As an expert in men’s formal wear and well-respected member of the public (bar a couple of minor offences involving a blu tack and a family sized pack of crisps), I am often approached at this time of year for advice on what to wear to the Christmas office party. It would seem that apart from weddings, the Christmas office party is the event most people care what they wear and rightly so… This yearly celebration is not just a chance to let your hair down, attempt to snog Samantha from accounting and drunkenly swear at your boss. If approached the right way, the office party can be a great way to impress your colleagues and advance your career.
These are my 5 do’s and don’ts to master the office Christmas party.
- Don’t look scruffy / Do wear the right outfit
I thought I’d start with this as it is after all the question that instigated the writing of this guide.
What should you wear to the Christmas party?
Now, this obviously depends on what venue your kind hearted and generous boss has treated you to. The options are varied and in turn so are your outfit choices. The venue of the office party dictates how formal or relaxed you should look. For example, if your boss has decided that a local bowling alley or go karting track is the place to be, then a smart pair of jeans and dress shirt is probably as formal as you want to go. You may want to push the boat out and opt for a single-breasted, two button blazer. It’s a versatile and timeless workhorse that should see you through almost any occasion, including the office party. Remember, if your place of work has a more relaxed dress code, the office party is the perfect opportunity to show your colleagues that you know how to “scrub up well.” It’s good to surprise those around you who see you 5 days a week and will do wonders for that mysterious streak you’ve been so carefully curating at work.
On the other end of the scale, your boss may want to treat the office to a fancier event and this means you will need to dress up. To keep it simple I tend to split a formal event into two possible categories.
The first category is formal which will mean you’ll need to get your nice suit out. Avoid wearing the suit you wear to work every day. This won’t feel ‘special’ and you may subconsciously still be in work mode at the party which will result in no one wanting to speak to you. Instead, opt for something a little fancier. Your Christmas party suit should have a modern feel and be perfect for the night-time. As such, a slim-fit, tailored design makes a fantastic option. It should also be dark in colour and may even have a sleek sheen or pattern to its fabric. To complete your outfit, pair your suit with a dress shirt, polished dress shoes, and a smart tie and pocket square. You can add a little flair or personal style with some accessories like these below from Me My Suit & Tie. Just click the image to have a look…
The second category is “Black Tie” which I have already spoken about in depth with my blog The Rules of the Black Tie. However, for those of you looking for a quick explanation, I have just two words for you – BOW TIE.
I always recommend a Bow Tie over a standard necktie. I think it is a great opportunity to wear something different and traditionally you’d always opt for a Bow Tie to a black tie event. Be careful in choosing the style of bow tie or standard tie you are going to use as that single detail can ruin your entire look! You can go traditional by opting for plain black silk, or maybe choose the same fabric that goes along with your jacket. But if you are a little more adventurous, you may want to reinvent your style and experiment by going with a startling colour to make it more emphasised. Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t tie a bow tie, You can always watch an INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO ON YOUTUBE and you’ll have it mastered within 10 minutes.
You will also have to get yourself a Dinner Jacket. You are better off finding a good quality one, so (gut depending) it will last you years to come since you won’t wear it too often. Black is the 99% colour of choice but midnight blue is also acceptable by the traditional rules. Velvet can also be a material option and has made a strong resurgence recently.
My last point on this is to make sure you are comfortable and feel good in what you are wearing. The whole look loses its sophistication if you are sweating, itching and squirming at the bar….
2 . Don’t make a fool of yourself / Do entertain with dignity
The office Christmas party is probably the only time you’ll find yourself knocking back shots of Absinth with Steve from reception and Karen from head office. This “crazy” relaxed environment can lead to a sore head and one full of regret on Monday morning. However, it is also a great opportunity to make some serious career gains. You don’t want to turn your office holiday festivities into a self-promotion campaign but a company-wide gathering is a rare and valuable time to get in front of senior executives and interact with departments outside of your own.
Introduce yourself to senior executives—mention something you’re working on, rather than just your department. This is a chance to make contact but in the context of a festive, not promotional event. Seek out the colleagues that you frequently work with but only by phone or email. By putting a face to your virtual exchanges, you can make the relationship more personal. For people you work with regularly, focus on everything but work so your relationships become multidimensional and deeper.
If you are at a loss for conversation topics away from work DO try:
- What sport would be the funniest to add a mandatory amount of alcohol to?
- If your five-year-old self suddenly found themselves inhabiting your current body, what would your five-year-old self do first?
- What is something that is really popular now, but in 5 years everyone will look back on and be embarrassed by?
- What would be the coolest animal to scale up to the size of a horse?
