Breaking Down Black Tie — What Does This Dress Code Really Mean?

Updated 08/02/16

Alison Conklin Photography

The excitement of opening a gorgeously printed and packaged wedding invitation can soon turn into panic and fear once you read the words "black tie." Can I still wear a short dress? Does this mean my date has to buy a tuxedo? What type of venue must this be? Fear not! We're here to help as we break down the general etiquette of what exactly you can wear to a black-tie wedding — and explain all the variations on the dress code, too. Just for good measure.


Black Tie__

This is for sure going to be a glam night, so get excited to look fabulous. For the ladies, this type of language on an invitation means to pull out all the stops. A common misconception means that you must wear a gown — but not necessarily. A chic, fancy and black-tie appropriate (glitzy, formal, embellished, etc.) cocktail length dress can be just as chic, and fit within the dress code. Traditionally, for the guys, this does mean a tuxedo with a variation of a black tie. However, a nice (black, obvs.) constructed suit with the obvious black tie can work — as we all know not everyone has tuxedos and gowns lying around in their closets.

Black Tie Optional

This type of request on an invitation leaves the door a bit more open for guests' dress, and we think it's always best to err on the side of caution in this situation. For those looking to glam it up, dress your best in accordance with black tie etiquette. For those a bit more casual, dress up your date in his best suit and put on your best dress, without the "limitations" of a strict black tie preference. Keep in mind, though, that traditionally speaking the black tie optional request technically applies to the guys, while the ladies are still held to the black tie guidelines.

However, as with any formal affair, steer clear of the most casual options including sundresses, sandals, printed shirts, etc.

Creative Black Tie

Chances are you may never see this on an invitation, as it is rarely used within current wedding culture — but it's always best to be prepared. (Girl Scouts code, anyone?) In the event you find yourself in this situation, have fun with it! Creative Black Tie requests mean that the men can have some fun with their tuxedo accessories and add pops of color, prints, and more to their ties, suspenders, and shirts. For the ladies, it's time to glam up your black tie attire with statement jewelry, printed or colored scarves and shawls, and more.

Think: fancy and fabulous.

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