Black Tie Wedding Attire: Do's and Don'ts

Don't know what to wear to a black-tie wedding? Discover essential do's and don'ts for a flawless, elegant look. Dress to impress with our expert guide.

By Jenn Sinrich

couple in black tie wedding attire
Photo by Zola

The First Look ✨

Once you factor in location, venue, and time of year, finding the right outfit to wear to a wedding isn’t always easy. Add in a black tie dress code note on the invitation and suddenly things are even more complicated for the big day. While it’s exciting to up the ante on our usual ways of dressing, dressing for a black tie event isn't always practical. Most of us don’t have “black tie wedding attire” hanging at the ready in our closets—some of us don’t even know what that means. Whether you're a confused guest or a member of the wedding party, let’s break down what to wear to a black tie wedding.

What Does “Black Tie Wedding” Mean?

Wondering what black tie means? “Black tie attire” typically refers to a formal dress code. This level of formality is usually reserved for celebratory events most often held in the evening, including galas, charity events, cocktail hours, and, of course, weddings. It’s often mistaken for “white tie,” which is the most formal wedding attire requirement (think awards show-level dressing—elaborate gowns with elegant accessories.) That said, if you’re invited to a black tie wedding, it’s going to be dressy and you should dress the part with the appropriate formal wear.

Women

Typically, women wear their best dresses to a black tie wedding. Many take these formal events as an opportunity to break out a floor-length gown—something they may not have done since prom. For a black tie event, you’ll never be wrong in a long gown. However, if you prefer a shorter dress, that’s OK. Cocktail dresses are acceptable as long as they’re a bit more overstated and glamorous than the typical semi-formal dress. Think embellishments and sparkly accents. Women can also opt for a flashy suit. Try something well-tailored in a dark tone. Again, a hint of glam doesn’t hurt, so try a suit in a fabric with a bit of sheen or shine.

If you’re stumped on what dress or suit to wear, you can’t go wrong with black. It’s a no-fail option. If that’s just not your style, work with jewel tones or even vibrant colors in more demure shades. A dusty maroon or subtle lilac would look gorgeous for a summer fete.

Men

A black tie dress code is pretty on the nose for men. Wear a tuxedo with a black tie or bow tie. If you don’t own one, rent one—with all the standard tux accessories. Add a patent leather shoe and you are good to go. Really, it’s that simple.

Non-Binary

If you identify as non-binary, the traditional guidelines of a black tie wedding may seem a bit harder to apply. However, feel confident that as long as you stick to a formal option, you’ll be wearing the right outfit. You can wear a floor-length gown, a creative suit or dinner jacket (tie or no tie) in a luxe material, or even opt for a sleek jumpsuit in a jewel tone. Have fun with it and wear whatever you feel is fancy but also makes sense for you.

Freire Wedding Photo InlineImage 1080x720 Photo Credit // Freire Wedding Photo

How to Dress for a Black Tie Wedding

Still not sure what black tie wedding guest attire to wear? Here are some extra key guidelines for how to dress for a black tie wedding.

1. Read the invitation thoroughly

If the wedding is a black tie affair, your wedding invitation will expressly say that. You can also garner some extra hints from the invitation style, too, though. A curly cursive (you know the ones that are even a little hard to read) means formal. Err on the dressier side. If the font is more modern and fun, you can probably get away with a fancier cocktail dress. Of course, you always want to keep things classy when it comes to dressing for a wedding—especially one that requires black tie wedding attire.

2. Don’t wear white

Generally, white is off limits to every wedding guest, no matter what the wedding dress code is, but it’s especially off limits at a black tie wedding. This includes any hues on the white spectrum—off-white, cream, ivory, eggshell, vanilla, etc. The only person attending the wedding who is allowed to wear white is the black ride (unless her bridesmaids are also in white, per her discrepancy). All other colors are fair game.

3. Avoid anything too revealing

A wedding (and a black tie wedding, for that matter) is simply not the occasion to whip out your most scandalous dress—even if it’s a floor-length gown. Sure, weddings in the modern age are, by nature, less rigid when it comes to dress rules, but you still don’t want to push the limit and wear something that could pose as offensive or distracting. If you’re not sure if something is appropriate, ask a friend for their honest opinion. Still not convinced? You should probably save it for a wedding or event that doesn’t come with the “black tie” label.

