Holiday Party Season: Dress Codes Decoded

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Haute HolidaysWhite tie, creative black tie, semi-formal… What does it all mean? As a stylist, I get a lot of calls for help deciphering the dress codes on party invitations. This post is about demystifying the most popular dress codes to help you avoid those Code Red moments.

White Tie: One of the most formal dress codes in the ‘book’ and is typically an evening dress code. It is therefore, worn after 6 pm or after dark. Generally, you should wear a full length evening gown and the color of your evening gown should be adjusted to reflect the season but avoid gaudy colors. You can complement your full length gown with shawls and opera length gloves. Avoid dresses that fall short of your ankles. As for hair and makeup, elegance and sophistication is what you’re going for.

Black Tie: Still a formal dress code but not quite as formal as White Tie. You should choose gowns that are either full length or tea length (above the ankles). You could also go with a cocktail dress which is shorter in length but this is the part where you would need to assess the occasion (venue, time of day, etc.) in deciding whether the shorter cocktail dress suits the event. Again, your hair and make-up should reflect a high degree of elegance and sophistication.

Creative Black Tie: Formal with a twist. Feel free to have a little fun with your outfit choices. You could choose a gown paired with fun and unique jewelry or tuxedo pants paired with an ultra feminine sequin halter. Hair and makeup can reflect the trends too.

Black Tie Optional: As the name suggests, this essentially means that black tie is suggested but not required. Your best bet would be to take your cue from the type of event being held as well as the venue and other invited guests. Cocktail attire or chic separates would be considered the more casual option here. Hair and makeup should reflect the style of dress you choose.

Semi-formal: This category involves a pretty wide variety of clothing options. A dress or stylish pantsuit are considered appropriate. As in creative black tie you could also wear something like tuxedo pants and a flirty top.

Cocktail Attire: Festive and fun; Now is the time to break out the shorter (knee-length) dresses with festive details like sequin or lace. Another option: Tailored trousers and a dressy top, such as a beaded shell or patterned silk tube top. The little black dress is the ultimate cocktail dress and appropriate for most special occasions. Cocktail parties call for festive hair and makeup, too, such as a high ponytail or messy braided bun.

Dressy Casual: Informal and relaxed, but still chic. Almost anything goes, with the exception of denim and sweats. Try a pair of slim slacks with a sweater in a bold color like fuchsia; a straight, knee-length skirt and cashmere shell; or tailored trousers and a silk blouse (think Banana Republic style). For hair and makeup, keep things simple and subdued, as you would for a day at the office.

Casual: This is one case where you get to wear something really casual and no one would bat an eyelid. Be careful to consider the venue and other invited guest before showing up in your everyday work clothes though. Feel free to add some color in the mix to liven up your look but avoid loud colors and gaudy accessories.

What’s your holiday party style?

This post contains an excerpt for the Amazon Bestseller: ‘Haute Holidays: A Guide to Office Party Etiquette & Style’. Grab your copy today to get more tips on flawless holiday party style!


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T. Espinoza is CEO at The Style Medic. She's the Diva next door, the girlfriend who always looks Fab but doesn’t spend a bundle. She works with the active, focused Diva who wants to look fly, save time and most of all, save money. T. can help you streamline your wardrobe, maximize your budget and take your style from flat-lined to FABULOUS!

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