12/08/2011 08:55 EST | Updated 12/08/2011 10:21 EST

Holiday Etiquette: Wardrobe Malfunction And Conversation Advice From Karen Cleveland


With so many things on the go during the holidays, it can be easy to stumble into a seasonal snafu.

Never fear: we have answers to your "How do I handle this?!" holiday questions (Tweet us or add a comment below) thanks to Karen Cleveland of the Finishing School -- a national column devoted to etiquette, manners and civility.

This week, Cleveland tackles wardrobe malfunctions and how to remember names.

Sexy, festive clothing is popular this time of year, but can also present an element of risk. What do you do if you have a wardrobe malfunction?

"Even in our wretched winter weather, we still turn it out at the holidays, don’t we? 'Festive' attire is subjective, so dress for the occasion: an office holiday party is still a professional occasion," says Cleveland. "Still, even the greatest dress or pair of heels in the store won’t flatter the wearer if they don’t feel comfortable in it."

She adds: "You're far more likely to have a wardrobe slip-up if your dress is too tight or short or you can’t walk properly in your shoes. There is nothing less attractive than seeing someone tugging at the bust line of their ill-fitting dress all night."

And if your clothing betrays you and you end up showing off more skin than you intended, deal with it as gracefully and swiftly as possible. "If it's an issue that needs serious tending to (a split seam, popped button, etc.) make those adjustments in private. And if anyone notices the mishap, address it quietly with a coy "phew, that was close" whisper -- and maybe a playful wink if you're not shy about who saw too much of your skin."

You're terrible with names, but know you'll be meeting a tonne of people over the holidays. How can you go about remembering who people are? And, if you slip up a name, how can you admit you don't "know" who they are?

"Full disclosure: I’m terrible with names so I don’t get as fussed when I meet people and they don’t remember mine. Introductions can be so fast and fleeting, particularly at a time of year when our calendars are at their busiest. It can be impossibly hard to catch who-is-who or the proper pronunciation of someone's name. I find that repeating someone's name when you're introduced to them can help with recall," says Cleveland.

If you're in that moment when the face looks familiar, but the name just won’t come: "You cannot go wrong with simply re-introducing yourself. It instantly puts everyone at ease. If you like, you can further soften the situation by making a quick self-effacing joke, like "Ever since I turned 30, I’ve been plagued by short-term memory loss. I’m so sorry, can I reintroduce myself?"

"Even if you’re quite sure you remember someone’s name, but there’s enough doubt to stall you, avoid the guessing game that can endlessly gone on and on. Refrain from taking stabs in the dark of "I think we met X or at that X or did you work at X? Wait, was it the X?" By the time that goes on for 10 minutes (and you’re repeatedly dead wrong), the person may not want to meet you after all."