What Does Your Holiday Party Dress Code Mean?    

What Does Your Holiday Party Dress Code Mean?

This year, you may just find yourself attending a holiday party with a black tie dress code. But what exactly does that mean? Formal and black tie phrases can mean different things to different people. Does black tie mean you don’t usually wear white? Do women usually follow cocktail dress code for a formal party? Chances are, whatever you arrive wearing, your host will graciously welcome you, help you find your place at the table and make it easy to enjoy the party. In the meantime, start planning your wardrobe for the holiday festivities with these dress code ideas from us at Pottery Barn.

Black Tie Preferred

If your host wants party guests to follow what’s typically involved in a black tie event, they’ll want you to arrive wearing a tuxedo or a gown. As a guest, you can also interpret “black tie” to mean dressy and show up in a black business suit or dress.

If your host sent out save-the-date notices to prepare guests for the evening and to let you know a formal invite is soon arriving, you’ll have time to prepare. Take notice of the style of the save-the-date and invite, because the host may let you know what they want you to wear. If the invite says to dress your best for a grand and elegant evening of cocktails and conversation, you know to keep to traditional black tie. You may see a guest or two who are wearing black jeans topped by a vintage tuxedo jacket. That’s one way some people like to interpret the black tie dress code.

Black Tie Optional

It’s easy to dress for a formal party if the invite states that the dress code is “Black Tie Optional” or “Black Tie Invited.” This holiday dinner dress code essentially means formal wear is welcome, but business attire is welcome, too. Though this dress code is slightly vague, the tone of the invite will say it all. A less formal invitation that mentions this dress code means your host wants you to feel comfortable with whatever you wear. However, feel free to have fun dressing it up a bit.

Creative Black Tie

Etiquette maven Emily Post notes that “Creative Black Tie” means formal, but fun. For men, this typically involves wearing a tuxedo combined with a whimsical item, such as a unique cummerbund or trendy shoes. For women, it means they can feel free to wear any length gown, dressy cocktail dress or little black dress with trendy accessories. The host will most likely have chosen a creative invitation that gives you a cue that you’re welcome to stand out when you enter through the front door of this artistically inspired party!

White Tie

A “white tie” request on an invitation is often very formal. You can follow a few guidelines to dress in traditional white tie attire. For women, white tie usually incorporates floor-length gowns and long gloves. For men, it typically means a black dress coat/tailcoat, matching trousers with a single satin stripe and a white, wing-collared shirt. Men’s accessories are more than welcome with a white tie outfit, including shirt studs, cuff links, suspenders, a white vest, white bow tie, white or gray gloves, black patent leather shoes and black dress socks. White tie events mean your host will no doubt be using their best dinnerware, which will set the mood for this charmingly formal affair.


A party requesting a semi-formal dress code will still have a lovely, sophisticated atmosphere. You’ll find that things are a little more relaxed when it comes to outfits. Men can feel comfortable wearing a dark business suit, dress shirt, tie and dress shoes. Women will feel at ease wearing a short cocktail dress, a black dress or even a long dressy skirt and top. The invite, and the way your host  decorates for the party, will have everyone feeling casually formal ­– an ideal way to celebrate the holidays.

Festive Attire

Usually reserved for holiday time, this dress code is open for interpretation. Your host might indicate a specific theme on the invite, such as a request that guests wear holiday-inspired sweaters.  If the invitation simply requests festive attire, you can always opt for merry accessories, tie or jewelry or anything in between that has the most festive holiday theme. Your host is most likely envisioning a party filled with festive attire that will mix in well with the equally festive table settings and glittering backdrop of candles.

With some thoughtful dress code preparation, you’ll arrive at the party feeling completely comfortable and ready to revel in the merrymaking atmosphere the dinner dress code intended.