Office Christmas Party: Our Cheats’ Guide on What to Wear

The office Christmas party is the one event of the year that can bring on a case of the style wobbles for even the most confident and stylish of dressers.

You may think you’ve reached peak style dilemma when your friend sends out an invitation marked with a frankly ludicrous dress code (“dress to party like it’s 1930 meets Sliding Doors, set in Outer Space”) or yet another wedding invitation is silent on the matter of what you are expected to wear (a dangerous approach in my home town of Sydney where people may turn up in shorts and long socks – “those are my formal socks, mate!”). But these events are spent with friends and friends of friends, with people who know and like you, and who will laugh with you if you get it all wrong.

And this is why the Christmas party is such an incredibly stressful sartorial challenge for most of us. We not only want to look appropriately dressed – not sticking out like a sore thumb amongst our colleagues – we also want to impress our CEO, be cooler/smarter/more chic than our office foe, and look fabulous and exciting to people spanning 2 or more generations in age.

With all that pressure, no wonder many of us get it a wrong. So let us help with a few basic rules to ensure you get it right!

Here is our Christmas Party Style Guide for choosing your outfit.

Firstly let’s start with our three simple rules of Christmas Party Outfits:

Keep it simple

Nothing too ornate or that you need to fuss with all night. You need to focus on chatting, meeting people, having fun. If you are forever looking in mirrors or rushing to the ladies’ to check your neckline or readjust your dress, you will be giving off all the wrong messages.

Keep it “modest”

Modest is possibly one of my least favourite words in the world (no man has ever been called immodest!), but it gets the point across. No see-through blouses, no backless dresses, no too-short skirts. Think chic, rather than skimpy or sexy. Not only is the guy who you flirt with on reception going to be there, so is your boss and her husband, and the deluded ‘thinks-he’s-Don-Juan’ from the next floor, and the boisterous interns from finance. You need to keep all these people in mind when deciding what to wear.

Keep it You!

This is a work Christmas Party, so you need to look like you do at work. You might want to take it up a notch and that’s fine – add some accessories, a little bit more makeup, a higher heel. But this is not the time to try a completely different hairstyle, or industrial levels of make up or fake tan. Make sure that you look like a more polished version of “office you”.

And now to our Cheats’ Guide to Christmas Party Outfits…

Our “cheat” is to take your standard office outfit to the next level by accessorising. Even if you decide to buy a new outfit, or wear something from your wardrobe that you’ve never worn at work, do try to pick items which would not stand out when placed next to your work wardrobe.

Try your normal style in a new fabric – replace a work single-breasted jacket with a velvet one perhaps, or replace a cotton shirt with a silk t-shirt. Aim for more luxe fabrics, rather than completely new styles or colours. And even if the dress code is black tie, don’t go all out – definitely no floor length Oscar-worthy numbers or ‘all over’ sequins. A neat cocktail dress or a gorgeous tuxedo are much more likely to hit the right note. Less really is more when it comes to the Office Christmas Party.

So having picked your outfit, bring on the accessories.

These 4 additions work universally for women, no matter what size, shape or age you are.

1. A higher heel, or a party shoe

This is not really about insisting on 12cm stiletto heels, it’s about mixing it up a bit with your shoes to suggest that you’ve got the memo and you are planning on having fun at the party. You could take your heel height up slightly, or just switch from everyday work shoes to your favourite going out shoes. As female politicians do, this is the one part of your outfit that you can have some fun with.

2. A small bag

Nothing screams misplaced like a women lugging her huge handbag into a party. It messes with our outfit balance, and makes us look and feel like we should be back in the office. You need to leave all your ‘getting ready’ kit somewhere safe at the office. Ditto your laptop and your gym gear. Let’s face it: you are not going to the gym tomorrow morning before work, and you are not logging on after the party to finish that report. Jettison the clunky extras before you leave the office, and head out with just a small, party-appropriate bag or clutch. All you need are your phone, your credit cards, your Oyster card and your house keys. And your breath mints (links to breath mints in other article).

3. Some jewellery

I’m not a massive fan of jewellery per se, but even I can see the power of a well-chosen sparkly earring or cocktail ring a mile away. Just one simple piece of jewellery can take an ordinary outfit to another level and, if you choose wisely, your jewellery could even be a conversation starter. The general rules still apply – simple, modest, you! – but you don’t need to spend a lot of money to add some pizazz.

4. Makeup

It is said that men don’t notice makeup, but the truth is that they notice it when it’s wrong. It is also proven that most men don’t like bold red lipstick, but then we also dress for ourselves and to please other women too.

You probably already know what your night out makeup looks like – perhaps it’s another layer of mascara and curled lashes, or perhaps it’s a strong red lipstick. My usual advice is to aim for a look which is somewhere between your ‘everyday office’ look and your usual ‘night out’ look. This is not the time for extremes, or to try out a new colour or product. Again, if in doubt, err on the side of caution, and opt for less. Let the rest of your outfit do the talking.

Now you look great, feel comfortable, and know you are ready to rock your office Christmas Party! Read our Top 5 Tips to make your office Christmas Party one to remember – for all the right reasons!

Kath Sloggett
Kath Sloggett

Runneth was started by Kath Sloggett, an entrepreneur, career coach and start-up adviser, with over 10 years’ experience advising professionals and entrepreneurs. She is also a working mother, with two children aged 6 and 4.

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