Diamonds are said to be a girls best friend, so lets begin this cocktail party with the recipe for a Diamond Martini.

Diamond Martini

125 ml Wyborawa vodka or other premium-grain vodka.

A dash of Martini & Rossi (measure to your liking).

A dash of extra-dry vermouth (measure to your liking).

Chill a Martini glass, add the mixed vermouth, martini and vodka, twist a lemon over the drink, then run the wedge around the rim of the glass. Click your glasses together and toast to the occasion.

Cocktails became popular during the 1920s when Prohibition in the United States made the production and sale of alcohol illegal. Manufacture went underground and often foul- tasting, bootleg spirits were sold illegally under the counter. To disguise their flavour and appearance a variety of ingredients were added and, since drinking was banned, it had to be done at home or in secret. When Prohibition came to an end in the early 1930s the quality of alcohol improved but some of those old additions remained popular. Many of the classic cocktails come from Prohibition days.

The cocktail hour, not to be confused with the modern Happy Hour, is considered a refined pleasure held after work but before dinner. It is intended for relaxation, socialising and to whet ones appetite. A cocktail party can serve a mini-feast of appetisers such as potato crisps and salsa, cheese and crackers with veggies and hors doeuvres. Cocktails are made of liquor, grenadine (or other cordial), lemon or lime juice, usually shaken with crushed ice and served with an olive, cherry or lemon/lime wedge. Nowadays cocktails can be a mix of almost anything, the main point being that they are a mix.

The Happy Hour, which is mainly held at bars and in pubs, was clearly depicted in the American television comedy series Cheers. The meeting ground is the local bar, where drinks are offered at half or discount prices. Snacks such as pretzels or crackers are placed on the bar along with your drink to curb your hunger. There isnt any definitive dress code here come as you are is the motto. Customers often wear their jeans or work clothes. They meet at the bar for beers and other alcoholic drinks. They kick back, relax and meet with friends before returning home.

Instead, cocktail parties are recognised as chic social gatherings in private places and are not only about the drinks and delectable appetisers but also about the dress; clothes play an important role. The event calls for attire that is less formal than for a dinner party, yet more adorned than daytime wear. It is at this gathering that every woman thinks of wearing the little black dress, made famous by designer Coco Chanel in the 1920s.

Black is the most sought-after colour for this special occasion. Although it is associated with darkness, evil, unhappiness, death and sinister thoughts, it also denotes elegance and sophistication. A black dress is a constant and appears time and again in the fashion world.

This years evening wear in Romes shops reinforces the notion that black is back. Wearing black, or hints of it, is surely your ticket to ride. The love affair with this colour is endless and a black dress is, hands down, a true classic that never goes out of style.

The designers along Via Condotti are displaying variations of the black dress or skirt in the shop windows. The style and detail are feminine, flirty, playful and sexy, while the length is just below the knee. The outfits are not over-accessorised; simple beaded black necklaces add the finishing touch. There are no shawls this year and the cover-ups are straight buttoned-down black coats.

Wondering if black is the only colour to wear? The answer is no. Some designers are showing evening wear in pastel colours such as pale pinks, baby blues, light grey, navy, olive green, beige and champagne. These delicately-shaded dresses are accented with touches of black. For example, a black velvet sash or bow is tied around the waist of the dress or black can trim the bottom of a skirt. Steer away from the all-black Elvira garb by wearing a beige or white-laced ruffled Victorian blouse with a black skirt or pair of black trousers. A silver-chained belt or silver accessories can help to break up the total darkness. Remember that shoes may be made for walking, but why not let them do some serious talking? Add knee-high boots or glitter-sequined coloured sandals. Dont forget to tote along small handbags to carry keys and lipstick.

With women dressed so divine, men have no choice but to arrive equally polished. Young Dapper Dans can look quite sharp in dark-coloured velour suits. For a more refined look, grey or black pin-striped suits with slim-legged pants look dashing. Black also prevails in the mens apparel. Unless the occasion absolutely warrants it, tuck away the tuxedos because the cocktail hour doesnt call for them.

The holiday season is fast approaching. Its time to sparkle and shine. Toss aside all those bills, bank statements and unwanted advertisements that arrive in the mail and grab the cocktail party invitation that has just arrived. Step out in your best attire, order your favourite cocktail and ring in 2006 with wishes for a happy, peaceful, safe and prosperous new year. CHEERS!