A Guide to Black-Tie Optional Wedding Attire for Men and Women


PHOTO BY ROSS HARVEY / Design by Zackary Angeline

Oh, the pressure of deciphering a wedding dress code. Even some of the more established ones can leave wedding guests befuddled. For example, what does black-tie optional really mean? Is a tuxedo required? Is a cocktail dress formal enough?

What Is Black-Tie Optional Attire?

Black-tie optional is a signal that the couple wants guests to dress up but doesn't want to require ultra-fancy attire. For women, this generally means a full-length silhouette. For men, a tux isn't required but welcomed.

Although the name includes the word optional, it's fairly straightforward. We consulted with fashion experts to break down black-tie optional attire, as well as the dos and don'ts of adhering to this somewhat-ambiguous dress code.

Black-Tie Optional Wedding Attire
Michela Buttignol/Brides

Black-Tie Optional Wedding Attire for Men and Women

Most black-tie optional weddings take place after 6 p.m., so anything you'd wear for a daytime function probably wouldn't make the cut here. "This dress code is less defined for women, but it generally requires a more elevated approach than cocktail attire," says Ariel Gutowicz, a brand stylist for BHLDN. "Longer hemlines, luxe fabrications, and statement accessories."

Meet the Expert

Ariel Gutowicz is a brand stylist for BHLDN, a retailer that specializes in wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, bridal accessories, and wedding décor.

Mid-length or full-length dresses are ideal. "If you go with a midi, short, or high-low hemline, play up the fancy factor with specialty fabrics," says Kaila Rudolph, head of merchandising at Brideside. Some that are trending now include velvet, silky satin, and crepe. "Stay away from summer maxi dresses or materials that are better suited for the daytime, [such as] cotton or linen," she adds.

Meet the Expert

Kaila Rudolph is the head of merchandising at Brideside, a concierge service offering brides and bridesmaids a personalized shopping experience.

Dresses aren't the only option. "For a modern take on traditional black-tie, try a chic tailored jumpsuit," says Gutowicz. In terms of accessories, she suggests adding two to three statement pieces like chandelier earrings, an eye-catching headband, or a faux fur wrap. Stick to heels or more formal flats on the bottom.

You can certainly wear a tuxedo, but for those who don't, go for a suit in a dark color such as navy blue, black, or grey. "Choose a crisp, white dress shirt," Gutowicz adds. "A black-tie optional wedding is no place for your favorite black or red button-up—save this for a guys’ night out!" And don’t even dream about skipping a tie. "The tie or bowtie is an essential piece of this level of formality," she explains. As for footwear, leather or patent dress shoes or black, velvet loafers work just fine.

Black-Tie Optional Wedding Attire Etiquette

"Don’t steal the spotlight by combining loud colors and daring silhouettes," Gutowicz cautions. "If you’re choosing a bold print or sequins, stick to a sleek, soft shape with minimal drama." This is still the couple's big day.

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