Target's Legendary Event Planner Talks Us Through the Tricky Rules of Party Dressing

What the hell does "festive attire" even mean? Do I really need to take my shoes off at parties if the host asks me to? Should I wear a dress that matches my table decor? These and more holiday fashion conundrums answered.
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What the hell does "festive attire" even mean? Do I really need to take my shoes off at parties if the host asks me to? Should I wear a dress that matches my table decor? These and more holiday fashion conundrums answered.
"Welcome to our home."--Ellen Griswold in 'Christmas Vacation'

"Welcome to our home."--Ellen Griswold in 'Christmas Vacation'

Target throws some pretty legendary parties, like the massive carnival the company staged for the launch of the Prabal Gurung for Target collection. The man behind these events is party planner David Stark, who's been working with Target for 10 years. He was in New York last week for the launch of the retailer's holiday collection at an appropriately cozy winter wonderland of a space, which he decorated for the occasion (and where Beyoncé reportedly shot her "Halo" video). I got to sit down with him and pick his brain about that minefield of the holidays: party dressing.

Certain dress codes are obvious. "Black tie is black tie. Formal means wear a long dress," Stark said. "But I think that there is a lot of gray area in between. One woman’s funky is another woman’s conservative."

Nothing could possibly be grayer than the directive reading, "Festive attire." (Well, except for maybe the dress code at the recent CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund dinner, which Stephanie told me was simply, "Dress up.")

"Everyone struggles with, 'What does festive attire mean?' To me, it means whatever anybody feels comfortable in," Stark said. That's very democratic of him, but I actually prefer when an invitation is a lot more specific.

Mark Darcy's classic Christmas jumper.

Mark Darcy's classic Christmas jumper.

While Stark said hosts aren't necessarily getting more specific with dress code requirements, he actually thinks it's a good idea, within certain constructs. "In the fashion world, Valentino used to do this all the time, like with his famous red party. Or you sometimes get invited to an all-white party, which I think is a fabulous thing. It’s instant decor," he said. "I’m not a big a fan of very thematic costumes. That makes people uncomfortable. It becomes very Halloween to me."

So what about when you're on the other side of the invitation, as a host rather than a guest? Stark suggests requesting a "dash of sparkle" for a "festive" dress code tweak. "That can be interpreted in many ways. It could be jewelry or sequins or even makeup," he said. And if you have some Scrooges who show up in boring basic black, you can greet them at the door with a basket of sparkly, wearable party favors.

While Stark isn't a huge believer in rules, he does have strong feelings about hostess dressing. "I’m not a fan of dressing to match your decor. I know it’s something that happens all the time, but I feel like wearing an outfit that matches the decor of your party is a little like matching your handbag to your shoes," he said. "I don’t feel like you should match your tablecloth or your drapes."

My personal pet peeve is when people make me take my shoes off. For an everyday visit, I oblige and even impose this request in my own home. But at a holiday party, when heels are often the highlight of an outfit, taking them off feels decidedly less, well, festive. Stark agrees. "I would [advise them to let the guests wear shoes]. Part of what comes with hosting is people bring germs into your home," he told me.

Then there's the dreaded coat pile on the bed, aka a cozy nest for your cat. Stark suggests getting a collapsible rolling coat rack so you can hang coats up. I also wanted to know if he had any clever ideas for handbags. There's nothing worse than watching someone clutch her bag while also trying to drink and gesticulate wildly. (No one is going to steal your bag in my home. You can put it down!) What about clever handbag storage options? "I don't have a creative idea for that right now, but I’m going to make it my mission to find one!"

Starting November 18, David Stark and his team will curate individual holiday Pinterest boards for Target REDcard holders based on their interests and aesthetic. Then from December 3 through 14, he'll create a Target Pinterest board for all things holiday entertaining, which everyone can access. Check it out here.