4. Only wear a cocktail dress if it’s very formal

Black tie wedding guest dresses can come in a variety of styles. But if you’re thinking of going with a cocktail dress for your black tie wedding guest dress, it should be formal—full stop. That means you want to keep the hem at or below the knee, skip any crop-top two-piece styles, and keep cleavage contained. As a general guideline, anything that you would wear on a night out or out to dinner probably isn’t fancy enough to wear to a black tie wedding.

5. Don’t upstage the bride

A black tie wedding is certainly an opportunity to pull out your nicest outfit and accessories—we encourage a full glam moment. Don’t go overboard, though. The day is still about the couple and you don’t want to wear anything so flashy that it might garner more attention than them. Maybe don’t combine head-to-toe crystal embellishment with a tiara with that faux fur stole, for example.

6. Hair and makeup are up to you

There are no specific guidelines for hair and makeup when it comes to a black tie wedding. That said, you don’t want to look like you rolled out of bed and put on a fancy dress. If you’re a hair-and-makeup type of person, consider this your chance to go all out—a strong red lip, smokey eye, fancy chignon, you name it.

OK, but my invitation says “black tie optional.”

This probably seems like a particularly tricky request, but it’s pretty simple. For a black tie optional wedding, men can wear a tuxedo but they don’t have to. However, if they don’t, they should opt for a dark formal suit with a tie. Similarly, women can wear a long evening gown or a fancier suit or cocktail dress.

With a little bit of know-how and a whole lot of class, you can pull off finding the perfect attire for your upcoming black tie wedding.

What to Wear (and Not Wear) to a Black Tie Wedding

Black Tie Outfit Do’s

1. Ball Gown

A black tie wedding is one of the few occasions in life where you can go all-out with a ball gown. If the event is being held at an especially ritzy venue, a ball gown could be the perfect outfit.

Mac Duggal Gianna A-Line Gown, $798, Anthropologie

2. Full-Length Gown

Looking for the same formality as a ball gown—but with a slimmer silhouette? A full-length formal gown is another great option for any black tie wedding.

Sau Lee Penelope Gown, $495, Revolve

3. Floor-Length Dress

A dress that grazes the floor—in any silhouette—is a safe bet for any wedding invite that specifies black tie attire.

Ronny Kobo Bin Cutout Halter Gown, $598, Anthropologie

4. Maxi Dress

Similarly to floor-length dresses, maxi-length dresses—especially those in fancy fabrics, like chiffon—are also tried-and-true options for women's black tie attire.

Shona Joy Saldanha Ruched Maxi Dress, $440, Revolve

5. Tea Length Dress

Looking for a shorter dress option that's still black tie appropriate? A tea-length or midi-length dress is a bit more formal than a short cocktail dress—and can be more comfortable than a full-length gown.

Ophelia Dress, $335, Revolve

6. Cocktail Dress

Dressier cocktail dresses—like styles in darker colors or with sequins—can also work for a black tie wedding. Just remember that black tie events tend to value class and modesty, so don't choose anything too short!

Adrianna Papell Embroidered Cocktail Dress, $111.75, Nordstrom

7. Long-Sleeve Dress

If you're attending a black tie wedding in cooler weather—or prefer to have more coverage—a long-sleeve dress is always a great option.

Xscape Long Sleeve Gown, $278, Nordstrom

8. Jumpsuit

These days, some ladies’ jumpsuits are quite formal—and can be a great black tie option if you'd rather not wear a dress.

MICHAEL Michael Kors Pleated Wide-Leg Jumpsuit, $192.50, Bloomingdale's

9. Pantsuit

Similarly to jumpsuits, a pantsuit is another non-dress option that can work for a black tie event. Don't be afraid to dress up your pantsuit look with glitzy accessories and a great pair of dress shoes.

Cinq a Sept Candace Floral Embellished Blazer & Flare Pants, from $325.50, Bloomingdale's

10. Classic Black Tuxedo

When it comes to a black tie look, you can't go wrong with a classic black tuxedo. Complete the look with the obligatory black bow tie, as well as cufflinks, a cummerbund, and even a pocket square.

