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What Should I Wear To An Office Holiday Party – If I Don’t Want To Go Bare?

Do we all see holiday party season looming? Brings to mind driving at night in the desert, when the sun begins to rise at the end of your road. Except, less poetic. Less cold too, I suppose.

I digress. Let’s talk about avoiding the too-bare. What if you don’t care for sleeveless, strapless, or virtually skirtless outfits? Today’s minis warrant a new definition of what counts as clothing. What if either your age or your management role call for a touch of discretion?


“But,” you say, “I don’t want to show up as the Dowdy Dowager either!” No polyester satin bolero in your future? Not to worry. The strategy below is quite simple and classic, but worth recalling right about now.

  1. Find some sequins
  2. Add something else tailored
  3. Don the highest comfortable heels you’ve got – nothing’s worth foot pain say the Sturdy
  4. Adopt the 2/3 jewelry strategy, i.e. necklace+earrings or bracelet+earrings or bracelet+necklace for those without pierced ears
  5. Make your face up with nude lip and smokey eye or red lip and neutral face

Voilà. Fait accompli. Add a third French phrase of your choice and to the fête you go. Here’s my version of Sparkle with Discretion.

Discretion is the better part of sparkle

Full details are at Polyvore as always, but this is a stretch sequin pencil skirt by AllSaints, a black stretch button-front by Old Navy (double-stretch is key to the season – see “Food and Drink”), and Simple 70 pumps from Christian Louboutin. I acquired the gold earrings and white and yellow gold bangles over decades notable for attraction to shiny objects.

One could, just as easily and profitably, throw on a sequin tee over satin wide leg trousers or velvet/leather skinnies.

To cover up, I’ll wear a 30-year old black velvet smoking jacket, by Jaeger. I bought it in London when I was young but knew more about fashion than men. Those more daring, younger, or who know more about men even now, might try a motorcycle jacket.

Here come the Western holidays, everyone. Let us band together and vow to enjoy them on our own terms of sparkle.



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58 Responses

  1. Lisa, this outfit strikes me as a perfect intersection of Sturdy, Artsy, and Grande Dame. All the elements cooperate so beautifully. Now that the election madness (farewell, nineteenth century) is behind us, let’s hope Congress can do the same. I have such hope and faith in, and for, us all.

    My Artsy soul covets your earrings–were they aquired on your trip to India?

    1. Ah – you do know the culture, don’t you? I thought exactly the same thing when I wrote this post – although of course with less praise because we don’t do that:). Farewell 19th century! And the earrings here I found on Polyvore as similar in shape and color to a pair of antique Swedish chandelier earrings that my mother gave me. There’s a picture of them somewhere on this blog…Thank you, BTW, for your kind words.

  2. Oh, the 2/3 jewelry strategy is the part I always have trouble with. My magpie nature always wants to wear more jewelry than strictly advisable.

  3. I bought this double-strand necklace at Banana Republic with chiclet-sized faceted “jewels” in shades of clear, smoky quartz, and two shades of red. As far as I’m concerned, it is The Solution to my festive dressing problem. Although I have to admit, I’m pretty crazy about that sequined skirt.

  4. I love this one, especially your Polyvore, classic and elegant. The 2/3 jewelry rule is one we can all think about, very wise indeed. (I am *dying* to see the Jaeger jacket, it sounds awesome.)

  5. Love your outfit, I think the idea of sequins away from one’s face is a younger, hipper look. I might buy sequined Uggs to amp up my holiday gear, as we’re quite casual around here.

  6. 2Today’s minis warrant a new definition of what counts as clothing.” I had this talk today in the office-cafeteria. Now I wonder if I could leave the shorts at home the next time, since people could not tell if there were any shorts underneath the sweater at all. That’s when a sweater becomes a dress. I say everything goes, as long as the DEN is high. Mine is Wolford Velvet de Luxe 66 DEN. :-D

    1. I wear no others than Wolford 66 den = best.
      The jewelry rule = perfect.
      But nude lipstick = never ; )

  7. “Sparkle with Discretion” is the best phrase ever! Here’s hoping you and your readers enjoy a wildly sparkly holiday season.

  8. I am not wild about the sequined skirt… You better have a perfect derriere.. but a nice pair of velvet or faille pants with Opera pumps (flats) will look great too, me thinketh…


    1. Ha! I don’t have a perfect one, but I feel good in the skirt and the derriere has been approved by Significant Other, so I shall proceed flaws and all:).

  9. Fabulous! I love the 2/3 rule; it is the one I tend to follow when dressing up, where it seems more important. I don’t always follow it for casual daytime though, tending toward either a single striking piece or an abundance of ethnic or artsy studio jewelry.

  10. I like your advice but think the shirt is too tailored for a party look. I’d go with either a shiny t-shirt or a flowing top.
    PS I am in the NYC area where after last week’s hurricane it is now snowing as a nor’easter starts to rev up. At least we have finally have power, and the snow helps to put me in the mood for a holiday party.

