What to wear to the office holiday party

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As companies start to get back in the black this year, many of us may be dressing up in red for the first time in years to attend an office holiday party. If it’s been awhile since your last company party, you’re probably trying to remember what, exactly, you used to wear to these things.

The rules for holiday-party attire aren’t set in stone, since appropriate dress will vary depending on when and where the festivities are taking place. An after-work gathering at a casual restaurant, for example, will call for a different level of formality than a Friday-night soiree at a fancy hotel.

So, to help us decipher holiday dress code, we called in Joe Lupo, co-founder of wardrobe consulting company Visual Therapy, and co-author (with business partner Jesse Garza) of “Work It! Guide to Your Ultimate Career Wardrobe,” to offer his advice on choosing an outfit.

Keep it classy

Okay, so there is one concrete rule to follow when it comes to choosing an outfit for your company gathering: Unless you office is hosting an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, keep the Christmas sweaters in the closet.

“Holiday themed sweaters and clothing can be quite endearing on your great grandmother, but that’s about it,” Lupo says.

Chances are you wouldn’t be caught dead in a mistletoe mock-neck. However,  if you were about to call your granny up and see if her Rudolph sweater was busy next Tuesday, read on for more appropriate options.

If you’re going straight from work

“If you are invited to attend a holiday party that is right after work, you should put more thought into your look.  Choose something that will ‘transform’ from day to evening, “ Lupo says.

“Transform” being the optimal word here. “It is distracting and not appropriate to wear cocktail or festive attire to work,” Lupo says. So, instead of rocking a sparkly cocktail dress and a smoky eye during the 9-to-5 hours, pack your glam gear in your work bag.

“Keep your base chic and clean and add accessories to take it up a notch,” Lupo says. “For example, [ladies can] go from a pump to a sky high shoe and add jewelry such as earrings, a cuff or an incredible necklace. Swap your work jacket to a beautiful wrap and take a dinner clutch from your work tote.”

The same principle that applies to your outfit should apply to your makeup. “On a beauty note, never wear evening makeup to work, you can always apply more just before you head over to the party. [Also,] a quick blow-out right after work can make a world of difference,” he advises.

For men, the transformation will be slightly simpler. A suit jacket or blazer, a tie or a nice pair of shoes will step the “business casual” look up a notch.

If the party is formal

“For festive or more formal attire, it is probably best to go home and re-group. You don’t want to be under dressed for the party,” Lupo says. A complete change of clothes is usually necessary if the party starts more than an hour after the work day ends, if it’s at a fancier location or if the invite specifies that the dress code is “formal,” “festive” or “cocktail.”

For men, Lupo suggests donning a velvet jacket with gray flannel trousers, or a charcoal or midnight blue suit with a tonal tie.

Women should opt for luxurious fabrics like velvet or satin, or for pieces with embellishments. “[Visual Therapy’s] favorite look is sleek and clean with statement jewelry and a sexy shoe. Seamed or patterned hosiery can also add to the look,” he suggests.

If the party is in the office

If you’re celebrating in the office, whether during the workday or directly following, you may not need to get dressed up, but extra thought should be put into what you’ll be wearing that day. Your boss, your boss’s boss, and even the CEO may be in attendance, so you’ll want to be confident about how you’re presenting yourself.

Be sure that your outfit is dry cleaned and wrinkle free, and take some extra time that morning to ensure that your hair is in place and you look neat and professional. If your office is business casual on most days, today is the day to err on the side of “business,” and less on the side of “casual.”

Last-minute solutions

While it’s always ideal to prepare an outfit beforehand, sometimes these events can sneak up on you, especially during the busy holiday season. If, on the day of the party, you find out that your co-workers are wearing cocktail dresses and three-piece suits when you were planning on wearing jeans, don’t panic, improvise.

“If you have underestimated the dress code for the party, [women can] wear skinny dark denim or black jeans and add a [belted] tuxedo jacket [or blazer] with a high shoe and fabulous chandelier earrings, “ Lupo suggests. The look will be understated, yes, but chic and cool enough to look like you planned it that way.

Men can follow the same rule. Dark trousers or denim, paired with a suit jacket and dress shoes will look put-together and hip.

General rules

In general, when picking out an outfit, Lupo offers the following guidelines:

  • Look polished, not overdone.
  • Remember that you are sending out a message about yourself professionally in the way you dress, and you want to be sure that your message is consistent. Tomorrow morning, you will wake-up and go to work with these people — conduct yourself accordingly.
  • Always be tasteful, not overtly sexy. If you’re on the fence between something sexy and something more conservative, go conservative.
  • Remember Visual Therapy’s rules. Ask yourself: Do I love it? Is it flattering? Is this the image I want to portray? Is this comfortable?  (This includes shoes, ladies!)

Is your office having a holiday party this year? What are your guidelines for office-party outfits? Discuss it in the comments section, below.

For more on office parties, see:

“How to use the office holiday party”

“Another holiday party poll”

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