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Decoding Dress Codes

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We are heading in a new ladylike direction of wearing beautiful clothes again. To quote the Wall Street Journal last week: "The high-low era or making your gown look downtown has had its moment. The new rebellion: wearing your party best from head to toe."

With office party invites and holiday party emails flying in from every direction, the stress of trying to figure out what to wear to an event becomes more stressful and exhausting than the actual event itself.

Razzle dazzle, creative cocktail, festive flair, after-five, after six or after-eight -- you can call it whatever you like, but aside from specifically themed fancy dress parties, all dress codes really fall into just a few simple categories:

Black Tie (Formal, After-Six, After-Eight):

Ladies: Nowadays, this could mean long or short. If you have something long and fabulous, this is the time to bust it out! If you don't own a gown, then cocktail or tea-length is absolutely fine, just dress is up with kick-ass heels and gorgeous accessories.

Gents: Tuxedo with a bow-tie! Don't add a colorful vest -- there is a time and place for these, and that is never. Dark suits are often an alternative if you do not own a tux, but make sure you know your host before assuming this, especially if it is a wedding. Keep in mind that a skinny ties (rather than their chunky friends from the 90s) are the way to go.

Note: White tie is a step up from this. You need to kick it up a notch and go glam. Long gowns and tuxes are a must!

Cocktail (Semi Formal, After Five, Dress your Best):

Ladies: This is where your party dress comes in to play! Something fierce and fabulous! Great silhouettes and striking colors. You could opt for a bold print, or a pastel as well, as long as they are dressy enough. Clutches are the way to go; no big bags here! You could even jazz up your hair and make up by opting for a crown braid or a bold lip.

Gents: Classic and elegant suits with a white shirt, simple tie and dress shoes. Add some flair with a pocket square and cufflinks.

Festive (Holiday Attires, Creative Cocktail, Dress to Impress):

Ladies: Stressful as it might seem, this really is the time to have some fun. Sequin and sparkles are all part of this. Feel free to interpret this in whatever way you fancy -- whilst staying fashion forward. If it all just feels a little forced, try a great pair of earrings and an embellished clutch with a simple cocktail dress.

Gents: It's time to whip out that silly tie you've been eyeing for the last 12 months, or add a fun smoking jacket to your ensemble regular jacket!

Dressy Resort: (Island Chic, Garden Party, Outdoor Wedding):

Ladies: Romantic and floaty. Think flats or wedges, rather than heels (which will be a nightmare in grass or beach sand). It's all about long maxi dresses and gauzy florals.

Gents: Light suits and linen are your key ingredients. Espadrilles or loafers (with no socks) are great footwear options.

Business (Office Appropriate, Business Casual):

Ladies: Whether it's the office party, a business dinner or a client luncheon, err on the side of caution. It's better they think you a little square than inappropriate. Keep the hemlines knee length, and colors somewhat neutral. However, there is no need to be dumpy! Play with silk blouses and high-waisted pencil skirts.

Gents: Navy, gray or pinstriped suits are great for a business attire event. Whatever you would wear to the office, just smarten it up a touch.

Casual: (Casual Chic, Dressy Casual, Smart Casual, Denim and Diamonds, Come as You Are):

Ladies: When the host says: "Come as you are," unless you really do know them incredibly well, they probably don't mean it's ok to rock up in sweat pants and your old UGG boots. This category means comfortable, but chic. Jeans, ballet flats and a cashmere sweater/leather jacket will usually see you through. If you still feel under dressed, add a statement necklace or a fun cocktail ring.

Gents: This really can range from slacks, a button down, sweater and loafers, to jeans, a t-shirt, a cardigan and boots/sneakers for a BBQ. You're going to have to take a cue from your host on this one.

Annoying as it might be to figure out an outfit in between getting to the gym, finishing that report and getting dinner on the table, the host will have gone to a lot more trouble. If you say yes to the invite, you need to play your part and do the best you can to respect the dress code. Trust me, the host will notice and appreciate it more than you realize. It'll also get you more in the mood, make you feel gorgeous and you'll probably end up having a better evening for it!

So, get creative with that festive flair and meet after eight for some serious razzle-dazzling!