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posted Nov 30, 2010 in Dress & Image / by Joanne Blake

Holiday Party Attire - What will I wear?

Unsure how to dress for a swanky holiday party?

Dancing at Christmas in NovemberWe received the following inquiry from a faithful newsletter subscriber:

What does "holiday attire" mean?

I am in the midst of preparing for a high class company holiday party. I am not sure what to do. I need your help and advice. What does holiday attire mean? I don't want to blow it! Bare shoulders/arms? A classy jacket? Knee length or full length dress or is it safer to do a pant suit? Open toed shoes? Glitzy jewelry?
In your opinion, what is an acceptable dressing/image strategy for a high class company holiday function for a woman with a career 'on the rise'? Thanks!

My strategy

This is a common conundrum especially for career women because there are so many choices and we don’t want to get it wrong. The party is still a business function, so classy party clothes are a good choice. The location of the event will also provide clues as to how to dress. If it’s held at a 5 star hotel then you can assume that dress will be elegant.

Advice on decoding dress codes

Oftentimes, a dress code is noted on the invitation; but what the heck does holiday attire mean? Typically this means semi-formal. Recently at Christmas in November at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge their website described dress for the gala evening as “dress up in your Family Christmas Dinner outfits”.  This led to some confusion as many families dress in many different ways. (Even my family dresses different from Terry's for Christmas dinner. Fun-loving Italian versus staunch British/Irish) Whereas what Christmas in November really intended for the gala dress was semi-formal.

A surefire tip

If you are new to the company or the event, I suggest that you contact the party organizer or committee and inquire how guests have typically dressed in the past. Aim to be in the top 25% of your peers. While showing some skin (bare arms) is acceptable at these business/social events, you want to stand out for the right reasons; skip anything too revealing or too flashy.

How to avoid wardrobe malfunctions

Terry, Joanne and Bal Arneson at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Christmas in NovemberIf you suspect that your outfit is too skimpy, it probably is. Bring a wrap or pashmina to act as a cover up. In addition to adding warmth, it’s especially useful in the event of a wardrobe malfunction. (See our blog entry on my embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions) Here's a photo of Terry, myself and Spice Goddess/Chef Bal Arneson in holiday attire.

Below I have included some semi-formal dress suggestions:


(aka - also known as - Cocktail or Holiday Attire, for a more formal holiday party or wedding)
For men:
Good quality dark suit, white shirt, dark tie with dark socks and black shoes
For women:
Cocktail dress (somewhere around the knee) or dressy pant suit is an option
Sheer hosiery, dressy pumps or open toed sandals and a small clutch and some bling. Fabric can have sheen.  

For additional information and other dress code guidelines, check out our archived newsletter article with specific event dress code details.

Posted by Joanne Blake - the personal image expert
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About Joanne Blake

Canadian speaker, corporate image consultant & etiquette expert. If you're interested in booking me (Joanne Blake) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me or visit my conference page. Based in the Calgary/Edmonton, Alberta area of western Canada.

2203 - 133 Avenue | Edmonton, Alberta | T5A 4Z9 | Canada | Tel: 780-472-0767 | Fax: 780-475-8790

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