Q&A: What is Black Tie Optional?

October 5th, 2007

Q:  I am attending a black tie optional charity event, to which I’d normally wear a full length black gown.  I recently found a great "brown" full length gown that I really like but am not sure if brown is an appropriate color.  Your thoughts?

 Adrianna Papell Charmeuse Halter Gown with ScarfA:  Black Tie Optional dress for women calls for long evening gowns, evening separates, and, in more casual geographies, cocktail dresses.  For men, tuxedos or dark suits are customary at black tie optional events.

Dark colors are customary, but especially with this season’s focus on bright color, colors are not excluded.  So–your brown full length gown will certainly be appropriate for the event.  The most important thing is to wear a dress that you really love–so you win both ways.

Pictured: Adrianna Papell Charmeuse Halter Gown with Scarf | $168 at Nordstrom.

Have a great tip about what to wear to a black tie optional event?

Share it with us in the comments!

Style question?  We’ve got answers.  E-mail us at tips at omiru dot com, or leave us a comment with your question.

Entry Filed under: Q&A,Women's

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kerry Cordero, Image Consultant and Owner of The First Look  |  October 5th, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    For a black tie event, traditionally it is the man who wears the dark color. This dark color was meant to act as a foil for the woman’s brighter finery. Today, especially in NYC or on the East Coast, we all wear black but as an Image Consultant, I also tell women to wear the dress you love but feel free to experiment with a color that works well with his dark suit.

  • 2. Trisha  |  October 6th, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Great insight, Kerry! Thanks for sharing.

  • 3. Maddi  |  October 8th, 2007 at 1:09 am

    Brown is WRONG. It NEVER looks good, no matter what color are skin is.

    Do you think I am too young to be modeling?



  • 4. Trisha  |  October 8th, 2007 at 1:20 am

    I don’t think that’s fair, Maddi. Brown is a lovely color, and it looks great on many people.

  • 5. Laura  |  October 8th, 2007 at 4:48 am

    I’m from London (though recently relocated to Turkey) and “black tie optional” never has any bearing on the colour of the woman’s dress for us Brits – I was definitely of the opinion expressed by Kerry (which makes me feel very clever since she’s an image consultant) that men wear the black, women wear whatever looks elegant and fabulous!

    So is the NYC / East Coast trend REALLY black only for ladies too? And isn’t that a bit boring?! Or is there some risk that Stateside ladies get a bit day-glo if not restricted to black? (Not that I have anything against black evening gowns, just seems a shame to stick to only one colour).

  • 6. Trisha  |  October 12th, 2007 at 2:35 am

    I can better speak to West Coast trends, since we’re based in California. Black Tie events tend to turn out lots of black and dark colored dresses around the San Francisco area. However, that’s not necessarily the case elsewhere in the country. While dark colors are more traditional, you do also see brighter colors. Goes to show that it’s OK to break the fashion “rules.”

  • 7. Luke  |  October 21st, 2007 at 8:20 am

    Can a man wear a simple black suit with formal shirt and bow to black tie event. I have one tomorrow and although i could rent a suit i have a great well fitting black suit and it pains me to pay for a generic, well worn hired one.

    Does the button style matter? i have black plastic buttons, where most tux’s have covered buttons.

    Its a big(ish) work do, with a few of my bosses and their bosses and i dont want to be embarrassed..

  • 8. Michelle  |  October 31st, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Black Tie Optional… The event is a Business school event, date not wearing Tux, so I am going cocktail but it is chilly in NY. So, do you wear stockings? can they be black?>

  • 9. Trisha  |  November 1st, 2007 at 1:34 am

    Hi Michelle,

    Since it is chilly in NY, you can wear stockings. In fact, you may freeze otherwise!

    And yes, your stockings can be black. Black stockings make outfits a little more formal, so keep that in mind as you put your outfit together. Another thing you might consider is patterned stockings–so much more visually interesting than the basic solid black.

    Have fun!


  • 10. Liz  |  November 12th, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    Black Tie Optional refers only to men. It tells us that the event is somewhat formal but the “black tie” refers to whether a man should wear a tuxedo or not. It suggests a more formal event but not strictly “black tie/tuxedo” required. Women may wear anything they like, keeping in mind that the event is (again) somewhat formal.

  • 11. carla  |  March 16th, 2009 at 10:40 am

    I have an evening awards ceremony to go to next month (April). There will be a lot of big names/artist there and I have no idea what to wear. The invitation says “black tie optional” but what does that really mean? Should I go ‘cocktail’ or more ‘evening gown’? Also, my hair is short and kinky/curly and I am not sure how to dress it up for such an event. PLEASE HELP!

  • 12. Adriana  |  January 18th, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    My husband is joining a new business, and they have invited us to their yearly “black tie optional” event next week. We are extremely tight on money. I have a couple of old dresses (one my wedding reception dress, which I probably don’t fit into anymore), another one is a bright blue satin, strapless, that I used when I was in my early 20’s…I don’t think either is appropriate. What do you suggest? I am also short- barely 5’2″ and about 145 pounds, so I can’t wear most of the ones they show on catalogs/ online
    thank you!

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