Perhaps the best way to deal with dressing up for New Year’s Eve is to view the holiday as if it’s Halloween minus the fright wigs: an occasion to wear glittery stuff you wouldn’t dream of putting on the rest of the year. Think of it as a license to look and act foolish without squandering a lot on an outfit that will be covered with champagne—or worse—before the night is over. In other words, you want to be a little festive, but only spend a little money.
Even if the rest of your body plans to welcome 2003 in a T-shirt and jeans, your feet can celebrate properly. At Payless Shoes (many Manhattan locations), there are plenty of decorative evening shoes to pick from, all clocking in at $16.99, and, though you’d have to be pretty soused to mistake them for Blahniks or Choos, they certainly scream dressy. Gracing the stunningly unpretentious racks at the 14th Street branch on a recent afternoon were gold mesh open-toed spike heels with straps that wrap around the ankle, silver sandals with diamanté buckles and metal heels that looked hard and sharp enough to take a man’s eye out, and a pair of shiny scarlet patent pumps with square toes, high rectangular heels, and wicked if useless s/m-ish zippers decorating their vamps. As an added inducement, it is apparent that no animals have been killed to create any of this footwear.
Down the street at 38 West 14th, Party City featured long, discouraging cash register lines, though by the time you read this the holiday appetite for cut-rate wrapping paper will have abated. Perhaps one reason this place is so cheap is that it is hardly what you’d call overstaffed. It was impossible to locate anyone who could supply the price of the fuchsia “Happy New Year” paper dunce caps, or the shiny black “Happy New Year” derbies, but, really, how much could they cost? At least the old-fashioned, high-crowned black-and-silver New Year’s hat, an item guaranteed to make you look like you stepped out of a Weegee photograph, had a price tag: 99 cents. For $1.99, a feathery white-and-silver crown is available, and though it doesn’t say “Happy New Year,” no one will wonder why you’re wearing it. If the festivities are at your place (lucky you) you might consider stocking up on packages of confetti shaped like tiny champagne bottles and goblets (alas, not flutes, but since they’re only an eighth of an inch high, who cares), bags of striped horns (eight for $3.49), and to get the party started, a box of those noisemakers called crackers. Lastly, if your enthusiasm knows no bounds, Party City has New Year’s Eve toilet paper, decorated with streamers and such, for $3.99.
Even the dullest costume can be tarted up at Girlprops (33 East 8th Street), where the specialty is accessories that, while drenched in glamour, rarely crack the $10 ceiling. Any number of bejeweled bracelets and necklaces are for sale, including a tasteful if sparkly star on a chain for $6.99; a mere $4.99 garners a zodiac pendant similarly done up in fake diamonds. Those old nightlife stalwarts, the feather boa and the fishnet stocking, are $7.99 and $4.99 respectively.
But the most interesting thing here, by far, is the $9.99 lipstick-shaped evening bag, which, consciously or not, forms a link in the fashion chain that stretches from Girlprops back 80 years to the ateliers of the surrealists, who employed found objects, including the unmistakably if unwittingly erotic lipstick tube, in their art. Fashion designers with an affection for surrealism have for decades embraced lips, too: Images of lips and lipstick have been incorporated by Schiaparelli, employed by Prada, and most recently exploited by Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent. The Girlprops purse, a giant open tube with a case of black faux leather and lip gloss of bright red patent, proves conclusively that this lipstick-as-fashion business is as jaunty on 8th Street as it is on the runways of Paris and Milan.
But perhaps the greatest tip this column has to impart—think of it as a gift for the new year—is a store stumbled upon accidentally in the rough-and-tumble district around Broadway in the high Twenties. A lot of the wholesale outlets in this neighborhood conceal their prices and view the retail customer with suspicion, but not Jewelry Plaza (1204 Broadway), where you’re greeted at the door with a basket and the only proviso is that you spend a minimum of $10. This, it turns out, is where a lot of vendors buy the fun things you see on flea market tables at four times the price (which still isn’t all that much). The walls are lined floor-to-ceiling with a seemingly endless variety of merchandise, most of it in the $2-to-$5 range: long pearl flapper necklaces, tennis bracelets, multi-stone flamingo brooches, cubic zirconia studs—and the tariffs are exceptionally low by any standard. A boxed set of cuff links and tie clip (come on, it’s New Year’s) is $2; 75 cents more buys a black satin evening purse with feather trim, in case you’ve passed on the lipstick bag. The season’s popular chandelier earrings are here in ersatz coral and turquoise for $2.25; an airy pearl necklace that looks like baby’s breath is $3.50, and for that you get a pair of matching earrings. Unfortunately, like every other jewelry store we’ve ever been to, there are a few beautiful things behind the counter with loftier price tags. A collection of tiaras, starting at $9, are made of carefully cut and set stones and would prove far more impressive than a paper-and-feather crown. As at Cartier, the more you ascend in price, the more elaborate the jewels become: A headpiece in the $25 range would do for a winter bride, while the top of the line, at $62 surely the most expensive item at Jewelry Plaza, is a multi-tiered triumph of rhinestone engineering. Wear this to Times Square and watch those heads turn away from the dropping ball and stay glued to your beaming visage.