Navigating festive dress codes…

Your December diary is probably getting filled to the brim with family gatherings, drinks parties, and maybe even the odd soirée. But as exciting as these events may be, it can be stress inducing working out what to wear.

The collection from

So here’s my guide on how to stylishly navigate all those different dress codes:


These days a lot of people’s ‘go-to’ for festive casual is jeans with a Christmas jumper. But while traditionally the rule is the cheesier the better, that doesn’t mean you have to go down that route. You can still wear a festive knit and look sophisticated.

There are lots of beautiful jumpers around that feature stars and/or sequins, making them ideal for this time of year. And the good news is, because they are actually pretty, you can still wear yours once the season is over!

Smart casual

What is smart casual? Everyone seems to have their own definition, but all it really means is combining some more casual pieces with something more dressy.

I recommend following one of two routes:

  1. Start with a casual base, such as a pair of jeans. Then style with smarter pieces, such as a pretty top, blouse or statement sweater. Finish with party shoes.
  2. Start with a more formal statement skirt, trousers or dress. Then dress down with simpler, plainer pieces or a knit, and wear daytime shoes, such as flat boots or brogues.


The good news with party dressing is that anything goes. Party just means having fun, so this is your chance to have fun with your clothes. And at this time of year, one of the best ways to do that is through a bit of sparkle.

READ  Looking good for less

Some people say you shouldn’t wear glitter over 40, it’s strictly for younger girls. But the truth is you can wear it at any age and still look glamorous. The trick is to pick the right pieces.

Opt for a shimmering garment that has an elegant, contemporary cut. Avoid it dominating the look by keeping it subtle. This could be through a piece with lurex, some delicate sequins or a metallic finish. Alternatively you can add sparkle through your accessories, such as a belt, bag or shoes. Or even your nails!

Once you’ve sorted that aspect, you have pretty much free reign with all the other parts of your outfit. But make sure to limit yourself to one sparkly piece to keep it grown up and sophisticated, and to avoid looking like a Christmas tree!

Formal / Black tie

When the dress code is ‘formal’ or ‘black tie’ our minds tend to go straight to dresses. But a flattering dress can be hard to find, especially if you have a bit more weight around the middle. So separates are just as appropriate, if not more refreshing.

A beautiful jacket or blazer with tailored trousers can look very cool. Alternatively a stunning skirt with a delicate blouse can look very glamorous.

If you’re apple shaped, opt for a slimmer straight cut or pencil skirt (and don’t be afraid to get your legs out), or if you’re pear or boyish look for A-line. And if you’re petite or curvy, either will look lovely.

When it comes to shoes, you don’t need to wear heels if you find them difficult to wear – you can just go for smart flat pumps or brogues. And look out for shoes with padded insoles for extra comfort as you may be standing a lot.

READ  What do women really want from the beauty industry?

Something I also recommend is playing with textures; it is both modern and offers an air of opulence. Some of my favourites are velvet, brocade, and lace. They’re luxurious, and add a more interesting dimension to your look.

If the dress code states ‘Black Tie Optional’, the truth is that applies to the men. It merely means they don’t have to wear a tux. But you can be pretty sure the hosts will be in full black tie so, to avoid embarrassment and confusion, just ignore the ‘optional’ and stick with what you’d wear for black tie.

My final tip is: don’t be afraid of colour – and that goes for every dress code. A lot of women over 40 tend to retreat to black or navy to feel safe. But by wearing something ‘safe’ you’re subliminally telling yourself you need to retreat and don’t deserve to shine.

So it’s important to remember you too deserve to look and feel fabulous about yourself, and a different colour might just have that effect!

I wish you all the best for the coming season and very Happy New Year.

Jacynth Bassett

About Jacynth Bassett

I'm the founder of the-Bias-Cut - Shopping With Attitude Where Ageism Is Never In Style. Swiftly becoming recognised as one of the UK’s leading pioneers of style at every age, I have written on the topic for The Guardian online, The Huffington Post and have contributed to an internationally published book. I also regularly speak on panels and podcasts, am a ViewVo accredited business mentor, and the weekly ‘Style Advisor’ for The Menopause Room. In my spare time, I love to dance, specialising in hip-hop, and to dine out with family and friends.