Deciphering Holiday Dress Codes

‘Tis the season for endless invitations. There are formal balls, office parties, neighborhood gatherings, church socials, family get-togethers, and more happening during the holidays, and with each invitation comes a specific dress code. Invitations may state “cocktail attire,” “black tie only,” or “business casual.” Or a new trend is “festive attire,” a holiday dress code so vague that guests aren’t sure what to wear!

Here is a handy guide to help you decipher holiday dress codes and find the perfect outfit to wear to all of your holiday gatherings.

Black Tie – This is code for a formal event. Men should wear tuxedos and women should dress in full-length, elegant gowns or shorter formal dresses, but stay away from mini-dresses. If the invitation specifies “Holiday Black Tie,” women might want to wear a great red dress with a beautiful wrap, a beaded bag, and dressy pumps.

Creative Black Tie – This still requires formal dress, but attire can be a little trendier and more fun. Some creative suggestions for women might be dressy black pants with a silky or sequined halter top and fancy heels, a satin ball-gown skirt paired with a bejeweled sweater set, or a modern cocktail dress. Men can go with a more modern tuxedo or a dark suit and a fun tie.

Cocktail Attire/Cocktail Attire Festive – Women can show off their knee-length party dresses paired with sexy sandals or even tailored pants with a silky or beaded top. A little black dress is always a good choice, and then you can add interest with accessories such as heels in a festive color, a faux-fur wrap, or statement jewelry. Men can wear dark-colored pants with a dress shirt and tie.

Festive Attire – Dress for the holidays! Add a bit of holiday color with reds, greens, silver, or gold. Dresses or silk or satin tops with beading or sparkle are perfect for this occasion. Men can add some holiday color with their shirts or even festive ties and dark pants.

Business Casual – Your outfit should communicate professionalism, especially if the event is a workplace function. Women can wear khakis, pants, or a skirt with a dressy T-shirt or sweater. Stay away from anything too revealing such as spaghetti straps or tank tops or super-short mini-skirts. Men should wear slacks or khakis with a collared shirt; ties are optional.

Casual – This typically means anything goes, but still dress with some sense of decorum in mind. Pull out that nice pair of jeans and pair them with a nice shirt or sweater. Make sure shoes for both women and men are nice and clean—leave the sneakers and flip flops at home.

Whatever the dress code, remember you are still going to a holiday party, so dressing festively is completely acceptable and even expected.