black tie wedding attireBlack tie weddings have become less common in recent years, as eclectic and non-religious venues become more popular, but the black tie wedding code still exists and it can be the most difficult one to pull off successfully. ‘Black tie required’ means you must obey the dress code, ‘black tie optional’ allows you to play a little fast and loose with the code.

Black Tie Wedding Decoded

For women, according to Debretts, a smart dress is appropriate, which can be long or short as long as it’s not too short and it need not necessarily be black … hmmm that’s quite a lot of leeway, isn’t it? Let’s see if we can demystify it a little.

For men it’s a dinner jacket and a black tie - and the lady’s attire is supposed to complement or enhance that outfit.

Okay, that’s a good place to start. So ‘black tie’ for weddings  when applied to dresses can mean long, mid-length or short, and some invitations specify the dress length which is blissful. If not, then long is best, mid-length next best and anything above the knee is both pushing the code and requires a large investment in terms of accessorising to look dressy enough. Black tie definitely means a dress for women, not trousers, no matter how dressy the trousers are.

Black as a colour choice is straightforward, and a black dress can be accessorised with an accent colour that lifts the outfit and adds to the dressiness, but a black tie wedding does not require a woman to wear black, so if you don’t suit, or don’t like, black dresses, you can wear any colour that isn’t a fussy floral (usually too casual) or too pastel (not formal enough, unless you’re under 18 years old). Above all, don’t wear white or any shade of white - that’s a terrible faux pas.

If the wedding takes place in a religious venue, it is usual to cover your shoulders and maybe your arms, so take a wrap, jacket or shawl that respects the values of the wedding location.

Tips for black tie wedding success

  • Hats aren’t worn with long dresses, instead small fascinator does the job. If your dress is really dressy a gilded hair-clip or some diamanté hairpins will add pizazz without detracting from your long formal gown.
  • Black dresses are most appropriate for weddings in winter and weddings celebrated after 2pm, summer weddings allow a wider range of colours. Consider the time of year and time of day to help you fit into the overall dress code that others will (hopefully) be applying to their choice.
  • Accessories really matter. Gold with black is always classic, while a coloured dress can work very well with black accessories, such as a black sash or belt, black shoes and clutch bag or a black shoulder wrap.
  • Shoes are special for a black tie wedding. Don’t wear platforms, they make any gown look more casual. Killer heels always work, but flats are fine (especially if you don’t usually wear heels) as long as they are very stylish flats.
  • Necklaces, bracelets, earrings should coordinate and if you have a boldly patterned dress, should be simple enough to underpin rather than fight with the dress, while a plain dress can support statement jewellery.
  • Don’t forget your body shaping underwear - your gown will always look better if you’ve slimmed your silhouette!