What to Wear to a Black Tie Wedding As a Guest + Outfit Ideas for Women

Discover the ultimate guide on what to wear for a black-tie wedding. Explore elegant attire options to ensure you look and feel your best for this formal celebration

By Maggy Lehmicke

Black Tie wedding dress code
Photo by Salazar

Don’t know what to wear to a black tie formal wedding? We’ve got you covered. Read on to find out now.

Even today dress codes continue to be an enigma for many. Though less common than cocktail dress and dressy casual, black tie formal is one of the most important dress codes for a wedding to understand. But, even if you’ve attended a black tie affair in the past, what exactly does this specific dress code mean for weddings?

The Black Tie Basics

According to the experts at The Black Tux, it’s important to remember that “black tie” wedding attire doesn’t simply equate to “stuffy and dated,” particularly when it comes to men’s attire. Though it’s one of the most formal dress codes, there are many ways that you can personalize your look, whether it be through bow ties, pocket squares, or cap toe shoes with contrasting panels. If you’re looking to select a new dress or outfit for the occasion, BHLDN also has a great guide on how to achieve the perfect black tie formal wedding looks.

Before you invest in a new suit or floor-length gown, make sure that you clarify whether the wedding dress code is black tie or black tie optional. If it’s the latter, feel free to simply wear the best dress or suit you own, even if it errs a little bit more on the side of cocktail attire.

A few more things to keep in mind when choosing black tie formal wear:

It’s Better to Overdress Than Underdress

Aside from the rare white tie affair, black tie events are about as fancy as it gets. While comfort is always important, this isn’t the time to try to bend the rules, no matter how much you love a nice pair of flats or casual loafers.

When in doubt, simply opt for the fanciest dress or suit you own. Unless the invitation calls for a casual dress code, it’s unlikely for someone to notice if you’re slightly overdressed at a black tie event. However, remember that this isn’t an opportunity to upstage the bride (more on that below). By adhering to the dress code, you’re demonstrating your respect to the couple and their wishes on their big day.

Adhere to Basic Black Tie Formal Wedding Etiquette Rules

If you’ve attended a wedding in the past, then you likely know that white (as well as cream, ivory, and anything else in the “white” family) are typically off limits. Wearing anything too attention-grabbing or something that could be seen as an attempt to “upstage” the bride is also frowned upon. You might be looking for the perfect reason to purchase that red, ruffled organza gown, but if it’s going to mean all eyes are on you instead of the bride, then your friend’s wedding might not be the place to show off your new formal wear. This also means erring on the conservative side when it comes to revealing black tie attire, particularly if the ceremony is in a place of worship.

Black Tie Doesn’t Always Mean Gowns and Black Tuxedos for a Formal Wedding

This point is particularly important to remember for non-binary individuals who might feel left out by the traditional, gendered dress codes that are typical at a formal wedding. Nowadays there are a lot of options, ranging from more gender-fluid alternatives, such as elegant jumpsuits and pantsuits, to trendy, more high-fashion gowns.

If you’re still not sure what to wear, lean toward classic black tie fabrics, colors, and silhouettes, instead of focusing on a specific outfit or look. Silk and satin generally fit the more upscale nature of this type of event, while colors such as black, navy, and emerald green are also well-suited for a black tie ambience. Details such as shoes, hairstyles, and other accessories can also influence the overall sophistication of your look, so keep those in mind as you plan. The more elegant and refined, the better.

Keep the Venue in Mind

How to Dress for a Black Tie Formal Wedding Photo Credit // Zola

Black tie can mean different things at different places. For example, a black tie affair at an art museum may lend itself to a drastically different look than a black tie optional church wedding. While the church ceremony may call for something classic and relatively conservative, the event at the museum may provide room for something elegant with a little bit of personal flair. Generally, black tie events take place in fairly upscale, sophisticated locations, but that isn’t always the case, so just make sure that your formal attire coincides with the venue as much as the event itself.

