Black-Tie Dress Etiquette for Women

Updated April 17, 2017

A black-tie occasion is a formal event at which men wear tuxedos and women wear long evening gowns or fancy cocktail dresses. Black-tie events can include formal wedding receptions, upscale parties, gala dinners and balls. When dressing for a black-tie event, women can choose from a variety of styles and fabrics. Picking the right attire doesn't end with the gown or dress. Your hairstyle and accoutrements also must adhere to some basic formal fashion rules.


Etiquette requires women wear dresses to black-tie events. Trousers or separates are not considered appropriate. For evening events, floor-length gowns are typical, although a cocktail-length dress is also acceptable. Knee-length dresses are appropriate if the black-tie event is taking place outdoors or in the afternoon. Make sure the dress is not too short. Keep the hemline no shorter than two inches above the knee.


Though black-tie events call for women to wear dresses, not all dresses are considered appropriate. Fabric is important, and materials such as silk, satin and lace fit in well at formal events. Chiffon is not usually considered a black-tie-appropriate fabric, as it is associated with day dress, but can be appropriate when attending an outdoor black-tie event, such as a summer wedding. Also pay attention to colour. Deep jewel tones such as crimson, dark purple and emerald green are appropriate, especially in the fall and winter. Pastels are appropriate for an outdoor event taking place in the spring or summer, and black and white are two classic options any time of year. However, make sure not to wear white if attending a wedding, as this would be considered poor taste.


Paying attention to hair is an important step in ensuring you are black-tie appropriate. A classic updo is traditional, and can consist of a bun, chignon or French twist. These styles can be sleek and smooth or tousled and less fussy, as long as it doesn't look messy. Hair can also be worn down if it is well cut, washed and styled. Adornments such as clips and combs are acceptable, but stay away from headbands and hair ties.


Accessories can make or break a black-tie outfit, and the wrong adornments can dress down an otherwise formal outfit. Stay away from costume or fake jewellery when possible, as this can make an expensive dress look cheap. Also, don't wear too much jewellery, such as an armful of bracelets. For black-tie attire, less is more. When choosing shoes, invest in a nice pair of pumps. A pair of black peep-toes can be a good investment, although many styles of dress shoe are appropriate for black-tie events, including strappy heels. Avoid boots and sandals.


A cover-up may be necessary if attending an event at a church or synagogue, or if the party is during the winter. There are several types of cover-ups that are appropriate for formal events. A velvet shawl, satin coat or silk pashmina wrap can cover shoulders or provide warmth while still maintaining a black-tie look.

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About the Author

Erica Morris has six years of journalism experience, working for publications in New York, London and South Florida. She has served as associate editor for a Jewish lifestyle magazine in Florida for the past two years, and worked as both a news and features writer for a number of weekly newspapers.