What to Wear for Christmas Dinner

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is packed full of family events. Unfortunately, the dress code for these types of events can be difficult to navigate.

This increases as a man has more and more dinners to attend. It’s not unheard of for some families to try to juggle three different meals, with three different groups of families, all in one day.

And to take it even further, each dinner or get-together may have an entirely different feel. Here’s an example from my own life.

My wife and I grew up literally less than half a mile away from each other. We come from similar economic backgrounds, the same religious background, and obviously live in the same climate. All of those factors being equal doesn’t change the fact that our two families have entirely different expectations for holiday meals.

My family tends to function on structure. I remember when we would get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at my grandma’s house and resenting the fact that we’d have to wear button-up shirts and sweaters. My mom would comb our hair and make sure our shirts were tucked in. While dinner with my parents isn’t as strict as it was with the grandparents, we still fall more into the Rockwell-esque painting of Dad at the head of the table, everyone sitting in their place, table decor that is appropriately tasteful and seasonal without being overwhelming, and a feeling that’s more formal.

Contrast this with my wife’s family. While Christmas dinner is a bigger deal than the standard Sunday meal, it’s still organized chaos. My wife’s family is a group of people who treats anyone like blood as soon as they cross the threshold, so we never really know who’s going to be there for Christmas dinner. It may be her sister’s boyfriend, a neighbor lady from down the street, extended family of aunts and grandparents, or even just another sibling’s roommate. It’s not a rare occurrence for someone in the family to be at the table in sweats and a T-shirt. However, what my wife’s family lacks in formality, they more than make up for  when it comes to an inviting atmosphere and spontaneous, heartfelt conversation.

It would be silly to change clothes in the couple of hours between the two meals with our families. As important as a man’s clothing can be, I’m not one who subscribes to the idea that clothing needs to be changed as soon  as the venue does. This is especially true when both of our families live an hour away from us and each other (my parents have since moved).

So it’s in my best interest, as I’m sure it’s in many of yours, to wear something this Christmas that will be as comfortable and versatile as it can be. The principle of High/Low is our best rubric for a day like this, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

Christmas Dinner

Cords: Corduroy’s origination can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt. Its name is even believed to be a poor English translation of the french corde du roi or “cloth of the king.” With roots like that, it’s a cloth that is appropriate and at home for the formal family. At the same time, this weave that was once only available to kings became a workwear staple during the industrial revolution. Cords are rugged and durable – making them ideal for a family dinner that’s more casual. Opt for them in a dark, neutral color like the brown above and stick with a wale (the size of the ridge) between eight and 14. The lower the number, the thicker the ridge and the more casual it appears.

Oxford Cloth Button Down: There are few pieces of clothing as versatile as the OCBD. These shirts are seen on men in presidential tours and on teenagers at band practice. I’d tuck it in while I’m with the more formal family and untuck it in the casual environment. It will be comfortable, warm, and breathable either way. Stick with a soft shade like white, blue, or lavender and make sure to leave the top two buttons undone.

Peacoat: A man needs to stay warm while traveling between dinners. Many families don’t just stick around inside either. The peacoat has its origination in the Navy. It’s casual enough that it can be worn while out chopping down a Christmas tree, but – if it’s well-tailored – is still dressed up enough that it will be consistent with the rest of this look as well. Navy is the most versatile shade, but versions in grey, charcoal, and camel are great as well.

Shawl Collar Cardigan: The beauty of layers is that they can be shed easily. That removability is what makes the sweater the lynch pin in this whole setup. This is what I’d wear with my family and then get rid of while I’m with my wife’s. It dresses the whole look up by having it, and ditching it keeps everything else laid back and relaxed.

Casual Watch: A simple watch with a neutral nato strap is appropriate in most environments. While dinner with a family like mine may feel more formal, we’re still not in an office or black-tie scenario. A casual watch won’t stand out in either.

Marled Socks: These are a nod to the weather. Thicker socks are going to be warm and more comfortable. The marled pattern also dresses them down. While it’s ideal for the relaxed atmosphere, it also plays well with the High/Low look of a formal one. Socks (like the watch) are such a small detail that they’re a great way to sneak in casual elements.

Winter Boots: These are a total cheater item. With real winter boots like these, it’s fairly obvious you’re going to be taking them off at the front door and not wearing them while inside. It’s a great way to avoid being too stiff with a family like mine or too formal with a family like my wife’s. They’re also the best shoes for transit between families and other outdoor activities throughout the day.