THE big question.

"What are you wearing?" For a female of a certain age that's the one question to which you cannot afford not to have a snappy and ready answer. About a week before a night out other females involved in the revels will start asking the big question. "What are you wearing?"

I only have two "going out" outfits so my answer normally depends on which one of the pair is clean. But it's Christmas party season, isn't it, and the big question is being asked at overwhelming rates. "I dunno, I have no idea. It's Tuesday and we're going out a week on Saturday. I might be dead by then." My friend Susan thinks I don't take fashion seriously enough. "It's because you read newspapers. Newspapers are full of news. You need fashion magazines - full of fashion."

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So, I have capitulated. Being a youngish woman with a decent enough festive social life, I have delved into the realms of the fashion magazine where clothes seem not to be clothes but "pieces". Close scrutiny, and the making of a chart, reveals your Christmas party options fall into two camps.

First up, there's an emphasis on "the tuxedo suit". The glossy magazine recommends a tuxedo for women; an oversized, boxy suit will be perfect for parties held in art galleries. Should that fail, you can just wear your normal clothes but with a smoking jacket over the top. There's also the sequined tuxedo with violently frilly pants worn as "opulent shorts". Failing that, velvet dungarees.

If smoking jackets are not your thing then rejoice! The Downton effect has brought back evening wear, though the price of some of these outfits would require cancelling Christmas altogether.

If you buy one thing this season, we're told, make sure it oozes over-the-top decoration. Hmm. I'm idly flicking through the glossy magazine with one hand and picking the bobbles off my 11-year-old cardigan with the other.

These frocks are not for the likes of me. There is an emphasis on baroque patterns and we are urged towards "party pants" - metallic trousers with a pattern all over. You want as many sequins attached to you as possible or a metallic mini skirt teamed with something floral.

Accessories-wise, statement earrings are in, which is a shame as putting earrings on makes me faint. You'll want some make up: on trend are "pimped up lashes" and glittery finger nails. Either that or Gothic make up, which makes it look like you've had an extremely difficult evening before even leaving the house.

As it is winter, you'll need something keeping you warm. The teddybear coat, which really is what it says on the tin, is recommended. Preferably in a lurid colour. Think Big Bird from Sesame Street on his way to the disco.

What I take from all this is that fashion means you have to go out dressed like a man or a vajazzle. Instead, I'll stick to time honoured tradition and head to Topshop to buy whatever's on sale then pretend it's vintage.

What am I wearing? I think I'll just stay in.