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Beware, the office Christmas party – how to navigate the trickiest party of the season

Polly Vernon on when to arrive, when to leave and what to wear for the office festivities

4 December 2023

Beware, the office Christmas party.

It dresses itself up as something sparkly and bright; a terribly necessary, jolly, raucous release of steam designed to see the whole damn lot of you off merrily into another year of toil together… but it is no such thing. Far, far from it!

The office Christmas party is, in fact, a highly jeopardous social minefield – one extended, boozy opportunity for you to get yourself an HR warning on account of problematic behaviour involving sequins and a sausage roll.

It is, at the very least, a time during which you’ll feel compelled to corner a colleague on a banquette in order to tell them some “truth” about themselves circa 11.47pm; the kind of interaction which, while making crystal-clear sense in the moment will, in all likelihood, sour working relations for an eternity. Some things cannot be unsaid.

So. You have two options: dodge the do entirely, thereby earning a rep as a bit offish, or make a plan in advance and stick rigidly to it. While there are definitely some things to commend Option Offish (sure, it’ll make you seem a bit up yourself, but also elusive; like you have better things to do, and absolutely no one need know that, yeah, you do: it’s called Netflix!), every once in a while, actually showing up can become a real power move, as opposed to a total calamity in sheer tights.

My advice: hit ’em hard and fast, then just leave. Turn up a smidge later than everyone else (a smidge = 45 minutes max) wearing phenomenal clothes (we call this “An Entrance”), dodge the canapés (so rarely as good as one hopes: sub-par carbs in a slick of industrial-grade balsamic, destined to leave you full of gas and regret with greasy fingertips), sip one and a half drinks (categorically no more, lest The Plan go awry), dispense with some dry wit, early duet on the karaoke with the one person there you don’t despise (Islands In The Stream, Guilty, or harmonies on The Boy Is Mine), then French exit it! Disappear into the night without saying a single goodbye, leaving everyone slightly bereft and wanting more of you, but also, too drunk to actually remember how and when and if you went, and bingo! Bed by half 10 (aka the literal and metaphorical dream).

Think of it as a military operation in very fancy clothes.

I won’t lie: the clothes are the key to pulling it off. You can follow the rest of The Plan to the letter but if you haven’t made an opening statement with your look, no one will notice, ergo, care (unless you’re exceptionally good at karaoke). This particular party season, I find myself gravitating toward a cropped tux over a bra-top in combination with some manner of smart-ish jeans. It’s austere, sexy but also like you haven’t tried that hard, actually, all at once. Saint Laurent for the jacket – seriously: where else? – wide-leg jeans from Tom Ford, Loro Piana or Ralph Lauren, Versace’s sports bra and a barely visible flash of Dolce & Gabbana’s trainers beneath the hem of the jeans, which will look trés nonchalant while also foreshadowing the speedy getaway you intend to make in precisely one and three-quarters of an hour.

I also have a lot of time for the concept of the cocktail skirt, worn with a casual top and coquettish Mary Jane shoes in silver – so much more gamine than going full frock. Fendi’s sequinned midi, for example, with Prada’s vest top and Reformation’s Polly (no relation) pump.

Of course, there’s always latitude for a high-voltage party dress in circumstances such as these. Extra points for subverting the classic genre with something spectacularly high fashion, and Balenciaga’s clingy, fluffy maxi dress in brightest yellow will stop that particular show right in its tracks. Wear with a Rag & Bone biker boot for heightened potency.

Oh – and if you have the bare-naked chutzpah: turn up in Pucci’s hooded velvet catsuit of many colours, thereby creating a spectacular of such epic proportions, it’s unlikely you’d need to stay for more than 15 minutes.

Saint Laurent jacket, £2,080
Tom Ford jeans, £850  
Versace sports bra, £75 
Dolce & Gabbana trainers, £575
Fendi cocktail skirt, £3,100 
Prada vest, £690
Reformation shoes, £298
Balenciaga dress, £2,650
Rag & Bone boots, £500
Pucci catsuit, £1,045 

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