Black tie dresses

The “black-tie” dress code is right up there with the “black ice.” Its ability to confuse and confound rivals the “black hole.” What about “black sheep?” If you can twist a group decision to dress unambiguously for a frighteningly specific event, it is easy to feel like a “black sheep.”

Dress code issues are common in an increasingly casual world. The unhelpful ciphers that only serve to confuse – “evening,” ‘business casual,’ ‘hipster formal’ and “a touch glamour” in tiny italics – are a new source of confusion.

Even Diana Vreeland – that legendary arbiter taste – cannot help. Although her aphorism “unshined footwear is the end of civilization” is still valid, her advice for black-tie events with a dress code is less helpful: “The best moment to leave a celebration is just as it’s beginning.” As the saying goes: “There’s nothing worse than drinking a drink you didn’t intend to drink or staying at a party after you’d intended to leave.”

We know when to go. How do you arrive, and what should you wear? Here is Vogue’s guide for decoding black-tie attire on your party invitations this season.

What is the black-tie attire code?

The dictionary suggests that a black bow tie is worn with a dinner coat. Debretts adds that black tie is “less formal than the white dress… worn at dinners, balls, and parties, as well as certain Season events like Glyndebourne.” The host is the deciding factor. A man’s “dress for impress” may be another man’s bare-there Balmain Minidress. This may be an awe-inspiring dress, but it is inappropriate for a charity event. Feel free to ask your host to clarify what level of formality they expect guests to follow and what they plan to wear.

What is the best way to navigate a black-tie attire code?

A shorter and ritzier cocktail dress is acceptable if your host is relaxed. A more straightforward and ritzier cocktail dress is sufficient if your host is simple. (Or if it is an Alexander McQueen-style dress). But it is best to assume a floor-sweeping dress is expected.

How can I determine the smartness of an event?

There will be hints. Consider the medium of your invitation. The more innovative your event will be, the thicker and more luxurious the pigeon post (and the fancier the calligraphy or first-class stamp). You can relax if the invitation comes via Facebook or WhatsApp. Paperless Post is the exception. Just because an invite arrived via email does not mean it was a short affair. Text messages should be treated with respect, as they can convey a message like “I am so relaxed about my invitations” while indicating that rhinestones will be encouraged.

How can I prevent a fashion faux pas?

Grab the guest list. You can use the guest list to determine what people think about the dress code. It will also give you helpful information about wearing an old favorite again. This is not a faux pas but merely a way to show confidence in your style. You don’t want anyone to see you wearing the same outfit. Create an Instagram Story and stay away from the doppelganger if it happens.

What kind of shoes should I wear when going out?

Choose the best location. What type of flooring is there? Parquet, gravel, or paving? Plan your routes for the evening, and park the stilettos. If you must wear those new Saint Laurent metallic crystal sandals, you can find a willing squire who will drive you through the danger zones. Never, ever remove your shoes on the dancefloor. You could step on a glass shard, or another guest might step on your pedicure. It’s not chic.

Can I wear black to work?

Absolutely. Everyone else wears it for a good reason. If you wear a Phoebe Philo-era Celine crystal neckpiece, your host will be impressed by the effort that you have made. If all else fails, you can buy a bunch of diamante brooches to pile on lapels, necklines, or in bed-head-style hair. Prepare to shine and tell everyone that they are heirlooms.

What have we learned through the years?

Remember to use your discretion when following the above advice. There are different rules for each black-tie affair. Respect the host by following the dress code they have set for the evening. Ask the host for help if you need clarification.

Black-tie functions can be intimidating, but after you’ve attended one, you will know exactly what you need to wear. Don’t hesitate to wear the same outfit again and again. Look at the part, but do it responsibly. Even royalty and celebs have been spotted in companies they’ve previously worn. Build your black tie capsule wardrobe by creating a collection based on the season or formality.

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