If you are at a loss for conversation topics away from work DON’T try:
- What is the funniest corporate / business screw up you have heard of?
- What kind of cult would you like to start?
- What are some of the nicknames you have for customers or coworkers?
- Where is the strangest place you’ve urinated or defecated?
Remember you want to leave the other partygoers thinking ” what a great funny guy” and not “must speak to HR about that guy first thing Monday morning”.
3. Don’t ask for a pay rise / Do offer to treat your boss
There is a time and a place to negotiate a change in your pay, the Christmas party is not it. Trust me, the Dutch courage you have acquired from that 4th glass of wine is not to be trusted and slurring over the reasons why you’re worth more is not doing much to help. My blog – How To Ask For A Payrise has some tips you can use if you have been thinking about upping your wage.
Instead, offer your boss a drink. Yes, I appreciate the Christmas party is supposedly your superiors thanking you for all of your hard work throughout the year but they’ll appreciate the offer. Don’t be pushy or insistent, you still want to maintain a level of respect and professionalism but you can use this temporary exchange of giver/taker to grow your reputation and respect from those up top.
Also, as a bonus, no one has your boss’ ear like his or her spouse or partner, and making that person feel comfortable may enhance your reputation in a way even the best presentation might not.
3. Don’t be distracted by tech / Do engage and be interested
Detach from techie toys, including smartphones and tablets, and refrain from texting, emailing, status updating, or tweeting while you’re talking to people. Also, try to avoid doing anything that they wouldn’t want to see posted on the internet or uploaded on YouTube or Snapchat. Further, don’t post pictures or comments without permission.
Think of it this way: Would you want to wake up the following day to find yourself tagged in photos or videos in which you’re showing off your elephant impression or sleeping on the dance floor?
Instead, address everyone with enthusiasm and include them in the conversation with eye contact, comments, and questions. Be armed with a few social icebreakers, families, children, holidays etc… Unless you’re waiting on an important call, leave your phone in your jacket pocket.
4. Don’t drink too much / Do know your wines
The mistake that people make with office Christmas is that it is still a work event and I think a lot of people see it as, ‘Oh good, free booze, free food, well let’s be merry.’
Okay, you can let your hair down but you are still being judged and watched by your superiors and your actions are still accountable. The smarter people use the office Christmas party to present themselves in the best possible light as opposed to getting completely and utterly drunk. Know your limit and stick to it, even if the boss is getting absolutely trollied, it does not mean that it’s acceptable for you to do that yourself.
This is not to say you need to be ‘T’ total. For example, knowing your wines is a great way to say ‘Sure I like to let my hair down and enjoy a drink from time to time, but I am also educated on what I drink and why.’
Follow these steps and you’ll come across as a proper wine connoisseur:
- Stare at the wine. …
- Begin with a few descriptors, and apply them to every wine you taste. …
- Learn extensively about 1-2 regions, and only drink those wines. …
- Always insist that wine needs to breathe. …
- Use the word vintage as much as possible.
5. Do make them laugh / Don’t say offensive jokes
Here are a list of acceptable jokes from this years Edinburgh Fringe for the Christmas office party:
- “Working at the JobCentre has to be a tense job – knowing that if you get fired, you still have to come in the next day” – Adam Row
- “I had a job drilling holes for water – it was well boring” – Leo Kearse
- “I took out a loan to pay for an exorcism. If I don’t pay it back, I’m going to get repossessed” – Olaf Falafel
- “In my last relationship, I hated being treated like a piece of meat. She was a vegan and refused to touch me” – Daniel Audritt
- “I’ve got a new job collecting all the jumpers left in the park at the weekends, but it’s not easy. They keep moving the goalposts” – Darren Walsh
Impressions, magic tricks etc are all acceptable between courses as long as you are not embarrassing one of your colleagues by doing it.
Sure, sometimes a funny joke or story from a co-worker can be amusing. Unfortunately, however, some people take things a little too far and end up offending others.
Never assume that involving any of the below can be passed off as ‘banter’.
- – Negative stereotyping
- – Ethnic or racial slurs
- – Racial epithets
- – Sexually explicit jokes or comments
- – Jokes that exhibit hatred toward homosexual or transgendered people
- – Jokes mocking a person’s disability
- – Comments about one’s age
So there are my tips on how to master the Christmas office party. Generally, the Christmas party should be an opportunity for you to let your hair down and relax in a more social setting. It should not be forgotten, however, that what happens at the Christmas party does not always stay at the Christmas party.
Know a friend or colleague who needs a little guidance for an upcoming work do? Why not share this with them and help them out?