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The Rules of Etiquette for Your Office Christmas Party

Follow these tips to avoid cringe-worthy moments at your next holiday party.

Image credit: AleksandarNakic | Getty Images

The holidays are a harbinger of good cheer. Christmas office parties, on the other hand, are notorious for transforming mild-mannered accountants and meek managers into booze-fueled party minions with all the sound and fury of a Disney Christmas parade gone wrong.


Want to avoid cringe-worthy moments at your next holiday party? You’ll need to brush up on the finer points of workplace wisdom and time-honored etiquette to ensure the conversations you have at work in the days following your party aren’t one long twinkle-light string of “I’m sorry” and “I don’t know what I was thinking.”


How to dress: Keep it classy.

Experts across the board are united in their opinions about several aspects of office parties, attire included.


Lisa M. Grotts, a San Francisco-based etiquette expert, says your Christmas party isn’t your chance to go overboard with gaudy outfits.


“Just because an office function is after work hours doesn’t mean it’s an invitation to dress flashy or wear a revealing outfit. Skirts should hit your knee and nothing should be too tight. Skip the cleavage-bearing tops.”


We heard the same sentiment from Jacquelyn Youst, a Pennsylvania-based etiquette consultant.


“Office Christmas parties are an extension of the office. This is not the time or place to wear your short skirt and low-cut blouse. Maintain a professional level of decorum.”


This isn’t your chance to push your “I’m casual so I dress casual” agenda, says Laura Handrick, an HR analyst at Fit Small Business.


“This is a time for your co-workers to see how you look all cleaned up,” Handrick said. “If you’re a plumber, like my husband, wear non-work slacks and iron them. Wear a shirt with a collar, more like you’re heading to a golf club than a BBQ.”


Worried about whether you’ll be under or over dressed? Read the invitation, ask your coworkers what they’re wearing and go from there, says New York Times bestselling workplace author Joseph Grenny.


“Ask around to find out what others are wearing. The invitation may suggest the attire, but you never know how the suggestion will be translated,” Grenny said. “Check with your coworkers, then dress slightly above average.”


How to drink: Keep it at two.

This is the section you’ve probably been waiting for; all the good horror stories are usually the handiwork of booze and beer. As humorous as these stories can be, jobs and reputations are on the line when you’re four whiskies deep and ready to air your grievances.


Carlota Zimmerman, a career expert based in Los Angeles, says you can give yourself a head start by eating before you arrive.


“Even half a sandwich and a protein smoothie will work. Just get something inside you so that the first martini won’t have you self-righteously glaring at your boss as you mentally assemble your declaration of independence.”