A Complete Guide to Holiday Party Dress Codes

This guide to holiday party dress codes was styled and written by celebrity stylist, Kristie Jorfald. Find more styling advice on her Instagram @kristiejorfald.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, which means there will be gatherings aplenty to get dressed for! As if picking an outfit wasn’t hard enough on an average day, deciphering the difference between Creative Black Tie versus Festive Cocktail Attire on your holiday party invitation can be altogether confusing. Good news! Celebrity and personal wardrobe stylist, Kristie Jorfald has the 411 on how to crack the holiday dress code for all of your upcoming festivities. She’s broken down the twelve most common holiday party dress codes and suggested a stylish outfit to rent for each occasion.

Tis the season to be stylish! We decoded these 12 holiday party dress codes, so you’ll never run out of things to wear.


Invitation Says— Black Tie Optional

We’ll admit, this is one of the most difficult holiday party dress codes. The optional part can be a real head-scratcher. If you receive an invite with the term Black Tie Optional, it means you have the choice of going full-blown formal with a full-length gown or go semi-formal with a cocktail dress. Our suggestion: stand out from the sea of dresses by opting for a jumpsuit with a fitted silhouette. Look for one in sequin, lace, or silk fabrics to stay black tie appropriate. 

Rent the look

Rachel Zoe’s Wren Jumpsuit in black sequins is a perfect choice! Pair with black pointed pumps, a black clutch and minimal jewelry, and you’re set to go.

rent black tie clothing

Invitation Says— Creative Black Tie

When the occasion calls for Creative Black Tie, also known as Hollywood Black Tie, the dress code offers guests the opportunity to add a creative twist to their outfit. Women are encouraged to wear a dress or a dressy skirt + top ensemble. The key is to remain predominantly formal, but trendy and/or festive accents can supplement a Creative Black Tie outfit. The best way to do so, is to inject a bit of color, print or texture into the otherwise black and white ensemble.  

Rent the look

Try this B by Sachin + Babi Metallic Hi-Low A-line Skirt paired with a black top. Sandal heels and a statement necklace with a pop of color pull the whole look together!

holiday party dress codes

Invitation Says— Semi-Formal

Semi-formal attire doesn’t just mean a little black dress these days. The semi can be another word that can throw a boss lady for a loop—understandably so— but here’s what it means. You need to be polished, ensuring you are not too casual. You can show off your personal style with a range of ensembles of short dresses, “dressy” separates, and LBDs. 

Rent the look

This festive Alexis, red asymmetrical ruffle shift mid-length dress is a great option. Style with dazzling statement earrings and black/nude pumps to elevate the full look for the occasion!

rent holiday party dresses

Invitation Says— Cocktail

This dress code calls for short dresses that are party-ready. Think feminine silhouettes and fabrics; ruffles, florals, and lace. When in doubt, wear a little black dress and dress it up with fun jewelry and heels.

Rent the look

Try this Rachel Zoe formfitting mini dress lace in alluring French lace with bell sleeves and a scalloped hem. Styled with black pointed-toe pumps and diamond studs, the outfit looks effortless and chic for the evening!

rent cocktail dresses

Invitation Says— Lounge Suit

Lounge suit is a loose term for women, but it generally means that a formal outfit is required. It isn’t quite as formal as black tie, but not as casual as a cocktail dress. A dress or dressy skirt that falls at the shin or below the knees is appropriate. Opt for plain colored dresses, rather than pieces with too much color or print. Sequin, silk, or chiffon fabrics are recommended. Often times you will see women add a dressy jacket or shawl to notch up the outfit.

Rent the look

We love this Alice + Olivia  rose gold sequin midi skirt and Eliza J ‘s faux fur caplet cover-up with a shawl collar paired with a white ruffled top and nude pumps makes for a classy lounge suit evening look.

Invitation Says— Festive Attire

Festive attire doesn’t have to jingle— it has to mingle. A dress code attire similar to cocktail attire, but with a fun, holiday spirit— say a sparkly sequin dress, velvet pants, or a red satin skirt.

Need more festive outfit ideas? Check out our NYE outfit guide.

Rent the look

Try this French Connection bubble-sleeved shift dress in deep framboise velvet with gold sequin paired with black patent leather mary-jane peep-toe pumps and gold stud earrings.

holiday party dress codes

Invitation Says— Chic Attire

When an invitation says chic, it generally means the host/hostess is stylish. This is your chance to get creative and make use of trends! Take a chance on dressing up a top with a creative neckline; one shoulder or off the shoulder tops are always great options. Pair the top with faux leather pants, patent leather leggings or a fun maxi skirt.

Rent the look

Solace London black one-shoulder ruffled crepe top paired with faux leather leggings and metallic silver python open-toe pumps. Don’t be afraid to pop a color to the lips, nails, or earrings to stand out and make a statement!

Invitation Says— Business Formal

In many years past the dress code Business Formal has set the tone for a traditional black business suit with dark, closed-toe flats, or pumps. In today’s modern world women are dressing up in sleeveless suit dresses, color-block pantsuits, and vibrant blazers. This isn’t a regular day in the office, so let loose with your style and have a little fun!

Rent the look

We love this Jugni Gypsy satin cobalt and leopard print blazer styled with black leather pants, black sleeveless shell, suede cobalt pumps, and diamond studs.

holiday party dress codes

Invitation Says— Smart Casual 

Smart casual calls for polished yet relaxed attire. When dressing for an occasion with this dress code, try to pick pieces that appear elegant, comfortable, and fashion-forward. To nail the ideal look, just mix classic items such as a black sleeveless top, with a more exciting item, like a multi-colored printed wide-leg dress pant.

Rent the look

LPA printed pants and a basic black top make a great outfit in a pinch! Add your favorite black heels and a pop of gold jewelry.

Invitation Says— After Five

Traditionally, the After Five dress code is a little dress that is on or just above the knee in length. Ladies can also wear a tailored pant or skirt suit teamed with a nice blouse. A pretty skirt styled with a dressy top or cropped bolero can also work. Your required accessory: a great-tasting cocktail.

Rent the look

Ted Baker’s long-sleeve navy ruffled dress paired with black sandal heels is an easy go-to outfit for any After Five Holiday event!

rent holiday dresses

Invitation Says— Casual Dressy

This dress code calls for a just slightly dressier version of your most casual look. Dress up your favorite sweater with leather pants and a fun pair of ankle boots. Add heels to elevate a boyfriend jean or add a statement necklace over a cotton t-shirt. 

Rent the look

John + Jenn long bell-sleeve, red sweater top is holiday-ready! Pair with black wax jeans to give it an edgy leather feel, topped off with black pumps.

Invitation Says— Semi Casual

The Semi Casual dress code is a step up from your typical casual wear which means you should pay a bit more attention to your choice of clothing. Think of layering tops and pants. Create interested with textured fabrics like suede, corduroy, or velvet.

Rent the look

Elevate your everyday with Joes Jeans, Midnight Blue Crushed Velvet Denim paired with a cotton white blouse, a red and navy cropped sweater, and patent nude pumps.

No matter which of the holiday party dress codes you’re dressing for, Armoire’s got you covered! Take our style quiz to find your perfect party look.


Photographer: Krystyn Johnson

Photo Asst: Beking Joassaint

Makeup: Candace Michelle

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