You've been working up the nerve all year to strike up a conversation with your company's CEO, and the office holiday party can be your perfect outlet to shine--if you look the part.
Women, more than men, tend to get in trouble in social situations because they have so many more options, says branding specialist Amanda Sanders of NewYorkImageConsultant. And in the quest to look good, women often choose revealing rather than understated outfits.
The wrong outfit--which might include a too-short skirt, backless dress or low-cut top--will quickly make you the subject of unwanted stares and gossip, especially during times when employees are being looked at under a corporate microscope. ''These are times that people are being looked at in a more watchful eye, and you don't want to be called into question for your poor choices,'' says Sanders.
Sanders, who has dressed celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Rock, says the main mistake women make at company holiday parties is dressing too sexy. ''People really lose sight of the fact ... that this is still a business event,'' she says.
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This is particularly apropos for mid- and upper-level employees looking to take their career to the next rung, as the holiday party can be seen as an interview of sorts. ''Senior employees tend to entertain clients more, and your boss may be looking to see how you act in social situations,'' says business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, who advises companies like Pfizer ( PFE - news - people ) and Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ).
She tells the story of a CEO's administrative assistant who showed up to a corporate party with ''cleavage pretty much down to her naval. ...People were like, 'What is she thinking?' It was a distraction.''
Wearing an overly provocative outfit to a corporate event can even cost you a promotion, according to Sanders. ''Dressing inappropriately will cause people to see you in a different light, and there is no going back from that,'' she explains. ''You just really don't want to be remembered as the person who dressed too sexy or flashy.''
What To Wear
The rule of thumb, says Sanders, is understated is always better. That means avoiding sequins, flashy colors--metallics are big this season, but save them for social scenes like benefits or New Year's Eve--and of-the-moment trends like shoulder pads and fur vests, which will simply make you look like you're trying too hard.
Image: Don't Bring Sexy Back