What Not to Wear to the Office Party
By Laura Sinberg
The main mistake women make at holiday parties is dressing too sexy.
You’ve been working up the nerve all year to strike up a conversation with your company’s CEO, and the office holiday party can be your perfect outlet to shine–if you look the part. Women, more than men, tend to get in trouble in social situations because they have so many more options, says branding specialist Amanda Sanders. And in the quest to look good, women often choose revealing rather than understated outfits.
The wrong outfit–which might include a too-short skirt, backless dress or low-cut top–will quickly make you the subject of unwanted stares and gossip, especially during times when employees are being looked at under a corporate microscope. “These are times that people are being looked at in a more watchful eye, and you don’t want to be called into question for your poor choices,” says Sanders.
Sanders, who has dressed celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Rock, says the main mistake women make at company holiday parties is dressing too sexy. “People really lose sight of the fact … that this is still a business event,” she says.
This is particularly apropos for mid- and upper-level employees looking to take their career to the next rung, as the holiday party can be seen as an interview of sorts. “Senior employees tend to entertain clients more, and your boss may be looking to see how you act in social situations,” says business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, who advises companies like Pfizer and Microsoft. She tells the story of a CEO’s administrative assistant who showed up to a corporate party with “cleavage pretty much down to her naval. …People were like, ‘What is she thinking?’ It was a distraction.”
Wearing an overly provocative outfit to a corporate event can even cost you a promotion, according to Sanders. “Dressing inappropriately will cause people to see you in a different light, and there is no going back from that,” she explains. “You just really don’t want to be remembered as the person who dressed too sexy or flashy.”
What To Wear
The rule of thumb, says Sanders, is understated is always better. That means avoiding sequins, flashy colors–metallics are big this season, but save them for social scenes like benefits or New Year’s Eve–and of-the-moment trends like shoulder pads and fur vests, which will simply make you look like you’re trying too hard.
A little research about the type of party and your corporation’s mindset will go a long way. With the economy in shambles, many companies are choosing to save money by holding intimate parties at the office rather grand events at hotels or four-star restaurants. Getting too dressed up at these gatherings can be just as detrimental (and embarrassing) as wearing jeans to a gala. If the party is at the office, Sanders advises that “the attire shouldn’t change that much” from what you put on that morning. For women, swapping your blazer for a cashmere wrap and floral earrings or your button-up with a silk shell and pearls, will add some femininity and sophistication without being over-the-top.
If the party is at an outside venue, you may want to zip into a more glamorous shift dress. Just remember, if it’s not an actual black-tie event, it’s always best to look like yourself–just take it up a notch. The best and easiest way to do that is with accessories and accents instead of ensembles. Put on a pair of strappy sandals or a statement necklace that can’t normally be worn at work. Adding a little sparkle to your outfit is also a great way to take a dress from plain to head-turning. “But a 12-karat diamond ring is overdone,” warns Pachter.
Erika Cohen, owner of the high-end clothing store Alchemist in Miami’s South Beach, says you can avoid some potential pitfalls by sticking to materials that flatter your body. Stretch viscose blends and jersey fabrics are usually the most forgiving, whereas silk will show imperfections. “I recently had a lady who worked for a production company and needed a holiday dress,” says Cohen. “We found a great black dress that was figure hugging but long sleeved. And the hem was down to the knee. She felt powerful in it.” And it shows when you feel good, notes Pachter, who says that if you show up inappropriately dressed, you’re going to feel self-conscious. “You won’t talk to as many people … and you’ll have to rise above your outfit,” she explains.