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Decoding Holiday Party Dress Codes

Holiday party season is upon us and, as we look forward to joyful times with friends and family, there can also be a bit of fretfulness about what to wear to these upcoming celebrations. With all the season brings, taking time to put together stellar outfits— not to mention deciphering the dress codes that come with each invite—can feel a bit daunting. Dressing for the holiday’s is the perfect way to have a little fun and experiment with your wardrobe in ways you may not be inclined to the rest of the year. Let’s talk dress codes and easy tips for adding a dose of festive glamour to your outfit arsenal.

‘Tis the season for black tie, formal and cocktail invites! These dress codes often leave us wondering how dressy is appropriate. Black tie means a long, formal dress. Formal means your dress should still be pretty fancy and can be short (men should still wear tuxes for a formal dress code). For women, black-tie optional is usually identical to formal (though men now have the option to choose a formal suit and tie). You have more leeway with cocktail dress: A short moderately fancy frock will due just fine. Be sure not to confuse cocktail dress with cocktail party; you may be invited to a cocktail party (i.e. one that occurs in the evening and serves cocktails and light hors d’oeurves) that is not necessarily cocktail dress. You might also start to see the word “festive” in reference to dress code. When it comes to these types of parties, it’s important to know your host and the venue and take your cues from there. Feel free to ask the host what she will be wearing if you’re feeling unsure.

Another dress code you might see around this time of year is smart casual. Usually, this comes up in business settings, perhaps for a work party on a weekend afternoon or a holiday gathering put on by a networking group. In these cases, dress casually in a way that will reflect well on you if you were to run into your boss. Think dark jeans and a blouse, a casual dress or black pants and a sweater; avoid distressed denim, t-shirts or anything too revealing.

Whether you’re dressing in black tie or smart casual, a guiding principle is to wear something you feel good in that also shows respect to your host and fellow party goers by honoring the dress code and putting some effort into your look.

Within any of these dress codes, if the party is a celebration, it’s always appropriate and fun to add a dash of festivity to your look. In general, the holidays are a great time to pull out bold pieces that may feel a little over the top during other times of the year. Think sparkling clutches, statement jewelry, a full skirt, a jeweled headband or your favorite heels. When your outfit is fun and festive, it will be sure to put you in the right mood to enjoy the holidays the way they are meant to be.

Cathy Starnes is a personal stylist and the owner of new retail concept, Iris Boutique, which offers unique women’s accessories with a side of personal styling.

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