Not your grandma's lace. A lined maroon sheath with a chic beaded belt and the surprise of casual pockets (Monique Lhuillier) is perfect for Laurie's (left) pared-down style: "Anything with too many doodads isn't for me." Even the shoes—open-toe brocade (Nina)—are a subtle update of tradition. Jennifer Miller earrings.
Kyessa L. Moore, 25; graduate student in African-American studies
For holiday photo ops, seek out a brilliant satin dress (Donna Ricco, $158) with curve-friendly ruching ("I'm a runner," Kyessa (center) says, "but I have a stomach"). It's not cheating to wear a slimming bodysuit underneath. Mark Walsh Leslie Chin cuff and earrings. Nina shoes.
Heide Alaia Byun, 39; fashion retail salesperson
"Dresses are no-brainers: Put one on and you're good to go," says Heide (right), whose party prep time is a mere 30 minutes ("I'm always waiting for my fiancé"). This sunburst of a number with a train (Prada) has such drama that accessories—yellow sapphire and diamond bracelet (Avicci); brown sandals (Delman)—are all she needs.