What is Formal Wear for Women?

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A long black dress is appropriate for both formal and black tie wear.

Whether it's a night-time ball or a daytime wedding, women's formal wear is clothing that's meant to make you feel special. Formal wear comes in a number of categories, including cocktail, ball, prom and church, and is always something that looks out of the ordinary. For some women, it's a sparkly mini dress or a satin skirt suit; for others, a lady's tuxedo or a ball gown makes the occasion.

Ladies' formal wear does have some rules, but proper execution is easier than you think.

Use some useful tips to get formal right and create the most impact for your next event.Types Women's formal wear incorporates several different levels of dress, ranging from ultra-formal white tie to simple formal. In white tie, only the fanciest long gowns are acceptable. Style for Success says, "Think long gowns like at the Academy Awards. The queen's tiara is optional but the look is as formal and expensive as you can afford to buy, borrow or rent." Black tie is similar, with a less pronounced level of sparkle and a bit more room for sexiness. Formal includes cocktail and above the ankle skirts, along with pantsuits.


One can spot ladies formal wear by its shine factor and more restrictive silhouette.

Often, a formal gown is crafted to enhance the bust, arms or figure, so body-hugging designs are common. Sequins and rhinestones are also suitable. Luxe fabrics are also a shared trait among formal designs. Velvet, satin and silk are perennial favorites, although silken jersey knits have also come into style.

Formal dress is also more costly and may have a more restrictive retail return policy due to the nature of the garment's craftsmanship. Extra features like bead work and complex draping cause women's evening wear to be significantly more expensive to manufacture than regular, day-to-day clothing.


Formal wear is a mark of sophistication and status. If an event is formal in nature, it usually costs a lot to attend or throw, so expensive clothing is expected. Formal dress also plays a significant part in a woman's life. Think of the prom dress, the Quinceareana gown or a wedding dress. Formal dress marks several distinctive moments in a woman's life and allows her to express her most feminine, decorous self.

Alternative Formal Dress Fashion

There have always been people who push the fashion envelope, and formal wear is no exception. Due to the influences of popular culture, formal wear has passed the boundary of the gown and dress. Now a cocktail dress might be worn with combat boots, or a lady might wear a tapered, cinched-in tuxedo instead of a gown. Prom dresses, at one time floor or ankle length for most, now stop several inches above the knee.
Alternative formal dress works, but the wearer has to be confident and gauge the appropriateness of the apparel with the gravity of the moment. No matter how trendy, a lady's tux isn't going to work when being presented at High Court, so pick your zeitgeist moments carefully.


Formal dress is usually expensive, but it doesn't have to be. If the cost of dressing up is too high, there are now services that will rent out a pretty outfit at a reduced cost. For those who are extremely poor, there are charities that donate gently used prom and formal dresses to ladies and girls in need. Don't forget to shop in low-cost stores either. If you're patient, the local thrift and consignment shop may yield some surprises for a diligent searcher.

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