Dressing for Success at the Office Holiday Fest

It's company holiday party time again, so best throw on your sexiest outfit, show off that great bod and break loose. Right?

Well …

When combing through your wardrobe this year for yet another corporate party outfit, keep it simple and tasteful, say style and etiquette gurus.

"Nobody wants to be the crazy one in the prom dress," said Dannielle Romano, style expert at DailyCandy.

Nobody wants to be, but inevitably, every year a few will.

"I remember someone coming in something that looked almost like a bridesmaid's gown," said Trish McDermott, a vice president at Match.com (search). "The party was at a very hip, trendy downtown restaurant/bar. It was just not the right look."

Magazine editor Adrianne O'Brien also witnessed a similar fashion faux pas at a suburban Philadelphia publishing company's holiday festivities several years ago. The party was a daytime holiday luncheon at an elegant main line restaurant.

"Everyone else was wearing sport coats, ties, conservative business dress," said O'Brien, of West Chester, Pa. "But [one woman] showed up with this dress she made herself, bright green with very large gold dots. It just didn't work for that event."

In fact, understated is probably a good rule of thumb for office bashes, said Romano.

"Always go a little more conservative than you think you want to," she said. "You never want to feel overdressed."

Or overly sexy and exposed, either. After all, you don't want to get caught with your pants — or anything else — down.

Women are advised to stay away from slinky dresses, low-plunging necklines, short-short skirts or super snug pants, said workplace etiquette expert Pamela Holland (search). Men should refrain from unbuttoning more than two buttons on their shirts and wearing overly fitted shirts or sweaters that show off their muscles.

"You may get tons of attention, but it won't be the right kind of attention," said Holland, co-author of "Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move?" (search). "The next time you're speaking in front of a group or at a meeting, are they going to hear what you're saying or revisit that vision of you in a tight, sexy dress?"

And sometimes those visions are hard to forget. Lynne, an insurance company employee from the Bronx, N.Y., who asked that her last name not be used, said she still remembers how some of her coworkers have gotten decked out to deck the halls.

"One year, the office hottie wore a sheer, beige mini-dress," Lynne wrote in an e-mail interview. "You could actually see her undergarments. Every time she bent down or over, she had a male audience. I thank God she had a good shape."

Women aren't the only ones who have been known to show a little too much of themselves at the company party.

"I did see at one party a guy who wore a jacket and had a really tight muscle shirt on underneath with a cartoon art deco image on it," remembered Holland. "It was humorous but not professional."

Other times, people come underdressed or wear something too flashy. Holland advises avoiding ripped clothing, jeans and anything gaudy.

"Birkenstocks just don't cut it," she said. "And it's not the time to show the flamboyant side of your wardrobe. You don't want people on Monday thinking more about how the red nose lit up on your Rudolph sweater than how competent you are."

Same goes for hairstyles, makeup and accessories: Keep them festive but toned-down unless the company culture dictates otherwise, according to Holland.

Romano said a good way to handle an evening corporate party is to wear something versatile that works for daytime but can be dressed up later with a different piece or accessory. She suggests replacing a jacket over a cute dress with a sparkly cardigan, trading in pumps for shiny sandals, adding a metallic clutch handbag or throwing on an elegant necklace.

"It would be very smart to do a day-to-night transition, putting together an outfit that is sensible for the day but with a few shakes of the magic wand can be instantly transformed into a party outfit," said Romano.

And what you wear on your arm in the way of a party escort can be just as much of a gaffe as what you wear, period.

McDermott has vivid memories of a coworker's male guest who hit on every woman at the party multiple times but was so drunk he didn't realize he was coming on to the same people repeatedly.

And financial adviser Steve Buxbaum said that in his experience, coworkers' dates have made more shocking fashion statements than the coworkers themselves.

"I've seen more entertaining outfits on spouses or girlfriend types than I have on actual colleagues," said Buxbaum, of Los Angeles. "There's been a lot of expansive décolletage on fake breasts. This is L.A. after all."