Cracking the Holiday Dress Code

By Sharon Mosley

November 26, 2019 5 min read

It may be one of the hardest questions you ask yourself this holiday season — right up there with what gift to buy your mother-in-law and what to wear to a holiday event when the invitations start filtering into your inbox, popping up on your phone or even arriving the old-fashioned way: in your mailbox! And with hosts getting more and more creative with party dress codes, it's good to get into the holiday spirit with a few updates for the season ahead.

— Cocktail party. This is one of the most common holiday gatherings that many of us will attend. And the attire for these affairs may be one of the easiest to decode. A short dress will always work, of course. They don't call them "cocktail dresses" for nothing! The metallic sheath is a hit for this holiday season. The more glamorous the dress, the better. Add your highest heels and big, bold jewelry.

If you're going to a cocktail party straight from work, then you might want to tone down the shine and wear a simple little black dress that can easily be dressed up with a statement jacket, shawl or wrap. Add sparkling chandelier earrings or a chunky necklace to give your plain dress more party pizzazz.

But cocktail party attire is not just limited to short dresses. If pants are more your style, then feel free to wear a silky pair of wide-leg pants with a cashmere sweater or a short satin skirt with a velvet bell-sleeve tunic. Statement accessories like faux fur scarves will always amp up the glam factor for cocktail separates.

For the guys, a dark suit and tie are always appropriate. A dark velvet sports coat is another stylish alternative.

— Casual chic. This may be one of the trickiest holiday party dress codes. The invitation may read "festive casual," "business casual," "dressy casual" or even one I recently received, "funky casual." Since there are so many variations on this party theme, there are just as many ways to dress. Here are a few interpretations to help you break it all down. Festive casual clothes have a holiday vibe and include some embellishments: sequins, beading, feathers or fur. I have a shaggy black fur vest that I wear to a lot of holiday parties with skinny jeans or leather leggings. For dressy casual, rev it up a notch. No shredded jeans or cropped tops.

Ditto for business casual. This dress code is normally reserved for work-related functions. So, take your cue from your workplace, and follow suit. Pantsuits and dresses for women, sports coats for men, usually sans ties. And anything goes for funky casual. Santa sweaters, anyone? Or ties that light up the night?

— Black tie. Occasionally there are those charity balls or weddings that require a black tie dress code. Other variations include black tie optional and semiformal (refer to cocktail attire above), which are practically the same dress code.

But black tie is a no-brainer when it comes to figuring out what to wear. Tuxedos are de rigueur for men; long dresses are standard for women. Short dresses are making more and more appearances on the black tie party scene, and the new midi hemlines offer an updated twist on holiday dresses. However, more and more invitations now are making it a little more challenging with creative black tie dress codes. Stick with more trendy cocktail attire for women and tuxedos or dressy suits with colorful bow ties, cummerbunds and neckties for men.

— White tie. For the rare "white tie" affair, there is little room for getting creative. Long gowns are the ultimate for these elegant occasions. It's the perfect time to slip into those opera gloves and a sumptuous silk or satin shoulder wrap. For men, black tailcoats with high-waisted pleated trousers, white waistcoats and white dress shirts with white bow ties and black patent leather evening shoes are the epitome of style.

(SET CAPTION)The velvet kimono is a festive addition to party attire when the invitation reads "festive casual." Titania velvet burnout kimono at Anthropologie. ( CAPTION)

To find out more about Sharon Mosley, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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