The Ultimate Guide to a Black-Tie Dress Code
An invitation to a black-tie affair might leave you wondering how formally you should dress. Since black-tie remains the gold standard for formal attire, it’s essential to get it right. We compiled the ultimate guide to a black-tie dress code that will help you decide what to wear to a formal party, wedding, gala, or other special events.
Read the invitation closely.
While black-tie does not traditionally appear on the invitation, if the event takes place after six o’clock, you should assume that it’s a formal event. The invitation will decode the formality of the black-tie event by stating the time of day, time of year, location, and kind of event you’re going to attend.
Evening affairs are more formal than daytime, as well as winter events calls for darker colors than summer events. The location will help you to choose your shoes accordingly. You may even pay attention to the invitation medium. If it’s a thicker card with fanciful calligraphy, it states a more formal event. Remember, there are subtle differences between black-tie, black-tie optional, and creative black-tie.
Men’s fashion has come a long way from the 19th century, but black tie has never lost its charm. Black-tie calls for a formal outfit, especially “black-tie mandatory” where most of the time you won’t be allowed to enter the event unless you are dressed appropriately. For men, a tuxedo is a classic choice, but you can wear a double-breasted dinner suit.
A classic tux is similar to a suit, but with a few key differences like lapels that contrast with the fabric, killer buttons, and light woolen woven fabric. It's about the silhouette being sleek and clean so think of wool or grosgrain silk, rather than satin that looks more elegant.
If you choose a double-breasted dinner suit, be prepared to have it done-up all evening as undoing the jacket can hang and look dreadful. While white tuxedos are also considered formal, they’re more common for daytime events, summer season, cruise in the tropics and such, so never wear them in the evening or in the winter.
Wear a white button-down shirt with pleats to add a touch of formality, and formal leather shoes to complete the look. Black-tie event calls for a black bow tie, cummerbund or waistcoat. Cummerbund creates a smooth line at the belly, and keeps the shirt tucked-in.
Black-tie dress code stems from the men's outfit, so the idea for women’s outfit is to compliment that look. Women can go for floor length gowns, but if you can't wear long, wear a cocktail dress you already have. However, if you’re going short, be sure it makes a fashion statement and isn’t something you might wear to a cocktail party or a club. Chic separates, such as a silk blouse with a full satin skirt can also be an acceptable option for black-tie affairs.
Just because there’s black in the term, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck sporting the classic hue for a black-tie event. While black is an easy, foolproof option, you may choose a dark, elegant color for your dress to add some interest. Jewel tones, sapphire, cobalt blue, emerald, ruby, amethyst and black are some colors to keep in mind for winter. However, the only time where evening gloves are needed is when the occasion calls for a white-tie, so skip it in a black-tie affair to avoid looking overdressed.
This is interchangeable with formal attire, but is still slightly less formal than black-tie. While the term “black-tie optional” mostly applies to men who may or may not wear a tuxedo, a dark suit white button-down shirt and bow tie can be acceptable. In black-tie optional, men may go for another colored bow tie, but stick to elegant shades like maroon, gold, gray and such.
Women have the option of wearing a full-length gown, pantsuit, or cocktail dress in elegant colors. However, if it’s a wedding invite specifying a black-tie dress code, save that ethereal white gown for another formal event that’s not a wedding. It’s become a pretty big no-no in modern times to avoid the risk of offending the bride. Don’t wear white, cream or ivory—if you wish to wear black, keep it in winter and pick other shades for the summer event. Fascinators can work if that blends well with your outfit, but skip wide-brimmed hats.
The creative black-tie dress code remains formal but it gives you more freedom in your wardrobe choices as you can show off your personality in every detail. Creative black-tie is a combination of “black tie” and trendy or whimsical items.
Creative black-tie for men still calls for a tuxedo, but can switch out their white tux shirts for a black shirt and wear accessories with more whimsical feel. Think of wearing a bowtie color that matches your date’s dress, as well as printed accessories like a polka-dot bow tie or a patterned cummerbund. Also, men could wear modern tuxedos maybe a black shirt and no tie.
You can play on the side of classic black-tie or go creative with a theme. While floor-length gowns and cocktail dresses are still appropriate for women, add some creativity with your accessories. Go crafty by wearing a conversational hat or accessory that make you stand out from the crowd.
You may also choose large pieces of costume jewelry, brightly colored shoes, tiara, or a statement clutch. Ladies can be a bit flashier in their choice of gown colors and prints, as well as flaunting the style of the dress through delicate fabrics, ornaments, and intricate details.
If you think sticking with your formal wear or changing on a casual outfit on the after-party, that would depend on the location of the event. Occasionally, the formal occasions won’t stop when the clock strikes midnight, as many couples organize after-parties especially if it’s a hotel wedding. If it’s held on a hotel where your hotel room is easily accessible, a lot of people do change. But if it’s another venue, observe the atmosphere first as you don’t want to be the only one in a casual outfit when others are still wearing gowns.
By heeding our formal wear etiquette tips for your next black-tie gala or wedding, you’ll look fabulous and will be a head turner in your affair.