By Natalie Hammond

Black Tie Dress Code: Everything You Need To Know

Nicole Richie is your poster woman for how to get it right.

If you’re still scratching your head about ‘business casual’, a black tie dress code is probably enough for you to immediately respond to the RSVP, ‘No’. I don’t blame you. Not to get scientific about it but with the rise of althleisure and the casualisation of workwear, it’s standard practice to wear jeans and trainers day in, day out. What that means is that a black tie dress code feels about as relevant to your life or mine as a spacesuit or surgical scrubs. It is nice, however, to have an opportunity to dress up. And black tie is nothing if not an excuse to give it your all in the wardrobe department. But first things first…

What does a black tie dress code actually mean?

The good news is that a black tie dress code is actually much more straightforward than business casual. Black tie simply means formalwear. If you want a visual description, imagine the kind of dress you would wear to a red carpet premiere. That would definitely tick all the boxes. Although having said that, the rules are there are no rules on the red carpet so perhaps we better get specific…

What is a black tie dress code for women?

For women, a black tie dress code means a gown. Kim Kardashian wore the ideal black tie dress to her friend’s wedding in 2021. Strapless and plunging, this might have been a touch too scene-stealing, except that the friend in question was Paris Hilton. Nicole Ritchie also wore a brilliant black tie dress for her sister’s wedding earlier this year. Nicole dug into the vintage archives for the event, pulling out this oh-so-elegant gown by Donna Karen, which came from the designer’s fall collection in 2010.

What does a black tie dress code mean for men?

Black tie is the second smartest form of formal dress for a man – white tie is the smartest – and simply means a tuxedo accessorised with a bow tie. Although men have definitely been mixing it up on the red carpet – see: Oscar Issac in a skirt, Paul Mescal in a tank top, Paapa Essiedu in velvet palazzo pants – the vast majority still stick to a classic tuxedo for events like the Oscars.

Does a black tie dress code mean a full-length dress?

A black tie dress code does entail a floor-length gown but it also depends on the circumstances. If it’s a friend’s wedding, you can obviously ask them whether or not they mind if your wedding guest dress doesn’t quite reach the floor. Unless they want to strictly adhere to the black tie dress code, chances are they’ll be fine with you flashing a bit of ankle.

Do you have to wear a particular type of shoes to comply with a black tie dress code?

The easy answer is no but formal shoes will obviously be the most fitting. This means putting the flip-flops, wedges and espadrilles on ice, choosing something like a pointed satin pump, a slingback or a barely-there sandal. And if you prefer flats, an elegant pair of ballet pumps would do the job nicely. Just make sure the hem of your dress doesn’t pose too much of a tripping hazard.

What does a black tie dress code mean for weddings?

It means the same thing at weddings as it does in general – a floor-length gown. It goes without saying – but let’s say it anyway – that you’ll probably want to avoid wearing a big white dress.

This story first appeared on GRAZIA International.