Office party protocol: Good taste is still not out of date

Holiday party season, incoming. Perceptions are everything. Photo: AMC Mad Men PR photo

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2013 – These days, not many offices are throwing huge parties. However, in the event your company does still put on a party, particularly during the upcoming fall-winter holiday season, there are rules to keep in mind.

The most important issue is how you present yourself. First among these: do not wear clothes that reveal too much skin. This applies to both men and women. If employees are wearing their regular work clothes, they will likely comply with company policy. However, if employees have been asked to wear cocktail attire or other party attire, mistakes can be made and should be avoided.

A cocktail dress should not have a plunging neckline, should not be shorter than slightly above the knee, and should be opaque. Less is more in terms of sparkles, metals and jewelry. A cocktail dress that is simple and follows these guidelines is sophisticated and will likely leave an indelible good impression on all who attend the party. 

On the other hand, a dress that reveals too much and is too glitzy has caused many working women in particular to regret the move and feel bad about themselves for a long time. Like it or not, both men and women will naturally poke fun at an out-of-place outfit. Worse, they are likely to make offensive comments in public or in private, causing further loss of esteem on the part of the often-inadvertent offender.

Quite often, a person who dresses inappropriately can never undo the damage to his or her reputation. Some 15 years ago, a woman wore skin-tight pants to a convention party along with a blouse that exposed her cleavage. Unfortunately for her, this particular convention party was attended primarily by men. To this day, those same men are still talking and joking about that outfit.

Like that proverbial fish tale, the story has been considerably and imaginatively embellished since that convention. One party attendee commented just recently that the woman wore “tight black leather pants with a see-through blouse and exposed breasts.” This imaginative recollection was patently false, of course. But people see what they want to see and often use an ever more colorful story like this to ridicule or discredit a hapless style-offender for years.

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Men at office parties should avoid similar types of wardrobe malfunctions. For example, they should not wear shirts with plunging necklines that expose their chests. They should not wear jeans or cutouts. They should not wear flashy belt buckles or boots.

Notice the similarity to our advice for women. Flashy is not flattering at an office party. Tackiness gets noticed, but not in a good way. It gets people talking, but not the way the fashion offender might have hoped.

Alcohol consumption at an office party can be another serious issue. Employees who drink too much and stand out for their conspicuous drinking behavior are generally disdained by others. They are seen as lacking control in an environment where control is deemed paramount.

During an office party, the best thing you can do is represent yourself as a well-grounded sophisticate. If employees look attractive in a professional way, others will notice and may compliment the look. Likewise, if employees control their drinking behavior and keep the conversation on topics that are interesting to others attending the party, then they will be remembered approvingly for just that. 

SEE RELATED: The challenge of interpreting company policies and procedures

Keep these goals in mind at the next office party: look good, feel good and present your thoughts in an interesting and memorable way that is positive. You’ll create a lasting good impression. Your tasteful appearance and poise will likely be noted by management, reflecting positively on your professionalism and perhaps even enhancing your chance for advancement in the future.


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Cassi Fields

Dr. Cassi Fields has provided expert opinion on career and workplace issues for nationally recognized media outlets including Forbes, TheStreet TV,, FOX News Live, US News & World Report,, WUSA9, News Channel 8,, and more. Dr. Fields, who received her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from George Washington University, lives in Virginia with her husband and two children.

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