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. ♦