Style

An Actually Useful Article About Dressing for a Party

Without any mention of your body shape or your style personality.

Illustration by Emma D.

Every article about dressing for a party focuses on things that I don’t care about. I mean, thanks, lady/teen magazine, it’s really nice that you took the time to liken my body shape to a piece of fruit and then pick out some items that are flirty or edgy, but what I choose to wear to a party usually has nothing to do with how I am shaped or what my “style personality” is, and more to do with how I want the night to proceed. Parties are condensed pockets of potential where anything can happen if only I go into the evening with the proper outlook. Getting dressed is just one way to set the tone.

Thus, instead of an article about outfits, this is an article about strategy. I talked to a bunch of my friends about how they decide what to wear for a night out, and distilled their answers into a few tactical plans. All of these are viable party-outfit strategies, because you are a real human with a diverse range of moods, and not a pear-shaped hanger for statement necklaces under $25 that will catch your crush’s eye from across the room.

“I came to dance.”

This is probably the most honorable party-dressing motive. You aren’t at the party to network or hook up or cry in the corner—you’re just there to have a good time. Wear flat, closed-toe shoes and clothes that won’t make you overheat. Jeans are good for maximum coverage if you plan on dipping it extra low, but outside of that they don’t do too much to actually enhance your moves. I like combining leggings with a fringy or twirly dress that moves when you move (just like that). A dress with pockets is doubly convenient, because it lets you leave your purse at home. If you want to wear makeup, go with bright lipstick instead of heavy eye makeup, which will run when you sweat. Ignore that advice if you are going for a “Thriller” type of thing.

Spontaneous unplanned costume party.

If you are like me, you are probably disappointed by most of the year’s conspicuous lack of opportunities to wear costumes. It’s like, October is a creativity feast, and then all of the sudden I’m expected to dress like myself for 11 contiguous months? No. Like most rules I disagree with, I have chosen not to follow this one. On nights when I feel like being someone else, for whatever reason, I wear a costume. A bizarre hat. A bowtie. A hula skirt. In movies, people who wear costumes to non-costume parties are always made out to be losers, but in real life, everyone loves costumes. You’ll be drowning in high-fives by the end of the night.

Trying to touch tongues or something.

About half of the people that I surveyed agreed that sometimes they are just trying to hook up. On these nights, I don my Boobs Shirt. I would describe this garment in greater detail, but you know what I am talking about because you have an equivalent article of clothing—that thing that makes you feel confident. Wear it. I don’t care if it is an oversize rugby shirt or a micro mini. If you feel sexy in a snowsuit, you have your outfit right there. Your chances of getting some at a party increase exponentially when you genuinely feel like you look sexy. Forget what some magazine or boy or salesperson tells you is sexy and just wear what makes you feel good.

You can just wear a really generic outfit or sweatpants.

Sometimes I just hate myself and I don’t want to go to a party and I try on 500 outfits and cry on my bed a little and then refresh Facebook a dozen times in search of the meaning of life. And then I go out. I’m not sure what happens between the breakdown and getting in the car to head to the party, but at some point I choose an outfit. This is a great time to pick something really normative. I’m a strongempoweredfeministwoman as much as the next person, but sometimes I just need to not think about things and blend in. Wear whatever you think everyone else is going to wear, or just wear sweatpants. Be a wallflower. You are already impressive because you are leaving the house while feeling crappy—bravo! You are an American hero. Now you can leave the party early if you want because I just gave you permission.

Ask all the questions a mom would ask.

Is it raining? Is it cold? Do you have to wait at a bus stop at night? Do you have a long walk? Is there going to be a non-gross place to put your jacket when you get there? Will there be air conditioning? All of these are important questions to ask if you are trying to plan a purely functional outfit. Use common sense to solve problems! Walking far? Wear flats. Cold? Bring a coat. This gets a little trickier when more than two factors are combined. Cold outside but hot in the party room, with no good place to put your jacket? Wear two crappy sweatshirts that you won’t be devastated about losing or ruining (hello thrift store). Planning a successful outfit under complex circumstances can get challenging. This is a good time to consult a friend who will also be attending.

Ignore all of this and dress like your regular self.

Nobody cares what you wear to a party and sometimes it isn’t worth the energy to construct an elaborate back story or motivation for your outfit. Just wear what you wore all day. You look fine and will probably have an OK time. ♦

28 Comments

  • MissKnowItAll January 2nd, 2012 7:09 PM

    This article came in perfect time. My high school only has one dance each semester and I didn’t know how to dress. Thanks a bunch!!

  • Appoline January 2nd, 2012 7:09 PM

    Now I need to be invited to a party.

  • arielduv January 2nd, 2012 7:45 PM

    hahahhahahha! “Sometimes I just hate myself and I don’t want to go to a party and I try on 500 outfits and cry on my bed a little and then refresh Facebook a dozen times in search of the meaning of life.” right on! story of my life.

  • imgoingtotakeashowernow January 2nd, 2012 7:58 PM

    I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of Jamie’s articles that I’ve read. Jamie is obviously Glen Coco, you guys. Four for you Glen Coco! You go Glen Coco!

