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Black Tie Dress Code for Men and Women Explained | Littlewoods Ireland Blog

A black-tie wedding doesn’t have quite the same style rules as other weddings. Find out more with our handy primer to dressing right for the big day.

What to Wear to a Black Tie Wedding

The phrase “black tie” is simple, unisex and — if you do it right — chic and fun. 

Here’s a guide to how to look your best, and most appropriate, at a black tie event like a wedding.

What is a black tie event?

what do you wear to black tie

Black tie, in a word, means “formal”. For men, it usually means (you’re way ahead of us) a tux or suit with a black tie, ideally a bow tie. 

A black tie event is defined by its attire, not necessarily by what takes place at the event. For instance, the guests might be dressed formally, but dancing to a cheesy cover band! 

Examples of black tie events include: 

  • Weddings 
  • Awards ceremonies 
  • Formal dinners 
  • Galas 

What does black tie attire mean?

Like many things in life, black tie can be tricky to define, but easy to recognise when you see it. The Met Gala, for instance, was a black tie event. Your cousin’s barbecue last August was not. 

The more you learn about formal wear, the more it makes sense, and the easier it is to put your own spin on it. 

Rules have relaxed in recent times, but general rules of thumb for black tie are: 

  • Men wear a tuxedo, a suit and a black tie 
  • Rich fabrics are preferred, regardless of gender: think cotton or silk, and not linen 
  • Formal shoes are preferred (sorry!)
  • More casual hosts will be more relaxed on black tie rules

And, as you might imagine, the rules differ somewhat for men and for women.

What black tie means for women

can i wear knee length dress to black tie event

For women, black tie can still mean comfort.

Here’s a primer on what it means for women: 

  • Knee-length is allowed, but traditionally, it means floor-length dresses. 
  • You can get away with knee-length skirts, suits or jumpsuits if they’re good quality, the right colour and accessorised. 
  • Cocktail dresses are acceptable, again, if the colour is right (more on that below).

Dresses from our collection would mostly fit the bill. And, getting even more specific, we have some stunning evening dresses, most of which would be black-tie event-appropriate. 

So, in other words, yes, you can wear a gorgeous ball gown that cost two months’ rent and feels like you were sellotaped into it. But the definition is broader than that, allowing you the chance to look your best and still feel comfortable while eating that three-course wedding dinner and later dancing the night away. 

What colour dress should I wear for a black-tie wedding?

Like a lot of these rules, colour codes are flexible and fluid. 

Also, some black tie weddings have their own colour codes for the occasion, with either requested or forbidden colours outlined beforehand. However, it’s more likely that you’ll be left to your own devices. 

In general, light colours are appropriate for long hemlines on this occasion; and vice versa. 

So for long skirts: 

  • Pink
  • Light blues 
  • All shades of red 
  • Silver 
  • Black 
  • Sequins

For shorter skirts (knee length), the colour scheme is a little more restricted as it has to make up for the relatively casual cut. We’d recommend: 

  • Black 
  • Metallic shades 
  • Dark red / wine 
  • Brown 
  • Dark blue 
  • Dark purple 

And, just like at any wedding, the only person wearing a white dress should be the bride! Yes, there is a slight chance that the bride won’t wear white, but we’d suggest you err on the side of caution.

Can I wear a knee-length dress to a black tie event?

In a word, yes. Styles and rules have changed since the 1940s, and there are beautiful knee-length dresses available that are perfect for black tie events. Some would fall into our midi dresses range.

Some guidelines for this would be: 

1- Avoid clothes that are too revealing 

2- Accessorise to make it look a little more formal 

3- Wear suitable colours and fabrics 

What about wearing a short dress to a black tie occasion?

While it’s not always recommended, there are exceptions. If it’s a beautiful cut, quality fabric, not too revealing and an apt colour, it can be suitable. We have several, beautiful short dresses in our party dress department.

Can I wear a jumpsuit to a black tie event?

Definitely. As gala events and award ceremonies have shown us in recent years, the right jumpsuit can look formal, fitting and fabulous at a black tie event.

Our jumpsuits run the full gamut, from formal to casual. 

Again, consider the colour and accessories to really make it pop.

Can women wear pants to a black tie event?

Yes, as long as the outfit is suitably formal. Have a browse of our trousers to find the right ones for the occasion and outfit.

It’s up to you whether you want to go the androgynous route, or more figure-hugging feminine. And if you want to show some skin, you can do so by wearing a small top under the jacket. This was a look favoured by Blake Lively in the film A Simple Favour.

What men should wear to a black tie wedding

what do men wear to a black tie wedding

Just about the closest to a cast iron rule for fashion at a black tie wedding is that men wear a black tie. 

However, don’t use it as an excuse to opt out of fashion decisions. Instead, a black tie event for men is an opportunity to bring your own look and style to a traditional favourite. 

We’ll start with the rules, before giving a guide to the other details. 

Black tie rules for men explained

1. A black tie –– whether it’s a bow tie or necktie. 

2. You can wear a suit and not a tuxedo, but if you do so, the suit should be of good quality and you should wear a necktie instead of a bow tie. 

3. A waistcoat is encouraged. If the weather is hot (a wedding abroad, for instance), a cummerbund is an acceptable substitute. 

4. Jacket colour doesn’t necessarily have to be black. White is allowed if it’s a summer wedding (though hard to keep clean). And recently, some men have opted for dark, rich colours like purple, dark green or navy. 

5. Accessorising is recommended (more on that below)

6. Wear black socks! Your zany socks might well be hilarious, but leave them in the drawer this time.

What to look for in a tuxedo

A black tie event usually means you can get away with a suit (and look great). But here’s what to look for if you’re going for the tuxedo route: 

1. A blazer / suit jacket style 

2. Satin facings — i.e. satin strip on the trouser leg and satin on the outside of the buttons 

3. Appropriate tuxedo trousers 

4. Formal shoes, ideally black

What shirt to wear

A black or white dress shirt is definitely acceptable when going for black tie. You don’t have to wear a tuxedo shirt unless you’re going that route with the whole outfit. 

Have a look through our formal shirts collection for inspiration. 

What black tie accessories you need 

We’d suggest you wear one or two of the following: 

Does black tie mean a black suit? 

A common question regarding black tie is “can I wear a coloured tuxedo to a black tie event?”

The answer is yes, you can wear a coloured tuxedo if it’s: 

  • Dark
  • Made from a rich fabric
  • Formal 

Can I wear a normal shirt to a black tie event?

A dress shirt is recommended and appropriate, in other words, the kind of shirt you’d wear with a suit. 

You can wear a tux shirt if you like, but it’s by no means mandatory!

What should I wear to a black tie optional wedding?

With a black tie “optional” wedding, you should work on the assumption that other guests will take the formal option. 

So we’d suggest you treat it as a black tie wedding. If you’re in doubt, go somewhere in between — a knee-length dress for her and a suit with a black tie for him. 

Where to buy a dress or tuxedo for a black tie event

You can find every single item, sequin and stitch required for a black tie event right here. 

Women’s dresses range from the daring to classic and everything in between.

And our men’s suits department is a wide range, including traditional and on-trend favourites.

Have fun!

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