Receiving an invitation to a formal black tie event can make you feel as excited as Cinderella…. until you have to figure out what to wear. If you’re in a panic over a black-tie dress code, because you’re not really sure what that means, relax! Here’s how to interpret black-tie for women, with suggestions for gala gowns that will make you look like royalty!
What is Black Tie?
Black tie formal refers to a social function that takes place after 6 p.m. You may be requested to dress black tie for an evening wedding reception, a gala charity event, a formal business party, an awards ceremony, etc. Men are expected to wear tuxedos and women customarily wear long formal gowns, although these days some cocktail dresses are permitted ( see details below).
How do I know if I’ve got it right?
The easiest way to grasp what to wear is to think of the Red Carpet at the Academy Awards. If you can imagine your dress at the Oscars, then it should fit right in at black tie charity gala.
Some Key things to keep in mind when creating your look:
1. Get Glamorous: Any function with a black tie dress code means you are expected to go all out. This is as formal as you are likely to get so dress fancy. Go ahead and wear some sparkle, and shine, a bit fo sheer or some embellishment, but don’t overdo it to the point of tacky. This is the time for classic elegance.
2. Comfort is still key: There’s no sense looking like a queen if you can’t even sit down. Avoid dresses that are too tight, revealing or scratchy. Make sure you can really walk in your shoes long before you step out the door.
3. Style very important: Long gown = black tie, but a beautiful cocktail dress is acceptable too. Just be sure it is no shorter than just a touch above the knee, to keep it on the formal side. Chic separates like a silk blouse and a full satin skirt are also acceptable. You see many stars like Sharon Stone often sporting this type of black tie wear at charity galas.
4. Give some thought to color: At one-time black tie meant a black dress, but now color is acceptable. The trick is to match the color of the dress to the mood of the evening, with an eye to who will be attending. For example, black and dark colors may be more suited to a gala that has to do with finance, politics or law, while bright colors would be totally appropriate for the Annual Brazilian Ball or a children’s hospital gala. The time of year comes into play as well. In winter, jewel tones look fabulous, while in summer fuchsia, orange and bright red gowns can be stunning at the right gala. One great trick- Google photos of past galas or similar galas to see what women wore.
5. Wear Jewelry: This is definitely an occasion to wear your finest jewelry. Gold and silver bracelets, diamond rings, gemstone drop earrings, glam necklaces- Think Dynasty, darling! What not to wear- a watch (too practical even if it’s dressy) or cheap looking costume jewelry.
6. Shoes: Black evening shoes anchor a black dress, but metallics like gold or silver are glam too, and complement other colors. Choose comfy shoes that you would never wear by day. In other words, nothing clunky like a platform shoe. This is a fine event, and you need fine looking evening shoe. Your best bet is something dressy and feminine and glam. Go ahead and buy the ones with the bling, or the ones with a bit of sparkle or shine. Make sure your shoes are worked in so you don’t get blisters or slip on a slick wood floor.
7. Bag: A clutch is your very best choice and sometimes a small sculptured bag with a thin gold chain can work well too. Structured and elegant is the key.
8. Hair and makeup: A special evening calls for special make-up and hair. Try some false eyelashes if you want or create a smokey eye. Maybe even book an appointment with a makeup artist at your local department store.
I’d also suggest you treat yourself to visit to the hairdresser. You may be tempted to save money and do your hair yourself, but I guarantee you will not regret this little bit of pampering. When you work hard to get the dress, shoes and bag just right, you don’t want to go halfway with average hair or make-up. Galas are magical. Make them count, and enjoy feeling like a princess, for once!
Here are some more gorgeous gowns you may want to consider.