Zoë’s Guide To The Ivy And The Holly

Editor’s Note:  Ok so these illustrations are not the same caliber image as my Paula Abdul image last week, but Zoë created each picture herself.  -JB 

The season is in full swing, my friends. Some of you may have already hit a socializing wall, and still more will have a lingering hangover up until around the second week of January. Like Mumsey says, drink a glass of water for each cocktail and take two Ibuprofen before bed. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

What shouldn’t be an issue during this festive time of nodding and smiling at the conversation of people you barely know, or know far too well for comfort, is what to wear. If your general palette is tasteful neutrals or sweet pastels, let your clothing do the carolling for you. A few garments in rotation will see you through December, and with luck, fully clothed in bed on the first morning of January 2022.

Plaid Sport Coat

The Holiday Jacket

Quite possibly the loudest thing you own, this sport coat sings but once or twice a year. It may have been your mother’s, grandmother’s, or a $5 thrift store find that you just couldn’t leave behind. Wool or tweed is best for this type of sport coat, even better if it’s unlined or quarter-lined to withstand the heat of more crowded affairs. Brass buttons turn up the volume even louder, and why not? No one can hear each other anyway.

Where to wear: The workplace holiday party (if such things even happen anymore), the annual attendance of The Nutcracker

Wear with: dark navy or black tapered trousers, a cashmere turtleneck


Tuxedo Shirt

Tuxedo Shirt

There are a few ways to style a tuxedo shirt, the first of which being with an actual tuxedo if you’re attending a formal event and prefer to not wear a full length gown. Bowtie accordingly, studs and cufflinks required. The second is wearing an oversized men’s formal shirt, which could be almost artistic if accessorized correctly. After all, you did enroll in a life drawing class, even if withdrew shortly after realizing what “life drawing” meant.

Where to wear: A poorly scheduled gallery opening, a nonprofit gala paid for by 15% of the institution’s annual endowment

Wear with: sparkly, chunky jewelry if worn informally (see below), velvet trousers if not a full tuxedo


Bright Red Pants

Red Cords

Amongst its storied color codes, my favorite J. Crew shades were always Pale Peacock and Vibrant Flame. Too telling. Unlike Nantucket Red, Vibrant Flame draws immediate attention to the parts of women’s bodies where most don’t want anyone to look, ever. This attitude is happily changing with the advent of healthy self-image promotion, allowing us to flash our fiery gams with pride. Sadly J. Crew discontinued their cotton twill Minnie pants, however corduroy or velvet trousers are sure to be much warmer.

Where to wear: A casual holiday mixer, especially if you’re trying to get a certain someone’s attention

Wear with: Lipstick that matches the color of the pants


Ugly Christmas Sweaters


We all know better, next!

Where to wear: Don’t

Wear with: My regrets


Plaid Skirt or Tartan Kilt

The Black Watch Skirt

For those who may not know, “plaid” describes a multi-colored, cross-striped fabric, while “tartan” denotes an association with a family clan or brand, such as Barbour or Burberry. The terms are used interchangeably, especially in the United States. This distinction is worth noting if you’ve worn a kilt to a party, only to unknowingly involve yourself in a centuries-old blood feud with the descendant of a warring clansman. Best to stick to knee-length plaid skirts, unless you’re ready to throw back your eggnog and settle this once and for all.

Where to wear: shorter skirt in wool or taffeta are best for less formal parties, floor-length skirts for more stately events

Wear with: a fisherman’s sweater or cardigan, knee-high boots or bright heels to complement a color weave in the skirt


Velvet Slippers

Velvet Slippers

Over the past few years, velvet slippers have traipsed from the smoking room into the broader expanse of semi-formal to formal occasions. The difference between those is a subject for another article, but they can certainly be worn to both. Available in rich solid jewel tones, with gold bullion stitching, or even spikes (heavens), there’s something special about breaking out the embroidered holiday slippers. Much like a loud jacket or a bright pair of trousers, these slippers are a once-in-a-season event. Make it count.

Where to wear: Cocktail parties, house parties for which shoes don’t have to be removed and outfits effectively ruined

Wear with: Trousers– solid wool, plaid, or tuxedo

NB– Do not wear velvet slippers if there’s a possibility of them coming into contact with salt used to melt ice on sidewalks, or oily slush. They will be beyond repair and hope.




This December, throw the primer out the window as far as it concerns jewelry. Wear your flashiest costume pieces, try out that brooch given to you by a distant, elderly relative, paint your eyelids with glitter. We already sparkle in society, and rarely are we able to do so sartorially. If you’re still unsure, wear one large bauble with a couple of supporting pieces. A bib necklace is balanced by stud earrings just as well as a chunky bracelet with a matching cocktail ring on the opposite hand. The most important thing is to have a wonderful time, and to not be mistaken for a decoration.

Where to wear: Wherever and whenever the party is

Wear with: All of the above


15 Comments on "Zoë’s Guide To The Ivy And The Holly"

  1. Zoe, what a fantastic post to start your official Ivy Style tenure! Love the illustrations and especially the commentary. It’s nice to start a Monday morning with a laugh 🙂

  2. I really enjoy the snappy rhythm of your prose Zoë, not to mention the stellar what-to-wear illustrations. You can’t call a lot of things timeless in either mens- or womenswear, but these clothes look as good today (no, they look even better today) than they did 60+ years ago.

  3. Z. Never lose your wit that’s what makes you you
    Love the article
    You go girl!

  4. Brava, Zoë!

  5. Jonathan Mitchell | December 13, 2021 at 1:08 pm |

    A sheer delight to look at these illustrations, which contrast so dramatically with what I see women

  6. Charlottesville | December 13, 2021 at 1:22 pm |

    Thank you Ms. Burnett for more wonderful illustrations and good advice. As noted above, a far cry from what one usually sees these days, and we are all poorer for the lack of it.

    While the rules are a bit different for men’s holiday clothing, similar principles apply. When else would I wear my red BB 3/2 sport coat, red plaid vest, red/blue/green argyle socks, etc. if not between now and Boxing Day? Not all at once, I hasten to add.

  7. I like the slippers, as slippers go. Are heels in the Ivy repertory these days? Have they ever been?

  8. Randy Ventgen | December 13, 2021 at 5:26 pm |

    Wonderful writing and holiday clothes.

  9. Keep these coming, Zoë! My artist-professor wife loved the blurb about life drawing class.
    And for the record, Zoë drawings > 80s cartoon characters.

  10. A great Guide to the Festive Season! Well done, Zoe

  11. Just like that!

    Seasonal Regards,


  12. The slippers/pumps look very cool. Nice work!

  13. Brilliant!

  14. Ivy’s problem with festive sweaters around the holidays is that it’s so anglo. My family dons our Dale of Norway with no hint of tackiness. It’s the best way to flex on other Lutherans at Christmas-morning service.

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