From weddings to formal galas, the black-tie affair often looms as a daunting prospect on the fashion horizon. The name sounds simple enough, but dressing for these events isn't as simple as grabbing the nearest neck wear from the rack, and your options vary depending on the individual event. In that lies good news, however -- you do indeed have plenty of options for your fancy night out, and you can even afford some wiggle room for a little old-fashioned self-expression.
In the 21st century, ladies can ditch the notion that “black-tie” means “floor-length” dress. Although a formal gown can serve you right at a black-tie event, cocktail-length styles are quite alright, especially for daytime and warm-season gatherings. Dresses such as knee-length taffeta cuts, strapless styles, sheaths, wrap gowns, evening dresses, pleated dresses and draped maxi dresses are just fine for black-tie get-togethers, especially if accented with more glamorous details, such as neckline gems, peplum details or beaded belts. For shoes, go with heels, and it's more than alright to opt for open-toed styles.
Classic Manly Styles
As a man, you can't go wrong with a tuxedo at a traditional black-tie affair. Bow ties, white turndown-collared shirts, single-braid trousers and cummerbunds or suspenders -- never belts -- are the name of the game. Although younger men can get away with straight ties, this skews a little less formal. Choose grosgrain silk, wool barathea, mohair or mohair blends for your tux, if possible, and go non-vented or side-vented with your jacket. To make a personal statement, you can replace the cummerbund with a waistcoat or go with a double-breasted jacket. Polished, scuff-free, black dress shoes or black patent-leather shoes fit the bill.
Experiment with the Affair
Women can stray from stalwart dresses and turn to styles such as streamlined, black dress pants and jackets, so long as they stick to fine textiles such as silk or sequins. Likewise, ladies have plenty of room to experiment with colors; deep, rich hues are a safer bet, but if you want to strike a middle ground, try a brightly colored clutch or cuff. Just steer clear of neon or primary colors as your base hue. In an interview with “Hour Detroit,” Tim Gunn of “Project Runway” says, “for black tie for women...The Rules are off, other than it be dressy.” Particularly stylish men can experiment a tiny bit with colors -- dark navy blue makes a bold statement -- and fabrics, such as donning a well-fitted, velvet smoking jacket with black, non-velvet bottoms.
Mind the Details
Ladies, use the occasion to break open the jewelry box and sport your finest pieces, including elegant earrings, fine necklaces, brooches, rings or bracelets -- just not all at once. Time-tested accessories for men include a peak lapel and a pocket square or silk scarf. Anything else may be a bit overboard, unless the invitation specifically calls for “decorations.” Finally, do sweat the details, including well-groomed hair, cleanliness, elegant makeup, neatly pressed garments and freshly polished shoes.
- Hour Detroit: Tim Gunn, of “Project Runway,” Talks About Dressing for Black-tie Events
- Chicago Tribune: Attire for Black-tie Events Isn't Black and White
- GQ: The New Rules of Black Tie
- The Telegraph: The Proper Dress Code for Black Tie. Male Celebrities, Please Spare Us Your Downmarket Experiments
- MSN Living: 25 Dreamy Dresses Perfect for Your Next Black-Tie Wedding
- Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images