It’s hard enough getting dressed for the office everyday – and finding two reasonably clean, matching socks to wear – but throw in holiday parties and their baffling attire requirements, and things really get confusing.
Invitations start rolling in, and so do all of the clever (read: annoying)phrases thought up by egg nog-soaked hosts trying to be cute, such as “Holiday Casual”, “Christmas Chic”, “Mistletoe Merry”, and “Business Festive” which were all on actual recent invites. My favorite? “Holiday Formal”, which I’m going to assume means they expect you in a Santa suit and black tie.
To get some guidance, and make sure you don’t show up to the next event in reindeer antlers and a blinking nose when everyone else is in a jacket and tie, I turned once again to our etiquette expert, Diane Gottsman of The Protocol School of Texas.
According to Diane, “There is no handbook for these terms, and you either have to be a mind reader or bite the peppermint-flavored bullet and call the host and ask for a little direction.” If calling is not an option, most of the time you can wing it by looking for subtle clues, such as the venue of the event, the personality of the host, other guests on the list, and the time of day the party will be held. Evening affairs are typically more dressy than daytime events.
Some other keys may be found in inclusion of the words “casual”, “club”, “merry”, “fun” or “business”. Business usually means wearing a jacket, and possibly a tie. (One guy recently got an invite with “Holiday At’tie’re” as the dress code, which I’m guessing means wearing a holiday-themed tie.) The others can mean various degrees of casual, going all the way from a dress shirt and slacks (casual), to a button front designer shirt and dress jeans (club), to a holiday themed or colored shirt/sweater/socks/tie/accessory/etc (fun, merry).
If you see the words “elegant” or “chic” Gottsman says it can mean high end and fashionable, but more understated than “black tie”. “I think the bottom line is it’s best to dress ‘up’ than ‘down'”, she says. “You can always say you are on your way to another party, and what guy doesn’t want to look better than the rest of his party competition?”
If you’re going to host your own affair, learn a lesson from your fellow holiday hosts, and do your party guests a favor by making your attire expectations clear. Here’s a guide from Diane on what those standard invitation dress codes mean:
Formal or White Tie (Think dinner with the Queen or a night at the opera)
Black tail coat
Black pants with 2 satin stripes going down the side of the trouser
White tie and vest
White gloves – yup, gloves
Black socks and black patent shoes
Black Tie (Still very formal)
Black bow tie and matching cummerbund
White shirt with tasteful cufflinks
Black socks and black patent shoes
No gloves – unless it’s cold, and worn with your very expensive overcoat
Black Tie “Festive” or Black Tie “Creative” (You can lighten up and have some fun, and wear your Santa socks)
Colored bow tie and cummerbund
Black shirt with no tie (a trendier alternate to a white shirt with a bow tie)
Good quality black shoes
Black Tie Optional (You’ve got a choice between a tux or a dressy dark suit)
If you opt for the suit, wear a tie
After Five, Cocktail or Semi Formal
A good quality, 100% dark worsted wool suit
A 100% cotton white shirt (a white shirt is a powerful statement)
Leather dress shoes
Business or Dressy Casual
Opened collar shirt
And finally, a few fashion faux pas to avoid:
– Overdoing it on the jewelry
– Anything linen – You are totally out of season
– Any clothing that jingles, sings or blinks
– Short socks – Calf hair is not festive
– Heavy cologne – No one will tell you but they’ll avoid you like the plague
– Casual shoes with your tux
– Chunky, thick rubber soled shoes
– Dirty nails, shoes, collars or cuffs