BOSS Hugo Wool Tuxedo, $995, Nordstrom

11. Dinner Jacket

One of the few appropriate alternatives to a tuxedo is a dinner jacket (also sometimes called a smoking jacket). This is like a fancier version of a sports coat that can be worn with a pair of dress pants and a white dress shirt.

9to5 Wool Blend Dinner Jacket, $350, Nordstrom

Black Tie Outfit Don'ts

1. Suits

For men, a black tie event requires a tuxedo or formal dinner jacket. A suit, even a black one, won't cut it.

2. Blazers

Blazers aren't formal enough for black-tie events. The cut of these jackets is inherently more informal, so they're not suitable for a formal wedding—even if you pair one with a pair of tuxedo pants.

3. Unaccompanied Dress Shirts

To be considered black tie, collared dress shirts must be worn with a bow tie or formal necktie—as well as a jacket,

4. Long Ties

Speaking of ties, you shouldn't wear a regular long tie to a black tie wedding. Instead, opt for a bow tie.

5. Belts

If you're wearing a tuxedo, you shouldn't need a belt. Suspenders are a more black tie-appropriate accessory choice.

6. Skirts

For semi-formal or cocktail attire events, an outfit with a skirt could be just fine—however, it won't be formal enough if you're dressing for a black-tie event. Reach for a dress or jumpsuit instead!

7. Short Dresses

As a rule of thumb, you shouldn't wear a dress that hits above your knee to a black tie wedding, as it’s considered too casual. As such, avoid short and mini dresses.

8. Bright Colors

Most black tie attire is…well, black—or at least a range of darker, more subdued colors like navy, emerald, and burgundy. To ensure you hit the mark with your color scheme, avoid neon or ultra bright colors when you're choosing your outfit for a black-tie wedding.

Don’t wear white.

Generally, white is off limits no matter what the wedding dress code is, but it’s especially off limits at a black tie wedding. This includes any hues on the white spectrum—off-white, cream, ivory, eggshell, vanilla, etc. The only person attending the wedding who is allowed to wear white is the bride (unless her bridesmaids are also in white, per her discrepancy). All other colors are fair game.

Avoid anything too revealing.

A wedding—a black tie wedding, for that matter—is simply not the occasion to whip out your most scandalous dress—even if it’s a floor-length gown. Sure, weddings in the modern age are, by nature, less rigid when it comes to dress rules, but you still don’t want to push the limit and wear something that could pose as offensive or distracting. If you’re not sure if something is appropriate, ask a friend for their honest opinion. Still not convinced? You should probably save it for a wedding or event that doesn’t come with the “black tie” label.

Isle Media HeroImage 1080x720 Photo Credit // Isle Media

Only wear a cocktail dress if it’s very formal.

We touched on this a bit, but, if you’re going the cocktail dress route, it should be formal—full-stop. That means you want to keep the hem at or below the knee, skip any crop-top two-piece styles, and keeps cleavage contained. As a general guideline, anything that you would wear on a night out or out to dinner probably isn’t fancy enough to wear to a black tie wedding.

Don’t upstage the bride.

A black tie wedding is certainly an opportunity to pull out your nicest outfit and accessories—we encourage a full glam moment. Don’t go overboard, though. The day is still about the couple and you don’t want to wear anything so flashy that it might garner more attention than them. Maybe don’t combine head-to-toe crystal embellishment with a tiara with that faux fur stole, for example.

Hair and makeup is up to you.

There are no specific guidelines for hair and makeup when it comes to a black tie wedding. That said, you don’t want to look like you rolled out of bed and put on a fancy dress. If you’re a hair-and-makeup type of person, consider this your chance to go all out—a strong red lip, smokey eye, fancy chignon, you name it.

OK, but my invitation says “black tie optional.”

This probably seems like a particularly tricky request, but it’s pretty simple. For a black tie optional wedding, men can wear a tuxedo but they don’t have to. However, if they don’t, they should opt for a dark formal suit with a tie. Similarly, women can wear a long evening gown or a fancier suit or cocktail dress.

With a little bit of know-how and a whole lot of class, you can pull off finding the perfect attire for your upcoming black tie wedding.

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