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Black-tie dress code: The dos & don'ts

Got a black-tie event coming up? Here's how to nail the dress code...

Sara Sampaio
Orin Carlin
Orin CarlinContent Writer
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Nothing strikes fear into the heart like a dress code, even where the most spirited party goers are concerned. 

The black-tie event is not exactly a daily occurrence, and so it is perfectly understandable if you are slightly unsure about how to approach dressing for such an occasion. 

Hold your nerve – it isn't intended to catch you out, rather it's about sartorial cohesion. 

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Unless you're hellbent on making a statement, think of black-tie as an indication of what other guests will be sporting, allowing you to nail the party dressing assignment with flair and high-octane glamour.

What does a black-tie dress code mean?

Jasmine Tookes, Raissa Gerona, Elsa Hosk and Negin Mirsalehi at the 2023 amFAR gala© Getty
Black-tie is society's second most formal dress code

One rung down from society's most formal dress code (white-tie, in case you were interested), black-tie is far more straightforward for men, indicating that they should opt for a classic dinner jacket. 

Men's must-haves 

  • Shirt - A white dress shirt with a stiff front. Marcella, or piqué as it is otherwise known, is the style of weave. The shirt should have a turned-down collar and double cuffs. 
  • Tie - A black bow tie is traditional, although there is leeway here to play with the colour palette. The only colour that is off limits is white. 
  • Jacket - A black-tie occasion calls for a dinner jacket, usually in black wool. The piece should have satin or grosgrain lapels, echoed in a similar stripe along the outer seam of the trousers.
  • Trousers - Trousers should match the dinner jacket in colour, be carefully pressed, and naturally taper to fit the body. Traditionally, trousers feature a single satin braid along the outer leg.
  • Shoes - Black, patent and smart. As a general rule of thumb, go for opera pumps or Oxfords.

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Black-tie for women

For women however, the dress code can (unhelpfully) be interpreted far more broadly, although generally the vibe you want to aim for is 'evening-appropriate opulence'.

Samantha Benveniste, fashion designer and founder of Benveniste Couture, feels that black-tie presents the perfect opportunity to channel Old Hollywood glamour. 

"Personally, I see it as formal in the sense of a silver screen goddess," she tells Hello! Fashion. "An opportunity to embrace the feminine and exude witty charm shamelessly."

"When thinking about what to wear, learn toward the classic, sparkling or sculptural pieces, staying away from anything resembling daywear. Silk, satin, chiffon and lace are all black-tie winners."

A sleek evening dress is a failsafe option – think fabrics that exude a certain dressiness, discounting anything that feels too 'everyday', garish or short. But don't feel bound by tradition – a chic suit would also be perfectly permissible.

How we chose:

Black-tie appropriate: The fashion buys we've included below all have a distinctly formal, elegant vibe and would comfortably slip into a black-tie ensemble. We've leaned into fabrics that feel suitable for evening, and taken into account cuts and lengths. 

Hello! Fashion shares our black-tie dress code dos and don'ts:

1. Do embrace the maxi length

Rest assured, we adore Miu Miu's micro skirt just as much as the next fashion insider, but there is a time and place. A short length cocktail dress may cut it if your host isn’t bound by tradition, but we recommend you err on the side of caution and opt for a floor-length or midi piece where black-tie is concerned.

Ushuaia satin halterneck gown - Galvan
Ushuaia satin halterneck gown - Galvan

Cut on the bias for a super flattering fit, this icy blue satin gown by Galvan has a beautiful fluidity to it. The figure-skimming silhouette is clean and minimalist, and the asymmetric halter neckline is a interesting touch. Style it with your hair up and lustrous drop-down earrings.

2. Don't leave it to the last minute

Unlike some other dress codes, nailing black-tie generally requires some sartorial prep. We suggest you try out some options in-person (retro, we know), as it's typically super difficult to gauge how the fit, length or cut of a dress will look on your body when shopping online.

If this is not an option, don't panic – order a few different options that you can try on at home, leaving enough time so that if disaster strikes and it doesn't quite fit right you can call on a trusty tailor to make an adjustment or go back to the drawing board.   

3. Do consider the occasion 

Stella Maxwell at the 2023 amFAR gala© Getty
Considering the nature of the event is key for comfort

Not all black-tie events were created equal – think long and hard about the occasion you are set to attend. Is it a sit-down dinner, outdoor wedding reception or illustrious charity gala? Determining whether you will be consuming six courses, posing for pictures on an uneven lawn or waltzing across the ballroom are all major factors that will influence what you decide to wear.

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"Wear something you have worn before, even in your own home," Samantha advises. "Move in it, sit in it - make sure there are no fit issues. It is hard to enjoy yourself if you are not comfortable and fidgeting can take the glamour away from the most beautiful ensemble."

4. Don't neglect your outerwear

It would be a terrible shame to dampen your Cinderella moment with an unsightly puffer or a run-of-the-mill trench. Remember to consider the journey to and from the party, perhaps by splashing out on a luxe 'Old money'-style faux fur or investing in a chic overcoat.

Cropped Feather Jacket - Yves Salomon
Cropped Feather Jacket - Yves Salomon

Feathers are turning into something of a party season classic. I personally find that those with a finer, airier finish look more elegant - and this cropped white jacket by Yves Salomon is a case in point. It's serving debutante delicacy, and yet it simultaneously feels current and cool. I love the absence of embellishment, allowing the fluffy texture and the crisp white hue to take centre stage.

5. Do bring your footwear A-game

Even if your dress skims the floor, don't allow your footwear to fall by the wayside. This season we are head over heels for embellished styles by Amina Muaddi, satin slingbacks by Jennifer Chamandi and mesh lace designs by Manolo Blahnik.

Begum crystal-embellished PVC slingback pumps - Amina Muaddi
Begum crystal-embellished PVC slingback pumps - Amina Muaddi

Amina Muaddi's 'Begum' slingbacks are perfect for a modern Cinderella moment. Created in Italy from PVC, these shoes will allow you to hop on the current clear shoe trend and exude contemporary elegance. The Art Deco-inspired brooch adds a splash of calculated glitz, but the design feels subtle enough not to overshadow the rest of your ensemble. Style yours with a lustrous pale lilac slip dress.

6. Don't overcomplicate it 

Creative consultant and Vogue Hong Kong contributor Olivia Buckingham feels that the key to nailing black-tie is all about balance. "If it’s heavily embellished then you want to perhaps go more minimal on jewellery and shoes, whereas if the outfit is on the plainer side I say go big," Olivia explains. "I love Alessandra Rich's statement earrings and Benedetta Bruzziches' crystal clutches."

7. Don't feel obliged to stick to black

Cindy Bruna at the 2019 amfAR gala© Getty
Black-tie doesn't mean you have to lean into dark shades

Granted, we live and die by the LBD, but black-tie certainly doesn't mean you are bound to one particular hue. Some of our favourite styles this season celebrate pillar box red, deep aubergine and shimmery khaki. The rainbow is your oyster.

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