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What to Wear this Holiday Season

Standout ensembles for every way you celebrate.

>> To see our full holiday guide, click here.

The post-Thanksgiving party season has officially arrived. With a million reasons and ways to celebrate, choosing what to wear can often be as overwhelming as the Christmas Eve mall rush. How do you get dressed when you’ve got no idea what the dress code means? Worry not, style-pressed Washingtonians—our guide to holiday attire is filled with outfit ideas for every occasion.

For a casual meal at home, stick to comfy flats, cozy cardigans, and cheery kitchen accessories. Short sleeves will stay out of your way in the kitchen, a tweed skirt adds both texture and a touch of class to the ensemble, while a cranberry-based color palette keeps the whole thing holiday-oriented.

Bleu Dame rounded specs, $29.50.
Torn Chrissy Feathers scoop-neck tunic, $48.
J. Crew blushed tweed pencil skirt, $158.
Tory Burch Alexandra suede moccasins, $175.
Anthropologie Succulent pot holders , $12.

First holiday with the significant other? Impress in-laws and new relatives with layers of quirky-smart style. The rich colors of this winter floral strapless dress showcase a cheerful personality, while the turtleneck-and-blazer combo proves you’re taking the first meeting seriously. Rich brown leather and suede accessories add warmth, while fly-girl diamond hoops are an unexpected and glamorously casual final touch.

ModCloth Babylon dress, $57.99.
Michael Stars Shimmer, Glimmer turtleneck, $48.
Forever 21 Chancellor Career jacket, $27.80.
Melie Bianco tote (worn as clutch), $88.
Forever 21 trimmed hoop earring, $7.80.
BCBG Paris Easty bootie, $59.95.

To get fancy without losing your professional edge, choose a structured shift in a shimmer-infused work fabric such as tweed. Additional sparkle is appropriate if done subtly, so we paired the dress with complementary diamond-and-silver bangles and earrings. Whimsical bow and feather accents on an evening shoe and satin clutch round out the ensemble. Added bonus: The green-and-ivory mix incorporates Christmas colors without sacrificing grown-up style.

Adam metallic tweed dress, $395.
Moschino peep-toe bow pump, $414.90.
Cara Accessories bangle set, $58.
Juicy Couture cluster drop earrings, $58.
White House Black Market bow cafe clutch with feathers, $48.

Formal events don’t always demand a floor-length gown. Here, a sequined capelet and coordinating black clutch—both ruffled for a dash of romantic whimsy—dress up a shirred jersey shift far beyond the means of its fabric. Designer drop earrings and classic peep-toe pumps add a final dose of sophisticated elegance without dating the contemporary ensemble.

Topshop elastic-back mink jersey dress, $80.
Modcloth Shine Fever capelet, $62.99.
Nordstrom kiss-lock frame silk ruffle clutch, $78.
Enzo Angiolini Merryann pump, $79.95.
Oscar de la Renta Lucite-and-enamel teardrop earrings, $170.

Why not fake the romper look? Tuck a sleek tube top into this season’s peg trouser for a silhouette you won’t see on every other girl at the party. To avoid taking this ’70s throwback too seriously, stick with all black and keep accessories to a minimum—of-the-moment ruffled heels and a modern statement necklace are all you need.

Proenza Schouler pleated peg pants, $227.50.
Blu Bijoux onyx-facet bib necklace, $125.
Topshop plain black boobtube, $28.
L.A.M.B. Rhett high-heel sandal, $177.50.

There’s no night quite like December 31 when it comes to dressing to get noticed. Ring in 2010 with an avant-garde micro-minidress, patterned with black-and-white stripes for an ’80s-rocker edge. A boyfriend-length tuxedo jacket will keep you warm while waiting in line—just make sure it ends at the hem of your dress so your electric-purple ankle-strap pumps will be properly showcased. With an outfit this loud, an extra-large graphic cocktail ring and simple black studs are all the jewelry you need.

Need Supply Co. Alice strapless dress, $68.
J. Crew tuxedo jacket, $228.
Steve Madden Tayla suede pump, $95.82.
Lola Rose black nadia facet ring, $146.85.
Kate Spade black gumdrop studs, $38.

The cocktail-length black dress is a party-hopper’s best friend. A sure fit no matter the dress code, this classic standby can blend in, catch attention, or even be casual with the right accessories. For maximum versatility, look for full coverage on top paired with a shorter hemline—the Mink Pink Breathless dress ($118) stays youthful without showing too much skin. Once you’ve got your frock on lock, any look is possible­—read on for three of our favorite variations.

Arty Party
Hipsters will always appreciate a funky belted cardigan paired with tights and peep-toe booties. Individualize your version of the ensemble with a holiday-green fedora and a bold red lip­­—these rich pops of color hint at just the right amount of smug sophistication.

Jean Paul Gaultier silk mix cardigan, $939.
Forever21 Segment Bootie, $25.80.
Juicy Couture felted-wool fedora, $65.
American Eagle pointelle stripe tights, $12.50.
DKNY skinny patent belt, $40.
Illamasqua red lipstick, $20.

Glitzed Out
Even your most basic dress will turn heads with piles of take-notice accessories. The smart way to go purposefully over the top is to keep all outfit additions in the same color family. Sequins, sparkle, and a feathered slip peeking out from the bottom are three unforgettable touches that work surprisingly well together when done in a classic black-and-gold palette.

House of Harlow 1960 Sunburst earrings, $35.
Your Slip is Showing Ugly Duckling slip, $300.
Forever 21 expandable bracelet set, $6.80.
Dolce & Gabbana sequin stripe pump, $399.90.
Topshop premium jeweled gold sequin jacket, $160.

For Every Occasion
You can never go wrong with diamonds and rose. When the invitation’s dress code is utterly indecipherable, reach for cocktail jewels and satin heels—these pieces are party gear in its most basic form.

Cara Accessories crystal ring, $78.
Nine West Jayleen shoe, $149.
Banana Republic glam leaf earrings, $50.


Sarah is the Editor-in-Chief of Washingtonian Bride & Groom, and writes about weddings, fashion, and shopping. Her work has also appeared in Refinery29, Bethesda Magazine, and Washington City Paper, among others. She is a Georgetown University graduate, lives in Columbia Heights, and you can find her on Instagram at @washbridegroom and @sarahzlot.