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Lifestyle

December 15, 2012

Navigating the new frontier of party dress codes

The holidays are often a highly social season that provide a good reason to wear the things you might not often have the occasion to pull out of your closet: sequins, a fancy red dress, the sexy black one.

But should you? Or will everyone else be wearing their cozy cashmere sweater and favorite riding boots?

“People don’t know how to dress anymore. It’s anything goes, which is a huge problem,” says Marie France Van Damme, a fashion designer and author of the new book, “RSVP: Simple Sophistication, Effortless Entertaining.” ‘‘People are either overdressed or not dressed at all. They should be looking for the happy medium.”

The invite — or make that the more likely Evite — probably won’t give you the guidance you’re seeking. Hosts want to kick off the party with cute conversation, not an edict about what to wear. And even if dress code is addressed, it’s probably “cocktail casual” or “holiday glam,” which can mean a whole lot of things to different people. Even the formal “black-tie” directive seems to be open to interpretation.

“As soon as you get an invitation, the first question is, ‘What do I wear?’ Or at least that’s what I think,” says Lisa Axelson, head designer at Ann Taylor.

Style expert Amy Tara Koch goes straight to the fine print to see what the venue is. She says that gives the biggest clue; a party at someone’s home will dictate a different dress than one at a restaurant.

A house party gives permission to be a little more daring, whether it’s a plunging neckline or a fashion-forward combination, mostly because there’s an assumption that you know the hosts well enough to be invited into their inner circle and you could very well know the other people there, Koch says. A restaurant party could still be a gathering of your more intimate friends, but it also could be with work colleagues or extended family — you know, the relatives you only see in December.

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