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Tis the Season for Parties

This festive time of the year offers cocktail parties, office parties, dinner parties, family gatherings, and more. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to become the most stressful time of the year when it comes to the question of what to wear.

This daunting dilemma can be easily deciphered by knowing what the dress codes of today mean. Today’s fashion codes have definitely evolved in comparison to the past when strict rules were expected to be followed.

However, there are a few traditional guidelines that still hold true. To help you unscramble what a particular dress code means, I’ve put together a list of the most common holiday clothing customs.

White Tie ~ This is the most formal dress code and rules must be followed. Men should wear a dark suit or tuxedo with a white bow tie. Women are advised to wear a floor length gown with gloves and an up-do hairstyle. Heels and jewels will complete your look.

Black Tie ~ Still very formal, a man should wear a black bow tie with his tuxedo or dark suit. Women can choose to wear a floor length gown or a very formal cocktail dress.

Black Tie Optional ~ This is just what it says for men. Women can wear a simple little black dress or a nice cocktail dress, OR this is the night to wear that gorgeous, cream-colored, chiffon ballgown you’ve had in your closet all year because when you saw it you just had to buy it because you knew someday you would have the occasion to wear it.

So what if you are the only woman in the room wearing a ballgown. You look beautiful! When there are options, there are no dress faux pas. Embellishments of beads, lace appliqués, and embroidery can add to the elegance of a pretty mermaid or ballgown silhouette.

Creative Black Tie ~ This is an acceptable time to wear something trendy and unique. A man may wear a fun patterned bow tie and matching cummerbund. A woman can wear anything from a trendy cocktail dress to a pantsuit to a brightly colored floor length gown.

Cocktail ~ For men, a tie is technically optional. My thoughts however are that a man always looks sexier when wearing a tie. It’s the one piece of fashion where he can freely express his personality. So, why not take advantage of this opportunity?

For the woman, a typical cocktail dress is feminine and form-fitting with a hemline hitting just above the knee. Always wear heels with a cocktail dress. Jewelry can be simple or elaborate depending on the flair of the dress.

Semi-Formal ~ Men should wear a dark business suit with a tie. Women can wear anything from a cocktail dress to a long, flowing skirt paired with a dressy top, to a little black dress. The LBD is considered to be the essence of style. It is always appropriate and you can change the aura of your look with your accessories. A semi-formal dress code is a great time to add a little sparkle, show a little lace, or glow with glitter.

Festive ~ These parties are especially popular during the holidays. The dress code is similar to cocktail parties with a holiday vibe, so traditional holiday colors are often worn to commemorate the season. A festive party is the perfect time to try something new and to express the jolly side of your personality.

The “Tacky Christmas Sweater” party is an off-shoot of the festive party. These playful festivities invite guests to wear a sweater bedecked with Santa Claus, reindeer, or the Grinch, along any assortment of tacky embellishments. This fun idea can be kept somewhat classy by choosing one gimmick and making it your focal point.

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For example, if you are lucky enough to find a sweater adorned with pink flamingos wearing Santa hats, keep your jewelry to a minimum and wear the sweater with a simple pair of black leggings and ballet flats. Wearing this same sweater with chandelier earrings, hot pink leggings and red heels would send a completely different message. With a little planning, you can stay festive while remaining stylish.

A festive party dress code is also a great time to wear your red sequined cocktail dress. One thing to keep in mind is that shiny fabrics reflect light and can make you appear larger than you actually are. Take care to only wear them on the places of your body you want to emphasize.

Office Party ~ Consider the culture of the particular business when deciding what to wear. If the business is conservative, that environment will carry over to after hour events. This is not the time to wear a provocative, low-plunging red sequined cocktail dress. You won’t be taken seriously and it can affect your reputation for years to come.

Rather, choose an outfit that respectfully expresses your personality. I once attended a celebration at a very nice hotel where the speaker wore an extremely revealing neckline. I don’t remember a single word she said, but I do remember thinking, I hope nothing falls out.

Dressy Casual ~ This code is often set for small dinner parties at posh hotels, business luncheons, or afternoon soirées. Avoid denim, chino, and polo shirts. Opt instead for silk, jersey, or rayon. Wear nice shoes, not tennis shoes or clunky leather sandals.

Day and Night Casual ~ A casual dress code offers you the most freedom of dress. Daytime social events can be as simple as lunch with a few friends or a tea party with your bridge club.

Depending on the location and theme, you may opt to wear nice bluejeans or a sheath with heels. Nighttime events may be held at a fine restaurant or local pub. While still casual, it is stepped up a bit from daytime casual.

Remember, just because an event is “casual,” it’s not free rein to wear sweat pants, torn bluejeans, or sneakers. This is a lovely opportunity to express yourself with style—such as in a charming pantsuit.

Smart Casual ~ There are no set rules here, so dress for the location, weather, and purpose of the occasion.

Small accessories play a large role in your overall look. A beautiful ballgown can go from a “10 to a “1” by simply carrying the wrong purse.

Imagine walking into a room wearing a stunning mermaid silhouette gown—with a large, brown leather zippered bag hanging across your shoulder. Gasp. Large bags distract and look disconnected. Instead, carry a small clutch to support your style.

A small purse or clutch can also take your look from classical to whimsical. I have a small pink-sequined clutch in the shape of a strawberry.

I rarely have the opportunity to carry it, but when I do, it definitely makes a statement. The same advice goes for outerwear. Stay warm with chic wraps made from velvet, fur, or feathers. Your shoes and jewelry should complement your attire without distracting from your overall look.

As always, the most important element of your ensemble is confidence. And confidence comes from knowing you are wearing an appropriate outfit for any celebration.

Remember, everything you wear tells a story. Take care that your script says what you want it to say.

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