Black tie events call for formal attire, which for women typically means an elegant floor-length evening gown. With so many options for fabrics, silhouettes, lengths and embellishments, settling on the perfect black tie dress can feel overwhelming. Follow this guide for tips on how to choose a stunning and appropriate black tie dress for your next formal affair.
- What is Black Tie Attire?
- Black Tie for Women
- Choose the Right Silhouette
- Floor Length Gowns
- Luxurious Fabrics
- Make a Statement with Colour
- Accessorize and Stand Out
- Shopping Tips and Inspiration
What is Black Tie Attire?
Black tie is a semi-formal dress code that originated in Western fashion. Also referred to as "creative black tie," "fashionable black tie," or "black tie optional," it calls for more stylized eveningwear than traditional white tie events.
Black Tie for Women
For women, appropriate black tie attire usually includes:
- A floor-length evening gown, often with formal accents like sequins, embroidery or decorative fabric textures.
- Luxurious fabrics like satin, silk, velvet, chiffon or organza. Lace and tulle are also popular for black tie.
- Optional dress coat or shawl to cover bare shoulders.
- Elegant hairstyle and makeup. Bold lips and dramatic eyes are suitable for black tie.
- Fine jewelry like diamonds, pearls, gemstones.
- Stiletto heels or dress sandals. Metallic or sparkly shoes suit the opulent atmosphere.
The black tie dress code offers more flexibility for creativity and modern style than ultra-formal white tie. This guide will walk you through the elements to consider when shopping for the perfect black tie formal dress.
Choose the Right Silhouette
Black tie dresses come in a variety of silhouettes to suit different body types. Consider the following when choosing a silhouette for your frame:
- A-Line: Billowy skirts with fitted bodices that taper to the waist create an A-line shape. This universally flattering silhouette works well for apple and pear shaped bodies.
- Mermaid/Trumpet: These sensual silhouettes hug the hips and thighs, flaring out dramatically at the knees or just below. Best for those with an hourglass figure.
- Sheath: Clingy, curve-skimming sheath dresses work well on slim, straight figures. Add volume on top with flutter or cap sleeves.
- Slip: Bias-cut slip dresses glide over the body in ultra-fluid jersey, silk or satin. Made for toned, petite physiques.
- Empire Waist: A dress with a high waistline that hits just below the bust creates a long, lean look. Ideal for concealing the midsection.
Consider necklines too. Portrait and mock necklines elongate the appearance of the neck. Halter tops show off the shoulders and work for large busts. Sweetheart, V-neck, and off-the-shoulder necklines emphasize cleavage and look great on narrow shoulders.
Floor Length Gowns
A floor-length hemline provides the drama and elegance that black tie events call for.tea length A-line black tie dresses can appear too casual. Maxi and midi lengths also fall short of meeting traditional formal attire standards.
That said, tea-length dresses (hitting just below the knee) and long dresses (with hems around the ankle) can work for less strict black tie optional affairs. Just avoid above-the-knee lengths.
Here are some tips for choosing a floor-length gown:
- Standard lengths hit at the ankle bone for most heights. Add an extra inch or two of fabric if you're on the taller side.
- Dresses with slits, cut outs or high-low hemlines can showcase leg while still delivering that floor-grazing drama.
- Look for built-in bra cups for support. Avoid visible bra straps.
- Bring heels similar in height to what you plan on wearing to your fitting. Floor length dresses need that lift!
- Allow extra fabric at the hem to account for walkway gaps and heels sinking into grass or dirt at outdoor events.
- For maximum mobility, choose dresses with higher waistlines, minimal train, and flowing A-line or trumpet skirts.
Lavish fabrics elevate black tie dresses, so opt for ones that appear opulent. Common formalwear fabrics include:
- Satin: With a glossy surface and sleek drape, satin appears luxurious. Often used for gowns. Can show wrinkles.
- Silk: A natural protein fiber that feels ultra-soft with a subtle sheen. Flowy silk dresses flatter most body types.
- Chiffon: Made from silk or rayon, chiffon is a lightweight, sheer fabric that drapes beautifully.
