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 attire” note on the invitation and suddenly things are even more complicated. While it’s exciting to up the ante on our usual ways of dressing, it’s not always practical. Most of us don’t have “black tie attire” hanging at the ready in our closets—some of us don’t even know what that means. Let’s break down what to wear to a black tie wedding.
“Black tie attire” typically refers to a formal dress code. It’s 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 fancy and you should dress the part.
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. 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.
Black tie attire is pretty on the nose for men. Wear a tuxedo with a black 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.
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 (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.
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’s black-tie attire.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.