So you’ve received a wedding invitation? Congratulations! There’s nothing more exciting than celebrating a momentous event with your loved ones — and nothing more awkward than showing up wearing the wrong outfit.
Black-tie events are one of the most common formal dress codes in current use, but there’s still a lot of confusion about how to execute it. (Hint: it doesn’t just mean putting on a black tie.) If you need a refresher on how to live up to this common dress code, you’re not alone.
Don’t worry: we’ve got the guide to black-tie attire that you need. Keep reading to learn the dos and don’ts of how to look your best for your next black-tie event.
Black Tie Event Rules for Men
While the “black-tie event” meaning has changed over time, you can still follow a few key rules to show up at a formal event confident in your wardrobe choice.
A black-tie event for men means wearing a tuxedo. If you’re trying to identify a tuxedo, look for key details like:
- Satin details (piping, buttons, and lapel facing)
- A white pocketless shirt and bib
- A peak collar
- A black satin bow tie
- Black or dark navy
Tuxedos are the only true “black-tie” dress, and should only be worn in the evening. They’re required at formal evening events, like operas, galas, and many weddings.
Black-tie events are not the time to get creative with your footwear. Stick to shiny black leather shoes, leaving your oxfords aside for a more casual occasion.
If a tuxedo isn’t your thing, you can still meet black-tie dress regulations in a dark suit. Suits are more casual than tuxedos. With no satin details and more options for fabric and color, they come across as less refined and more work-appropriate.
A dark suit can do double-duty as black-tie apparel as long as it’s well-tailored and solid in color. Pair it with formal touches like a solid tie and crisp pocket square. Never wear a colored shirt to a black-tie event: even if you don’t wear a tuxedo shirt and bib, stick with a starched white shirt.
Black Tie vs White Tie
Contrary to popular belief, black-tie is not the most formal dress code for men. That title is reserved for “full evening dress,” or white tie apparel.
White-tie dress is so onerous that you’ll almost never see it in common life, except for extremely high-class weddings. It’s the standard attire at state dinners, debutante balls, and world-class events.
Don’t make the mistake of misreading “black tie” as “the most formal attire possible.” If you do, you’ll show up at your friend’s wedding in a waistcoat, jacket with tails, and of course, the white tie — looking as historically dapper as you are out of place.
Make Your Suit Stand Out
Tuxedos are classic formalwear attire, but let’s face it: a black-tie event tuxedo or suit can feel boring. While celebrities express their fashion sense with alternative tuxedos on the red carpet, you’re probably better off playing it safe with a more traditional look. Thankfully, it is possible to give your black-tie tuxedo a personal touch without looking tacky.
Our favorite way to give your suit some distinction? Tasteful suit accessories.
Personalize your black-tie look with subtle accessories like a pair of cufflinks, a unique pocket square, or a tie clip. These subtle accessories set your suit apart without looking gauche.
Black Tie Rules for Women
Black tie event dresses come in much more variety than tuxedos. This is both a blessing and a curse. Women have many more style options to choose from in the black-tie dress code, but there’s also more pressure to look glamorous and showy.
The traditional black-tie apparel for women is a formal gown that reaches the floor (a dress that shows your ankles is a black-tie no-no). If the invitation reads “formal” or “black tie optional,” you can choose an elegant cocktail dress instead. However, if you’re not sure whether leaning into casual attire is acceptable for the event, play it safe with a true evening gown.
If dresses aren’t your thing, you can still play by black-tie rules by showing up in a dressy pantsuit or jumpsuit. Don’t wear the blazer pantsuit that you’d wear to a job interview — business attire doesn’t meet formal standards. Invest in a dramatic jumpsuit in a formal fabric like silk, satin, or velvet.
Again, this isn’t the time to play with the sneakers-and-formalwear look. Keep your shoes elegant. It should be obvious that, like your gown, your shoes are meant for special occasions only.
Finally, finish your look with a classic hairstyle. A sleek chignon complements most dresses. You can also wear your hair down, as long as it’s tastefully arranged.
What to Avoid at a Black-Tie Event
There’s lots of room for creativity for women’s black-tie attire, but keep the overall look understated. Avoid flashy fashions like:
- Bright colors
- Poofy dress silhouettes
- Sequins and sparkles
- Loud patterns
As well, avoid long dresses in informal fabrics. If your floor-length dress is made of cotton weave or jersey knit, it’s a maxi dress, not a ball gown. Black-tie-appropriate dresses should have chiffon, lace, silk, and other expensive fabrics to help them stand out. Save the informal maxi dress for a summer barbeque.
Master the Black Tie Event Dress Code
There’s no need to be intimidated by black-tie events. With this guide, you’ll avoid common formalwear mistakes and look perfect for your big event.
If you love fashion, don’t forget to check out the rest of our blog. You’ll find more great tips on style, formalwear, and events.