What is the standard dress for a company Christmas party?
December 16, 2006 12:57 PM   Subscribe

What's the standard dress code for a company Christmas party? It was unspecified in the invitation. The company is a relatively small technology start-up. 60-some-odd will be attending, including some of the (wealthy) founders. Help a clueless non-girly girl who comes from very little money.

Could I get away with nice slacks and a dressy shirt? A skirt with a top? Or would I be safest in a dress (which, by the way, no longer fits as perfectly as it did before I got mommy-boobs)?

The company has apparently gone to some expense to throw the party, including hiring caterers.
posted by moira to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total)
Not to be mean, but why don't you ask when you RSVP? I suspect you would probably be fine with the slacks and shirt, but it really depends on the company. Being stuffed into a dress is usually worse than not wearing one.
posted by captaincrouton at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2006

You'd do just fine with a blouse/formal shirt and nice slacks, I'm sure. Just dress it up with nice accessories, and you'll be fine.

Usually, though, I've heard that if it's unspecified, business casual is perfectly acceptable. Maybe ask some of your co-workers what they're going to wear, if it makes you more comfortable?
posted by Verdandi at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2006

If it's like the tech companies that I've worked at (jeans and a t-shirt) it was usually nice and a bit different to dress up a bit for parties. Dress like you're going out for a nice dinner. If yours is a more business casual (ie suits with no ties on the guys etc). and you're in doubt, wear what you'd normally wear to work.

I'd suggest asking someone who's been there long enough to attend the last one. You can't really go wrong with a business casual approach in this situation, though. For women I'm guessing this is slacks or a skirt and a blouse of some sort.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:04 PM on December 16, 2006

I think it depends on where the party is being held (fancy restaurant? Venue such as a museum? Sports bar?) and what time the event is (right after work? Saturday night?) It's hard to advise without knowing more about the event.

In general, for a company event, I'd go understated/dressy. Can't go wrong with nice black pants, silk shirt and a little jewelry for a festive touch. A little black dress is almost always appropriate and can be dressed up or down depending on your accessories, like a scarf or a shawl.
posted by Kangaroo at 1:07 PM on December 16, 2006

I imagine nice slacks and a dressy top would work well, and not look strange if the party was either on the dressier or casual side. Don't forget a santa hat or tinsel pin or something else silly!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:07 PM on December 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Agreed: unless the invitation specifies formal, then some nice slacks and a blouse wouid be fine.

I would add this: make sure it is something you are entirely comfortable and self-confident in! Nothing ruins a potential good time more quickly than tugging, pulling and adjusting your clothes all night.
posted by The Deej at 1:09 PM on December 16, 2006

I just went to two of these events this year and in both instances you would have thought the girls were going to a prom.
posted by furtive at 1:17 PM on December 16, 2006

If you can add a dressy accessory that kicks your outfit up a notch above what you'd wear to work, do. And maybe a dressier hairstyle and a little more makeup than you wear to the office - that sort of extra effort makes you look more festive/more appropriate for a party.
posted by tizzie at 1:23 PM on December 16, 2006

Even if the invite has an dress code, anything below "black-tie" is open to interpretation. (I mean, what the heck does "smart casual" mean anyway?)

Is your party being held right after work or is it being held a little later or on a weekend? If it's being held right after, I would just take it one step beyond what you wear to work normally. It's not like your employers want you having to leave work early to change and prepare for this party in order for you to show up on time!

If it's being held on a weekend or a few hours after work ends, I would go up maybe another step or two beyond the "gotta get changed in 10 minutes" outfit that you threw in a bag so you could change in the bathroom at work.

Ultimately though, I think nice pants and a dressy shirt would work just fine. A dressier pair of shoes (that are comfortable), jewelery you don't wear every day and a touch more makeup (or just a bit of lipstick if you don't normally wear the stuff) will add the extra bit of oomph to your outfit.
posted by melissa at 1:52 PM on December 16, 2006

+1 on everyone recommending a nice dressy blouse + slacks.

black + bright colours (ruby red, sapphire blue, emerald green, you get the idea) and/or a 'sparkly' material (satin-y or with a touch of metallic thread, etc.) will dress up a pair of slacks/blouse to a high degree for a holiday event and without the hassles associated with wearing a dress (pantyhose, ew, freezing your legs off in the invariable below zero cold snap that attends these shindigs, double ew, attempting to navigate icy sidewalks in the RETARDED shoes that seem de rigeur these days, triple ew)

I just went to two of these events this year and in both instances you would have thought the girls were going to a prom.
I concur. and maybe I am simply old and cranky, but nothing seems (ahem) more tacky/bourgeois than showing up totally overdressed for an office party.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:03 PM on December 16, 2006

I don't think the type of firm matters as much as the venue ..... We're an extremely casual office (people come in in shorts), but when the company gets us together in a nice restaurant on a saturday night the boys pull out suits and ties and the gals some nice cocktail dresses. We also have events in pubs where people have come in tracksuit pants.

jewelery you don't wear every day and a touch more makeup (or just a bit of lipstick if you don't normally wear the stuff) will add the extra bit of oomph to your outfit

This strikes me as good advice if you don't want to break the bank. After a few drinks nobody will notice anyway.
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:04 PM on December 16, 2006

Captaincrouton, that is an excellent suggestion, and if I hadn't been required by my title as Most Practiced Procrastinator to put things off until the very last minute, I may have done exactly that. As it is, the party is tonight, in 3.5 hours, an hour's drive away.