Don’t Be Afraid to Clarify

As mentioned above, there are differences between black tie and formal black tie optional events, so it can be useful to clarify with the hosts before you dig yourself in a hole. This is particularly relevant for rehearsal dinners, which often go overlooked when it comes to dress codes. It’s best not to make any assumptions until you’ve read all the fine print. For example, the rehearsal dinner to a black tie wedding doesn’t necessarily call for the same upscale formal attire. Just make sure that you double check the wedding invitation and wedding website before you reach out to anyone for clarification.

8 Black Tie Outfit Ideas for Women

Even with all of these black tie dress code tips in tow, you still may be lacking some inspiration. No fear, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite options when it comes to dressing for this special, formal event. Find them below.

1. Evening Gown

Typically, the go-to wedding attire for women at a black tie event is an evening gown. If you choose to go this route, yours should be full-length, meaning the hemline reaches the floor. This shouldn’t be confused with maxi-length dresses, which most often land at your ankle and aren’t considered floor-length dresses. If you’re unsure if your hemline is formal enough, we highly recommend double checking the wedding’s dress code or sending a photo of your potential gown to the couple for their approval before purchasing.

2. Upgraded Little Black Dress

On the other hand, you can almost always go with classic black. While many semi-formal events call for a nice little black dress, black-tie weddings should have you kicking things up a notch. Look for black gowns with floor-length hemlines and a silhouette you feel confident in. Think classic Bond leading lady. Complete the look with sleek heels and minimal jewelry for a wedding guest outfit that’s timeless and beautiful.

3. Sleek Black Tuxedo

Perhaps you’re one to dress for black tie to a tee. While many (including ourselves) love a great gown moment, you might prefer a crisp and stylish tuxedo. If this sounds like you, this is your opportunity to do it to the nines. Pair your tuxedo with a chic black bow tie or tie, cufflinks, your best dress shirt, and dress shoes. Keep it classic or throw in some personal touches with a colorful pocket square, socks, tie pin, or similar.

4. Formal Jumpsuit

While jumpsuits may have not been appropriate for very formal events in the past, they now come in a variety of classy and dressed up styles. So, if neither a dress nor a suit is exactly your kind of look, you can consider this a solid in-between. To keep your jumpsuit formal, we recommend seeking out those with fitted bodices, floor-length hems, and high quality materials. Similar to gowns and suits, aim for a sleek and elegant color.

5. High Quality Fabrics

The fabric of your attire can complete shape not only how it feels, but how it looks. For example, linen comes off light and airy, ideal for a semi-formal beach wedding. Velvet, satin, sequins, and chiffon, however, can look sleek, stylish, and exceptionally put-together. The latter being ideal for a dress code of this caliber. Just make sure that you’re comfortable enough in a given fabric to sit, stand, and dance the day and/or night away in it.

6. Interesting Necklines

We’re big fans of spaghettis straps and long sleeves. That said, nothing quite catches the eye and says sophisticated like a high neck, (appropriate) deep-v, off-the-shoulder, or strapless ensemble. As with all formal wear, in the weeks leading up to the wedding you’ll want to make sure that any one of these elements fits well. A high neck can be stunning and sleek—or a little awkward if it’s too loose. In any case, you’ll want to avoid your garment slipping or moving around.

7. Jewel Tones

If you’re unsure of what color or colors to seek out while outfit shopping—say, the invitation or website didn’t specify—it’s typically your best bet to go with something classically formal. Enter jewel tones. Deep and vivid without being distracting, jewel tones like emerald, ruby, and deep amethyst are formal, flattering, and appropriate for most black-tie wedding ceremonies and receptions.

8. Lace and Appliques

Just the right details can take a gown from simple to extravagant (both of which can be stunning, by the way). A floor-length gown with lace overlay or appliques can look formal, stylish, and interesting—just be sure that you don’t wear any shades close to or including white. Doing so can take a wedding guest dress from lovely and acceptable to suspiciously bride-like.

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