Black Tie Etiquette for Ladies

Updated April 17, 2017

Formal events may specify a black-tie dress code on an invitation. Events such as charity balls, weddings, galas, college dances, or even proms may require black-tie attire. For men, a tuxedo fits the bill. For women, more choices abound. However, the traditional etiquette of black-tie attire for women does have certain parameters.

Dress Length

Per tradition, black-tie attire for women is a floor-length evening gown. For slightly less formal affairs such as a summer event or cocktail party, a shorter cocktail dress may be acceptable. Etiquette expert Emily Post recommends a formal gown or a shorter variation. In her book "New Manners for New Times," Letitia Baldrige suggests a "floor-length, short, or three-quarter-length evening gown."

Shoes and Purse

Black-tie rules for women also extend to one's choice of shoes and purse. Per traditional protocol, a woman's shoe choice should be an evening sandal or peau de soie pump. A woman should carry an evening bag in material such as peau de soie, satin, silk, velvet or brocade rather than a daytime purse.


A woman's jewellery choices should also reflect the formality of a black-tie affair. Diamonds or pearls are an acceptable choice. A simple or chandelier earring, a more formal bracelet or necklace is also appropriate.


Depending on the formality of the occasion, a woman's wardrobe choices may vary. During summer months or for a black-tie evening on a cruise, either a long gown or a shorter, formal cocktail dress may be acceptable. One's accessories should remain formal, in keeping with the formality of the occasion.

Black Tie Optional

When an invitation dictates "black tie optional," a woman's choices may include formal separates as well as an evening gown or cocktail dress. Formal separates may include a dinner suit or full-length evening skirt with a dressy blouse.

Creative Black Tie

When an invitation calls for "creative black tie," a woman may wear either a full-length gown, shorter cocktail dress or separates. When accessorising, she may add a dramatic piece such as a colourful shawl or jewellery.


The protocol for traditional black-tie attire for women may include over-the-elbow white or black satin gloves. Per etiquette rules, a woman should remove her right glove before entering a receiving line so she may shake hands.

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About the Author

Beth Cone is a Los Angeles-based writer and was the style and health, beauty, and fitness columnist for "On The Boulevard Magazine" in the San Fernando Valley-based magazine from 1990 through 1992. She is a publicist and artists representative with clients in Northern and Southern California. A graduate from Vanderbilt University, Cone has a degree in Spanish and fine arts.