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 the potential pitfalls such soirées pose.
From turning up underdressed to getting too turnt up, it’s not always plain sailing through the festive circuit. So to help, in the wardrobe department at least, we compiled a handy Yuletide guide. Who’s getting the drinks in?
Make A List (And Check It Twice)
Drafting a list of Christmas gift ideas that’s long enough to put you in the red might be a priority at this time of year, but, as well as ensuring stockings get stocked, it pays to plan for pre-Christmas parties.
“Preparation is key to a stress-free party season,” says Alex Martin of storied Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes. “Spend some time going through your eveningwear a few weeks ahead, making sure you have everything and that it has been dry-cleaned or, in the case of tailoring, steamed, so that it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
The aim is to be the best-dressed guy in the room, even after you start to think a strand of tinsel is a fitting accessory. Arm yourself with a dinner suit (if in doubt of the specifics, make yours an all-black number with a satin shawl lapel), a white shirt, bow tie and patent Oxford shoe, and you’re ready to cut a rug.
Shake Things Up
Shirtless dinner jackets might work for the Chippendales, but it’s not a look that’ll leave the boss merry at your work Christmas do. That’s doesn’t mean you need necessarily enslave yourself to tradition.
“In addition to a dinner suit, consider investing in one killer jacket and trouser combination,” says Martin. “You can mix this up with a fine knit, open-neck shirt or dress shirt and bow tie so that each event you feel a little bit different and appropriate for the dress code.”
By having a few solid separates to hand, you’ll have plenty of outfit options for less stuffy cocktail attire engagements. For a fail-safe pairing that can be dressed up or down to suit the occasion, try a navy blazer with a pair of grey trousers.
Make An 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.
“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.” That’s a thumbs down for the snowflake-pattern onesie, then.
So what exactly does relaxed but not too relaxed look like? “Try to look like you haven’t tried too hard,” advises John Lewis formalwear buyer Nasif Choudhury. “A great way to pull this off is a velvet evening jacket. You can stand out from the crowd while still adhering to the party dress code.” Add to that less common double-breasted cuts and shades of blue, and your options have just been blown wide open.
Keep Your Locks Low-Maintenance
No amount of hairspray will hold a quiff in place once pelted with unforgiving weather. So while it may go with the pomp and ceremony of party season, consider swapping a pompadour for an easier to manage mop.
“Avoid high-maintenance styles,” says Ruffians artistic director, Denis Robinson. “This is winter: it’s windy, wet, and potentially snowy and these types of haircut are just going to get annoying, and you’ll never look as intended once you arrive at your destination.”
Instead, steer simple with unfussy cuts like a loose sweep back or mid-length cut with natural waves. Both of which simply require a little texturising product such as sea salt spray or volumising powder to finish.
Tie Your Own Bow Tie
Most dress codes have a little wiggle room, particularly in the case of ‘Hollywood black tie’, but there are almost always certain traditions that must be observed.
“If the party is black tie, make sure you tie your bow tie yourself,” says etiquette expert James Field. “It’s much smarter and should never appear perfect in the way that pre-tied bow ties do. If you don’t know how to tie a bow tie one around your neck, try tying one around your knee for practice.”
The box-fresh perfection of a ready-tied bow tie might seem like the ideal 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.
Put A Pocket Square On It
Unlike female partygoers, men don’t have the same breadth of formal options, so standing out depends on those little nuances that make a big difference when everyone else is attempting to channel their inner James Bond.
“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. If not opting for classic white, inject a little Christmas spirit with a polka dot or simple striped pattern or a block-colour style in a seasonal shade of deep green or wine.
Check Your Bags
Even if it means bumping into an ex or that bloke who remains convinced you did him out of a promotion, attending a party means – in the name of decency – staying for at least a half hour.
This means you shouldn’t look like you’re just passing through. “Under no circumstances arrive to a party with a weekend bag or – even worse – a rucksack,” says Martin. “Leave it in the car or better still at the office.”
A slim pouch bag is the absolute maximum cargo permitted. This should be enough to hold an invitation, cardholder, phone and keys, keeping your pockets free and the sharper than sharp silhouette of your suit intact.
Look Interested, Even If You’re Not
No, Mark, I wasn’t aware global shrink rates have risen 5 per cent year-on-year. Oh and Bryony graduated top of her class in Anthropology, Marjorie? Riveting, tell me more. As flatline-inducingly tedious as exchanges like this can be, as well as getting your look right, 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 a colleague or other guests, don’t look over their shoulder for someone else to engage with. Always ask questions, and be ‘interested’ in others, not simply ‘interesting’.”
The latter is made far easier if you incorporate a subtle talking point into your outfit, such as a pair of embroidered loafers, a lapel pin or silk scarf. Just remember to limit this to one piece. Party season, however fun, isn’t a license to go all Liberace. Now where’s that tinsel.