Dress Code Guide: What Does Black Tie Optional Mean?

Couple dressed in a black tie optional formal wearDean Drobot / Shutterstock

In the world of dress codes, the term "formal" has undergone a series of changes over the decades. This is what the term implies.

Formal once implicit "as sophisticated as it becomes", suggesting a white tie or black tie. But today, if a person expects a white or black tie outfit, she will usually specify it. When the dress code says just formal, it usually means something that looks more like a black tie.

"Optional Black Tie" and "Formal" are two common, virtually interchangeable, dress codes for fancy events. Although they are a bit more casual than white and black ties, you'll want to make sure you do not accidentally show up under clothing.

Optional black tie: a definition

The word "optional" here means yes, you can wear a black tie, but you do not have to do it if you do not want it or do not have it.

Since people today do not usually have a lot of formal wear, this dress code offers customers a welcome flexibility. Hosts expect you to be at your best, but they do not expect you to buy or rent a tuxedo.

The optional black tie can also overlap with cocktail and salon attirebut if in doubt, it is always better to go a little more dressed.

When to dress black tie optional

Your optional black tie clothing will be best for these occasions:

The marriages
Fundraising
galas
dinners

If the dress code of an event is not specified, you are not likely to show up in cocktail dress. But if it sounds like a class event, you can play safely with an optional black tie look.

Black Tie Optional Ideas for Women

Women's optional black tie clothes include:

Fancy cocktail dresses
Evening Dresses
Suit

You can make your black tie optional more or less formal, depending on what you choose to wear. A short dress will seem less formal, so if you wear one, make sure it is elegant. For a dose of safe glamor, choose a long dress. A luxury suit is also suitable for women who prefer to wear pants.

Wear your heels or flat shoes, and do not be shy with the accessories. These are usually evening events, so you can go big with statement jewelry and makeup. It's also a fitting moment for glitzy necklines and fabrics, as long as the look remains chic.

Fancy touches, such as clutches and long gloves, are also suitable for a black tie – but as its name suggests, this level of fancy is optional.

Black Tie Optional Ideas for Men

Men should wear these at optional formal or black tie events:

tuxedos
Dark colored costumes
White shirts

Leave the light linen suits at home and opt for a color like charcoal or black. Similarly, replace your color shirt with a more formal white shirt (French cuffs are perfect, but they are not mandatory). You can also wear a tuxedo if you want.

Keep your tie conservative, in a solid color. Bow ties are also appropriate. Wear shiny leather dress shoes and a matching belt and matching socks to match your suit. Remember to accessorize with a pouch.

The optional black tie dress codes are designed to save you the hassle of having to buy a new event-specific outfit for a formal occasion. A tuxedo or evening gown is fine, but your tailor-tailor or cocktail dress will also do the trick. Show your guests that you appreciate flexibility by combining your style with everything you have on hand.

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