Understanding holiday party dress codes

/ Source: TODAY

Interpreting dress codes on invites during the holiday season can be tricky. People have become more creative when addressing dress codes for parties and the ensuing confusion has grown exponentially. While we may not be able to control what hosts request on their invites, Stacy London is here to help us navigate these sometimes muddy waters so we can all look our best and be clear on the basic dos and don’ts:

The most common mistake people make is a literal interpretation of the holidays. Big mistakes include:

  • Christmas sweaters with Santa or reindeer or both on them — they are shapeless, bulky and downright hokey.
  • Leave the mistletoe hats at home. There's bound to be mistletoe hanging from someone's ceiling and you don't want to be mistaken for vegetation, someone might water you.
  • Wearing red and green together is not only unattractive on most skin types, it is a bit of a cliche. Wearing red or green is fine if these colors look genuinely good on you and you mix them with metallics and neutrals. The trick is to wear clothing that you could wear in any season for a party and invest in pieces that you will be able to wear more than once a year. (Otherwise, they have about as much use as Halloween costumes.)

After remembering these rules, translating invite dress codes is a bit easier. Here are a few tips to look your best even when the dress codes seem downright confusing and abstract!

‘Dress your best’ (office party)

For some reason, many office invitations have this dress code of late. This is odd, since most holiday parties are during office hours or directly after work. So office attire is really all you have to work with as a base. One important rule for office parties: Remember you are still at work and representing your company. Never show too much skin. It can be inappropriate and unprofessional, even suggestive, so try to avoid it. I usually recommend adding and switching to an office outfit. Bring an extra pair of shoes and a layering piece in a bag to work. Monochromatic prints and neutrals are always appropriate in the office but make a nice base for a switch to festive. Throw on a bright-colored shoe and add a shiny, loose-fitting jacket, like matte sequins, which aren't quite as shiny as traditional ones, or a metallic tweed.

Shine is always appropriate for parties, in any season. It looks sophisticated when mixed with matte fabrics and doesn't look garish if done subtly, in one piece. Add a clutch and you're good to go.

Drape Front Sequin Blazer, IMAN Global Chic, $109.95, HSN.com

Gray printed tie-collar blouse, Urban Outfitters, $59, urbanoutfitters.com

Charcoal Gray Heather Trouser, Adrienne Vittadini, $78, adriennevittadini.com

Pink Peep-Toe Slingback Pump, White House Black Market, $98, whitehouseblackmarket.com

Black Feather and Rhinestone Broach, Chico's, $38, chicos.com

Gold and Black Leather Clutch, Lodis, $78, lodis.com

Sweet Virginia Freshwater Pearl Earring, Banana Republic, $39.50, bananarepublic.gap.com

‘Creative black tie’ (formal party)

You can have a bit more fun with your options here and longor short can be appropriate. One option I really love is going with a long but "blank canvas"-style dress. Pair a simple, solid-color dress in a more casual material with bold jewelry instead of the traditional rhinestone variety. Matte gold or bronze jewelry is very popular this season and because it is less shiny, you can wear bold pieces without looking over the top. Look for a material with sheen and some draping to make it formal enough for a creative black tie affair, but one made of cotton jersey feels a bit more relaxed! The combination of the cut, color, interesting jewelry and high heels says creative but formal. This is an ideal dress for travel and works in a variety of climates as well. You could always have the dress shortened a bit for more regular use and wear it with ornate or metallic flats instead of heels and be the chicest, most comfortable person at any party. You'll be ready to dance all night! 

Red Microfiber Jersey Gown, H&M, $49.95, H&M.com

Polka Dot Frame Clutch, Felix Rey, $230, Bloomingdales.com

Asylum Brass and Gunmetal Necklace, Jennifer Elizabeth, $275, jenniferelizabeth.com

Ella Brass Cuff Bracelet, Jennifer Elizabeth, $130, www.jenniferelizabeth.com

Crystal Tournette Earring, Objets d' Envy, $64, objetsdenvy.com

‘Festive attire’ (casual party)

This may be one of the most abstract dress code directives I've encountered. "Festive" can mean so many things. What it does not mean is wearing any kind of theme, an item of clothing that plays a jingle, or anything that lights up, whether outlet or battery-powered. It does not mean "quirky" but "whimsical."

The easiest way to interpret a code like "festive" is by mixing color and pattern with my old favorite standby, denim. Jeans absolutely work for a day or evening party in a casual setting. They can easily be dressed up or dressed down according to what you put with them. Try a brightly colored top with a pattern or some kind of visual interest, like a ruffle, that has a good fit on your top half. Make sure you like the top with the jeans alone before adding a cute jacket to the outfit. How many parties have you been to where it is freezing outside and then 100 degrees inside the crowded party? Nine times out of 10 you will wind up with the jacket off, so make sure the top is a winner. Then find a jacket that really does pull the top and jean into something a bit more sophisticated. Look for a rich color that flatters your skin tone (jewel tones are good for every skin tone at any age), in a velvet or other rich fabric. Pair the look with some fabulous high heels that are printed, metallic or a bright color and throw in another complementary print in your bag. These pieces individually will get tons of mileage in your wardrobe. The jacket and blouse can be paired with trousers or a skirt for work. The blouse will be great with shorts and wedges in the warmer months, whereas the heels will dress up any plain black dress.

Printed Cotton Ruffle Blouse, LOFT, $49.50, loftonline.com

Burgundy Ruffle Blazer, White House Black Market, $118, whitehouseblackmarket.com


Blue Rhinestone Necklace, Martine Wester, $138, martinewester.com

Iridis Rainbow Ring, Allison Daniel, $78, allisondanieldesigns.com

Elegant Stone Cuff, IMAN Global Chic, $64.95, HSN.com

Mimi Slender Squared Line Hoop Earrings, Sorrelli, $41, sorrelli.com

Cairo "Diva" Sequin Clutch Wallet, Lodis, $138, lodis.com