What to Wear to a Black Tie Wedding

Updated 10/11/17
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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. But what — exactly — should you wear? Cut through the confusion with answers to all your questions surrounding black-tie attire for women.

1. Am I required to wear a gown?

No. 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.

2. What evening gowns are appropriate?

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.

3. If I wear a cocktail dress, how should I style it?

You can only wear a cocktail dress if it's very formal. 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 or NYE party. Instead, opt for sophisticated cocktail dresses made from rich fabric and fine details. As a finishing touch, pair your cocktail dress with sleek heels, gorgeous jewelry and an elegant clutch so the overall look is formal.

4. 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 weddings) and pastel hues are lovely for summer weddings.

5. Is it possible to go overboard and 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.

6. What am I supposed to wear for a black tie ceremony in the morning or early afternoon?

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 a morning or early afternoon ceremony, wear a formal tea-length dress, a an elegant suit (with a skirt or trousers), or a cocktail dress.

7. I don't want to break the bank buying a formal gown. How can I look fab without spending too much?

We hear you. 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 girlfriend with a dress you can wear just hanging in her closet that she'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.

8. How should I do my hair and makeup?

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

9. What jewelry should I wear?

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.

10. What is "black tie" optional?

"Black tie optional" just means that men have the option of wearing a dark, formal suit rather than a tuxedo. Nothing changes for the ladies.

11. What is white tie?

Seemingly, black tie is the most formal of dress codes, but there's actually a dress code that goes above and beyond and that's white tie. To these ultra-formal events, men are required to wear white ties with their tailcoats (hence the name). For women, full-length evening or ball gowns are required — cocktail dresses or pants suits are now out of the question. In addition, women can wear tiaras and gloves. Seldom, if ever, will you be invited to a white tie wedding, as white tie dress codes are usually reserved for state dinners, balls and the Nobel Prize ceremony.

12. What is creative black tie?

Creative black tie is an invitation to have fun and do the unexpected. You are still, of course, expected to don your finest gowns, but you are now encouraged to add your own personal flair. This could mean accessorizing with a vibrant pashmina or bold statement jewelry, or finding a dress with unexpected details, or wearing a wreath of hot pink flowers in your hair. It's entirely up to you and the only thing you should avoid is wearing anything white or bridal.

There you have it: All your questions about the black tie wedding dress code, answered! For more on what to wear to weddings, check out:

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