Black Tie Attire Tips

We were recently invited to a black tie event somewhat last-minute and I panicked thinking there’s no way I have time to order a gown from Rent The Runway!  I went through my closet to see what I could pull together for this special event and found the only long gowns I had were cotton maxi dresses, old prom dresses complete with sequins and a size 0 tag (which I would definitely not be fitting into any time soon) and a few pageant gowns that all have about a 5 foot train and way too many rhinestones (if that’s even a real thing).

Needless to say, none of those would do. I realized that I didn’t know the “rules” for black tie and if a cocktail dress would be appropriate, so, I have compiled a list of guidelines to help you follow dress code for a black tie event and learn some black tie attire basics in hopes that you don’t have the panic I did.

Black Tie Attire Tips:

What Does black tie mean?

Black tie generally applies more to the men’s attire than the women’s and women have a lot wider of range of attire options.  Although black tie traditionally meant long gowns for women, this day in age it IS acceptable to wear a cocktail dress.  Keep in mind that dark or rich colors (black, brown, jewel tones, silver/gold) will look more dressed up where bright colors or even pastels can look more casual but can still be appropriate.

What ABOUT  black Tie OPTIONAL?

If your invite says “Black Tie Optional”, it generally applies more to men and if you stick to either a long gown or classy cocktail dress, you be fine.

But what will I wear?!

Long gowns will still be the dressiest and are great to wear in any color.  For any gown or cocktail dress you choose, keep it classy and elegant.


Pair your dress with jewelry that compliments your dress selection and don’t go too extravagant.  If you have a large earring with lots of bling, go with a simple, dainty necklace (or even none at all) or a simple bracelet.

Purse/ Clutch:

Keep a small clutch that also compliments the gown. Nothing too large, just big enough to keep an ID, credit card, some cash, a few business cards, and your lipstick for touch ups.


Keep shoes classy.  A simple strappy heel or pump should do the trick, but before you go for those 4 inch heels, remember you may be standing for long periods of time (especially  if there is a cocktail hour) and you want to be sure you are comfortable.  If you do not wear heels often, go for a 1-2 inch kitten heel.  You can even wear your heels around the house a few days before so you can get used to them.  You don’t want to be the girl everyone remembers for not being able to walk in heels!


A fresh mani/ pedi is a must!  You don’t need to be dropping cash for a salon,  just a fresh coat yourself should do the trick.  For me, nothing is more distracting than chipped polish!


This is not a good time to be experimenting with new makeup.  Stick to makeup you would normally wear and pick one thing to play up.  For example, if you normally do  neutral eye makeup, go a shade darker and play up the liner.  If you usually stick to chapstick or light lip gloss, maybe choose a fun red lipstick.  You could even splurge and have your makeup professionally done. ( I like to go to the beauty school…they do a great job and are not too expensive!)

Staying Warm:

Don’t grab your everyday coat.  Instead wear a shawl or pashmina over your shoulders.  Even if I do get cold, it’s a great opportunity for your man to  be chivalrous and offer up his jacket!

Black Tie Attire Basics

Hope this help answer some of those “what do I wear” question for your next black tie event.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!



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