How to Dress for a 'Black Tie Optional' Event

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You've been invited to an event--a wedding, a business function or a birthday bash--and the invitation says "Black Tie Optional" in small letters at the bottom. "Optional" means discretionary in this context. Nevertheless, when party throwers include these words on the invitation, they come with some caveats, because this particular option sets the formality standard high. The bonus is that these events usually come with great food and outstanding entertainment.

1 Understand what "black tie" means. A black tie event is a formal event and guests dress accordingly. The term "black tie" means the hosts expect

guests to wear tuxedos and formal gowns, which are most often floor length.

2 Realize that if you do not own, or would rather not wear, a tuxedo or formal gown, you can take it down a notch. For men, this means wearing a very dark suit (black, gray or navy) with a standard tie or a bow tie that is not loud. In general, men should stick with classic tailoring for these events.

Women have a slightly broader spectrum from which to choose. Many cocktail dresses are quite formal, but women should avoid dresses that are too short or too risque.

3 Coordinate your levels of formality if you're going as a couple. He should not wear a tuxedo while you are in a cocktail dress.

4 Do not show up in business clothes, business casual, sportswear or casual clothes.

5 Consider renting a tuxedo or knock-out gown if you cannot afford one. Even though these events say "black tie optional" in most cases, more than 90 percent of attendees will go the tuxedo and formal gown route.

6 Remember that all rules can be broken. If you are particularly sophisticated when it comes to style, you can step outside of the bounds of the aforementioned suggestions, as long as you remain respectful of your hosts.


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