Ask the Image Expert

Sherry Maysonave is the founder and president of Empowerment Enterprises, one of America's leading communication-image firms. Sherry conducts corporate seminars and coaches executives, professionals, and politicians in achieving excellence in communication and image. She is also the author of Casual Power: How to Power Up your Nonverbal Communication and Dress Down for Success

What is festive attire?

Question: Sherry,
I've been invited to a holiday party at my boss's house in early December. The invitation said the festive attire. What should I wear?
Claire S.

Answer: Dear Claire,

The holidays are fast approaching and coming along with them are party invitations that often cause confusion, even for those with a cover-all-occasions wardrobe already in tact. Your question is particularly important because it involves what to wear to a social event at your "boss's" home. Unlike a purely social invitation, it's important to duly note the boss factor. You did not mention the time of day of the party; it's only meaningful in that day events are generally not as dressy as evening parties. But then, there are always exceptions.

Festive holiday attire includes many options. It can literally look countless ways. It's difficult to recommend a particular outfit for you as specific advice depends upon your coloring, your body type, and your job title, etc. So let's talk in generalities. An invitation requesting "festive" attire primarily means that the hosts want the event to have a holiday party atmosphere, including the guests' clothing. However, they are clearly saying do not wear formal (black tie) attire, nor are they even suggesting typical cocktail wear. Then on the other extreme, they are requesting that you not wear overly casual attire, such as jeans. And lastly, it suggests a level beyond your normal workplace apparel.

Festive attire calls for semi-dressy fabrics, such as a silk, satin or velvet skirt/pants worn with a silk/satin/metallic/velvet blouse. Velvet dresses (long or short), if they are not so dressy that they fall into the formal or cocktail categories, will also be appropriate. Going a notch down from that look, also appropriate is an outfit consisting of wool or knit skirt/pants paired with a sparkly sweater or faux-fur trimmed one, jacket, or other dressy top. Festive also invites you to wear holiday colors and dressy accessories (jewelry, shoes, etc.). Be true to your own coloring. If the classic holiday colors of red, green, gold, etc. do not look great on you, do NOT wear them. Black is always classy.

Holiday time brings up the subject of holiday sweaters, you know the ones embroidered with images of Santa, reindeer, gifts, etc.? Yes, they can be festive; but they can also be frumpy or little girlish. Both of those statements fall short of conveying that a powerful woman is present. Wear them with caution and do not choose to wear one to this party at your boss's house. A sweater with faux-fur collar and cuffs would make a far greater year-2000 festive statement one in your professional favor.

While you want to dress several notches up from your normal workplace attire, don't go overboard and wear a chiffon cocktail dress or a fully sequined or bejeweled outfit. Those are too dressy for the festive category. A sweater or dress can have a smattering of sequins or rhinestones and be considered festive, but a garment completely covered in sequins or jewels falls into the cocktail or black-tie range. For this event, I would also encourage you to stay away from the full cut ball-gown skirts that have been and still are popular in today's social scene. They are also too dressy.

Since it is a workplace-related event and it is taking place in your boss's home, avoid wearing overly slinky or extremely revealing apparel. If you opt for a short skirt, do not also wear a low cut neckline. This is not the time to wear that spaghetti-strapped top or dress either. See through blouses can look great "IF" you wear the appropriate undergarments, such as a properly-colored camisole underneath. (White, beige, or cream-colored see-through garments require nude colored, as in flesh toned, undergarments, not white or beige ones. For other colors, match the camisole color tone to the see-through blouse color.)

A momentous part of maintaining a professional image and reputation, even for company parties, is not showing too much skin. This would be true for any work-related event, but it becomes paramount when the party is in your boss's home.

I hope that you have a great time at the party.

Best of luck to you,
Sherry Maysonave

Also see:

  • The law firm I work for just adopted business casual dress policy. What should I wear?
  • Should I buy new post-pregnancy clothes?
  • Ask your image questions
  • Personal Power: A case study from 'Casual Power'