The perils of navigating the complex waters of wedding dress codes are well known to most adults. If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you know that your outfit is a crucial ingredient for a successful day and could impact your relationship with the couple for the years to come. So, what does black tie optional mean?
If you come under or overdressed, it can be embarrassing and even cause problems with the wedding’s organizers. You could be excluded from pictures, given a scolding, or even booted from the event entirely in rare cases.
As such, it’s best to come prepared with the correct outfit. Do you need a tuxedo or a gown? What about shoes? We’re here to help you decipher the cryptic dress code details you may have received with your invite so you can show up looking your best.
Black tie optional is a dress code that requires guests to dress up, but it is slightly less formal than black tie. For women, a black tie optional wedding typically requires a full length dress. For men, a tuxedo is welcomed, but not required – a nice suit works too.
Generally speaking, “black tie optional” has a pretty ambiguous meaning. As a rule of thumb, black tie optional dress code is the expectation that guests dress formally but not necessarily in overly fancy attire. It’s a fancy event, to be sure, but you won’t have to come in a tuxedo or extravagant dress if you don’t want to.
However, unlike a casual or cocktail dress code, a black tie optional wedding leaves the door open for ultra-fancy wear. You can come dressed to the nines and no one would blame you for it. Tuxedos and ball gowns are widely accepted as proper black tie optional attire, but you can dress down from that as well if you prefer and still fit the dress code.
Even though black tie optional is up for interpretation, you don’t want to bother the already-busy bride and groom with questions about whether or not you have to wear a bow tie. Keep reading to find out exactly what you should wear and how much room you have to interpret the black tie optional dress code.
Black Tie Optional Wedding Attire for Women
If you’re worried about what sort of dress is expected for women at black tie optional events, don’t fret, you have some options with this dress code. Since a black tie optional event is slightly less formal, you don’t have to wear a floor-length dress, but you can if you’d like to. A mid-length dress is perfectly fine and is probably what many others will wear to the party.
However, a fancy cocktail dress might also be appropriate if the wedding party is similarly dressed. The length of your dress shouldn’t be too short, however, as that may not be appropriate for grown women at a black tie optional wedding. As always, women should not wear white at weddings.
Alternately, you could wear a sophisticated pantsuit as black tie optional attire, especially if dresses aren’t your thing.
In terms of footwear, as long as they look fancy, you should be good to go. Heels always look the most formal, but you could always pair your dress with fancy flats or ankle-high boots if you so choose. In the summer, wedding guests may also get away with fancy sandals.
Any accessories at this point are up to you. However, overly opulent jewelry might be considered too much for this type of dress code, so try not to take too much attention from the bride with your impeccable style.
Black Tie Optional Wedding Attire for Men
The rules for men are a bit more strict for black tie optional wedding attire. Compared to black tie, though, you have a bit more wiggle room to interpret what that means.
If you love the look and feel of a tuxedo, you’d be perfectly at home wearing one to a black tie optional wedding. A black bow tie or conservative bow tie is a must if you do plan on it, though, so don’t be careless with your colors.
However, many men don’t feel comfortable in a tuxedo or cannot splurge on a tux, so what are the other options? Alternatively, you are allowed to wear a dark suit paired with a muted tie. Wearing a suit jacket and a dress shirt with a tie is mandatory, however.
Unless there is specific color coordination required, a dark blue or navy blue, grey, or classic black suit would be totally acceptable. Guests should stick to dark, muted colors for their suits or tuxedos unless it’s a summer wedding and the bride and groom allow for lighter, summery colors.
As far as dress shirt color, many believe a white shirt is the way to go. You can’t go wrong with a classic white dress shirt paired with a dark suit, and this will ensure you still look classy even if you don’t wear a tuxedo.
For shoes, expect to wear black shoes or brown dress shoes. Other colors may fit your outfit, so you have some options here. However, make sure they shoes are formal enough to pair with your suit and not look out of place. We suggest you match your socks to your outfit as well and avoid any zany colored socks unless you’re certain the bride and groom will appreciate your style.
Black Tie Optional Etiquette
Learn about the do’s and don’ts of a black tie optional wedding.
What is the Difference Between Black Tie and Black Tie Optional?
It’s not surprising that you might be a little confused about the difference between black tie and black tie optional dress code. The names don’t give away much, and it’s not always the case that the wedding organizers give specific direction either.
While they’re both formal events, traditional black tie is the fancier version of black tie optional. At a black tie event, you’re expected to wear a sharp tuxedo or opulent evening gown, dressed to look your absolute best. Black tie optional, on the other hand, gives you some space to interpret what formal means, dressing down slightly from the classic standard.
Some guests will wear the same wedding attire at black tie or black tie optional weddings, but others will take the opportunity to wear a less formal outfit. Men could wear a tuxedo at both events, but they can also wear a formal suit, jacket, and tie. Women can wear full length dresses for both black tie and black tie optional dress codes, or they may opt for more relaxed wedding attire.
Do You Have to Wear Dark Colors?
Men are expected to wear dark colors to a black tie optional event. However, if the wedding organizers say it’s OK, you have the possibility of going lighter than normally allowed.
For women, dark colors are not necessary. Unless you have to color-coordinate with the rest of the wedding party, you have a free range of options when it comes to the color of your dress.
However, you might not want to wear bright floral print or overly bright pattern dresses as these are often more casual than a black tie optional event entails. While cocktail attire allows for brighter styles, black tie or optional black tie events call for a classier look.
What Does Not Fit Black Tie Optional Dress Codes?
While you have a ton of choices for what to wear to a black tie optional wedding, there are also clothing items you should never think of wearing. Here are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind:
- Not wearing a tie – You have to wear a tie. Whether that’s a bow tie or a necktie, a dark, muted-color tie is absolutely necessary, even if it’s a black tie “optional” event.
- Light-colored suits – Most black tie optional events happen in the evening. As such, light-colored suits in a light-gray or khaki will stand out, in a bad way, at a black tie optional event.
- Short dresses – Adult women should not wear short dresses to black tie optional affairs. Opt for at least a mid-length gown or a longer cocktail dress.
- Anything overly-casual – Sneakers, t-shirts, sundresses, and anything else that you might think to wear on a normal day, don’t. Showing up in something too casual can not only be a faux-pas but overtly offensive to the wedding organizers who spent time and effort making this a formal event.
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