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Fashion & Finance: Chic Celebrations for the Fashionable Financier

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December 23, 2011

The holiday season is often that one time of the year where it’s OK to shine—literally!

Designers work special-occasion details such as intricate beadwork, lace, velvet and metallic trim, and colorful and sparkly sequins into their designs to give their customers that celebratory feel. Wearing something with a little pizzazz often helps put people in the holiday mood, or just helps to make the everyday feel more like a special occasion.

While some offices relax their dress code around this time of year, some to accommodate the expanding waistlines of employees enjoying hearty holiday meals, others to enjoy humorous holiday sweaters or contribute to charities, some firms stay with business as usual. Some companies also opt to hold holiday events before or after the end of the year, to provide their employees with delicious treats, entertainment, the chance to dress up, or a special thank you for a year’s hard work before the busy season starts back up in January.

A co-worker recently asked for some help creating language for our firm holiday party invite. She was unsure of how to convey the suggested dress code for the event, without insulting people’s intelligence or confusing them further about what to wear.

We finally came up with the phrase “business casual and cocktail attire suggested” to cover all the bases. We wanted to encourage employees to dress up and celebrate, but not make them feel obligated to go over the top or show up dolled up in black-tie attire by any means. We also wanted them to understand that we did not feel that jeans would be appropriate for the venue or occasion, so I hope our choice of words communicated what we were thinking.

There are a lot of great rules floating around about what NOT to wear to a holiday office party, so let’s take a look at just two very powerful major rules first.

1. Showing Off Too Much Skin- You’d like to think that you are not judged about who you are by what you wear, but the reality is, especially in business, what you choose to wear affects how people view you. HR people will even tell you that color choices are very important too!

While it’s an unfortunate truth that women in particular are scrutinized very hard by what they choose to wear, the overall rule, stated time and time again, is that getting too carried away with your fun, flashy side or showing too much skin is likely just not the right fashion choice for a work-related event. That’s the key phrase here, it’s a work-related event, and the same principles you apply to your everyday outfit choices (choosing smart, sensible, stylish, appropriate and well-fitting items) should still apply at the company holiday party.

The same people who see you in the office Monday through Friday may not appreciate that wild sparkly tube top (and trust me, I know you totally rocked that look last weekend, but this just isn’t the place for it!).

Plus, there may be clients present at the event and you don’t want to alienate anyone or feel uncomfortable. So, have a little fun with holiday looks that incorporate minimal or subtle sequins, beads, faux fur, sparkly accessories and such, but don’t get carried away with those items or the skimpy stuff. Save it for a more appropriate venue or event, and choose something that shows you’re there to have fun, celebrate, but respect that it’s still a business environment.

Don’t underestimate the power of a well fitting or expertly designed dress. Just because it isn’t skin tight or “sexy” doesn’t mean it isn’t flattering or beautiful on you for the holidays. Get to know the silhouettes that flatter your figure best and make you feel comfortable and confident. There are lots of great cocktail-style dresses for all shapes and sizes that are great holiday party choices, without going overboard. Check out some of them on www.edressme.com, but stay away from the category titled “club dresses!”

2. Props and Gag Outfits- Save the reindeer antlers, jingle bells, light-up sweatshirt or mistletoe hat for another party. Those kind of silly accessories may be fun and appropriate at an event where they are called for (like a bad holiday sweater party!), but otherwise, they can make one appear juvenile and not to be taken seriously. You certainly don’t want to be the jerk with the lampshade over their head at the end of the night, or “that wild and crazy guy” with the annoying accessories at the company party.

Now that we have those out of the way, here are a few of my own personal style tips for what you should consider wearing for an office party or holiday event.

1. Fit and Flatter- Choose items that fit correctly, give you lots of confidence, and flatter your figure. If you are uncomfortable all night tugging and pulling at seams or adjusting straps, that is no fun at all. Wear items that you love and look great in, and can move about in freely and comfortably. Looking great is powerful, and a well thought out outfit can make a great night even more enjoyable.

2. Sparkle and Shine- Use a special event such as your office holiday party to wear an unusual or meaningful piece of jewelry that you may not normally wear to the office. Lots of jewelry can be considered too large, flashy, distracting, or obnoxious for the office, so your firm holiday party is a great chance to shine, wear something different, and even create a unique conversation around. But, take note that large genuine gemstones or fine jewelry may be a bit too overdone. That 15-carat rock may be better left at home or in the vault!

Freed Maxick CPAs employees dolled
up for the holidays.

3. Be Your Very Best Self- I read somewhere that the greatest and most valuable advice given to brides is to look like your very best self on your wedding day. In other words, don’t try a radically new makeup look, change your hair style or color too drastically, or choose a style of dress too sexy or unlike your personal style. Just opt for choices that help you look like your very best and most polished and pretty version of yourself. This, I think, is great advice for a company holiday party. Dress up to show that it’s a special occasion, and aim to look poised, pretty, and most importantly, professional. It doesn’t hurt to map out your outfit in advance and try it all on together in front of a head-to-toe mirror to make sure your look works. That way you know you have a winning style all set for the night of the event, and won’t have to scramble to pull something together.

I hope some of my info has helped you, and I also hope that you have a great holiday season. Looking forward to 2012 and your continued feedback, questions and ideas for this blog!

Emily Alexandria Burns is a State University of New York Fashion Institute of Technology graduate and started her career in New York City working for companies including Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni, Christian Dior and Jones Apparel Group. She is now e-marketing communications specialist for Freed Maxick & Battaglia CPAs in Buffalo, N.Y., and recently named the Association for Accounting Marketing's 2011 "Rookie of the Year." Follow her on Twitter @FreedMaxickPR or email her at emily.burns@freedmaxick.com.

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