Put On Your Party Pants
Ahh, the office holiday party. Some can be awkward, groan-inducing experiences, while others are opportunities for testing the limits (of drinking with coworkers). But whatever your office dynamics, one variable remains the same: You have to put on your party pants.
Professional parties can seem like fashion traps, ripe with opportunity for overexposure and ill-advised embellishments. But they can also be a time to visually distinguish yourself and demonstrate the breadth of your EQ. Here are five blush-proof party outfits that will inspire compliments and admiration, not regret.
The Party Dress
Smart women know that context is key when it comes to gauging what to wear. And while tight, black, and sparkly seems to be the theme of many holiday party dresses, that formula leaves something to be desired in most offices. Black is always party appropriate, but consider changing it up and wearing something a little more striking — like winter white. And while it’s still OK to sparkle, make it a bit more strategic: Think metallic costume jewelry or an embellished handbag.
Party Pitfall: Skip the long gowns (which will look and feel out of place) and opt for an above-the-knee or midi-length option. Above all else, fit is of prime importance with the party dress. Lycra/spandex, while forgiving and sometimes very flattering, can add a bit too much va-va-voom for your coworkers, so reserve the skintight varieties for other, more appreciative, audiences.
The Tuxedo Pant Ensemble
The tuxedo pant is a welcome reprieve from the buttoned-up corporate uniform of black slacks. They level up significantly when paired with heels, so wear whatever height is comfortable for you (within reason), and try to avoid flats. Focus on luxe fabrics with a bit of weight for a flattering drape. Top with a silk or satin blouse, or a high-quality synthetic — something with a bit of sheen to give it life — in a rich color like burgundy, navy, or silver, or keep it simple with cream.
Party Pitfall: Remember Hillary Clinton’s cleavage-gate? Hopefully your office isn’t filled with such austere fashion police, but when in doubt, it’s best to downplay your chest in professional settings. Scoop- and V-neck blouses can be flattering for most body types, but if you have a large chest, a crew or boat neck might be a safer bet. If you’re itching to show some skin, sheer sleeves are a nice compromise.
Skirt + Sweater Combo
For most work-related holiday festivities, you want to strike a balance between cocktail attire and business formal — and a sweater/skirt combo can be the perfect sweet spot. A silk taffeta skirt is a party-appropriate upgrade from other everyday fabrics, and a leather skirt, particularly when paired with a cashmere sweater, is an edgy-yet-sophisticated wardrobe staple (choose one around knee length).
Oversize sweaters can look less polished in this context, so stick with a more fitted variety (I love a stretch cashmere for a winning cozy/polished look). Tuck it in or pull it over the skirt and belt to accentuate your waist.
Party Pitfall: Avoid the old “ugly Christmas sweater” gag, unless the party is specifically billed as that theme. In general, you don’t need to be decked out in holiday colors or dripping with kitsch (translation: Avoid looking like a Christmas tree). Instead, find small points of distinction to work in some holiday-inspired colors and prints. Festive tights or a holiday-inspired scarf are tasteful ways to show you’re in the spirit. Or find an accessory with a little twist — like a studded belt.
Blazer + Festive Pants
Colorful, patterned pants (a la Lilly Pulitzer) are best relegated to sandy beaches and casual resorts, but holiday parties are an exception to the crazy pants rule. The key is to pick a well-constructed, high-end fabric (patterns make poor quality more visible) and a geometric or classic print.
For instance, paisley or diamonds are a safe bet — but if your office skews creative, then by all means, go bold with something like this. Whatever the pattern, be sure to keep the rest of the outfit minimalist: A solid-hued blazer helps balance the trouser flare.
Party Pitfall: Putting on heels is one of the easiest ways to slip into party mode. But be wary of sky-high stilettos billed as “party shoes.” I’m not in any way endorsing frumpy — in fact, shoes are a great way to safely incorporate a little “sexiness” into your outfit while still looking powerful. But make a mental note to cap out at four inches and keep any platform half an inch or less. And remember: A little sparkle adds pizzazz, but too many rhinestones or large bows can look more gauche than glam.
There’s no time like a party to step a little outside the everyday visual boundaries. You need not compromise your professionalism, but it’s an acceptable opportunity to push the limits with your fashion choices. (Just what those limits are and how far they can be pushed greatly depend on your particular context, so exercise caution and think before you wear.)
Plaid is a holiday-appropriate print, so try out a plaid blazer or pants. A velvet dress exudes understated elegance and muted lavishness. When in doubt, reach for some sequins (it’s worth paying a little extra if you decide to go this route — cheap embellishments are often recognizable and tend to come off easily).
Party Pitfall: The trick to wearing bold pieces is to make sure you’re wearing them and they’re not wearing you. More is not always more, particularly when it comes to bold items. A sequin skirt looks classy when paired with a black cashmere sweater, but starts to become distracting when combined with an oversize, bejeweled necklace. Pair instead with simple earrings to minimize the bling.
- Milly Sequin Midi Skirt, $270
- Bloomingdale’s Cashmere Crewneck, $99
- Anthropologie Enclosed Teardrop Earrings, $33
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image- and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.