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The Best Styling Tips For A Black Tie Event

November 5, 2019

Black tie dress codes these days can be so simple for men to achieve.  Hand them a basic black dinner jacket and some cut crease trousers and they’re done, to a pretty slick and acceptable standard too.  They have a few choices to make when it comes to selecting a shirt and bow tie, but there’s generally minimal stress over a black tie dress code for men because the title is geared towards them, the guidelines are clear.  

For women however, black tie events can be a minefield.  What’s acceptable?What’s not?  Who is the audience?  It’s not always clear what you can wear for a black tie event and you don’t always know just how formal you can, or indeed should be going.

As a reader I’m assuming you’re a person with an interest in style and fashion and will most definitely have some sort of personal persuasion when it comes to shopping.  Taking that into account as a fellow Fashion Voyeur I’m certain you’ve been in the predicament of standing in front of your closet faced with the dilemma of not wanting to arrive to whatever unknown event you’re attending wearing something that’s too casual and both look and feel out of place; but also not want to overdress.  

If you do have a formal event on the horizon and you’re unsure what to wear, check out these styling tips for formal events. 

A close up image of some off the rack formal gowns

Choosing The Dress 

The term black tie very obviously refers to men’s dressing for formal occasions and it’s expected that they wear a black tuxedo where you see this on an invite.   Think Daniel Craig in Casino Royal and you’re on the right track.  Some events are more lenient these days and may permit different colours, but for the most part, it’s best to stick to black.

There are no hard and fast rules for women and black tie is open to interpretation and of course allows for a little stylistic twist.  This has pros and cons as it means that choosing a dress (or a tux a la Cara Delevingne) can be tough, remember there’s a lot more choice for women on the high street and we also have a heap of vintage stores we can trawl through too of we want to tick the sustainable fashion box.

Cara Delevingne wearing a black tuxedo and top hat to Princess Eugenie’s wedding

Cara Delevingne in black tux and top hat combo

As a general (unwritten but mostly observed) rule, formal dresses and gowns for a black tie event should always be floor length.  A cocktail dress can work if stipulated in the invite, and another industry tip is that it’s best to stick black – think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – yes, we’re still observing those age old traditions.

If the dress code states ‘Black Tie Optional”, then congratulations, you’ve just been granted your get out of jail free card and been given that extra bit of freedom when it comes to choosing an event dress.  Sure, there’s still a dress code and there’ll still be eyes on you, but you definitely have some more style choices and can definitely lift that hem to cocktail length or higher if you wish.  Looking for something completely different and want to make sure that nobody else in the room will be wearing the same outfit as you?  Then the vintage option is on the table for you as well.  Sure some vintage evening dresses are a little too extravagant for a strict black tie event, but if it’s black tie optional you should definitely consider it, after all, how many events do you get to guarantee all eyes are on you?

Julia Roberts wearing a red dress in Pretty Woman

Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman

When it comes to choosing the colour, black is the safest and if you’re bothered about that sort of thing – it’s the most flattering option.  You can absolutely wear other colours but it’s generally expected that attendees stick with something classic like red or a navy, and don’t go for anything too bold.  (Please be aware, I’m not giving advice here, just facts).

How To Accessorise 

Once you’ve selected a dress you can turn your attention to accessories to complete your outfit.  Jewellery is the obvious choice when building a formal outfit and there are a few different options.  When you are wearing a formal dress, small understated pieces of jewellery are always a safe bet.  Simple vintage style pendants and stud earrings are ideal for a black evening gown.  If you’re looking to strike out with statement jewellery alongside your formal wear then your outfit will take more “build time” as you construct either the jewels around the dress, or the dress around the jewels  – depending on which you found first, so that you don’t overcrowd your final look.

With a little direction and that all important invite, hopefully we’ll have you shining bright like a diamond at your next black tie event.



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