Deciding what to wear seems to be a perpetual challenge for women. This challenge is complicated by the ever-changing concept of appropriate attire. This applies particularly to formal functions where expectations of dress are specific for both women and men, and a failure to adhere to those standards of dress can lead to awkward situations.
According to The Emily Post Institute website, black-tie etiquette for women requires either a semiformal- or formal-length dress. A semiformal-length dress can include a short, knee-length cocktail dress or other tea-length (shin-length) dress. A formal-length dress usually includes floor-length gowns.
The length of your dress is not the only consideration; you should be cognizant of the style and design of the dress as well. A dress that is too revealing or is too ostentatious in design may not be appropriate for specific formal occasions. In many cases, you must analyse the purpose of the black-tie event and then decide what to wear. If the black-tie occasion is for a sedate or dignified reason, dress should reflect that. Conversely, if the black-tie event is for an enjoyable and happy reason, dress can reflect that mood.
Although Emily Post believes that a dress is required for black-tie occasions, The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette advises that trousers are also an appropriate clothing choice for women. An evening suit, which is more formal than the average business suit, or other formal trousers outfit is also appropriate for black-tie occasions.
Depending upon your choice of dress for black-tie events, a fur can be worn as an accessory or as outerwear. The fur can either be genuine or faux; however, be aware of the possible ramifications that wearing a fur to an event can have. For example, it would be inappropriate to wear a fur coat or fur accessory to a formal event sponsored by an animal-rights organisation.
Accessories are an acceptable way to supplement black-tie dress for women. Hats, gloves and jewellery are all useful ways to embellish a dress, gown or evening suit. Hats are not commonly worn to formal occasions today in the United States; however, they may be appropriate at some formal events in Europe. Gloves are also acceptable in accompaniment with a formal dress or gown, though they are generally not worn with trousers outfits. Jewellery is always acceptable for women as well. It should complement the dress or suit worn and not be too garish or outlandish for the nature of the event. All accessories should be worn in moderation.
Black-tie etiquette is not the highest level of event formality. White-tie occasions, where men are required to wear jackets with tails and floor-length gowns are a must for women, are the highest level of formality. Also, the level below black-tie is black-tie-optional, where formal dress is encouraged but not required for either men or women.
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