How To Decipher Holiday Party Dress Codes

I’ve received a lot of questions recently regarding how to dress for various holiday parties so I saw this as a great opportunity for a blog post. With dress codes such as semi-formal, cocktail, black tie, holiday attire and dressy casual, it can get a little confusing. If you’re like me, it’s hard enough trying to figure out what to wear on a day-to-day basis. Now you have to decipher a dress code on an invitation. Well, I’m here to help so you can focus on on all the other holiday “things”.

I found all images on Pinterest. I have to say it was pretty challenging to find menswear examples – even on Google! Fellas, I did what I could with what I had to work with.

Black Tie (Formal): For the ladies, a tea-length or floor-length gown is the way to go. Add a faux fur stole or jacket for extra glamour. Keep jewelry to a minimum with a dramatic necklace or earrings – but not both. A pearl or heirloom necklace or drop earrings will suffice. Stay away from real “costumey” jewelry. If you don’t have a nice evening bag, you’ll want to purchase or borrow one for this event. Simplicity is key for this look; think old Hollywood glamour. Nothing too clingy or revealing – keep it modest. Just pretend you’re going to the Oscars.
For the guys, a tuxedo with a black bow tie is in order. If you’re in a pinch and don’t have a tuxedo,you can get away with a dark suit.

Semi-Formal or Cocktail: For the ladies, you can’t go wrong with a little black dress (LBD) or something in a jewel tone. Choose fabrics in lace,chiffon or velvet to elevate your look. Don’t feel like wearing a dress? You’re in luck! With this dress code you can also wear a dressy jumpsuit or separates such as brocade cigarette pants and a beaded or satin shell. If you wear a dress, you have a bit more leeway as far a length goes but you still want to keep it modest. Choose a dress that hits about 2 inches above the knee. You can wear a bit more jewelry with this look but keep it to one or two pieces.
Last but not least, don’t forget the shoes! The fancier the better – a dainty heel in gold or silver is a solid bet. However, you can’t go wrong with a black or nude pump or strappy dress sandals.
For the guys, you’ll wear a well-fitted dark suit with a white shirt & dark tie. Oxfords are a good bet for shoes, just make sure they’re in great condition and have a respectable shine.

Festive, Holiday Attire, Dress To Impress: For the ladies, think sophisticated bling and a vibrant dress. A jacquard skirt and silky blouse or a chic jumpsuit will work, as well. Festive colors and sparkly details are perfect for this occasion – think statement pieces like a sparkly clutch, red heels, or a sequin dress. Just don’t wear all them together or you could end up on the “what not to wear” list. For instance, if wearing a LBD, wear metallic, rhinestone or beaded heels and layer on a bit of gold or silver jewelry. Wearing a sequin dress? Skip the jewelry altogether, aside from a pair of diamond stud earrings, and keep the shoes sexy but simple in a black or nude hue. If you’re concerned about getting cold, you can get away with pairing opaque tights and booties with most of these looks.
For the guys, you’ve got a lot more options for this event. You can wear a classic suit with a fun tie. By fun, I don’t necessarily mean candy cane or Christmas tree patterned. A tie in a festive holiday color(s) or pattern (think stripes or tartan) works great. You can also pair gray flannel trousers with a green or red cashmere sweater or opt for colored corduroys with an open-collar shirt and tweed sport jacket.

Casual Chic or Dressy Casual: For the ladies, think jeans in a dark rinse with a bow or ruffled blouse and pair of booties. Colored denim works, as well, but stay away from destroyed, faded or light rinse denim. To take it a step further, add a blazer and some statement earrings or necklace. A pair of tailored pants paired with a blouse or cardigan and a trendy jumpsuit ( I love jumpsuits – so versatile!) will also work.
For the guys, no suits or ties this time! Opt for a tailored oxford shirt with flat-front chinos or dark wash denim – no light rinse or destroyed denim. You can also pair the denim with a nice sweater.

If you’re still uncertain about what to wear, a surefire way to eliminate any confusion is to simply ask the host of the party what he or she is wearing. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, here are a few other ideas:

  • Is this an annual event? If so, check online for photos from previous years to get an idea of what the guests are wearing. This is my favorite tried and true formula.
  • Compare notes with friends. Find out what they’re wearing and decide to dress similarly.
  • Pay attention to the invitation. If it’s engraved, letter pressed or embossed on nice card stock, that’s a strong indicator that the host has spent considerable time and money on the event so take that as a cue to put some extra effort into your wardrobe.
  • General rule of thumb – if it’s after 5pm you’ll need to take your look up a notch. Daytime parties are generally more low-key.
  • Scope out the location. A party held at someones house is typically more relaxed than a party held at a venue. The same goes for parties held outdoors as opposed to an indoor function.

If you’re still uncertain, go the extra mile. Being overdressed shows you put in an effort, whereas being under-dressed can come across as disrespectful. Happy Holidays!