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How to SLEIGH the office Christmas party dress code

You’re not alone if you are wondering where the last 11 months have gone! As December rolls around it’s time to decide whether to have one last crack at that New Year’s resolution or simply give up and embrace the festive season in all its glory! I’ve opted for the latter!

Christmas decorations are up, Summer is here and it’s Christmas party season. Whether you are attending an 80’s music themed party, team lunch, lawn bowls or barbecue, dressing for a work event can be confusing. So here are my top tips on dressing appropriately for every silly season occasion.

After all, you won’t be able to fully enjoy yourself if you are feeling underdressed, overdressed or uncomfortable.

1. The dreaded “themed” event at a function venue. E.g., a jungle theme or ‘70s theme.

Dressed in a suit and tie or skirt and jacket, all year long, it’s no secret that Lawyers and Accountants love an excuse to dress in costume. Any license to be creative and escape the analytical grind should be embraced with open arms. The end of year function is a chance to let your hair down, which is why a lot of offices opt for themed parties.

The office Christmas party is often planned and scheduled well in advance, so make sure it’s locked into your diary (including time to change into costume), ensuring no meetings will be scheduled to take place during the event. Arriving late, wearing a suit with compendium in hand is a sure way to be a party “buzz kill”.

Also, nothing says team player more than someone who embraces the theme. The more elaborate or funny the costume, usually the greater the adoration and respect; setting you up when it comes to office credibility well into the new year.

Better yet, take the initiative to source a costume suitable for a group, then coordinate the quantities, sizes, payment, order and delivery. This demonstrates great team leadership, not to mention removing the associated “dread” in locating an appropriate costume. Also, having a team costume is not only practical but useful for a number of reasons: it subtly reinforces that sense of team unity, makes it easier to find your colleagues in a crowd of costumes, and of course it makes for fantastic photos.

Finally, remember that it is an office party so if you want to avoid awkward conversations with Human Resources, avoid outfits where the political correctness is questionable, for example wearing “black face” or “Nazi uniforms”.

2. Lunch, dinner or drinks at a restaurant/licensed venue/bar/on a cruise.

There are a few different occasions here and depending on who is in attendance should influence your outfit decision. I personally would dress differently for each scenario, so let me break it down.

  • A lunch or dinner at a restaurant is usually a more formal occasion where you are in direct company with your boss or a client. It’s therefore important that your outfit represents professionalism, polish, confidence and personal style as it is an extension of your personal brand. A “well put together” outfit reinforces your boss’s opinion of you which will only be advantageous when it comes to Christmas bonus discussions. From a client perspective, it is a subtle reminder that you/your firm were the correct decision to engage as business partners, because someone who presents 'well put together' inherently instils confidence and higher levels of competence. These occasions can be particularly important as they often lead to end of year engagement/contract renewal conversations and decisions.

  • In contrast, an informal team lunch to say thank you to your direct colleagues wouldn’t require any different outfit consideration as your normal office attire is appropriate.

  • A team lunch or dinner, planned to extend into the night at either a bar or licensed venue are usually more informal. Smart casual dress is a great start, think casual Friday with a touch more effort - so you are prepared for the inescapable photos, Insta-stories and Snapchats.

  • A fancy dinner at a licensed venue is often a whole of office event. The dress code is typically stipulated on the invitation as “cocktail” or “formal dress”. However, this is not a common type of Christmas party as these are generally reserved for mid-year.

  • A cruise event, whether it be lunch, dinner or drinks is typically a team/office event and from past experience these are notoriously an absolute blast. I think the secret behind their success can be attributed to the simple fact that you know you are physically stuck on a boat for hours, with no chance of disembarking and zero access to a computer or getting called into the office for a meeting. Accordingly, the dress code is usually quite relaxed. If you really want to embrace the theme consider boat shoes, all white outfits, linen, sun hats and sunglasses.

  • Thumbs up to those of you who have realised the benefit of scoring yourself an invite to your clients’ Christmas party. Not only does it double your silly season party obligations, but connecting on a social level with your clients is invaluable when it comes to maintaining and building relationships. With regards to appropriate attire, if attending your clients party remember to ask ahead of time so you can appropriately prepare.

  • If you don’t secure an invite to your clients’ Christmas party, possibly invite them to your firms (if firm policy permits). Another option is to organise a dedicated celebration with your team and the client’s team. The cost of a few drinks or a meal will pay for itself typically tenfold in future business deals; as a result of the existing relationship. Keeping it casual is key, ensuring every effort to relate.

3. In-house drinks and nibbles in the office after work.

A no-fuss in-house event sounds like a recipe for a guaranteed good time and probably the easiest type of office party to dress for. These types of celebrations usually go beyond a glass of bubbly in the office and generally go on into the night. So it’s important to be dressed for the occasion; which is why the concept of “Work to Play” attire exists. “Work to Play” attire simply means, choosing an outfit that is appropriate to wear during the day for meetings, but also stylish enough to take you to the local bar when celebrations kick on. For ladies, the simplest way is to swap your flats for heels (block heels if you plan on dancing), pop on some red lipstick and throw on a pair of feature earrings/necklace. For the gentlemen, casual Friday type attire is appropriate, think chino pants, button up shirt and no tie.

4. Barbecue at the boss’ house, a park, or another casual outdoor venue such as barefoot bowls.

It’s most likely that your boss and your colleagues haven’t seen you dressed in casual weekend wear or in situations in the “real world” i.e. outside the office environment.

Keeping in mind that your attire constitutes your personal brand, so some consideration should be taken when deciding what to wear to these types of events.

A simple trick in navigating this grey area is to adopt and apply the generally accepted office dressing guidelines when it comes to your outfit decision. Specifically, anything that would be considered a faux pas during office hours would generally apply in this circumstance. That means avoid bare midriffs, short hemlines, low necklines and flip flops. Obviously suits and ties are not required.

But do consider the appropriateness of your footwear and bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

5. An “excursion” with an activity which may require certain attire, e.g., laser tag, cooking school, circus skills.

It’s important to carefully read the invitation details before the event; so you don’t run the risk of not being able to participate.

Consider what you’ll need to wear to participate whether it’s active wear, steel capped boots, shorts or black coloured clothing etc.

Similar to a Christmas Barbecue, applying the generally accepted office dressing guidelines will ensure you avoid a faux pas fashion moment.


Now, the outfits are all sorted, enjoy the silly season! You've worked hard all year to enjoy the festivities!

xoxo Emily

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