  11. Yes I like that plan .. sparkly yet covered.
    Too many issues .. surgeries, upper arm stuff ..
    to be uncovered.
    Earrings for dressing up — bigger is dressier.
    Or my mother’s rhinestone earrings, so glad I
    saved them!

  12. That is a beautiful ensemble for the coming holiday season. My sparkle will be in the form of a black sequin top. I plan on wearing it with jeans and pointy-toed pumps. Although I would enjoy dressing up more than that, it’s quite casual up here in Sonoma county.

    I had to laugh at the “polyester satin bolero” line.

  13. This is the perfect idea. I usually do it the other way around – sparkles up top, because i don’t need to call more attention to my generous lower half – but I love it. I like feeling that I have a couple of go-to holiday looks for the dreaded in-office party complete with no booze and desperate attempts at small talk.

  14. I love this too and agree with Kathy, sequins away from the face is a much younger hipper way to wear them, I love skirts like that worn with a plain top even though I normally loathe sequins.

  15. Wonderful look for you. I chuckled when I saw your trademark shirt. Great combination. Very chic.

    1. More like I just decided that I will wear them if I want to:). The AllSaints saleswoman, young, was horrified when I told her.

  16. Oh yes, take your picture! Women concerned about bareness might venture a graceful scoop neck fine-gauge sweater with narrow sleeves- nothing office-y

    Harsh jewel tones that are supposed to be festive hurt my eyes, so your black and gold palette pleases me very much! Still, a certain kind of woman can wear a red dress and stop the show.

  17. Nice looking outfit. A lace skirt with a lower key shimmer might work well also.

    I have a personal prejudicece against the “art jacket” that is a staple of many women’s wardrobe. It looks middle-aged to me. Moving the glimmer to the skirt seems like a fresh alternative. Since it is a business setting the tailored shirt keeps business in your impression as the drinks wear on through the event.

  18. Well, we usually go to a restaurant for our work Christmas party and sit down. So, though I like your formula much better being broad-shouldered I tend to play up the top half, usually with a big necklace or long earrings and eye makeup since the lipstick is eaten off quickly.

  19. Lovely, elegant outfit. But I’ve seen you model more body-conscious clothing, and you wear it so well I’m envious. If this is truly an evening event, I’d go more that route if I were you.

    Also, I agree with RoseAG about the art jacket tending to look middle aged (dowdy middle aged).

    Show your stuff, Lisa!

  20. Thank you. I wore the form-fitting Narciso last year to this event. Somehow it felt too formal, and the button-front shirt amused me this time around. The skirt is stretchy, and quite fitted indeed. I sound like that famous Thurber cartoon about presumptuous wine, but there you have it.

    1. Lisa, will the shirt tail be tucked in? or not?

      I wasn’t surprised at the appearance of your Trademark Shirt, if I had your magnificent shoulders I’d have a closetful of shirts myownself, alas — but I thought the shirt upon closer inspection might surely be your Trademark Navy, or a deep evening blue. And speaking of which, have you perchance seen this salute to Navy Blue assemblage:

    2. Your reply made me realize you’re right. For a work holiday party, perhaps it’s best to go in an outfit you can have fun with… and at the same time is hands-down chic. I too am a 50-something who works for a startup–we have 100-plus employees in this office, and I think I am definitely the oldest employee. It could easily look desperate for me to go to this event in a form-fitting dress, no matter how “great” it looked. I’d be in a sea of 20- and 30-somethings, most beautifully dressed in street-chic fashion. For me, the fun+chic holiday dress code is probably the best route. Thanks for the clear-headed insight. I so love your blog, Lisa.

  21. I ADORE that sequinned skirt – perfect for a holiday party. Great accessories, too. So hard to believe that that holidays are quickly approaching…

  22. My go-to holiday sparkle is a silver metallic cardigan that I bought on big sale after Xmas a few years back. I have a tee to go with that makes a sort of mis-matched twin set, but I also like the cardie over a black sheath dress with a triple strand of grey freshwater pearls.

    Since I’m self-employed, I don’t have office parties to deal with, but I think I’m going to have some sort of festivity at home this year, just so I can dress up and drink bubbly-stuff.

  23. I love that outfit. I am all about a glittery skirt. I have a sequined dress I bring out on occasion, so maybe I will just wear a sweater over the top so it looks like a glittery fitted pencil skirt. Thank you for the idea!

  24. I want holiday parties to go to! Our work do was ‘pay for yourself’ and two hour’s drive from home so I sulkily decided not to go. It wouldn’t’ve been at all glamorous (they’re a very dressed down group) but now I’m regretting it to some degree. The perils of working for a charity.

    Over in England the shops and magazines are full of ‘holiday party dressing’ ideas… many of which would be interesting to wear in temperatures around 0 degrees celsius (i.e. nearly freezing). Still, I do hope I get some opportunities to dress up a bit (and I’ll try to make some, where possible).

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