WHAT DOES BLACK TIE ATTIRE MEAN FOR WOMEN?
Black tie attire means a formal dress that is generally floor length. But before we jump into defining “formal” let’s get the length discussion out of the way: One of the most common questions I receive is whether you can wear knee or midi-length dresses to black tie events. This often comes from petite friends and readers who are convinced floor-length dresses don’t suit them. The answer? Yes and no.
Great! Super helpful, Mary! SO GLAD I ASKED.
Let me explain: Knee-length dresses for black tie occasions are pretty much totally out. Unless, of course, you’re Carrie Bradshaw and you’re wearing Oscar De La Renta fresh off the runway. If your knee-length dress has a whole bunch of tulle or is somehow otherwise exceptionally formal and clearly not a cocktail dress, go for it. Feel free to get late night Big Macs at McDonald’s to punctuate the situation with an ironic tableau.
Most midi dresses are similarly out (again, unless otherwise clearly distinguishable as a level of formality above a cocktail dress), but there are many ankle, tea-length, and even high-low options formal enough to fit the bill. Exhibit A: the dreamy ankle-length Costarellos dress I’m wearing today. Exhibit B: nearly half of the gorgeous tea and ankle-length dresses I’ve included at the bottom of this post spanning all price points.
JILL JILL STUART
SO HOW DO I TELL IF MY DRESS IS FORMAL ENOUGH FOR A BLACK TIE WEDDING OR EVENT?
When it comes to black tie dressing, it partially has to do with length—with floor-length far and away the best option, despite the exceptions outlined above—but really, it has to do with finding a dress that is too fancy to wear to a cocktail party. That lace knee-length sheath dress that’s your go-to? Sadly, no. Also, no, you cannot wear your bohemian maxi dress from two summers ago. The dresses below offer great examples, but what you’re going for is a dress that’s polished, feminine, and fancy enough to offer a proper rebuttal to a room full of tuxedos.
CARMEN MARC VALVO
ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD TALK ABOUT?
I would be remiss if I wrote any wedding-related post without saying this: DO NOT WEAR WHITE. I cannot stress this enough. Seems like this rule is clearly printed in the How To Be A Human Handbook, and yet I still see at least one white or white-adjacent dress at nearly every wedding I attend, so here we are.
Don’t wear white. Don’t wear cream. Don’t try to convince yourself it’s just “pale champagne” or come armed with the explanation that “well it’s white but can’t you see this subtle print?” No, no I can’t, Karen. If the question “can I wear this?” even enters your mind, the answer is almost always that you cannot wear this. I don’t care if it’s the most delicate baby pink — this is not your day. You have the entire spectrum of the rainbow to choose from. So pick a color, ANY COLOR.
And if you come at me with some color theory bullshit that actually white is a color and black is the absence of color so by wearing white you’re technically wearing a color, I will dump a glass of red wine on you. Also, unless you’re wearing a light-generated white dress hologram, your explanation is incorrect. This isn’t your fourth grade science fair, no one is impressed. Hope you look good in Bordeaux.
But back to black-tie event dresses…
Let’s be super clear: the formality of the event doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. I mean, do you see what I’m working with here? This lace-trimmed, flocked tulle gown by Costarellos has texture and playfulness aplenty, and is just begging to hit the dance floor.
So go forth, and fear no formal dress. A wedding is still a celebration, and a black tie wedding is an amazing opportunity to wear something sartorially special. Now, I need to go get a new glass of red wine. Cheers!