What to Wear to a Black-Tie Wedding

Everything you need to know to pick the perfect black-tie wedding attire.

wedding guests

PHOTO BY THE CURRIES

Few events require as much glamming up as a black-tie wedding. When an extremely fancy wedding invitation arrives, you already know you're in for a black-tie affair before you even open it up and see "Black Tie Required." And with those three little words, you know you're going to be dressing to the nines.

What Is Black-Tie Attire?

Black-tie attire is a dress code reserved for formal evening events. Guests commonly choose floor-length gowns and suits or tuxedos when attending a black-tie event.

But what—exactly—should you wear? Cut through the confusion with these answers to all your questions surrounding black-tie wedding attire.

Black Tie Wedding Attire
Michela Buttignol/Brides

Black-Tie Attire for Women

Am I Required to Wear a Gown?

Although evening gowns are standard fare for black-tie weddings, you can get away with a formal cocktail dress (of the longer variety) or even an elegant suit. You can wear a gown in any silhouette you like. Go all out with a trumpet or ball gown or keep it simple with a dressy sheath. Whatever style you choose, make sure you're able to walk in it. When you wear a floor-length dress, the goal is to have the hem graze the ground. If the hem falls higher, it will look like the dress isn't fitted properly. If the dress is longer, you'll risk stepping on the fabric and tripping.

How Should I Style a Cocktail Dress?

You can only wear a cocktail dress if it's a very formal design. It can fall above the knee, but it shouldn't get much shorter than that for a black-tie wedding. For this occasion, it's not recommended to show too much skin. Rather, keep the hemline modest and keep any cleavage to a minimum. Steer clear of anything that looks like you're going to a club. Instead, opt for sophisticated cocktail dresses made from rich fabric and fine details. Pair your cocktail dress with sleek heels, gorgeous jewelry, and an elegant clutch so the overall look is formal. You can't go wrong with diamonds or pearls. You can also opt for bold statement jewelry, especially if you're wearing a more muted dress.

What Colors Are Appropriate for a Black-Tie Wedding?

All colors are fair game except white, off-white, or anything else that's even close to white. Apart from that, the only color you might want to avoid is the color the bridesmaids are wearing, as you might end up looking like a wannabe 'maid if you accidentally wear the same color.

Other than that, you're good to go. Often, people think black is a no-go for weddings, but that's simply not the case. A floor-length black gown or a fancy little black dress are elegant, classy options that are perfectly appropriate. Red is another color that gets called into question for wedding attire, but wearing red is acceptable so long as it doesn't call attention away from the bride. For weddings of all dress codes, jewel tones are excellent options (especially for fall fêtes) and pastel hues are lovely for summer weddings.

Is It Possible to Look Too Fancy?

Short answer? Yes. If you're questioning whether or not your outfit is too formal, you need only ask yourself one simple question: Are you going to upstage the bride? If there's even a chance, wear something else. This isn't the time for head-to-toe crystals, body-baring cutout gowns, or anything remotely bridal. If for any reason you're on the fence about whether your dress is appropriate, run it by the bride or a bridesmaid.

Dramatic, ground-grazing couture doesn't really make sense for a morning ceremony—in fact, it's considered bad form to wear evening gowns when it's not, in fact, the evening...which can make planning your attire for a black-tie wedding in the morning or early afternoon a bit tricky. For these occasions, wear a formal tea-length dress, an elegant suit (with a skirt or trousers), or a cocktail dress.

How Can I Look Fab Without Spending Too Much?

Black-tie attire is costly, no doubt about it, and while you might be able to find a great deal, shopping around will take you time. If a new ballgown isn't in your budget, we have two ideas. First, ask around. Chances are you have a friend with a dress you can wear just hanging in their closet that they'll gladly let you borrow.

Second, there's Rent the Runway, which is truly a budget fashionista's best friend. You can choose from a huge selection of designer gowns (think Diane Von Furstenberg, Zac Posen, Tory Burch, and the like) and rent them for a fraction of the cost. Rent the Runway will even let you choose a second size in the same dress, so you're likely to find the perfect fit even without trying it on.

How Should I Do My Hair and Makeup?

This is your chance to go all out. Stick with chignons, updos, or angelic cascading curls that will complement your elegant attire. Choose one feature to really play up, like eyes or lips. Try a smokey eye with a nude lip or dewy highlighted cheeks with a red lip.