- Velvet: Having a plush, luxe texture, velvet makes a striking impression. Works well for cooler weather black tie affairs.
- Organza: A crisp, sheer fabric that adds volume and dimension when layered. Especially pretty for skirts.
- Tulle: Stiff mesh netting that creates flouncy, ballerina-style skirts with lots of structure.
- Lace: Romantic and ornate, lace dresses emit timeless elegance. Works for vintage and boho-chic styles.
- Crepe: A breezy knit fabric with a crinkly surface. Ideal for form-fitting and wrap style dresses.
- Jersey: Stretchy and soft with a body-skimming drape. Makes for sensual slip dress silhouettes.
Metallics and sequins add glamorous sparkle perfect for a black tie dress code. Just avoid fabrics like denim, flannel, corduroy and cotton blends better suited for more casual occasions.
Make a Statement with Colour
While classic black certainly suits a formal dress code, black tie events present the perfect opportunity to wear an evening gown in a striking jewel tone, pastel, or even bold print.
Consider richer shades like emerald, sapphire, and ruby or dark, romantic hues like navy, eggplant, and wine. Combining black with a pop of colour through lace or sequin detailing can offer the best of both worlds.
Soft pastel shades like powder blue, blush, ivory, and pale yellow have a timeless, old Hollywood charm. Nude and champagne shades work year-round.
For weddings, defer to the bride about colours and avoid matching the bridal party unless you're a member. White and red dresses are also taboo.
If making a bold statement sounds fun, look for gowns with colourful floral prints, ombre fading, colourblocking, or acid brights like fuchsia, citron, and turquoise. Just ensure the dress still appears more formal than cocktail.
Accessorize and Stand Out
Take your black tie dress to the next level of opulence with the right accessories:
- Statement Jewelry: Diamonds, pearls, and gemstones in necklaces, chandelier or drop earrings, and cocktail rings add Hollywood glam. Just avoid overdoing it.
- Designer Shoes: Opt for stilettos, strappy sandals, or metallic pumps. Add rhinestone or beaded details for extra elegance.
- Sparkling Purses: Minaudières covered in sequins or beading are perfect black tie accessories. Grab one big enough for necessities.
- Elbow-Length Gloves: In satin, lace, or silk, these amp up the formality of sleeveless and strapless dresses.
- Faux Fur Stoles: Drape faux fur wraps elegantly around bare shoulders and add vintage luxury.
- Hair Accessories: Dazzling hair clips, combs, and headbands can turn an updo into a work of art.
The finer the details, the better for completing your black tie outfit. Add a touch of dark eyeshadow, red lip, and nail polish in a deep hue. Spritz on a rich women's perfume. Slip on some shapewear for smooth lines.
Top it off with a floor-length dress coat or faux fur stole when heading outside. Now you're ready for your big entrance at any black tie affair!
Shopping Tips and Inspiration
Follow this advice when shopping black tie gowns to score the perfect dress:
- Start looking 4-6 months in advance for the best selection at your price point.
- Seek out off-peak times like weekday mornings to browse dress shops calmly.
- Bring heels, shapewear, a strapless bra, and any accessories to try on with dresses.
- Narrow your search by writing down 2-3 preferred silhouettes, necklines, and fabrics.
- Ask if the retailer can provide extra tailoring, rush ordering, or custom sizing.
- Have a trusted friend or family member along to offer their style opinions.
- Limit appointments to 2-3 stores in a day to prevent dress fatigue.
- Take front, side and back photos while trying on dresses to compare later.
- Avoid overthinking it or second guessing your choice. When a dress feels perfect, go with your gut!
Where to shop? Bridal salons, department stores, vintage boutiques, formalwear rental services, online retailers and local dress shops all provide plenty of evening dress options. For designer gowns on a budget, check sample sales and consignment shops as well.
Stay inspired by red carpet looks, royal ball fashions, and black tie style icons like Audrey Hepburn. With the right attitude and this advice, you're sure to find a show-stopping black tie dress perfect for you!