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Office Parties – Should I Go and What Should I Wear

You are invited to your company’s office party and you do not know whether you should go or what to wear.  What you should you do?

This is a common dilemma faced by millions of employees across the country.  First, you should definitely decide to go to the party.  A holiday party offers you an opportunity to socialize with your colleagues as well as impress your bosses.  By socializing with your bosses you will be able to show a different side which could be beneficial when it comes time for promotions.  You will also be better able to protect yourself in event that the company needs to downsize.

Once you decide that you are going, what should you wear?  Unfortunately, invitations are not typically clear on this front.  Most invitations refer to general categories which are not as helpful as you like.  I once received an invitation to a semi-formal affair that said ties were optional which is a contradiction if I ever saw one.

As a side note, avoid drinking too much because being drunk in a business situation shows your colleagues that you are not a professional and may give rise to questions regarding your judgment.

I have put together a brief overview of party attire categories and what you should wear.  In all situations, your attire should be neat and polished.  Please remember that the holiday office party is a business function.

  • Black Tie (also Formal) -- calls for formal attire. Men should wear tuxedos, women should wear cocktail, long dresses or dressy evening separates.
  • Black Tie Optional offers men the option of wearing a tuxedo but men may also wear a dark suit and tie. Women typically wear cocktail, long dresses or dressy evening separates.
  • Semi-Formal means that tuxedos are not required, nor are long dresses..  You are safe if you wear a suit (for men) and an appropriate short dress or dressy suit (for women) is acceptable.
  • Business Formal is a slight variation of semi-formal and means that women should wear a tailored suit or a dress but avoid something too sexy.
  • Cocktail Attire means short, elegant dresses for her and dark suits for him (also sports coats and slacks are acceptable).
  • Festive Attire is unfortunately a very ambiguous category.  The one thing that I take from this category is that your attire should be fun.  Unfortunately, it gets more difficult from there.  Some believe that festive attire is a semi-formal event with some holiday colors thrown in.  While others believe festive attire implies fun, relaxed, or casual clothing. Still others use festive attire to describe holiday-themed attire.  There is no consensus on what festive attire is so the host should elaborate (ask if necessary).  Absent that, I would suggest that in the office party context, men should wear some form of a blazer and slacks and women should opt for a skirt with a top.
  • Dressy Casual calls for dressed-up versions of casual looks. Men should wear khakis with a shirt and possible a blue blazer.  Women should opt for a dressy pants look. Jeans, shorts, T-shirts and other casual looks are not appropriate.
  • Casual generally means anything goes.