When the holiday invitations start arriving in your inbox or mailbox, one of the first things we often think about is the age-old question: “What will I wear?” And with hosts getting more and more creative with party dress codes, it’s good to get into the holiday spirit with a few updates for the season ahead.

The Cocktail Party. This is one of the most common holiday gatherings many of us will attend. And the dress for these affairs may be one of the easiest to decode. A short dress will always work of course. They don’t call them “cocktail dresses” for nothing! The sequin sheath is a hit for this holiday season. The more glamorous the dress, the better. Add your highest heels and big, bold jewelry.
If you’re going to a cocktail party straight from work, then you might want to tone down the shine, and wear a simple shift dress that can easily be dressed up with a statement jacket, shawl or wrap. Add sparkling chandelier earrings or a chunky necklace to give your plain dress more party pizzazz.

But cocktail party attire is not just limited to short dresses. If pants are more your style, feel free to wear a silky pair of wide-leg pants with a cashmere sweater, or a short satin skirt with a velvet bell-sleeve tunic. Statement accessories like faux fur scarves will always amp up the glam factor for cocktail separates.

Casual Chic. This may be one of the trickiest holiday party dress codes. The invitation may read Festive-Casual, Business-Casual, Dressy-Casual, or even Funky-Casual. Since there are so many variations on this party theme, there are just as many ways to dress. Here are a few interpretations to help you break it all down.

Festive-Casual clothes have a holiday vibe, and may include some embellishments: sequins, beading, feathers or fur. I have a shaggy black fur vest that I wear to a lot of holiday parties with skinny jeans or leather leggings.

For a Dressy-Casual invite, rev it up a notch. No shredded jeans or cropped tops. Ditto for Business-Casual. This dress code is normally reserved for work-related functions. So, take your cue from your workplace, and follow suit. Pantsuits and dresses for women, sports coats for men … usually sans ties. And anything goes for Funky-Casual. Santa sweaters, anyone?

Black Tie. Occasionally there are those charity balls or weddings that require Black-Tie attire. Other variations include Black-Tie-Optional, Semi-formal, and Formal (refer to Cocktail attire above … it’s practically the same dress code).

But Black-Tie is a no-brainer when it comes to figuring out what to wear. Tuxedos are de rigueur for men; long dresses for women. Short dresses are making more and more appearances on the Black-Tie party scene. However, more and more invitations now are making it a little more challenging with creative Black-Tie dress codes. Stick with festive cocktail attire for women, and tuxedos or dressy suits with colorful bow ties, cummerbunds, and neckties for men.

And for the rare White-Tie affair, there is little room for getting creative. Long gowns are the ultimate for these elegant occasions. It’s the perfect time to slip into those opera gloves and a sumptuous silk or satin shoulder wrap. For men, black tailcoats with high-waisted pleated trousers, white waistcoats and white dress shirts with white bow ties and black patent leather evening shoes are the epitome of style for this formal dress code.

P.S. Please be sure to read your invitations carefully. Often, the dress codes (if there are any) are in small print. It’s no fun to be searching for a tuxedo to wear on the day of the big party…even if you’re just renting one for the night!