Whether your office is planning a huge holiday soirée or a low-key get-together, it pays to think ahead about your outfit. What you wear to work makes an impression on the people you interact with every day. What you wear to a holiday party, on the other hand, will make a good impression on people from other departments whom you don’t normally work with or higher-up employees to whom you may not have been introduced yet. Holiday parties are a great opportunity to network, so you’ll want to be both polished and festive. You want to appear professional but not look like a total Scrooge either, so we’ve put together a handy guide for how to dress for those work functions this season!
Before choosing your outfit, remember the number one rule for dressing for work parties is to be appropriately dressed. “Holiday parties offer a great time to stand out—in a good way,” Meryl Weinsaft Cooper and Jessica Kleiman, co-authors of Be Your Own Best Publicist: How To Use PR Techniques To Get Noticed, Get Hired & Get Rewarded At Work, say in a joint statement. “Finding an outfit that you feel comfortable in—and that looks good on you—is the first step. Basic rules of thumb: If you want to put your best foot forward, avoid anything too short, low, tight or loud.”
With that in mind, here are a few outfit examples for the different types of office holiday parties you might encounter!
For the casual get-together
If your office dress code is generally on the casual side and the event comes nowhere near fancy, you have a bit more leeway to be festive (in the traditional sense).
How do you gauge how casual the holiday party is really going to be? Cooper and Kleiman recommend looking at the timing and location of the party. If it’s a cookie-decorating party during the afternoon or a potluck in the office break room, there’s a good chance the dress will be more casual. Still, make sure to look your best and be sophisticated—as in, nothing highly decorative (that necklace of flashing lights is for another time and place).
“A gathering in the office would call for a slightly amped-up version of what you’d wear to the office,” Cooper and Kleiman explain. “A sparkly camisole or scarf, splashes of holiday colors (gold, silver, blue or red) can add enough panache to make it party-worthy.”
To keep it classy, stick to black slacks or black jeans, and try to limit yourself to one overtly festive element in your outfit, like a tasteful Christmas sweater (don’t wear an ugly Christmas sweater unless it’s an ugly Christmas sweater party!). If you love getting really festive for the holidays (think reindeer ear headbands or Christmas-light earrings), bring those accessories with you in your purse and see if anyone else is donning similar ones too before you bring yours out, suggests Emily Miethner, founder and CEO of FindSpark, a career development community for young creatives.
When you’re deciding how festive your outfit should be, think about the overall feel of your office. If you’ve worked there for more than a few months, gauge how creative your outfit should get based on how your office treats other holidays. “Take cues from how your colleagues are talking about [the upcoming office party] for how into it you should get, especially if you don’t feel strongly one way or the other,” Miethner says. Did they go all out for Halloween and have a huge costume contest or decorating party? This is probably a good sign that they’ll go big for the holiday party, too.
For the cocktail party
Cocktail parties are a great time to break out your party dresses! “My office held a cocktail party for the holidays last year, and they sent out formal invites to everyone that listed all the details, including the cocktails that were being served,” says Maddie Palermo, a recent graduette working in finance in Wisconsin. “It was very classy—all my coworkers were wearing either suits or knee-length dresses. I made sure to wear flats, as cocktail parties are all about mingling.”
Opt for a classy fit-and-flare frock that doesn’t show too much of your décolletage—if you want to wear something strapless, be sure to throw a sparkly or colored cardigan over it. Wear tights if your office is more conservative; otherwise it’s fine to keep your legs bare as long as you’re not showing too much skin.
While a cocktail party may not be the most appropriate setting for kooky holiday accessories like the ones you could get away with at a more casual party, dressing colorfully is a great way to appear polished and festive at the same time. “Integrate colors from the upcoming holidays into your outfit—colors are always a safe bet,” Miethner says.
For the black-tie soirée
Dressing for a black-tie event doesn’t have to be stressful. If your office is holding such an event, the invitation will probably say that it’s black tie. Black tie normally calls for longer ball gowns and more elegant accessories—and remember that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. Pick out a pair of shoes that you will be comfortable in all night—ditching your shoes and going barefoot may have been normal behavior in college, but in the real world, and especially at work functions, it’s a no-no. If you’re comfortable in heels, opt for a pair with a lower heel that you’ve already broken in. If you can’t walk in heels, choose a pair of festive flats (they won’t show under your dress anyway!).
While the term “black tie” immediately brings to mind drab colors, you don’t necessarily have to dress in all black. Wear a beautiful jewel-toned gown and keep your accessories neutral, or brighten up a neutral outfit with pops of color in the form of sparkly jewelry and a colored clutch. While you won’t be able to express your love for the holidays as overtly as you would during a casual party, you can still incorporate holiday colors into your outfit.
“I had a black-tie holiday party to attend last year, and I went in a black, floor-length gown, but punched it up with gold and red accessories,” says Lindsey Carlson, a recent graduette working in marketing in Minnesota.
For the power-suit environment
If you work at an office where a blazer and slacks is the norm for everyone, dressing for a holiday party can be a bit trickier. “If your company is more of a “power-suit” environment, a little [festivity] will go a long way,” say Cooper and Kleiman. “A splash of festive color or a shell with a little sparkle could be just the touch you need to convey your holiday spirit.” Use creative but appropriate ways to show your enthusiasm for the holidays with colored jewelry (nothing too garish) or nail polish that is still professional (no glitter or crazy nail art). “If you have to be very subtle, go small—paint your nails, or wear a red blouse,” Miethner suggests. “Take cues from others and keep it simple if you’re lower on the totem pole.”
When in doubt, always err on the side of caution when dressing for holiday parties. “Being on the safe side is always good, just because if you’re a newer, entry-level employee, you don’t want your colleagues to be talking about you for the wrong reasons,” Miethner advises. Now is not the time to whip out that new, cleavage-baring red bandage dress!
Cooper and Kleiman echo that sentiment. “Be cognizant that your boss and boss’s boss will be there to raise a glass,” they say. “You don’t want to raise eyebrows because of your clothing (or, for that matter, drinking too much—another workplace-party faux pas!).”
If you’re still really stuck on what to wear, ask around your office for tips from more seasoned employees. “If you’re unsure, use it as an excuse to get advice and mentorship from your boss or colleagues,” Miethner says. “Ask them what the holidays are like around the office to get a feeling for how festive to go with your outfit.”
With everything you need to know about what to wear for your upcoming holiday party in mind, you’ll be able to dress to impress this season. Now that you’ll be going into any workplace event with the confidence that you are looking festive and professional, go ahead and mingle, network and have fun!