The Etiquette of What to Wear to Your Holiday Parties and Events


How to Decide What to Wear to Your Holiday Parties and Events

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

After writing the post on A Simple Guide to Defining Dress Codes, emails flooded my inbox with specific questions related to Christmas and New Year events. I gathered the questions that we’ll all face now or later and included here for us. 

A sampling of the questions you’ll find:

  • Should you list suggested attire on your invitation, or is that rude?
  • If you ask your host what you should wear, will your host think you don’t know how to dress?
  • Can ladies wear pants for semi-formal or formal events?

How to Decide What to Wear to Your Holiday Parties and Events

Is it nicer to put suggested attire on an invitation or to let people come as they wish?

This is an easy one! Always put what you’d like people to wear. You might think you’re being accommodating by not mentioning suggested attire. What it really does is make guests have to think twice as hard to guess what everyone will be wearing.

Then at the party, half the guests will be dressed up and looking at the other half of the crowd thinking: “Why did I get all dressed up? I could have worn my comfy clothes.” Meanwhile, the casual crowd is thinking: “Boy, I look frumpy. If I had guessed people were going to dress up, I would have, too!”

Can ladies wear pants to a semi-formal or formal event?

For semi-formal events, pants are fine, as long as they’re dressier than anything you’d ever wear to work. Look for pants that are made of light, flowing fabric with wider legs than for everyday wear. For “formal” events, long dresses are the standard choice. However, there are some flowing pants suits that would fit the bill. There will probably be some beading or sequins, or the outfit will be made out of a silk, satin, or chiffon fabric.

What would be the best way to describe attire for a dinner party for career adults that is better than standard office wear but not dressy?

I would choose “Business Attire,” hoping my guests understand that means to dress like an executive in a traditional firm. If they tend to dress a little more casually, I might choose “Semi-formal.” Here’s more about what to wear to holiday office parties and events.

Can I ask my host what to wear if nothing’s mentioned on the invitation? I don’t want to seem like I don’t know the right way to dress.

It’s actually good manners to ask. You compliment hosts and hostesses by sending the message that you want to look your best at their event. “Jan, I want to look great for your party! What do you think your other guests will be wearing?” Or, “Jan, what are you wearing to the party? I want to look my best!”

What about adding the word “Christmas” or “Holiday” to attire suggestions, as in “Holiday Casual”?

Nope, not needed! (Although, if you really want everyone wearing holiday can, you can add it if you want.) Any event happening between the day after Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is automatically a holiday event. It can be assumed that if your clothing fits into the standard category that the host chose (“Business,” “Casual,” etc.), then you’re free to add in your special holiday clothing or accessories.

Grace Note: Six Easy Steps for Understanding Dress Codes and Knowing What to Wear is the sister post to this one, and the two of them should be read together to ensure the best understanding of dress codes.

What’s Next

Enjoy your Christmas, Hannukah, and New Year parties! You’ll look great! And if you not part of our Facebook or Instagram family, you’re missing half the fun. Please join me.

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Until next time, keep doing what only you can do! Make your corner of the world better by being kinder than necessary and you at your authentic best!!!!


How to Decide What to Wear to Your Holiday Parties and Events


Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! Maralee is a native and life-long resident of Orlando. Before entering the etiquette arena, she worked in management and ministry. She's proud to be Kent's wife and Marc and Corbet's mom. She hates laundry, and loves quality tea, London, and Savannah, Southern cooking, dressing up and dressing down, and Miss Lilly the Wonder Sheltie. You can find her picture if you scroll to the footer of this page. Isn't she the cutest dog ever?!!! PS: Because everyone always asks her, "What's your etiquette pet peeve?" It's people who talk on their phones in public restrooms. The person on the other end of the phone must wonder, "What's that noise. It sounds, it couldn't be." Plus, everyone else in the bathroom is held hostage to a one-sided conversation usually shouted to try and cover up the noises. It would be comical if it weren't plain wrong on many levels. ;)

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