Black-Tie Attire for Men

Am I Required to Wear a Tux?

While black-tie attire does not intrinsically mandate donning a tuxedo, it's usually the preferred option. This simplifies the process of cultivating an appropriate outfit piece by piece and automatically ensures you'll fit in with the other guests or wedding party. If you don't already own one, there are plenty of options to rent a tux for the occasion.

Can I Wear a Normal Suit to a Black-Tie Wedding?

A dinner suit is also acceptable for black-tie wedding attire. Dapper smoking jackets in velvet or textured materials can add flair to the attire while a traditional silk-lapel dinner jacket is the traditional choice. Pants should be well-tailored with a fitted silhouette that doesn't appear too clingy. The waistband should always be covered by the jacket for the right proportions and should never include belt-loops or require a belt. Traditionally, they pants should match the dinner jacket unless you're intentionally opting for a contrasting smoking jacket. A crisp, white dress shirt is also necessary.

Only button the top button of a two-button suit jacket.

Can I Only Wear Black to a Black-Tie Wedding?

Black is always a safe bet for formal attire but if you prefer to stand out you do have a few options. Deep, inky navy or midnight blue makes for handsome choice. In fact, this is the more traditional choice for black-tie suiting. There have been a few cases made for deep earth tones or charcoals, but these can be tricky given the formality of the affair. A safer alternative is the contrasting smoking jacket. Grounded by black pants, a dinner jacket in an interesting texture or tone can look quite dapper.

What Accessories Are Appropriate for Black-Tie Attire?

The shoes should reflect the formality of the attire. Loafers, derbies, and monk-straps can all fit the bill depending on the suiting, but be discerning of styles with laces. Black is the obvious choice, unless your attire color dictates differently—fancy textures like polished leather or velvet can be a nice touch. Black socks and a bowtie are the only truly appropriate options. (Tradition dictates that only hand-tied bowties are acceptable.) A vest or cummerbund (never to be worn together), as well as snazzy cufflinks, can also elevate the sartorial foundations.

Simple pocket squares and elegant watches are also optional.

Black-Tie Wedding Attire Examples

Proper Prints

Grooms in black tuxedos with printed dinner jackets and bowties holding hands and looking into each others eyes smiling

Photo by Jose Ruiz Photography; Event Planning by Carmen Ortiz; Attire by Vestium

A subtle pattern can up the ante on an otherwise traditional tuxedo. These grooms rocked matching all-black tuxes but emphasized their individual style with a paisley-patterned and floral-printed jacket, respectively.

Rich Textures

Wedding guests in metallic black-tie attire smiling and looking at newlyweds entrance

Photo by Shannon Skloss Photography

Gorgeous textures work beautifully with the elevated formality of black-tie weddings. Rich velvets, shimmery sequins, and embossed materials always look appropriately luxe.

Crisp Contrast

Smiling groom in tux with white dinner jacket standing with groomsmen in navy tuxes with contrasting black lapels

Photo by Jessica Mangia; Event Planning by Gionata Russo; Attire by Jiwani Custom Clothiers

While this groom fittingly wore a creamy white smoking jacket (and black feathered bowtie!) with his black tux, we prefer to leave the matrimonial whites to the newlyweds. These dapper gents properly followed suit in classic midnight blue tuxedos with silk contrast lapels.

Silky Sleek

Blonde women attending wedding in silk dresses

Photo by Jessa Schifilliti

Slinky silks were practically made for black-tie events from posh weddings to red-carpet events. These stunners showed off various iterations from forever chic black gowns to a gorgeous champagne slip dress. Neutrals are always a favorite for notably formal occasions.

Metallic Mix

Groom in tux with metallic printed dinner jacket standing next to bride in opulent room

Photo by Amy Anaiz Photography; Event Planning by The Sharp Standard; Attire by Miguel Wilson Collection

There are limited ways to spice up the traditional tuxedo, but a contrasting dinner jacket is certainly one of them. This metallic jacquard jacket with contrast lapels makes a serious statement.

Colorful Creations

Bride in embellished, ruffle sleeve wedding dress standing next to wedding guests in red lace dress and pink floral printed dress

Photo by Jessica Mangia

These lovely ladies make a serious case for color. From dazzling red lace to a romantic floral print, black-tie wedding attire needn't always be black.

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