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Holiday Party Do’s & Don’ts

How to make a good impression at the office party

holiday-party-does-dontsNovember is here, which means the office holiday party is just around the corner. Due to the current economic climate, for many companies the swanky evening bash has given way to more modest afternoon festivities. In some cases it’s a pot luck lunch held at the office.

While each setting brings somewhat different challenges the goal is always the same: look your best and make a good impression. Particularly on the boss.

To help you make the most of your holiday gathering this year, we picked the brains of several experts including image consultants, etiquette specialists and even a fashion stylist.

An Afternoon Party

Experts agree that an afternoon event is not the time to try and razzle-dazzle. While every office get-together is first and foremost a business event, a party during the work-day requires more businesslike attire than one held in the evening.

Still there are many ways to add some holiday flair to your business wardrobe. Our experts offer these suggestions:

  • Change into a pair of heels or killer stilettos (if you’re comfortable wearing them)
  • Wear festive fabrics like velvet, silk or something metallic under your suit
  • Opt for a blouse or dress with embellishments like sequins, beading or metallic’s
  • Try pairing a dress with a jacket and remove the jacket for the party
  • Add bold jewelry or a scarf to your outfit for a holiday touch
  • Stay away from holiday decorated sweaters that scream “family photo”

Another way to add some pizzazz is to wear color. “So many of us get stuck in the black or neutral rut because it’s easy and available,” says Ginger Burr, Total Image Consultants. “This is the perfect opportunity to step out of the basics and make a statement with color by wearing a top, jacket, or dress in deep red, magenta, rich green or delicious aubergine.”

Always think business first when planning your outfit. “It may be a party, but if it takes place during business hours or in the business environment, you’ll want to look like you can be taken seriously when a business matter arises”, notes Patty Buccellato, Refined Images. “You don’t want to wear anything that would embarrass you if you encountered a client on the street that day.”

The Evening Event

An evening office event held at a restaurant or other venue can be particularly tricky. People tend to forget that they are still attending a business function which is a bad thing.

It’s essential to remember that you are socializing with your or your partner’s co-workers which means you should to err on the side of professional rather than appear to sexy. To look great while still maintaining a refined appearance our experts suggest:

  • Choosing a dinner/evening suit in upscale fabrics
  • Paring little-black-dress with accessories that shimmer and shine
  • Making a statement with great shoes, accessories and hair
  • Adding a silk blouse or sweater to a black pants or a pencil skirt
  • Wearing black opaque tights with shorter hemlines (not too short)
  • Dressing up a more casual outfit with a pair of stilettos
  • Switching out your everyday bag for an evening clutch
  • Paying attention to detail, particularly when it comes to grooming
  • Adding a faux fur shrug
  • Avoiding anything overtly sexual or revealing

Worried about showing up in the identical outfit as a co-worker? Then don’t buy a whole new outfit and accessories right off the mannequin in the window of your favorite store at the mall. “Use your own style- go outside the chain-store walls- mix some pieces you already have to give it a fresh different look, suggests Jill Mikols Etesse, fashion columnist/blogger, Momstowork.com

Eat, Drink & Don’t Overindulge

Eat, drink and be merry is the adage of holiday gatherings. The key to attending a business event is not to overindulge on food or alcohol.

Maintain your self-control by planning ahead. Eat something before you go so you arrive at the party ravenous and ready to eat everything in sight. Limit yourself to one or two cocktails. One of the best ways to monitor your alcohol consumption is to alternate between drinks and soda or water.

Gauging your alcohol intake is particularly important when finger food and hors d’oeuvres are served instead of a full dinner. However, while overeating may be unattractive, drinking too much can be hazardous to your career.

“The two most dangerous words associated with work-related holiday merrymaking are ‘Open Bar’. When we hear those words, we should ignore the voice in our head that says “woo woo!” and listen instead to the one that says “whoa!,” warns Nancy Mitchell, The Etiquette Advocate “Just as we wouldn’t drink to the point of being tipsy or inebriated at a working lunch or dinner, neither should you do so at a work-related party”.

Theresa Gallion, partner Fisher & Phillips, employment attorneys, agrees, “Remember the office holiday party is the LAST place to get drunk, act rowdy, or unnecessarily bring attention to yourself with unprofessional behavior. Do those things, if you must, on your own time, not in the presence of the people who evaluate you, determine your compensation and your continuing employment status.”

Enjoy yourself. Use the event as an opportunity to meet and get to know your colleagues in a more relaxed setting. Just don’t become too relaxed. Refrain from any off-color or politically incorrect jokes.

Avoid At All Costs

So what’s the biggest no-no of them all? Every expert stressed avoiding two things: Drinking too much alcohol and showing too much skin.

By far the biggest road to disaster was cited as drinking too much. “Parties often serve up hors d’oeuvres rather than full meals, leaving you more vulnerable to accidental overindulgence. If you get drunk, all your preparation goes out the window. Don’t risk it when it comes to your career,” says Page Shultz, professional fashion stylist.

Another big mistake is showing too much cleavage. “There’s a right place for everything, and the right place to show your assets is NOT at an office party,” notes Scarlett De Bease, professional image consultant.

Also be careful who you bring with you. “Don’t take a new acquaintance or someone you don’t know very well as your guest to the company bash,” recommends Mitchell. “It’s not a time to discover that your new squeeze cannot hold his/her liquor or has a tendency to cry, sing, tell off-color jokes, share stories of past indiscretions or dance on top of a table”.

Finally, just in case you were unsure. “The biggest “don’t” for the office party is to hit on or flirt with a colleague, your boss or the intern. It will damage your professional image beyond repair. It can instantly cost you your job,” adds Lizandra Vega, professional image consultant.

While your actions at the office party may not make your career, bad behavior has the power to break it. Make sure the impression you leave is a good one, not one that will haunt you long after the party is over. Be remembered as the consummate professional you are not the tipsy woman who fell down on the dance floor.

About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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