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What Do Girls Wear to a Black Tie Affair?

by Anthony L. White, studioD

It’s hard enough choosing what to wear to work, school, meetings, interviews and to cocktail and dinner parties, but this task becomes much more difficult when the invitation says "black tie." Every woman wants to be the belle of the ball, and she can be if she knows what and what not to wear to ultra formal black-tie affairs.

Start With the Invitation

Not all black-tie affairs are the same. For example, a lavish evening gala is considerably more formal than a dinner party. The invitation should provide information about the event’s degree of formality. If the event is held on Saturday instead of Friday, it’s usually more formal. The event’s location also gives you a sense of how formal it will be. The more upscale the location, the more formal the event. If the invitation doesn’t provide enough information about attire, check with the event’s host or hostess to find out.

The All-Important Dress

Fashion etiquette experts suggest that formal evening gowns and dresses are the appropriate attire for women at black-tie events, but the choice of how long or short the dress is depends on the wearer and occasion. According to Debrett’s social protocol book, New Guide to Etiquette and Social Manners, “Long is the preferred comfortable option of older women, while young girls invariably feel more suited to short. However, a long dress or skirt remains the safest option for all, as it is always special, and appropriate to any black tie event grander than a cocktail party.“ If the occasion is a cocktail party with a black-tie dress code, a little black dress will suffice. It should come just above the knees.

About That Dress

Whether the dress is a floor-length gown, a three-quarter-length dress or a little black dress, it should be classically beautiful and not overtly sexy. It’s okay to wear a strapless dress, but make sure the dress is going to hold up. Avoid dresses that expose too much skin and cleavage or dresses with plunging back cuts. If you’re planning to mingle or move around, avoid wearing gowns with long trains.


Accessories can add a splash of color to your attire, but make sure they are not too couture or edgy. Your shoes, handbag, jewelry and wrap should complement your gown or dress. Wear evening sandals or pumps. Small, dressy handbags or clutches made of silk, satin, velvet or brocade coordinate well with formal attire. When it comes to jewelry, the choice is yours. You can go a little flashy, as long as it's elegant and in good taste, or you can go the simple route. The same goes for wraps. A simple wrap or a jeweled and beaded wrap can top off your black-tie attire and make you stand out.

About the Author

Anthony L. White is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism. White, writing as Anthony Lamarr, is author of the Strebor Books novel, "Our First Love." He is also a columnist for Perry Newspapers, Inc.

Photo Credits

  • Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images