Last year some passages of letters my grandmother sent during the second world war made it into Mike Carlton’s naval history book, The Scrap Iron Flotilla. She was an actor and married to a commander in the navy, my grandfather. By all accounts she was fun.
“Her doings at balls, parties and suppers were often in the newspapers,” Carlton writes. In one of her letters, she recounts doing the boomps-a-daisy with the HMAS Sydney’s doctor and a waltz with the captain. “We finished up en masse in the Palais Glide,” she writes. “It was 3am before the party broke up.”
I never met my grandmother but I inherited her jewellery, along with her love of glamour and late nights. I often think about the spirit of these parties and how important it is to celebrate, even when the world feels tough.
As we enter the end-of-year party season, four people who also love getting dressed up share their pre-party routines.
‘If you’re dressed up, you feel more flirty’
Bri Lee, writer and co-host of the Cool Story podcast, loves to host parties. Since the pandemic she’s been adding dress codes to her invitations: cocktails served; cocktail attire. She says putting some effort in builds anticipation.
“If you’re single and you’re dressed up, you feel a little more flirty,” she says. “Hell, partnered people get more flirty with their own partners when they’re dressed up too!”
As for her own getting-ready routine, Lee describes it as more about style than beauty. “I’m normally pretty low-maintenance but my go-to look is a centre part and red lip.”
If she has time she’ll wash and blow dry her own hair. “I’d rather be shaking cocktails than stuck in a hairdresser’s chair,” she says. But since she tries to limit washes to twice a week she often opts for dry shampoo instead.
Her other party rules include: reapply deodorant and perfume before walking out the door; take a spare hair band (especially if you’ll be hitting the dancefloor); and never arrive empty-handed.
For the interior designer Brahman Perera, nothing is more stressful than last-minute prep for a big event. “I like to have my full outfit chosen, pressed and suitably accessorised ready that morning,” he says.
If he can, Perera will keep the day free so he has enough time to eat a proper lunch. “Food is my passion, but I’m also a bit of a klutz – I tend to eat less [at events] in order to protect myself from an inevitable mishap!” he says. “I’m advocating for the normalisation of tucking my napkin into my collar. Surely we can make this chic if we all agree to do it.”
He treats his eye makeup like an accessory that can complete his outfit. “The most interesting looks can be completely transformed with the flick of a metallic eyeliner, or a cherry-blossom pink drawn like a mask over the eyes and temples,” he says. “Simple but graphic in style, and always fun.”
Once he’s ready, he’ll help his partner – who is not so organised – hunt down the right bow tie or cufflinks. Then he spends 20 minutes relaxing with a glass of champagne before heading out the door.
‘I dance my way into my outfit’
When the musician and radio host Nkechi Anele gets ready for a glamorous event, she thinks of the actor Tracee Ellis Ross. “She dresses the emotion she wants to feel. That makes sense to me,” she says. “I’m influenced by colours and the feel of the material. I’m African, so clothes that highlight my curves and butt are a must.”
Anele has come to embrace her heritage when she creates a look. “I have an afro and that’s come with a lot of challenges,” she says. “But I’ve learned to love my hair, care for it and wear it naturally. I’m a black woman and no hair-altering routine is going to change that.”
Occasionally she’ll get her hair professionally braided into cornrows for events.
Much of her getting-ready routine is devoted to skincare, with an appropriate soundtrack. “It’s all about setting the right mood with empowering jams and face masks,” she says.
She wears minimal makeup for a sun-kissed look: a dab of blush across the bridge of her nose, then she uses a Fenty shimmer stick to highlight her cheekbones and above her eyebrows. She also blends shimmer into her moisturiser and applies it to her legs, elbows, hands and décolletage.
“By this point, my playlist has reached the point of dancefloor bangers and female empowerment anthems,” she says. “I dance my way into my outfit, decide whether to go with gold or silver accessories and play with my earring collection. There are no rules, just fun times and good tunes.”
‘My beard looks best three to four days after trimming it’
Nathan McGuire looks to history for inspiration when deciding what to wear to a big event. “I think about Hollywood style icons of the past or music superstars that have their own way of doing things,” the model and founder of Mob in Fashion says. “I like to find brands that offer something that leans into that style and make time in the lead-up for a fitting.”
He visits his hairdresser a few days before the event so his locks have time to settle. The same goes for his facial hair: “My beard looks best three to four days after trimming it back.”
The night before he makes sure he has a good rest; and on the day he makes sure his garments are steamed and ironed.
His skincare routine involves a face scrub, sunscreen, moisturiser and serum to help his face capture light in photos – though occasionally he turns to professionals for help. “I get really dark under my eyes so sometimes I will have a makeup artist give very subtle and light touch ups and brush my eyebrows because I love a thick brow.”