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How to dress for end of the year festivities

By Kim Halpin
On April 23, 2014

As the semester draws to a close, you're likely doing a farewell tour of organization banquets, awards nights, graduations and parties. You might be ransacking your closet, hoping that you have something to wear when you realize that you don't know the dress code or how to interpret it. But have no fear, there are simple rules-of-thumb that can help you navigate these end-of-year events.
First, check the invitation to see if it identifies the dress code. If it's a university-sponsored event, such as an awards night, the department will likely include this information. These events might be semi-formal, business casual, business or black-tie optional. Each category lies somewhere on the casual to dressy scale, but the nuances between each can be somewhat of a gray area.
We'll start with the most relaxed of these options, business casual. For ladies, this means a casual dress, skirt or structured pants, but no jeans. On top you should have a knit shirt, sweater or tailored blouse. Just having the right top or the right pant isn't enough; your whole look should say professional, but also comfortable. For men, a dress shirt or polo works well for this type of event, paired with slacks or khakis and loafers.
For any professional events, or those with a business formal dress code, the safest bet is to go for a dark suit for both men and women. If you're more of a free spirit and hate the idea of the black suit with white shirt, try a unique color in the collared shirt instead, like a light blue or pale pink. It'll help you to stand out from all of the other people at the event and helps to make you feel a little more like your own self.
For semiformal events, dresses are usually the norm for women, but there's a lot of leeway in what type of dress. If you already have a little black dress or a cocktail dress, go with that. Bright colors are especially good for this time of year and at afternoon or morning events like graduation. For men, a dark business suit and dress shirt, with or without a jacket is the best option. For morning and afternoon events, the jacket is not always necessary, particularly in the summer months.
Finally, if you're going to a black tie optional event, there is a little more ambiguity in what is the right level of dress. Ladies can go for formal floor-length gowns or dressy cocktail dress, depending on the event and level of comfort with these options. Men should be wearing either a tux or a dark suit with a white shirt and dark color tie.
To top off any of these outfits, select appropriate jewelry to match the style of your dress. Especially at more formal affairs, understated but elegant earrings or necklaces are the perfect finishing touch for ladies. You don't want to distract people with overdoing the jewelry as it takes their attention off of what they should be focusing on... you!
If all else fails, it's always better to be somewhat overdressed than underdressed, so air of the side of caution. After all, you want to make a good last impression.

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