In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution brought mechanization, lower prices and the possibility of a greater number of people who could afford a little sparkle and, perhaps, a silk dress. "It's where we got our fancy schmancy dressing today," Jones said. There was, he adds, "an explosion of purchasing," thanks to factory production and catalogs.
"There was also the development of the fashion industry. By the 19th century, you had fashion publications. They showed the latest silhouettes and different colors and trimmings. There were articles on how to make luxury objects to give to a friend and how to throw a holiday party, a Noel party."
Mass interest in holiday customs and dressing was also fueled by the growth of general interest periodicals and literature inspired by Victorian nostalgia for pre-19th century Christmas traditions. Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," for example, "was hugely influential," Jones says. The characters in these tales "were wearing muffs and sprigs of holly and we see this romantic type of image. We think of Currier & Ives.
"This serves as a prototype for holiday dressing today."
Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, reminds us that dressing up for the holidays — holy days — is an ancient tradition. "Across the world, people have dressed up in special clothes for special ceremonial days."
Steele points to the 1950s as the era in which holiday dressing emerged from the shadows of evening or cocktail party attire and started to get a little, well, kitschy. "In the 1960s and '70s you got more mass fashion. People were not following fashion rules any more. They said, 'I want to wear whatever color appeals to me.'
"Once you throw out [the rules], that opens the door to all sorts of things," Steele says. "Suddenly snowman sweaters are in … all that glittery stuff that you see people wearing is a debased form of what glamorous dressing is supposed to be."
We should, she says, "probably thank God people are not wearing bias-cut sequined dresses these days because that would be too horrifying. But they are wearing sequins."
Perhaps we should just acknowledge that, for some folks, a love of silver sequins is somehow embedded in their genetic coding. Maybe we should just surrender and haul out the black tunic top with the silver beaded bow or the rhinestone lavaliere passed down from our grandmother or the green satin cocktail suit packed away in the garage. Maybe we should go into maximum overdrive, if only for a night or two.
I've got my eye on a little black dress in my closet that, truth be told, wouldn't look too bad with a sequined scarf. And gold shoes. And my large fake diamond studs.
All suggestions about where to wear a long skirt are welcome.