08/12/2011 18:22 GMT | Updated 07/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Surviving the Festive Party Season With Style and Reputation Intact

The run-up to Christmas used to be something of a sprint. Decorations only went up in homes and stores from the start of December while the seasonal social calendar consisted of a short burst of parties with work-mates, friends and family a couple of weeks or so before Santa Claus was due to arrive. It seemed that almost before you knew it, you were done with the Christmas tree and baking delicious (Austrian) Christmas cookies for another year.

It is perhaps ironic that in an age of 'now', when everything is supposed to take a little bit less time, festive preparations resemble a marathon with a seemingly endless round of events to attend from November onwards.

In addition, rather than proving a distraction from the economic gloom, some Christmas parties this year have the air of tense sales meetings, as businessmen and women seek to exploit the potential value of even mince pies in securing extra trade in a financial climate even chillier than the temperatures.

However, whether professional and cagey or private and casual, it is possible to get through the party season with one's reputation intact. As with any marathon, the key is preparation.

The possibility of incurring the wrath of bosses in such unstable times has meant that work parties have lost some of the edge and naughtiness for which they used to be renowned.

However, that certainly doesn't mean that they should be dull affairs.

On the contrary, whereas a close encounter with a colleague or the office photocopier might have earned you a Christmas card containing a P45, setting the right tone at a work party can actually enhance one's career prospects.

It doesn't necessarily mean a lot of expense or excess. In fact, whether you are male or female it may even come down to spending just two minutes before you leave home to consider the occasion and the outfit to fit.

It is amazing how many people forget that the only garish costume and big red noses that we're meant to see at this time of year belong to Santa and Rudolph. Take my advice: ease up on the alcoholic Christmas spirit and skip anything which might make you look like a fairy or elf.

Instead, keep it simple. Remember, you want to make the right impression both in how you look and how you act.

It doesn't matter if the party's formal or not. Uncomplicated dresses in single colours and high quality dark tights are the rule for women because less is more. Less leg, less cleavage and less hair (in volume and styling) suggest 'class' instead of 'crass', even if a soiree is more swish and demands a dark-coloured cocktail dress and more attention to glamorous shoes, jewellery and clutch.

Men, meanwhile, can't go far wrong in dark trousers, a white (perfectly ironed) shirt with a good collar and smart jacket for casual events (velvet springs to mind) or dark suit and silk scarf for talking about the year gone by and the bright future ahead with your employer, banker or possible new client.

Ties should be muted and those covered in snowmen or burlesque artists be left at home. If you want to be thought of as a future member of the board and not a corporate clown, ditch the musical bow-ties too.

That's not to say that you can't do what people are meant to do at Christmas - have fun and enjoy the party. Be charming, witty and personable. Never forget, though, in these days when we are always merely several clicks or seconds away from social media and employment legislation, don't say or do anything that you wouldn't be comfortable having repeated, possibly by your boss or in millions of tweets.

If, after reading this, you feel that you still can't attend a festive fiesta without doing to your reputation what might already have been done to the turkey that will be on your Christmas dinner plate, you can always stay at home with your Santa pyjamas, some chocolates and watch a popular Christmas movie on DVD. Home Alone would suit the occasion perfectly.