn with strappy high-heeled sandals that show off bare feet and painted toenails. Sometimes referred to as California black tie.

Cocktail attire - This dress code was originally designed for parties held before the dinner hour, and it indicated less formal (not to be confused with informal) attire. With cocktail parties back in style, consider a dark suit and elegant tie for him and a dressy knee-length dress or suit in evening fabrics (such as satin, brocade or velvet) for her. Or a shimmery skirt and a cashmere twinset with crystal bead trim. Also referred to as After Five attire.

Casually chic - This is one of the toughest dress codes to interpret, because there are no strict rules. However, the emphasis is on casual styles in elegant fabrics. In L.A., it's often a black silk tee with a linen suit for him, and a sheer slip dress or pants with a cashmere camisole and high-heeled sandals for her. Cashmere sweaters, Italian silk sport shirts and all-black ensembles also fall into this category. At its dressiest, this could take you to a cocktail party.

- Barbara De Witt

All fashions courtesy of Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills

CAPTION(S):

Drawing, 11 Photos, Box

Drawing: (Cover--Color) IT'S BLACK-TIE SEASON

But which gown for which gala?

Illustration by Traci Wooden/Daily News

Photo: (1--2--Color) SEPTEMBER 8

``Carmen''

The Los Angeles Music Center Opera season opens with Bizet's ``Carmen'' at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and everybody's dressing to the nines for it and the dinner-dance following the performance.

The opera is set in Spain, so consider a matador red gown, or something in elegant black lace, says gala chairwoman Jude Green.

Tickets are $900 and up; call (213) 972-7581.

Her chiffon gown with red roses is by Ineptie, $475.

(3--4--Color) SEPTEMBER 13

The 50th Annual Emmy Awards

The annual glitzy awards honoring television's best stars and programs has become one of the country's biggest fashion shows, so you'll need an entrance-making gown.The gala will be held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, with numerous parties after the ceremonies.For ticket information, call Ticketmaster at (213) 480-3232.

Her sequin-covered gown is by Kay Unger, $600, with matching feather boa, $150.

(5--6) SEPTEMBER 17

``Some Enchanted Evening''

A black-tie-optional gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Dubnoff Center, which is dedicated to helping emotionally disturbed children.

According to spokeswoman Pat Fisher, the color theme is gold and black ... and since you'll be dancing to the music of the Swing Kings, you may want to consider a '40s-inspired gown with a fuller skirt.

The event will be held at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City. Tickets are $200 each; call (818) 755-4950.

Her dropped-waist chiffon gown, accented with gold beads, is by Bieff Basix, $460, Neiman Marcus.

(7--8--Color) SEPTEMBER 24

``Dinner at Tiffany's''

It's No. 50 on the Art of the Palate '98 gourmet dinner series to benefit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This one will take place inside Tiffany's famous jewelry store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Dinner party host Wallace Steiner says the dress code is cocktail attire, and he suggests wearing something that won't clash with the china, but will showcase the jewelry you might want to try as an aperitif.

Tickets are $225 each; call (323) 857-6182.

Her dinner suit trimmed in velvet is by Victor Costa, $460.

(9--10--Color) OCTOBER 4

California Designer of the Year Awards

The fashion event of the year, this is an opportunity to wear something outrageous, amazingly chic, far-out funky and - hopefully - accented with boas, butterflies or sparkle, says spokeswoman Alana Chaffin. The creative black-tie event is sponsored by the CaliforniaMart and will include dinner, runway shows and award presentations by Mayor Richard Riordan at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Tickets are $250 each; call (213) 630-3618.

Her bias-cut burn-out velvet dress is by Voyage, $1,990.

(11--Color) OCTOBER 10

``Spirit of Youth Awards''

Society maven Marilyn Hankins says the 75th anniversary dinner dance for Pacific Lodge Youth Services has a '20s theme, so start thinking about a flapper dress with fringe and feathers.

The event will be staged at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City and will honor Councilwoman Laura Chick and Valley Industry and Commerce Association president Bonny Herman.

Tickets are $175 each; call (818) 347-1577, Ext. 116.

Her rayon and velvet fringed flapper dress is by Tahari, $325.

Photos by Myung J. Chun/Daily News

Box: THE INVITATION SAYS: (See Text)
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 3, 1998
Words:1154
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