Deciphering Party Dress Codes
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Deciphering Party Dress Codes

How to make sure you look just right.

The holiday season is packed with parties -- and with those invitations comes what-to-wear panic! To help you choose the right outfit for your big events, read on for our breakdown of party dress code speak:

White Tie The dressiest, most formal type of event. Long, very formal evening gowns are expected; gloves are optional. This is the time to go all out with beading, fur stoles, and Manolo Blahnik pumps. Hair and makeup should be elegant and understated: think updos, French manicures, and expertly applied red lipstick (no false eyelashes or body glitter, please).

Black Tie Less dressy than white tie, but still quite formal. Good clothing choices include long gowns in satin or velvet; shorter knee-length dresses with glamorous heels; and dressed-up separates, like a beaded skirt and shell set. Hair and makeup follow the same rules as white tie: elegant and polished.


Black Tie Invited/Black Tie Optional Again, formal, but not the utmost in dressy. Black tie optional usually refers to men's clothing (your date can choose to wear a tuxedo or a simple dark suit); women can simply follow black tie dressing rules.

Creative Black Tie Formal, but with a trendy twist. Modest gowns give way to more fun (but still formal) options, such as a cashmere sweater with a satin ball-gown skirt, tuxedo pants and a silk halter, or a red-carpet-inspired dress by a hip designer. Hair and makeup can reflect the trends, too. Try sleek, straight hair worn down a la Gwyneth Paltrow, a shimmery body lotion, or a fun lipstick color like purple or orange.

Cocktail Attire Festive and fun; not as dressy as black or white tie. Stick to knee-length dresses with details like lace or cutouts, paired with kitten-heel shoes or sexy, strappy sandals. Another option: Tailored trousers and a dressy top, such as a beaded shell or patterned silk tube. Cocktail parties call for festive hair and makeup, too, such as a high ponytail or messy braided bun; and shimmer or glitter on eyes plus glossy lips.

Dressy Casual/Elegant Casual Informal and relaxed, but still chic. Almost anything goes, apart from denim and sweats. Try a pair of slim slacks with a sweater set in a bold color like fuchsia; a straight, knee-length skirt and cashmere shell; or man-tailored trousers and a silk blouse (think Banana Republic style). For hair and makeup, keep things simple and subdued, as you would at the office.