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Holiday Party: Is it OK to dress sexy?

Dear Joan,

I am the newbie in the office, a recent college grad, and a trying to decide what to wear to the company holiday party.

We tend to dress pretty conservatively in my office,  and do have casual dress Friday, but I’m wondering about the balance between looking festive for the holiday season vs. looking like it’s an extension of my work scene.

Are there other things I need to think about regarding the holiday party?

Thank you,


Dear Peg,

Wow! The holiday season and what to wear to the company party. This is something that has been a question for thousands of people over many, many holiday seasons.

And the answer is variable based on the culture, region, industry and particular organization you are in.

But a consistent theme is to remember that this is a WORK event; not a holiday party with your personal friends and family. You will be at this holiday party with your work colleagues, and you will be seeing them the next Monday morning! You want to make sure your behavior is appropriate throughout the party. I don’t know about you, but after a couple of drinks, my filter can tend to disappear!

When I worked at Apple and they’d make blow-out parties, we dressed very formally, in sequins and men wore suits and even tuxedos! And when I worked at start-ups, our holiday parties were often at the end of a very long work day and we didn’t even bother changing out of our casual work clothes.

But I’ve also heard the disaster stories at company parties. Typically they involved alcohol and people losing their regular inhibitions that they bring to their sober work lives, and clothing can play a role in sending certain messages, non verbal messages.

It’s not just what you wear. It’s how you BEHAVE. Please monitor your drinking and your comments carefully. Perhaps have an agreement with a trusted co-worker to watch over one another.

That said, my suggestion is to avoid what anyone would call SEXY clothing. Whether you are a man or a woman, or identify as queer or trans, or… is important to NOT project your sexuality at company parties. Even though it is a PARTY and it is the HOLIDAY SEASON, it is not OPEN SEASON on PARTYING. There is a very careful line to be drawn.

As this relates to your choice of dress for that holiday party, I would suggest erring on the side of conservative, with a touch of holiday cheer. What would that look like? Yesterday I was doing volunteer work in a 2nd grade class, and the teacher opted to add some holiday cheer to her outfit. She wore black slacks and a striped sweater of black and silver with a little sparkle. It was festive and pretty, but it was not at all provocative or inappropriate.

A sound strategy is to ask a friend or relative how they’d rate your outfit, from work-friendly to bar-friendly. If it is rated closer to bar-friendly, it is WRONG. And remember, it is not just the actual clothing or accessory, but how it fits. A simple black dress can be appropriate on one woman, and tight and alluring on another woman. The same is true for men’s trousers and outfits.

Peg, with some thought and planning into both your appearance and behavior, you can be  appropriate, comfortable and allow yourself to have a good time…with your WORK colleagues.


Coach Joan

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