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Black-tie optional weddings are becoming more common these days, with couples wanting to encourage their guests to get dressed up without the pressures of buying or renting a tux. This wedding dress code is one of the more generous options because it acknowledges that not everyone has the means and access to afford what's typically required of black-tie attire. But what exactly is black-tie optional, and what are the boundaries of this particular dress code?
Although the name includes the word optional, it's fairly straightforward. We consulted with personal stylist Adriana Gonzalez-Ramirez to break down black-tie optional attire as well as the dos and don'ts of adhering to this somewhat ambiguous dress code.
Meet the Expert
Adriana Gonzalez-Ramirez is a personal stylist at Wishi, an online styling service founded by acclaimed celebrity stylist Karla Welch that connects you with the world's top stylists to help you shop online while incorporating what's already in your wardrobe.
What is Black-Tie Optional Attire?
“Black-tie optional dress codes are a desire from the couple for everyone to dress up,” says Gonzalez-Ramirez. “Men are not required to wear tuxes, but it's a plus if they do. Women should wear full-length dresses, but if someone is wearing a cocktail dress, it would be acceptable.”
Black-tie optional is an intentionally vague parameter that allows for a lot of flexibility when it comes to your ensemble. With this dress code, you can probably bet that the wedding party will be in floor-length gowns and tuxedos, along with most immediate family members. Expect to see a mix of formality from the other guests—some will take the opportunity to dress up, while others will be happy to wear a more comfortable suit or midi dress.
Black-Tie Optional Wedding Attire for Men and Women
Black-tie optional attire is completely dependent on the season and venue. Most of these weddings take place in the evening after 6 p.m., so anything you'd wear for a daytime event likely won't work in this situation.
“Men can wear wool and even velvet on such occasions, as well as dark colors during the fall and winter,” says Gonzalez-Ramirez. “For an evening affair in the summertime, an ivory jacket and black trousers are a great option as well.”
As far as colors go, any hue is appropriate other than whites and pastels. Embrace luxe-looking fabrics, patterns, and textures that can be jazzed up or down with accessories. A statement clutch or earring with a midi-length dress can really elevate a look from classy cocktail to black-tie. While mid-length or floor-length gowns are preferred, if you’re worried about looking like you’ve been swallowed by fabric, look for something with a slit. This can help elongate a short frame, and as a bonus, it makes getting down on the dance floor a whole lot easier.
“For women, warmer weather invites prints and bright colors they wouldn't wear otherwise,” shares the stylist. “I like to see the wedding venue prior to [the wedding] to match the ambiance of the setting.”
According to Gonzalez-Ramirez, the best brands for black-tie optional attire include BOSS and Ermenegildo Zegna for that classic, timeless style. For a more contemporary vibe, she recommends Fear of God, and speaks highly of Rat & Boa, Johanna Ortiz, and Redondo Brand.
Black-Tie Optional Wedding Attire Etiquette
Wearing white, ivory, or cream from head to toe to a black-tie optional wedding is a definite no. "An accent is okay, for example, on a man's jacket or a woman's accessory," says Gonzalez-Ramirez. "Unless the couple has requested guests to wear all white, steer clear of wearing colors that are too light."
"It’s also important to remember that this is still the couple’s big day, so you want to avoid wearing anything too flashy or over-the-top that would cause any attention to be taken away from the couple. Show off your personal style, but do so with respect to the newlyweds and their family, who spent so much time, energy, and money planning this black-tie affair," she adds.
Gonzalez-Ramirez also recommends dressing according to the location. “If the ceremony takes place at an elegant salon, you can mirror chandeliers by wearing intricate earrings,” she notes.
As far as styling goes, black-tie optional invites you to really experiment with your hair, makeup, and jewelry to become a more elevated version of yourself. “I think black-tie optional is the antithesis of daily life, so if you wear your hair in a bun in your everyday life, perhaps get a beautiful half-up half-down hairstyle that will make you feel and look different,” shares the stylist. “When it comes to jewelry, leave the Apple Watch at home and wear jewelry that draws attention to you. Go bold with makeup as well!”
If you’ve gotten this far and you still aren’t sold on a mid- or full-length gown, cocktail dresses are acceptable, with the couple’s permission. But black-tie and black-tie optional weddings are a beautiful sight to see when everyone really goes for it, so Gonzalez-Ramirez encourages you to take the opportunity and dress up! The photos you get from that night will make it all worth it.
What’s the difference between black-tie optional and semi-formal?
“Semi-formal affairs for men mean you can forgo the tie, whereas you'd always wear a tie or add a bow tie for a black-tie optional event,” says Gonzalez-Ramirez. “For ladies, semi-formal events signify forgoing long dresses and having more fun with an above-the-knee option. Women can still wear stilettos if they so choose, but a block heel is perfectly fine!”
What should you not wear to a black-tie optional wedding?
Anything casual, like summery sundresses, pastel colors, flats, or sneakers. Men shouldn’t wear a polo or t-shirt.
Is it possible to overdress for a black-tie optional wedding?
“Overdressing for a black-tie optional is not overdressing!” says Gonzalez-Ramirez. “To me, a black-tie optional means go big or stay home!”
Can a woman wear black to a black-tie optional wedding?
Absolutely! Black is a chic and timeless color that works in all four seasons. Accessorize with gold or silver jewelry to make it sparkle and stand out even more.