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19th Feb 2024

What is black tie? How to always nail the dress code

Anna Martin

Black Tie

Wedding season is about to kick off and that means one thing…dress code confusion

Enter the infamous black tie, on paper one of the easiest of a number of confusing themes but in practice well, not so easy.

Should my dress be a to the floor? Is Knee length appropriate? What about where patterns or sequins?

Well, cool the jets for a second, we’re here to help decipher the enigma and make black tie more approachable…just don’t ask us about business casual, that’s for another time.

To floor length or not to floor length?

black tie
Credit: Coast

When you think of black tie you probably envision a bunch of celebs strutting their stuff on the red carpet, their gowns trailing behind them.

Though traditionally this dress code meant hemlines on the ground, this is not the case anymore.

Black tie was invented in the Edwardian era and was the norm for dinner and drinks functions with a start time later than 6 pm.

Considering that at the turn of the 20th century, essentially all women’s skirts were floor-length, be they smart or casual, it just makes sense.

These days, unless you are told specifically by your host that your dress has to hit the floor, you have a free-for-all pass to experiment with hemlines – within reason of course.

Midi-to-full hemlines are your safest options but if you’re feeling daring pop on that mini and have your moment.

Do ladies have to wear back?

black tie
Credit: FarFetch

Though opting for a classic black shade may save you a lot of stress in the long run, if the colour isn’t something you usually wear, you can fully experiment with bright and bold shades.

Prints shouldn’t be ruled out of the running either, florals can be fun and bold patterns can make a statement.

Don’t forget sequins too, there’s no better place to channel your inner disco ball than a black tie event.

Are there specific fabrics to wear?

black tie hannah waddingham
Credit: Getty

It might sound wild but some materials just don’t transfer to black tie events so beware.

You can almost certainly rule out jersey, knit, cotton, corduroy, flannel, linen, denim and other distinctly casual, day-time fabrics.

Instead opt for more plush, fancy materials such as silks, satin, taffeta, tulle, lace and chiffon.

You can even try out jacquard, gauze, leather and bigger design features if you’re a more daring dresser so long as it still feels luxe.

Do I really need to wear a dress?

black tie
Pinstriped trouser suit by Yves Saint Laurent Credit: Getty

Nope, not at all.

Just look at the ever-iconic Yves Saint Laurent ‘Le Smoking’ suit, probably one of the most famous pieces of women’s black tie wear and yet it’s a tuxedo.

Suits, jumpsuits, separates, as long as it feels and looks fancy you should be in the all-clear.