It's looking like I'll go with the slacks/blouse/miscellaneous pretties suggestions as safe. Many thanks to all for your answers. The confirmations definitely helped me feel more comfortable with the decision.

(It's the company my husband works for, by the way, and is being held at the company building.)
posted by moira at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2006

Ah well. Have fun!
posted by captaincrouton at 3:36 PM on December 16, 2006

Ask your more senior co-workers what they're wearing and/or what people generally wear.
posted by orange swan at 4:01 PM on December 16, 2006

To amend my advice - get your husband to ask his co-workers that. But if it's in the company building, you can't go wrong with a nice blouse and pants.
posted by orange swan at 4:02 PM on December 16, 2006

what coooostume shaaaal the pooooor girl wear to the company paaaarty?

I would say either: a hand-me-down dress from who knows where, silks and linens of yesterday's gowns, or perhaps a blackened shroud.
posted by snofoam at 4:22 PM on December 16, 2006 [4 favorites]

What about something you can dress up/down when you get there?

A jacket/scarf/wrap thing you can take on or off depending on what everyone else is wearing?
posted by chrispy108 at 5:09 PM on December 16, 2006

I went to an office party like this, also catered (at a restaurant) and while there were a few "prom dresses," I totally fit in in a slightly sparkly black pant suit, where the jacket was long and had a mandarin collar. The woman next to me (also in her 20s, maybe that was the difference) was also just wearing a nice pantsuit.
posted by artifarce at 5:45 PM on December 16, 2006

I also should add that I got the suit for <$30 at TJ Maxx.
posted by artifarce at 5:46 PM on December 16, 2006

i assume this is in the valley? i wouldnt get too worked up about it. sounds like the par-tay is in progress already, so have fun!

i just wear my normal engineer uniform to these things, except i cover up the t-shirt with a long-sleeve collared shirt. i wouldnt expect the women to come totally all dressed up...
posted by joeblough at 5:55 PM on December 16, 2006

Wife of founder of several high-tech startups here.

Look at where the venue is - is it at an upscale restaurant, a hotel function room, rented yacht? If it's being held at a place where you would normally dress more formally (such as a very upscale restaurant), then dress as though you're going to eat there on your own. If it's any other place, then dress in something that's dressier than you'd wear to work but not distasteful. No cleavage, nothing too tight or too short. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but I've seen young women embarrass themselves showing up in dresses that could double as lingerie, and then spend the whole evening wearing someone's coat. Remember, this is a business function, and you should not wear (or say) anything that you would feel uncomfortable wearing in front of your boss.

A good rule of thumb at these things is to look at what you wear to work and kick that up a couple of notches. If you wear jeans and a t-shirt to work, change to slacks and a nice blouse. If you wear slacks, upgrade to a more formal pant suit or a toned-down cocktail dress. If you wear business formal, then wear a tasteful formal suit or a low-key formal cocktail dress. This might be a good time to invest in a simple black cocktail dress that you can dress up or down. You'll wear it for years.

It's been my observation that young people really don't wear the same types of clothing as the founders do. The founders are accustomed to - and have in their closets - more formal wear, and are accustomed to wearing it. Most of the time, my husband will wear a suit with festive tie or slacks with nice sweater, and I will wear a suit with more formal blouse, or a black dress with simple jewelry.

The key is to relax and to have fun. No one is going to dwell on your clothing unless you're dressed inappropriately (see rules above).

And, please, no sequins. Ever.
posted by Flakypastry at 3:44 AM on December 17, 2006

Heh. I'll add one more for historical records - Don't wear a plaim white blouse with plain black pants to an event like this. There was a VERY young girlfriend of a coworker that wore that outfit to our business casual christmas party -- and while it seems like a very "safe" choice, people might ask you if you're the caterer, and other women will certainly make catty comments about you. (In her defense, I'm sure it was the first 'work function' she'd ever attended in her life.)

For our subdepartment christmas party, held at the home of one of the salesdroids, the bosses wore nice slacks and shirts and possibly a sportcoat. The mid level managers and peons like I wore jeans, a buttondown shirt with vertical usually opened several buttons, and t-shirts underneath. It's rather crazy how similarly we were all dressed.
The departmental christmas party was held in the clubhouse at work, and it was a suits & ties event. Younger employees permitted to dress a little more casually -- I went sans jacket and tie, but should've worn a sweater.

For both, my girlfriend wore somewhat loose, gauzey blouses and either a skirt or slacks.
posted by SpecialK at 8:01 AM on December 17, 2006

This is all very helpful for future reference. Thank you.

For the curious: I ended up wearing a long, black skirt and a nice red sweater. Hair up, somewhat more make-up than I would normally wear, a tiny bit of jewelry, and a pretty little purse dressed it up a bit. I didn't feel out-of-place at all.

Also, snofoam - funny.
posted by moira at 12:58 PM on December 17, 2006

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