What To Wear To a Black Tie Wedding: 9 Sartorial Solutions For Men And Women

There’s a wedding you absolutely have to be at, but when you revisit the invitation, you discover fine print that says ‘black tie event.’ The words ‘black tie’ give you a hint of what to wear, but surely cross trainers and a T-shirt with a black tie won’t do? (Not that you were considering such attire…)

Anyway, we’re going to clear up a few things for you, beginning with what a black tie wedding is, and following that up with what you;re required to wear at one – for both men and women.

What Is A Black Tie Wedding?

First, a little grounding.


The ‘black tie’ in the black tie wedding refers to the formal dress code originally observed by the late 19th British elite for events post 7 PM. For men, the sartorial ensemble consisted of a white shirt, black bow tie, optional waist coat or cummerbund, and a pair of sharp-pointed shoes known as the Oxford Shoe.

This was all topped with a black, or even a white, Dinner Jacket, which is generally referred to as a ‘tuxedo’ in North America. Perhaps the best way to visualise this attire is to take a look at the iconic James Bond dinner jacket getup, ubiquitous in nearly every Bond flick.


For woman, black tie attire meant wearing an evening gown paired with a stole – in case the weather is frigid; and a set of evening shoes.


The mix may seem plain unlike the men’s garb but a lady’s black tie apparel is the one that has seen the most evolution – triggered by modern sartorial trends and changing fashion aesthetic. Even today, black tie attire means the good old dinner jacket/tuxedo for the men but for ladies it can mean choosing from a plethora of evening gown designs.

So What Does A Black Tie Wedding Mean?

An invitation to a black tie wedding means several things, viz.

Attendees shall be dressed in formal only; casual or even semi-casual wear is a strict no-no

The wedding is scheduled to be after 6 PM
The setting is quite likely to be classy – a lavish hotel or a vintage manor
There will be a sit-down dinner

Alright, now let’s take a look at some of the options when it comes to what to wear to a black tie wedding:

Black Tie Wedding Options For Women

The basic thumb rule for women for a black tie wedding is to wear a floor-length evening gown in a formal colour tone, which could either be black or navy blue. But even a cocktail dress or an evening gown of brighter shade is acceptable in contemporary times (unless explicitly stated otherwise). These should give you a good idea of the options out there:

1. Classic Black Gown


You can never go wrong with this one. It is the quintessential dress that has been worn by women for black tie events for years. The gown is usually of floor-length and comes in several design variations and styles, so go for the one that best suits your shape.

Jewellery is not exactly necessary and wearing your neck bare can draw attention to your lovely gown. Your favorite pair of earrings can complete the embellishments. Your feet are going to be covered by your gown, so wear formal yet comfortable shoes. The length of the heel is up to you, but to prevent an accidental trip-up on your own garb, stick to shoes that have comfortable medium-length heels.

2. Navy Blue Gown


Another elegant, fitting (in more ways than one) solution to your black tie wedding attire conundrum. Of course, many variations of the above are available, so do your research before picking up your delightful dress.

3. Dark Brown Gown


In A dark brown, V-neck creation might be ideal for what you’re looking for. You can select a silk dress since it will add a layer of sheen that would look resplendent on the dark brown colour. Gowns that also feature black overtones create wonderful contrasts, so look out for them as well.

4. Black Cocktail Dress


Also referred as a cocktail gown, a cocktail dress is a great alternative to the conventional wedding gown. It was originally developed in the 1940s as an ankle-length evening dress for young women, who were looking for something less ostentatious than the evening gown. Over a period of time it gained wider adoption beyond social elites, and transformed into a shorter dress which ended just above the knee. Cocktail dresses enjoy the semi-formal tag and are likely totally acceptable at black tie weddings – unless stated otherwise.

For a black tie wedding, you can go for a black cocktail dress. This can have some sequin work or other design embellishments. Accessories and jewellery stay similar to what you would sport with a gown. The shorter dress though is going to lay some emphasis on your feet, therefore chic footwear (as ever) is a good idea.

5. Navy Blue Cocktail Dress


This is the counterpart of navy blue gown, similar to the black cocktail dress. Navy blue, though, works great as a background for some sequin embellishments, which means this color can be your choice when looking for designer elements.

Black Tie Wedding Options For Men

For men, there’s less variety, but more stuff going on. Let us explain:

1. Timeless Tuxedo


Referred to as the Dinner Jacket in Britain, this is the original, de-facto black tie garb for men. The basic attire consists of a white shirt, black trousers, a jacket and a black bow tie. In a well-fitting tuxedo, the white sleeves of the shirt slide out, which is accentuated by the presence of gold or brass (colored, perhaps) cuff-links. A tuxedo is traditionally worn over pointed-tip formal shoes, the aforementioned Oxford Shoes.
You can also sport a cummerbund to class things up even more.

2. Navy Blue Tuxedo


Yup, the navy blue version of the black tuxedo. Unlike the black tux, however, this has a tinge of semi-formal attire associated with it, which especially works great for younger men. Navy blue tuxedos work great with matching waistcoats especially when the colour of the lapel/suit collar is black – adding a great level of contrast. With this colour, you can also take liberties with your footwear, and can opt for tan or brown shoes instead of the formal black Oxford Shoes.

3. Black Evening Suit


If dinner jackets seem too flamboyant then you can always wear that good old black suit hanging in your closet. Remember to wear it a white shirt and yes, a black tie! Or, switch to a solid navy blue tie to throw in some color. Avoid wearing bow tie though, since it’s best suited for tuxedos.

4. Black or Navy Blue Blazer


Now this for when the invitation says ‘optional black tie’ or ‘creative black tie.’ Blazers are jackets that resemble suit jackets and dinner jackets but are tailored for a casual look. They do not necessarily look formal, but are more durable – consisting of heavier fabric and close-knit stitching. Black and Navy blue are the best blazer colour options for a black tie event, and you can pair them with a white shirt, and a pair of navy blue or dark grey trousers. You can pair this with semi-formal shoes or varieties less formal than Oxford Shoe like the Derby shoe or the Blucher shoe.

So that is all you need to know about black tie wedding and what to wear to a black tie wedding. Remember to cross-check with the host about any preferred attire, if you find yourself veering off the trodden path. Otherwise, simply stick to what it says on the invitation and go with any of the classic looks.

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