By Ann Spivak

McClatchy Newspapers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The holiday season is ripe for joy, peace and, regrettably, many fashion disasters.

Just ask Gail Cluen, who is dressing up Friday for a charity gala where she and many other guests will be surrounded by elaborately decorated holiday trees up for auction amid a backdrop of contemporary art.

"That's a whole lot of twinkle to compete with," Cluen said. "I want to be festive, but I don't want to end up looking like one of those shiny ornaments on the trees."

Her choice? She bought a black suit (skirt and jacket) with just a hint of sparkle in the fabric and a few sequins on top.

That was a good way to go, fashion experts say. Whether you're heading to a cocktail party or a simple family dinner during the holidays, a little, such as the suit Cluen chose, will go a long way.

But wait. What is to become of all those embroidered snowmen sweaters with gingerbread boy buttons? And what about the candy cane earrings or the Santa pin that sings?

It's easier than you think, said Gregg Andrews, a fashion director for Nordstrom, to leave all that frumpiness behind.

"For the holidays, you want to look festive and you want to be comfortable, but remember, you still need to be sophisticated," he said. "And we don't want to be overdressed."

Don't discount your natural desire, though, to cozy up in a sweater. The key, says Jennifer Bayley, public relations manager for the Limited, is to update your look with a piece such as a sleeveless sweater coat to wear over a pretty blouse.

Kym Klein, owner of the Posh boutique, agreed. The goal, she said, is to avoid screaming holiday. Despite all the seasonal pressures to buy gifts, throw parties, cook and travel, deciding what to wear should be a fairly simple task

So where to start?

Find a great top in a festive color, Andrews said. Don't rely on blue and silver or red and green. Berry shades are big this season, such as cranberry and deep red wine. Emeralds, amethysts and sapphires also are great colors for the holidays, he said.

"A good top should be versatile," said Gabby Parris, floor manager at Hemline on the Country Club Plaza. "It should work with jeans and trousers and skirts."

Lots of tops this year already come encrusted with beads, faux gemstones and other embellishments, making them perfect for any holiday occasion, she said. Look for simple ones with the glitter near the top to draw attention to your face.

Another plus to a top with jewels? You don't have to add accessories.

If splurging on a new holiday top is out of the question, let accessorizing be your art form.

Klein suggests adding layers and layers of necklaces over a simple gray top. Or a belt with some silver and gold bling over a black blouse is another subtle touch.

Pair your sophisticated top with either black or winter-white trousers (wide and slim styles are in) or dark denim jeans. Add a jacket or sweater, depending on the formality of the occasion, and you're ready for a holiday brunch or dinner party.

Another great holiday look, Bayley said, is "the new tuxedo." White tuxedo jackets are turning up in stores everywhere, and they look great with jeans.

"Throw on a glamorous necklace, and you're all set for the party," she said.

And don't forget the little black dress. To make it special, invest in a big necklace (heavy gold is hot) or layer several necklaces in varying lengths. Add a shimmering clutch and some jeweled sandals for an instant update.

Andrews said he saw a lot of sheer black hosiery on the runway this year that always looks terrific with a black dress. A black hemline with a black leg and then a black shoe makes the leg look extremely long and elegant, he said.

"Whatever you do, don't wear a metallic shoe with black hosiery," he said. "That's one of my pet peeves."

Another popular holiday dilemma is what to wear for work parties. Here again, the black dress is a good choice, but don't forget the winter whites. Blouses with soft bows or pleats look terrific with a black skirt or wide-leg, black trousers, Andrews said.

"You definitely do not want to be overdressed," he said. "You need to make a somewhat career-appropriate look. The feminine interpretation of the tuxedo black and white is festive, but still somewhat tailored."

Cluen understands that dilemma. Not only is she attending the tree gala Friday at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art to benefit KVC Behavioral Healthcare, but she is also chairwoman of the event.

Even though she loves to wear red, she'll be all in black at the gala.

"I do think it's kind of a working evening for me, too," she said. "With my choice, I'll be able to wear this not only to black-tie benefits, but to evening cocktail parties as well. I wanted to get a little bit more out of it than a one-time event."

HOLIDAY FASHION TIPS

-- When in doubt, tone down the glitz

-- Forget holiday-themed pins _ try a flower or snowflake broach on a dress.

-- Think beyond red and green to deep purples, blues and cranberry.

-- Know the party's dress code.

-- A short-sleeved jacket can do double duty. Wear it over a dress or with long gloves; then pair it with jeans for an informal look.

-- Incorporate small embellishments into your wardrobe, such as a metallic purse.

-- Be comfortable -- try platform heels that put less stress on the arches.

-- Don't fall for a fancy dress you'll wear only once.

-- Do fall for metallic shoes that will live on after the party.

-- Keep cleavage to a minimum.