Special Occasion Dress Code Tips for Business

What fun, you’re invited to a holiday party!

Uh-oh, the invite doesn’t mention any dress code. Or it says something mysterious like “holiday attire” or “festive informal” and you haven’t a clue what that means.

Relax, we’re here to help

We’ve got a few tips and advice on holiday party dress codes and standards. Guests appreciate having a dress code that give them some guidance about what’s appropriate.Tips and advice on holiday party dress codes

You know how awkward it feels to be underdressed when everyone else is dressed more formally or vice versa.

Lady Gaga NOT!

BTW the holiday party is not the time to dress seductively and show excessive cleavage ala Lady Gaga; it’s still a business event,

Our Dress Code Decoder Ring

(with some party wear style tips and advice)

The five common standards or dress codes for the holiday season:

Dress Code 1 – BLACK TIE
(means glitter, glitz and elegance – for a very formal event)
Men – Tuxedos (black is most classic and formal)
Women – Long evening dresses- worn with sheer hosiery and rich, elegant open toed & open heeled sandals, chandelier style earrings

Dress code 2 – FORMAL
(sometimes called “Black Tie Optional” – for a formal Cristmas party)
Men – can wear a tux but a dark suit with dark tie & white shirt can also work.
Long dress or a cocktail length dress (around the knee) for women. Again rich, strappy, metallic or satin shoes. Accessories/jewelry with shine.

Dress Code 3 – SEMI-FORMAL
(sometimes called “Cocktail Attire” or “Holiday Attire” – a semi-formal Christmas party or wedding)
Men can wear a dark suit, white shirt, dark tie with dark socks and black shoes
(add brighter colored shirt and tie which works for a day time event)
Women – Cocktail dress or dressy pant suit is an option for women. Sheer hosiery, dressy pumps.

Dress Code 4 – INFORMAL
(often called “Business Attire”)
Men – this means standard business wear. Could be a suit but more likely dress pants and a sports jacket, colored shirt with or without a tie or fine gauge knit sweater/crisp polo shirt.
Women – dress, pantsuit or a skirt (with or without a jacket).
Add some bright accents/accessories.

Men – Usually a jacket but not essential, with slacks or khakis, colorful shirt/fine gauge knit top and tie is optional. (The word ‘business’ usually means not jeans.)
Women – Colorful sporty looks. Novelty jacket (patterned or textured) or smart sweaters with skirt or pants.

Festive Semi-Informal Quasi-Casual? Hunh?

If the invite is cryptic or unclear or if you’re still unsure, call the organizer and ask how people typically dress for these affairs.

More special event advice: 5 tips for hosting a successful party

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Posted by Joanne Blake – Canadian corporate image consultants and dress code advisor/decoder

About the author 

Joanne Blake

Canadian speaker, corporate image consultant & business etiquette expert. If you're interested in booking a presentation, keynote or coaching, contact me. Based in Calgary / Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada.

  1. I found it interesting that for cocktail attire, women can wear sheer hosiery or dressy pumps. My wife is looking for different dresses for a variety of events and situations. I appreciate this post and I will refer it to my wife so she could get more ideas for dress ideas.

  2. Thanks for your comment John. Yes, we do expect our elected officials to dress for respect and with their role in mind. I suspect that they didn’t want to be too formal to meet with senior citizens in their home. And yet there is a fine line between being too formal and overly casual. It sounds like the one wearing a blazer with casual pants hit the mark.

  3. Hi Joanne,

    I am employed in an upper end retirement home in Niagara Falls, Ontario. We recently received a visit from two politicians. Their main agenda’ was to get our votes for the upcoming election. One of the politicians was dressed in a very casual manner, jeans and a sweater. The other wore causal dress pants with a blazer. When coming to greet and meet voters should they be dressed more appropriately, or was what they were wearing acceptable?

    John B.

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