Privilege Blog

Is “Festive Attire” Dress Code Less Evil Than “Business Casual?”

So we want to know what “festive attire” means. This dress code is not as devilish Business Casual. It’s more of a pesky elf, preferring mischief to damage. Confusing but not confounding.

“Festive attire” means the following:

Imagine what you would have worn to an event – given by this host, in this venue, at this time of day, in this season. Now, add a flourish. Or two.


 For example. If you’d wear a sedate shift to a late afternoon event,

…go sleeveless, go brighter, add a peplum.

If you’d unfestively wear a demure little black dress, like this,

substitute this. Full skirts, sheer panels, beading and ruffles are all festive. Perhaps it’s the suggestion of abundance, in both flesh and fabric, that makes it so.

If you’d wear jeans and a tee, still wear jeans, but with this tee.

Can you see the sparkle? Sequins are natively festive.

In the world of black tie, “festive attire” usually just means Men Wear Patterned Bow Ties. Women are already pretty festive, what with the long dresses, decolletage, and all. We can bring out the goofy family diamonds, or wear costume statement necklaces. Your call. I’d back away from battery-powered Christmas wreath brooches. The trick is to drive fancy to the silly side, but not over the edge.

Code words: ADD FLOURISH.

And now, let’s get back to summer, where festive means swimming pools, sauvignon blanc, and homemade ice cream. Maybe wild salmon with fruit salsa, if we’re lucky.

* If you’d like a better informed opinion on dress codes, here’s Vogue Magazine’s dress code options. Or we can ask the Privilege readers, who probably know best.

33 Responses

  1. I don’t do “flourish” well, but I do have a few beaded and/or sequined shirts to go with my understated blazers and slacks for such occasions.

    And then there’s my new pair of black patent leather loafers…I kind of get giddy at the thought of them.

  2. Perfectly timed. How did you know I was wondering what on earth to wear to a “champagne toast” when the invite says “sundress festive”?

  3. Great examples! I’m trying commenting this time with just my name and email to see if it goes through.

  4. I have never heard of a Festive ‘do’ so to give it a whirl would wear my Chanel midnight blue tux jacket with a cream ‘sparkle’ + midnight pants with maybe sparkle shoes…would this Brit pass or cause a giggle…….Ida

  5. Basically stepping it up a notch with emphasis on “fun” it seems.
    So long as you’re still somewhere in shooting range of your comfort zone, go for it!!

  6. No festive attire events in sight, however I like the peplum dress, hopefully in some other color..
    Short sleeves are definitely not for me.

  7. I miss festive attire. I even miss black tie events. I need an occasion to dress up now & then. The world I live in has gotten so casual. Guess I’ll just have to make my own event.

    Your choices are excellent Lisa. Always in good taste. But do you really think people still have those Christmas brooches? I certainly hope not.

    1. I know. I really do think about buying a ticket to some gala or other just for the excuse to dress up.

  8. I never would have guessed what festive attire meant! I probably would have scratched my head and then tried to dress all Christmasy. Your interpretation and guidelines are quite handy!

  9. Sadly I don’t live in a world of dress codes (and I’ve never heard of ‘festive’ as a dress code!).

    As someone commented above, things have gotten so casual! I miss dressing up for work and I really miss going to balls like I did at University.I love a good dress-up occasion.

  10. I miss the opportunity to dress-up in a festive way too. As you know, LA is so casual, which I mostly like, but it would be fun to to have a few places where festive wouldn’t seem out of place. We’ve recently moved to a new home, and I think that this post made me decide that when we give a housewarming party, I’m going to put “festive attire” as the dress code!
    I’ve never worn a sequin in my life, but that white tee-shirt is awfully tempting….

  11. Went to Harvey Nichol’s website and they don’t deliver to the US :(
    Had to Google, and found it at Saks, where I ordered it! Yep, at 60 now, I may begin wearing sequins.

  12. For me festive means sequins but then again, for me gardening and grocery shopping means sequins too.

    I ignore anything “casual” anyway. Life’s too short and otherwise my lovely things wouldn’t get used.


  13. FANtastic post, outta the park LPC. And look at Kathy! Not going to be denied that festive t-shirt! [Any woman who’s choreographing a house move and a wedding in the same month has earned every single sparkle on that shirt.]

    In similar spirit, I screened up a Polyvore tabula rasa yesterday, absolutely certain I was going to happily breeze through Festive, if only via Flourish. Alas, Festive AND Flourish have me stumped! Poly and I have another date today [if the storms don’t knock out our power like they did yesterday]; therefore be it resolved that before the sun sets I shall have myself ready to accept a Festive Attire invitation.

    Thank you for this challenge LPC.

    1. Hah Flo – well, we’ll see if I keep it! I’m quite an orderer and returner. My husband will be horrified by it – that’s for sure. But I’m thinking that it might be really great and unexpected, under a navy blazer with jeans? Also, if pearls light up a woman’s face, shouldn’t white sequins dazzle even more?

    2. “I’m thinking that it might be really great and unexpected, under a navy blazer with jeans?”


  14. I have a friend who dresses festive for every occasion! She even dons festive when coming out to our farm for dinner (with me in jeans and t-shirt). I always look forward to seeing what she will be wearing. For her, festive is a trademark.

    I do have occasions that call for festive (living in Dallas) and this post is helpful!

  15. This is good. It is hard to decode and I think possibly host/regionally dependent. I never know what festive” means. I’m not a mind reader. Last holiday season I attended two festive attire events. The first turned out to mean the majority of the women wore (tongue-in-cheek) holiday sweaters. There was really no way I could have anticipated that! The second, the host explained he really wanted men to wear suits but was concerned some (grad students and/or artists) might not even own suits and so was hoping for a jacket. At that party I saw everything from tuxes to shirt sleeves. Sparkly cocktail dresses to very nice jeans. No ball gowns. Some furs, usually grandmama’s unless the woman was over 80. Usually I interpret festive as less serious, more costumey. Your guides are excellent and instructive.

  16. Love your description of “festive attire”. As someone who lives in fear of getting it wrong (I had an early traumatic experience), I personally get a bit nervous when any dress code other than the very standard ones appears on an invitation. While I know that in 2012 there will be a range of formality of dress at any event, I’m always anxious about not looking like the only one who didn’t get the memo.

  17. So what’s your verdict on peplums. Do they make the waist look smaller (good) or the hips look bigger (bad)?
    Right now I am sort of tubular, as I’m still battling that last bit of baby bulge.
    To peplum or not to peplum?

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