Black Tie Dress Code – What Do I Actually Wear?

by Kathleen Loxton
woman wearing black ball gown and necklace

A black tie affair is one that conjures up images of dazzling jewels and breathtaking dresses, but it also incites fear as to what to wear. The very phrase raises so many questions: what length of dress is appropriate? What’s the level of formality at the venue? To make sure you put your best high-heeled foot forward, we’ve decoded different black tie dress code occasions so you can plan your dream black tie outfit.

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What is Black Tie?

So, what does black tie mean exactly? An event which stipulates a black tie dresscode is the single most formal fashion occasion, second only to a white tie event. Traditionally, black tie was understood as a formal occasion where men wore dinner jackets or tuxedos with a tie, and women wore evening dresses. Therefore, searching ‘what is black tie event?’ returns a variety of occasions, typically weddings, balls, dinners and galas.

However, with consistently changing fashion standards and styles, defining what is black tie attire can be a conundrum. Hence, it can be tricky to nail a black tie theme and be the belle of the ball at a black tie party.

Googling ‘black tie dress code women’ can leave you more confused than inspired because of the sheer range of choices. Instead, looking to your favourite celebrity red carpet moments can help inspire dress choices for your event and get you feeling ready to don that black tie wear. Be careful, though, as the dress code for black tie event can carry different meanings, depending if it’s a black tie dinner dress code versus a formal wedding, for example.

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Black Tie Rulebook

The black tie dress code for women can be simplified if you follow these dress code black tie rules:

1. Type of event: Deciphering the dress code depends on what type of blacktie event it is. For example, black tie dresses will be more conservative at a charity dinner then a dance.
2. Invitation: You can tell a lot about a black tie event by the invitation. The formality of this is a good indication of the level of black tie dress expected.
3. Location: The location will also heavily influence your black tie event attire. For example, a black tie wedding will require a more formal black tie event dress if it’s set at a lavish location. Always take time to research the venue!
4. Attendees: Deciding what to wear at a black tie event can be aided by analysing the guest list. Is it work-related or family and friends? What size is the gathering? This will help you choose your black tie attire
5. Colour: Selecting the perfect colour of your black tie dress is tricky. While it is obviously safe to wear black to most black tie occasions, you might want to go for something more colourful at a wedding.
6. Length of dress: A ‘black tie optional’ dress code means there is an option to wear a short black tie dress, as long as it’s formal enough. See our top 6 black tie dresses below.

And as with all events you’re invited to: if in doubt, ask the host!

Our Top 6 Back Tie Dresses

How to Wear Black Tie


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Black tie wedding attire calls for romantic dresses, so when you’re thinking of what to wear to a black tie wedding think rich jewel tones or soft pastels. A black tie wedding is tricky as you can’t rely on a typical black dress. Instead, go for classic cuts which aren’t too short or low cut.


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A black tie dinner dress code is the perfect opportunity for a little black dress or full length black gown. Black tie formal wear in this instance can be understated glamour with a bit of sex appeal.


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The difference between a white tie event and black tie becomes clearer when the black tie affair is a dance. White tie calls for a very formal gown, whilst a black tie event dress code for a dance is more fluid. Black tie attire in this instance can be dresses that look like they belong at a black tie party.


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There is a little more freedom in what to wear to black tie event if it’s a dance or gala, and this is where you can have more fun with black tie attire for women. A black tie event dress at a gala occasion can be more decorative whilst still meeting acceptable black tie attire standards.

Celebrities Wearing Black Tie

Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton arriving at an event wearing full length black gown with lace
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The Duchess of Cambridge is a major influencer in the world of fashion, and understandably black tie attire for women is something she has plenty of opportunity to wear. If you’ve ever asked yourself, ‘what should a woman wear to a black tie event?’, consider her the perfect case study. Channel Kate Middleton’s confidence and grace and you’ll never get a black tie event dress code wrong.

Emma Watson

Emma Watson in off the shoulder white gown with red clutch at movie premiere
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The perfect level of black tie for women is exemplified here by Miss Watson, who by now is well practiced in black tie affairs. This is the look to aim for when thinking what to wear to a black tie event: classy and something you feel great in. This stunning shoulder-length gown would be suitable for most formal black occasions.

Gina Rodriguez

Gina Rodriguez in off the shoulder dark blue full length gown at the Golden Globes
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Gina Rodriguez looks stunning in this black tie formal gown, proving that the real black tie dress code for women is about finding the right dress for you and your style. Looking at all the options for women’s black tie, don’t be daunted by some extra fabric. After all, choosing what to wear to a black tie event is a treasured opportunity, so embrace the black tie dress code.

Miranda Kerr

Miranda Kerr at fashion week event wearing full length v-neck gown in light pink and a choker
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This Victoria’s Secret angel sure knows how to wear black tie. Black tie formal wear is about creating a moment to remember, so when considering what to wear at a black tie event make sure it has that wow factor. Don’t hesitate to wear a long dress unless the dress code mentions ‘black tie optional’, when you are safe to wear a shorter dress if you prefer.

Final Note: Black Tie Dress Code – What Do I Actually Wear

• What is a black tie event? Formal occasions like a wedding, dinner, dance or gala that stipulates a black tie dress code.
• What is black tie? The definition of black tie has changed along with fashion over time, but second to white tie it is the most formal occasion that requires a formal dress.
• What is black tie attire? Specifying a black tie dress code for her depends on the type of event and level of formality. Black attire dresses will vary in length depending whether it’s black tie optional or not.
• When researching what to wear to a black tie event, consider the type of occasion, invitation, location and attendees.
• Black tie event regulars like Kate Middleton and Emma Watson are perfect muses when working out what to wear for a black tie event. Remember, black tie is all about grabbing the moment and owning it.
• Want more? Watch the video below to see what black tie means in terms of makeup.

We hope you now feel more confident about a black tie dress code. Choosing what to wear to a formal occasion doesn’t have to be stressful, so get that dress on and have a night to remember…

Read more great articles on women’s fashion here at alexie.

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