What to wear to every holiday party with Kahlana Barfield Brown

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If you’re a social creature (and if you’re reading our blog, we know you are), your December is probably jam-packed with holiday parties, on top of the holiday shopping, travel, and invitations to your cousin’s production of The Nutcracker. And not only do you want to be invited to all the right parties, you also want to dazzle–or at the very least, not look like you’ve been running around all month. We spoke to stylist and longtime InStyle editor, Kahlana Barfield Brown, for some advice on what to wear to a holiday party. Despite her busy schedule, when she’s not covering fashion weeks across the globe, she’s mastered putting together a confident look for every kind of holiday fête.

How to transition from day-to-night

Shoe, Saint Laurent. Clutch, Marzook.


There are times you find yourself dashing straight from work to the first Christmas cocktail party of the night with no time for a proper wardrobe change. Thank goodness for transition pieces like mini bags, which Brown considers “super ladylike and a very simple way to dress up a business casual outfit.” Bring an evening shoe to the office–or even keep a pair there all December so you’ll always be prepared for last-minute fun. Adds Kahlana, “I love a great patent leather shoe to help tie an evening look together.”

What to wear to the office party

Clutch, Saint Laurent. Dress, Rixo London. Shoe, Jimmy Choo.


The office party dress code depends entirely on the office dress code the rest of the year. No one wants to be in a sparkly little number and flirty pumps when everyone else is dressed for court. “If you work in a casual environment,” suggests Brown, “pair jeans with a silk cami, a stylish blazer, heels, and a clutch.” For a more creative vibe, “Go for a little black dress with great accessories.”

What to wear to the family get-together

As a general rule, when dressing for the family function, err on the side of comfortable functionality. Brown says, “I always like to look and feel comfortable when I’m with my family, so I’ll do a cozy sweater with jeans and riding boots.” There’s a fair chance you may be called on to baste a roast chicken or set the table, both of which are more easily done in flats and a breathable top. Going matchy-matchy with your kids can be adorably tempting, but we prefer to resist it in favor of letting everyone own their own individual look. Confirms Brown, “I usually dress my daughter in a similar vibe as me, but never coordinate colors.”

What to wear for the evening holiday party

Matte lip pencil, Nars.


An evening look comes down to picking where to draw the eye. If your dress is eye-catching, keep your accessories and makeup subtle. For example, Brown will “pair a matte nude lip with winged eyeliner.” Though like many a New Yorker, she mostly sticks with black, which “always feels chic, especially for a party look.” And, which calls for her signature ruby lip. As she puts it, “A red lip is the little black dress of the makeup world–it adds punctuation to any outfit, and it’s perfect for any occasion.”

What to wear when you’re not into planning what to wear

Clutch, Marzook.


Nothing is simpler than going monochrome, and Brown loves “to wear black from head-to-toe during the holidays, whether it’s a skirt and a top or a dress paired with a great shoe.” While red and green are the most traditional Christmas color pairing, they are also the most expected. To make more of a statement, “Go with metallic or silver and gold.” But if you take away only one tip from Kahlana, it’s that the most important thing to wear is confidence. And don’t be afraid to go holiday kitsch. Even Kahlana admits, “I love a good ugly sweater.”

Check off your stylish holiday party looks, then check off your stylish holiday party invitations.