When you don’t know, dress by the hour of the party
With Thanksgiving past, the holiday season is a time to celebrate with friends and families, to enjoy eggnog and turkey and to ... stress out about what to wear to the umpteenth party to which you’ve been invited.
Although the holidays are thought of as fun, they also can be fraught with sartorial (clothes-related) peril. Occasionally an invitation arrives with easy-to-interpret dress codes (i.e., black tie), but often an invitation will say nothing at all about what to wear, and your guess is as good as it gets. On the flip side, the invitation may suggest a cryptic dress code such as “holiday chic” or “dressy casual.”
Weezie Hiott, womenswear buyer for Gwynn’s in Mount Pleasant, has some handy advice for navigating the treacherous holiday waters.
5, 6 or 7?
For the most part, holiday parties take place in the evening, so the start time likely will be 5, 6 or 7 p.m. A start time can be a big clue for what to wear.
The rules have changed slightly over the years, and it’s always a good idea to check with the host beforehand if you want to make sure you’re in the safe zone.
For 5 o’clock invites, Hiott says you should get “dressed up like a night out with the girls. A dressy top with leather pants and some peep-toe ankle boots is a more modern approach.”
Since they’re earlier in the evening and start before dinner, 5 o’clock parties tend to be less formal and don’t call for dressy attire.
Emily Post, the go-to source for etiquette, recommends skirts and dressy tops or a dressy pants outfit for this type of event.
When an invite is for 6 o’clock, it automatically makes the dress code a little fancier. The choice of attire can run the gamut from cocktail to black tie. Post suggests a little black dress for the ladies and a dark suit with matching vest for the gentlemen.
Hiott likes a more updated look and suggests pairing a short, funky dress or plain top and skirt with lots of jewels. The addition of the jewelry elevates the look and adds to holiday appeal.
The 7 o’clock invites usually are reserved for the most formal occasions. Typically, they will be black tie, and although it is a rarer occasion today, they can be white tie as well.
When white tie is called for, women should wear only floor-length dresses and men should wear tailcoats with white vests and ties.
The more common black-tie event gives you a little more flexibility and can leave room for a little fun. Hiott notes that it’s more acceptable now to wear something a little more casual, especially for the under-40 crowd. “Seven p.m. invites are great for a more elaborate cocktail dress — velvet or sequins — something with lots of interest,” she says.
Similarly for men, it adds to the holiday look to switch out a standard black tie with something in a tartan or funky pattern.
“Dressy casual” and “holiday chic” are a little more difficult to interpret, but don’t get scared and opt for a tacky Christmas sweater. “Holiday chic is something with a hint of holiday flair that is made modern,” says Hiott.
And Post suggests a skirt and dressy top for “dressy casual” or an open-collar shirt for the guys.
Whatever the attire requirements of the party, it can be difficult to look festive without turning yourself into a green-and-red-striped present.
The key for keeping it festive without overdoing it is to add sparkle (the holiday is the only time where you almost can’t have too much), and instead of heading for the cliche colors of the season, try something in a metallic gold or silver.
When dressing for a party, it’s always good to err on the side of too dressy.
A man and a woman in black-tie dress at a casual party stand out — everyone thinks they’ve been somewhere sophisticated beforehand. But a man and a woman in jeans at a black-tie party just look like they don’t know how to read an invitation.
Seth McCormick DiAsio is a stylist and freelance writer based in Charleston. Reach him at SethMcCormick@me.com.