Dust off your finery, polish your shoes and prep your liver – it’s party season once again. And while we know the next month is about easing off and letting your hair down, we’re also acutely aware of party season’s potential pitfalls.
From turning up underdressed to getting too turnt up, we know it’s not always plain sailing through the festive circuit. So we compiled a handy Yuletide guide. You’re welcome.
1. Make A List (And Check It Twice)
Drafting a gift list that’s long enough to put you in the red might be your priority at this time of year, but, as well as ensuring the stockings get stocked, it pays to plan for pre-Christmas parties.
“Preparation is key to a stress-free party season,” says Alex Martin, Manager at Gieves Hawkes at No. 1 Savile Row. “Spend some time going through your party (read: eveningwear) wardrobe a few weeks ahead, making sure everything you want to wear has been dry-cleaned or, in the case of tailoring, steamed, so that it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Once you’ve got the quality check out of the way, it’s time to think about quantity: “Look ahead in your schedule and plan your choices accordingly, noting you might need some extra shirts or accessories if you have a couple of events on consecutive days,” says Martin. Shirt-less tuxes might work for the Chippendales, but it’s not a look that’ll leave your boss merry at your work Christmas do.
2. Shake Things Up
Just because shirt-less tuxes are off the menu, it doesn’t mean you need necessarily enslave yourself to tradition. Sure, certain parties will have strict dress codes, but for those that don’t, you can loosen your collar – literally.
Says Martin: “In addition to a […] dinner suit, I favour investing in one killer jacket and trouser combination for the season that you can mix up with a fine knit, open-neck shirt or dress shirt and bow tie so that each evening you feel a little bit different and appropriate for the dress code.”
By investing in a few solid smart-casual separates, you’ll have plenty of outfit options for the festive season’s less stuffy engagements. For a fail-safe combo that can be dressed up or down to suit the occasion, try a navy blazer with a pair of grey trousers.
3. Make The Effort. But Don’t Try Too Hard
Like the concept of smart-casual dressing, nailing a festive party dress code can prove tricky when it’s not as straightforward as ‘Christmas jumpers’ or black tie.
This is especially important when it comes to work parties. “Clothes give an impression of who we are,” says James Field, Training Manager at Debrett’s, the leading source on British social skills and etiquette. “While work attire is a dress code of sorts, there is more room to get this wrong at a Christmas party. By all means choose a more relaxed outfit but not one that would cause it to be remarked upon for the wrong reasons.”
That’s a thumbs down for the snowflake-pattern onesie, then. “There’s nothing worse than feeling underdressed at a party,” says Martin. “Especially if there is a work connection to the invitation – you won’t impress a prospective client or future boss by turning up unprepared.”
So what exactly does relaxed but not too relaxed look like? How can you strike the balance between looking festive and on-form? “Try to look like you haven’t tried too hard,” says Nasif Choudhury, Formalwear Buyer for John Lewis Menswear.
“A great way to pull this off is a velvet evening jacket, worn with a roll neck jumper, rather than wearing a traditional satin lapel dress suit with a dress shirt and bow tie. You can stand out from the crowd making your individual mark, while still adhering to the party dress code so as not to offend.”
4. Keep Your Locks Low Maintenance
No amount of hairspray will hold your quiff in place once pelted with British weather. “Avoid high maintenance styles,” says Adam Brady, Ruffians Barbers Trend Expert. “This is the UK. It’s windy, wet, and potentially snowy. You’ll be wearing a hat, or being battered from all sides by Hurricane Steve. High maintenance haircuts are just going to get annoying, and you’ll never look as intended once you arrive at your destination.”
Instead, steer simple with naturally unfussy cuts like a textured sweep back or smart (but strong-hold) slick styles like a classic side parting.
5. Tie Your Own Bow Tie
While most dress codes have a little wiggle room, there are certain traditions that must be observed. “If the party is black tie, make sure that you tie your bow tie yourself,” says Field. “It’s much smarter and should never appear perfect in the way that pre-tied bow ties do. If you find it difficult to tie one around your neck, then try tying one around your knee in the first instance [for practice].”
The box-fresh perfection of a ready-tied bow tie might seem like the perfect finishing touch but what it actually says is you’re struggling to find your sartorial feet. Which is the last thing you want, whether it’s a blue-chip client or potential mate you’re wooing.
How To Tie A Bow Tie
6. Put A Pocket Square On It
“Pocket squares complete a look,” says Choudhury. “Whether it’s a suit, separate jacket or a tie or no tie occasion, a silk pocket square can make the outfit.”
And while ’tis the season for something festive, no one wants to see your gaudy holly print. Instead, inject a little Christmas spirit with a polka dot pattern or a block-colour style in a seasonal shade of deep green or wine.
John Lewis AW15
7. Check Your Bags
We don’t care if you’re going to bump into your still seething ex or that bloke who remains convinced you did him out of that promotion, attending a party means – in the name of decency – staying for at least a half hour or so.
Which means you shouldn’t look like you’re just passing through: “Under no circumstances arrive to a party with a holdall or – even worse – a rucksack,” says Martin. “Leave it in the car or better still at the office. A slim document case is the absolute maximum cargo permitted.”
8. Look Interested – Even If You’re Not
Christmas parties are basically minefields: a step or two in the wrong direction and suddenly you’re stuck in no man’s land. “Did you know global shrink rates have risen 5 per cent year-on-year?” Fascinating, Mark. Or, “Our Bryony’s graduated top of her class in Anthropology!” I’m riveted, Marjorie, tell me more.
As flatline-inducingly tedious as exchanges like these can be, a little decorum goes a long way. “While a Christmas party is a time of celebration and a time to relax, it’s equally important to make sure you fall in line with what is appropriate behaviour,” says Field.
“When talking to another colleague [or guest, for that matter], don’t look over their shoulder for someone else to talk to. Always ask questions [e.g. ‘What does Bryony intend to do with that Anthropology degree exactly?’] Be ‘interested’ in others, not simply ‘interesting’.”
If nothing else, party season is a test of your endurance. So, for best performance, make sure you stock up on supplements: “I swear by Vita Coco coconut water,” says Sam Middleton, founder of personal stylist service The Chapar. “It’s the best hangover cure the morning after.” Never let it be said we don’t have your back.
How do you plan for party season? And what will you be wearing this year?
Let us know below.
With over eight years’ experience writing on men’s style, former blogger Cillian O’Connor delves deep into men’s collections, sorting the wheat from the chaff to deliver seasonal trends and failsafe style tips.
He has written for Metro, The Business of Fashion, The Irish Times, and Canvas8, and has consulted for brands including Gillette and Dan Ward.