image credit: Casei Malone

We all enjoy attending holiday dinners, cookie exchanges, office parties and soirees during the holidays. For many, part of the fun is in the days and weeks leading up to the event, as the anticipation builds. Our readers frequently ask us numerous questions about holiday party etiquette and attire. Below are a few common questions that come up during the holiday season:

  1. When is the appropriate time to send invitations for a holiday event? Timing is crucial for all events, not just holiday parties. This is true whether the organizer is mailing printed invitations or inviting guests via email and telephone. To put timing in perspective, let’s look at social event guidelines in general:

Anniversary party                  3-6 weeks
Bar or Bat Mitzvah                4 weeks
Bon Voyage party                   last moment – 3 weeks
Charity ball/gala                    6 weeks – 12 weeks
Christmas party                      4 weeks
Cocktail party                          1 – 4 weeks
Debutante ball                         6 weeks – 3 months
Formal dinner                         3 weeks – 6 months
Holiday Party                           4 weeks
Graduation party                     3 weeks
Housewarming party              1 – 3 weeks
Informal dinner party             several days – 3 weeks
Luncheon Party                        several days – 2 weeks
Progressive Dinner                  3 weeks
Tea                                               several days – 2 weeks
Thanksgiving dinner                2 weeks – 2 months
Very casual party                      same day – 2 weeks

If the invitation is sent too late, many times the guest has already made a commitment or has alternative plans. If the host is concerned that the invitation may not be calendared, or may be misplaced, then a “save the date” card may be mailed first, with the invitation to follow during the proper mailing window.

  1. How do I dress when the invitation does not specify? What is Creative Black Tie? If the invitation does not specify, contact the host or hostess and rely on them to guide you. Contact the organizer and inquire as to past history, and ask other guests what they plan to wear. It has been helpful to my clients to take a look at wardrobe and attire considerations from a variety of resources, including social media.


Females:   Formal, floor length evening gown, best jewels, gloves.

Males:       Full evening regalia. (Black tailcoat, matching trousers with single satin or braid stripe, white pique’ wing-collar shirt with stiff front, white pique’ waist coat, studs and white bow tie, black patent shoes, black dress socks).


White Tie and White Tie with Decorations is common in Diplomatic Circles. If the guest has received decorations from the military or a foreign government, the decorations may be worn to a public white tie event. It would be inappropriate to wear decorations to a private party, unless the invitation stated “White tie and decorations.”


Females:   Formal evening gown or dress, or dressy cocktail dress.

Males:       Black tuxedo jacket, matching trousers, formal (pleated front or pique’) white shirt, black (silk, satin) bow tie, black cummerbund to match tie, optional suspenders, black patent shoes, black dress socks.


Females:   Formal evening gown or dress. Short dressy cocktail dress. Dressy separates (St. John).

Males:       Black Tie or a dark suit with a white shirt and a conservative tie.


Females:   Formal evening gown or long dress, dressy cocktail dress, dressy separates, paired with elegant wrap, brooch or themed jewel such as a Southwestern style silver belt.

Males:       Texas Black Tie paired with a theme or whimsical approach such as Texas Longhorns, tropical paradise, or another dressy, fun look. A black or white shirt is paired with matching bow tie and cummerbund; black patent shoes, boots, black dress socks, and studs.


Females:   Lightweight, bright or pastel color separates, dress, sundress.

Males:       Summer weight shirt, light wool suit or jacket, trousers, colorful socks and tie.


Females:   Short, afternoon dress. Cocktail dress. Long, dressy shirt, top. Long dress not required. Daytime events require an appropriate dress or dressy suit.

Males:       Dark, wool business suit (with matching vest if desired) white shirt, conservative tie, leather shoes, dress socks, pocket accent (if desired). Black tie not required. Daytime events require a suit.


Females:   Business appropriate tailored dressy suits and dresses. Dress w/ blazer. Heels. Stockings optional. Avoid too sexy or anything slinky.

Males:       Dark business suit (vest optional). Dress shirt, tie. Leather dress shoes.
Dark socks.


Females:   Dress. Skirt, pants or khakis. Open collar shirt, knot or sweater. Avoid straps & showing decollete.

Males:       Seasonal sport coat or jacket, and trousers. Dress shirt, casual button-down shirt, open collar golf shirt. Tie optional. Loafers.


Females:   Little black dress is ultimate attire. Short, elegant dress.

Males:       Dark suits.


Females:   Short afternoon/cocktail dress same as semi-formal (not casual).

Males:       Dark suits.


Females:   Cocktail dress with sparkle or a holiday twist, green silk blouse, beaded sweater.

Males:       Seasonal sport coat or jacket with trousers. Open collar or dress shirt. Festive tie.


Females:   Skirt and dressy top. Dressy tops and pants. Short dress. Nice jeans and dressy top. Dressy pants outfit. No shorts or t-shirts.

Males:       Seasonal sport coat or jacket and trousers. Casual button-down shirt, open collar, golf or polo shirt. Tie optional.


Females:   Sundress. Long or short skirt, khakis, nice jeans, shorts (occasion & season dependent), plain t-shirt (avoid slogans, polo or golf shirt, casual button-down blouse.

Males:       Casual Khakis or good jeans (clean no holes.) Bermuda or cargo shorts, plain t-shirt (avoid slogans), golf or polo shirt, turtleneck, sweater, loafers, sneakers with or w/out socks, sandals.


Remember, when in doubt about what to wear, always call or email to ask the host or hostess about their wardrobe expectations.

  1. What should I do before arriving at a holiday event? Just before arrival, read the invitation again. Refresh your memory and your date’s memory about the honorees, the awards, and the hosts. What are their spouses’ names? Whom do I need to meet, greet, and thank upon arrival and departure? Be sure to check in upon arrival, receive the program and check your coat or wrap. As a guest, be calm and gracious. Circulate and greet others. Remember that the person who does not acknowledge you when they see you, and know you, is behaving inappropriately and immaturely. When you see someone that you know at a social event, it is appropriate to greet them and say “Good evening, it is good to see you.”

Minding your social season manners will save you from embarrassment and help you shine as a true professional.[/fusion_text]