Your Office Party Dress Code: What to Wear, What to Avoid

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — No one wants to be the employee who gets drunk and falls down the stairs at the holiday party, but experts say that watching what you wear is just as important as watching what you drink. While it's important to have fun and enjoy a relaxed evening with co-workers, it's essential to keep your career in mind and "dress for success" during your corporate celebration.

If you're unsure what to wear, check out our list of expert tips before you raise a glass with your boss this year.

How professional or festive should I be?

This really depends on when and where the party is, says Jill Swanson, image coach and author of Out the Door in 15 Minutes. If it's a daytime party, opt for an outfit that's a "step up" from what you'd ordinarily wear to the office. For an evening affair at a nice restaurant, a "little black dress" or suit are in order.

To know how to dress, you have to pay attention to the date, venue and wording of the invitation when you get it, says Rachel Weingarten, brand strategist and author of Career and Corporate Cool.

"If it's an official invite in the mail, you know that things are going to be more proper," Weingarten says. "If it was a friendly email invitation for drinks, you can be more laid back. Bear in mind though, that this isn't a gathering of friends — it's your co-workers."

Some employees may feel that a weekend holiday party is more casual than one that occurs on a weeknight, but that's simply not true, says Lauren Rothman, founder of Styleauteur and author of Style Bible: What to Wear to Work.

"Keep in mind that the holiday party is still a work event. Keep dressing for the job you want and not just the one you have," Rothman says. "Always be appropriate. Your style reflects who you are and who you want to be — it matters."

If you're still unsure of exactly how to dress, Swanson says it's OK to ask your colleagues what they're planning to wear — but be careful who you ask. It's probably only a good idea to inquire if you admire their dressing style, she says. Also, it's not a good idea to ask your HR department for advice unless you're a new employee.

"Only ask your HR department for advice if you've worked there for less than a year. Any longer than that, and it might appear you aren't really plugged into the business family," she says.

What type of attire should definitely be avoided?

Anything too tight should be left at home, says style expert and founder of SheFinds.com, Michelle Madhok.

"If you're anything like us, you'll be eating and drinking to excess at these parties — sorry, diet! So unless you have a super-speedy metabolism, give yourself a little room," she says. "Plus, need we point out that you're more likely to have fun and relax if you can breathe?"

With work parties, Weingarten says she always advises people to adopt the "grandmother rule."

"If you'd be uncomfortable wearing something in front of your grandmother, it's inappropriate for a work situation," she explains.

Also, for ideas on what may be inappropriate this year, Weingarten advises remembering some of last year's holiday party disasters.

"Think back to last year. Was anyone gossiped about? Was there a standout for best or worst outfit? Plan your outfit accordingly," she says.

What about wearing fun or goofy items such as glitter and reindeer antlers?

Light, bright and sparkly clothing is fine, and it's perfectly OK to have holiday logos such as reindeers and sleighs on your clothing, says Tony Goddard, executive coach and director at Tony Goddard Consulting.

"Nothing surprises people more than the person who wears black and white all year coming into the Xmas party wearing sparkling sequins with all the colors of the season. This is career enhancing — it shows your hidden personality."

If your party has a theme, it's not only encouraged, it's expected that you'll join in, says Mary C. Kelly, CEO of the Productive Leaders consultancy.

"You should have fun. If there is a theme, such as a Christmas sweater theme, then of course you should participate," Kelly says. "It shows good teamwork and that you happily play well with others."

Even if you don't like the party's theme, Kelly says it's important to be enthusiastic.

"Some people attend work holiday functions and consider it a chore. That brings down other people. It is supposed to be fun, so have fun, wear the Santa hat, and have some eggnog," she says.

— By Kathryn Tuggle

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