Black Tie Dress Code

Black Tie dress code is traditionally stated for formal events that commence after six o’clock in the evening, or after sundown in the winter months. It is generally worn to private and public dinners, dances and parties.

White Tie dress code is more formal than Black Tie attire, and whilst it was once standard dress for formal occasions, it has now been more or less replaced by the Black Tie.

Both attires are formal; the clothes that we wear have an impact on our behaviour and set the tone of the event; formal attire elevates proceedings.

Which dress length should you wear?

Receiving an invitation which stipulates Black Tie Dress Code can be a little confusing for women; many believe that a full length gown is required, but this is not necessarily the case.

You will need to make a judgement depending on the formality of the invitation, the host, the location and the time of the event.

If you are invited to a drinks party with a Black Tie dress code between the hours of six and eight pm, then you should opt for Cocktail Attire, but ensure the length of the dress only creeps up to just above the knee, and stockings should be worn.

You may consider wearing separates if they are matching and are as elegant as a dress e.g. a silk organza blouse with a full satin skirt that hits at your ankles, but avoid wearing trousers when Black Tie dress code has been stated.

If the drinks reception is followed by dinner and dancing at a lavish location then you can consider a full length dress or ball gown, but this is not mandatory for events that state Black Tie dress code.

The only occasion where a full length dress and possibly opera/evening gloves are a must is when White Tie has been stipulated.

But, as white tie invites are few and far between, then my advice would be to judge the formality of the Black Tie dress code and then go for it, as long as you are confident of not feeling over-dressed. If you are in any doubt, ask the host.

Also consider colours other than black that complement your complexion, for example, crisp pastels, silver, gold and deep reds and plums.

One of my favourite on-line boutiques is Forever Unique; they have a wonderful range of dresses for formal and semi-formal occasions:

If you are hosting an event then it is good hostess etiquette to make it absolutely clear on the invite what is expected within the parameters of the Black Tie dress code. A few short lines to dispel any confusion could be “Saturday night is Black Tie but palazzo pants are fine”.

If you do arrive at an event and feel that you have not correctly interpreted the dress code then my advice would be to use self-confidence, splattered with a little self-deprecating humour to get you through the evening!

Finally, do not forget to RSVP in a timely manner, and send a thank you note within twenty four hours of the event.

Black Tie Optional Attire

These types of invites can be rather confusing for both men and women.

It’s a double edged sword really, what the host is saying is “I would really like you to make the effort but if you don’t you are still welcome to come!”

Often the Black Tie Optional dress code is stated if there are a number of guests who do not own or have access to Black Tie attire. The host may not want those to feel awkward, or even decline the invitation because of this.

However, this type of invite doesn’t mean that you can wear what you like! Wearing casual or informal wear would be considered an insult to the host.

Black Tie Optional dress code doesn't really affect us ladies, as we have the choice of a wearing a cocktail dress to most Black Tie events. However, it is still a formal occasion and you should ensure your hemline is not too short and the dress is not too risqué.

Your partner should make every attempt to wear Black Tie, but failing this a dark lounge suit with buttoned collar and tie is acceptable. Again, do try and complement each other, so if your partner is opting for a lounge suit then you should return your full length gown to it's resting place.

The most important etiquette to remember for this dress code is that Black Tie IS optional. That means those who have chosen to wear their Tuxedos should not be looking down their noses at those that have selected a dark lounge suit instead.

How to Accessorize for a Black Tie Event

1. You will need a small evening bag that matches your outfit in the same fabric, colour or trim. Alternatively you can opt for a crystal bag which will complement any outfit.

2. If wearing a lightweight satin or silk ensemble then opt for strappy sandals, if your outfit is of a heavier material then choose velvet or coloured satin court shoes.

3. Choose for a few good quality pieces of jewellery, rather than adorning yourself with jewels and risking replicating a Christmas Tree:

A short sleeved dress works well with a charm bracelet and a wide gold/jewelled bangle complements a strapless dress.

Pearl earrings look good with beaded dresses, diamonds/zirconia complement metallic and rhinestone-studded outfits.

4. Check that your underwear is not visible through your dress. "If in doubt, go without" is my mantra. As I favour fitted dresses with clean lines a VPL could ruin the contours of many dresses. I often wear body supporting natural tights which ensure my curves are accentuated with no unsightly bulges.

Hair and Make-Up for a Black Tie Event

1. Arrange a manicure before the event, along with a pedicure if you are wearing open-toe sandals.

2. Traditionalists would advise to match your lip and nail colour but I think that can look a little dated.

3. Ensure you pronounce either your lips or your eyes, not the two together, as you may appear overly made up.

4. Again tradition would advise you to wear your hair up, but I think this depends on how comfortable you are. Personally I prefer my hair down so I would favour a professional blow dry instead. Ultimately you need to feel comfortable with how you look.

Other Dress Code Etiquette on this site:

Glove Etiquette

Cocktail Dress Code Etiquette

Funeral Dress Etiquette

Dress Code for an Interview

Royal Ascot Dress Code

Diamonds for Different Occasions

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About The Author

The Author, Emma Dupont, runs various courses in London during the year.

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