Holiday Party Attire: Deciphering Dress Code Invitations

Holiday Party Attire: Deciphering Dress Code Invitations

holiday party attire

Holiday party attire. What could go wrong, right? That depends on your interpretation of the invitation’s dress code.

“Festive attire.” Seriously, does that mean anything? Choosing what to wear on an ordinary day is hard enough. Now you have to decipher what looks “casual chic” (?!?) for a big event. Hosts are getting so creative with dress codes that guests are left scratching their heads. For those who are confused about appropriate party wear—and who isn’t?—let me help crack today’s often confusing dress codes.

The most common mistake people make is dressing in a literal interpretation of the holidays. Big no-nos include:
• Christmas sweaters with Santa or reindeer – or both. They are shapeless, bulky and downright hokey.
• Leave the mistletoe hats at home. There’s bound to be mistletoe hanging from someone’s ceiling and you don’t want to be mistaken for vegetation; someone might water you.
• Wearing red and green together is not only unattractive on most skin types, it is a bit of a cliché. Wearing red or green is fine if these colors look genuinely good on you and you mix them with metallics and neutrals. The best option is to wear clothing you could wear in any season. Invest in pieces you can wear more than once a year. Otherwise, they have about as much use as Halloween costumes or bridesmaid dresses.

After remembering these rules, translating invitation holiday party attire dress codes is a bit easier. To the rescue: a handy invitationese-to-English dictionary to help you and your other half rise to any occasion. Here are a few tips to look your best even when the dress codes seem downright confusing!

Dress Code: Casual Dressy

Don’t over think this. Dress up your casual look. Put on heels or ankle boots with flared or tapered pants with a nice blouse. Guys can wear jeans and a blazer – no tie required.


Dress Code: Cocktail

For women, this means elegant short dresses and a killer pair of heels. Once again, you can never go wrong with your LBD and some “knock their socks off” jewelry. Want to stand out? Go in rich jewel tones or stunningly delicate pastels. Guys? Dark suit and tie is easy and safe, or he can mix it up with separates, textures or a little personal flair with a colorful tie.


Dress Code: Festive

You’re probably seeing some invitations with this right about now. Follow the cocktail attire practice, but add something with some holiday spirit. Don’t go overboard. One item will do. red shoes, a red skirt something sparkly. For guys, a holiday themed or colored tie or pocket square.


Dress Code: Creative Black Tie

“Creative black tie” is your permit to add some extra oomph and personalize your attire. Men should consider mixing it up with a colored shirt or bow tie with something like polka dots, plaids or paisley. These invitations are often associated with a theme like Great Gatsby. The key there is to dress according to the theme as much as possible. Women should choose a formal gown that’s a bit trendy versus classic.


Dress Code: Black Tie Optional

So,what kind of options are we talking about? When an invitation says a style of dress is “optional” or “preferred,” the host is stating her preference with some wiggle room. It means “This is what I’d like you to wear. So if you have it, wear it—or the next best thing.” It doesn’t mean you need to go buy a new outfit. Unless you want to, of course. Expect a lot of hemlines that hit around the knee at a black tie optional, but if you do go short, the dress should be awards-show worthy. The answer is: Dark suits and bow tie or tuxedo for men. For women, you’ll be dressed appropriately in either a long dress or a fancy cocktail dress.


Dress Code: Black Tie

This means tuxedo for men. Women have the option of anything from a long dress to a cocktail dress or even separates. If the invitation is to a business function, go for simple yet elegant. Something along the lines of your favorite LBD and a beautiful necklace or bracelet. If you’re attending something upscale – think charity balls and formal weddings, you can’t go wrong with a floor length gown or even tea length, if you prefer.



Here’s to hoping this gives some clarity on holiday party attire and makes your season brighter and easier to navigate!

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