What to Wear to a Black-Tie Wedding

Few events require as much formality in style as a black-tie wedding. The air of elegance associated with this dress code can even be sensed the moment you receive an extremely fancy wedding invitation with the request for guests to arrive in “black-tie attire.” Even though you know you’re required to be dressed to the nines, do you know what black-tie for a wedding really looks like?

To help you cut through the confusion, we put together a guide to help you figure out what to wear to a wedding with a black-tie dress code. Read on below for everything you need to know, including practical tips and outfit inspiration.

What Is Black-Tie Attire?

Simply put, black-tie attire is typically reserved for formal evening events. Guests are required to choose floor-length gowns and suits or tuxedos when attending this type of celebration, as this is the most formal dress code after white-tie attire.

Photo by Asia Pimentel Photography

Black-Tie Attire for Women

  • Evening floor-length gowns
  • Ball gowns
  • Formal cocktail dresses
  • Elegant suits
  • Formal shoes
  • Elegant jewelry and accessories

What to Wear to a Black-Tie Wedding as a Female Guest

Evening gowns and elegant suits are the standard fare for black tie and should be the first consideration for women shopping for this type of dress code. More specifically, guests can go all out with a trumpet or ball gown silhouette, formal cocktail dresses, or keep it simple with a dressy sheath made from rich fabrics and fine details. And while the silhouette of your ensemble can vary based on the venue, season, and locale of the wedding, one aspect that can’t be compromised is the length of a dress, with floor-length looks being the recommended choice for black-tie affairs.

As for colors, all colors are fair game except for white, off-white, or anything else that’s even close to white. Apart from that, the only hue you might want to avoid is the color the bride has chosen for her bridesmaid dresses. Additionally, people often think black is a no-go for weddings, but that’s simply not the case. Your best options? A floor-length black gown or a fancy little black dress is an elegant, classy choice that is perfectly appropriate for this dress code. Jewel tones are also excellent options (especially for fall fêtes), and pastel hues are lovely for summer weddings.

Lastly, when styling your black-tie wedding guest look, opt for sleek heels, gorgeous jewelry, and an elegant clutch, so the overall ensemble remains formal; and you can never go wrong with diamonds or pearls, especially if you’re wearing a more muted dress. What’s more, don’t forget about your beauty look. This is your chance to go all out, so opt for chignons, updos, or angelic cascading curls that will complement your elegant attire. Choose one feature to really play up, like eyes or lips, and try a smokey eye with a nude lip or dewy, highlighted cheeks with a red lip.

What Not to Wear to a Black-Tie Wedding as a Female Guest

If you’re questioning whether or not your outfit is too formal or inappropriate, you need only ask yourself one simple question: Are you going to upstage the bride? If there’s even a chance you might draw attention away from the guest of honor, wear something else. This isn’t the time for head-to-toe crystals, body-baring cutout gowns, or anything remotely bridal. If for any reason you’re on the fence about whether your dress is appropriate, run it by the bride or a bridesmaid.

Also, think about the time of day when selecting a look. Dramatic, ground-grazing couture also doesn’t make sense for a morning ceremony—in fact, it’s considered bad form to wear evening gowns when it’s not, you guessed it, the evening. For these earlier occasions, wear a formal tea-length dress, an elegant suit (with a skirt or trousers), or a dressed-up cocktail dress. But remember, you should never wear a short or mini dress to a black-tie wedding, no matter the time of day or venue.

Photo by Jessica Mangia

Black-Tie Attire for Men

  • Tuxedos
  • Formal dinner suits
  • White dress shirts
  • Solid colored bow-ties or neckties (black is recommended)
  • Black shoes
  • Black socks
  • Cufflinks and shirt studs

What to Wear to a Black-Tie Wedding as a Male Guest

While black-tie attire does not mandate donning a tuxedo, it’s usually the preferred option. This simplifies the process of cultivating an appropriate outfit piece by piece and automatically ensures you’ll fit in with the other guests or wedding party. If you don’t own a tuxedo, however, there are plenty of options to rent a tux for the occasion.

Additionally, a formal dinner suit is also acceptable for this type of celebration. Dapper smoking jackets in velvet or textured materials can add flair to the attire, but a traditional silk-lapel dinner jacket is the traditional choice. Pants should be well-tailored with a fitted silhouette that doesn’t appear too clingy, and your pants should match your dinner jacket unless you’re intentionally opting for a contrasting look. Lastly, a crisp white dress shirt is also necessary.

If you’re wearing a two-button suit jacket, only secure the top button.

As for shoes, they should reflect the formality of the attire. Loafers, derbies, and monk straps can all fit the bill depending on the suiting, but be discerning of styles with laces. Black is the obvious choice unless your attire’s color dictates differently, and fancy textures like polished leather or velvet can be a nice touch. Accessories-wise, black socks and a bow tie are the only appropriate options. A vest or cummerbund (never to be worn together), as well as snazzy cufflinks, can also elevate the sartorial foundations.

What Not to Wear to a Black-Tie Wedding as a Male Guest

Similar to women’s attire, men should stay away from looks that might draw attention away from the guests of honor. Loud prints and boldly colored suits should be avoided, with black being the safest color choice for this dress code. If you prefer to stand out, a deep, inky navy or midnight blue makes for a handsome choice. There have also been a few cases made for deep earth tones or charcoals, but these can be tricky given the formality of the affair.

Black-Tie Attire Shopping Tips

Black-tie attire is costly, and while you might be able to find a great deal, shopping around will take you some time. But if a new ball gown or tuxedo isn’t in your budget, don’t worry, we have two ideas. First, ask around. Chances are you have a friend with an ensemble you can wear just hanging in their closet that they’ll gladly let you borrow.

Second, there are various dress and rental shops available today, which can help you find designer looks for a fraction of the cost. For example, companies like Rent the Runway, Nuuly, Generation Tux, and Men’s Wearhouse offer a huge selection of designer formalwear looks that are perfect for black-tie weddings. Rent the Runway will even let you choose a second size in the same dress, so you’re likely to find the perfect fit even without trying it on.


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