    • Jamie January 2nd, 2012 8:11 PM

      and none for gretchen wieners bye

  • Hazel January 2nd, 2012 8:14 PM

    YES! Jamie, I love this article! The first point is so true, especially for prom. When I go to prom, you best believe I am wearing a mini dress I can dance in. I don’t really understand the concept of gowns at prom. And, as usual, when I can’t find anything I feel comfortable in I pull an Audrey from funny face and just wear black skinny jeans and a black t-shirts. Oooh ~mysterious~ and you can move in it!

    • Jamie January 2nd, 2012 9:21 PM

      wear a tux a la diane keaton

  • Abby January 2nd, 2012 8:50 PM

    YAY!!! Now I know how to dress for the parties I NEVER GO TO. Because I live in a lame place where NO ONE THROWS PARTIES. And when they do, they aren’t cool-teenagers-dancing parties. They’re “hey-wanna-have-a-sleepover-with-two-other-people-and-watch-movies-in-sweats?” parties. Yeah. Oh well, I guess I can dress to dance for those and just dance through the movie……

  • isadora January 2nd, 2012 8:51 PM

    “Sometimes I just hate myself and I don’t want to go to a party and I try on 500 outfits and cry on my bed a little and then refresh Facebook a dozen times in search of the meaning of life”

    Is my life like Truman Show and you people are watching my life and then publishing things like this so I won’t be suspiscious and be all like “hey, other people do this too”?

    • isadora January 2nd, 2012 9:05 PM

      I took the Up All Night thing too seriously and I’m sleepdrunk commenting. I don’t even understand the logic of what I just posted.

  • ladyjenna January 2nd, 2012 8:54 PM

    Yaaaay…..i hate being called an ‘eggplant’

  • maddie January 2nd, 2012 10:32 PM

    Oh my goodness I love this. Because who in the world feels sexy as a pear. Pears are not sexy. I don’t think I find any fruit or vegetable sexy. Except maybe prunes. Isn’t prune the word you say when you make the middle school pucker and peace sign face?

    • Jamie January 3rd, 2012 9:33 AM

      what is this middle school pucker you speak of???

  • Jenny January 2nd, 2012 11:14 PM

    Jamie, I love you and this article with all my heart! Thank you for mentioning important shit like the grodiness of the place where you might put your jacket! When I lived in Iowa City, there were all kinds of factors like how many feet of treacherous solid ice will I possibly need to trek through in shoes that won’t land me flat on my ass more than 10 times to get to this party that will be 100 degrees as soon I walk in and how do I dress for it and why are lady mags telling me to wear this shoe that will cause me ankle sprain???? This article makes me feel less crazed about the parties I’ve yet to be invited to in New York! <3

  • Anna F. January 2nd, 2012 11:30 PM

    My $0.02: I hate going out in a dress without pockets.

  • Jakeline January 3rd, 2012 12:09 AM

    “then refresh Facebook a dozen times in search of the meaning of life” How very true! Finally someone who understands the pain of having to dress up sometimes. At least for me sometimes I’m just so lazy that I get happy when plans to go out get cancelled.

  • darksideoftherainbow January 3rd, 2012 12:57 AM

    all i can say is GIRL, I FEEEEL YOU on ALL of this. thank you for putting it into words.

  • Bia January 3rd, 2012 3:34 AM

    Pajamas. Always. (With uggs if it’s cold).

  • macs January 3rd, 2012 6:28 AM

    ‘Sometimes I just hate myself and I don’t want to go to a party and I try on 500 outfits and cry on my bed a little and then refresh Facebook a dozen times in search of the meaning of life. And then I go out. ‘

    you are divine <3

  • Tourdivoire January 3rd, 2012 7:23 AM

    This illustration is AMAAAAZING.
    Plus, great article (did you read Garance Doré’s article about NY Party girls Vs Paris Party girls?).

  • I.ila January 3rd, 2012 11:10 AM

    I wish I were invited to some parties…

  • Flavia January 3rd, 2012 3:00 PM

    Love it!!!!!

  • Claire January 3rd, 2012 8:37 PM

    This is so perfect…even though my idea of A Party is probably a little off. My standard outfit consists of jeans, a T-shirt that doubles as a conversation piece, and ballet flats that don’t kill my feet (exciting, I know, but also practical). Jamie, I wish I could be awarded that elusive Great American Partygoing Hero(ine) Award, but watching Netflix with my cat beats the hell out of most parties most of the time. Ha.

    • Jamie January 4th, 2012 9:59 AM

      no i’m so with you. my social life is probably 85% “activities in my house” and 15% “party or other social gathering.” and i like it this way. :)

  • smilingrottenflesh January 4th, 2012 1:35 PM

    “because you are a real human with a diverse range of moods, and not a pear-shaped hanger for statement necklaces under $25 that will catch your crush’s eye from across the room.”

    I am on the shallow end of the exposure-to-lady-mags-pool, but oh. crikey. YES. awesomely put

  • karysrhiann January 6th, 2012 7:44 AM

    I love this! So much more refreshing than the depressing articles I used to read in teen magazines growing up. And yes, they forced me to try on 500 outfits, cry and then refresh Myspace in search of the meaning of life (I was a teenager before the time of facebook) xxxx

  • crashcouture January 21st, 2012 4:33 AM

    I really laughed while reading this. It’s so true!