The Ultimate Guide to Black-Tie Wedding Attire

From your biggest questions to outfit recommendations, we've got you.
Collage of three black tie wedding guest outfits for men and women.
Photos, from left to right: Sachin & Babi, Ralph Lauren, Adrianna Papell
tres dean Associate Menswear Editor
by
Tres Dean
tres dean Associate Menswear Editor
Tres Dean
Associate Menswear Editor
  • Tres writes and edits articles for The Knot, with a specialty in menswear and suiting.
  • He brings over a decade of expertise in the field garnered as a writer, editor, copywriter, and trend specialist.
  • Before joining The Knot he covered menswear for publications including GQ, AskMen, Men’s Health, Sharp Magazine, Highsnobiety, and Spy.
Updated Dec 15, 2023
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Receiving an invite to a black-tie wedding might send you into panic mode if you're unsure of what this dress code entails, but an opportunity to don your very best attire can be pretty fun. Who doesn't want to feel like royalty for a night in a floor-sweeping evening gown or dapper tuxedo? There's only one wedding dress code that's a step above black tie in formality, and that's white-tie attire. That said, we encourage you to go all out in your finest formal wear for black-tie functions.

Confused about what exactly a black-tie wedding dress code means? You've come to the right place. We're breaking down the etiquette with the help of Marteal Mayer, co-founder of sustainable Brooklyn bridal boutique Loulette Bride. But that's not all—we're also sharing some of our favorite black-tie wedding attire looks for men and women to help inspire your search for new formal wear.

In this article:

THE KNOT ORIGINAL VIDEO

What Is Black-Tie Attire?

Typically, a black-tie wedding requires guests to wear either a tuxedo or an evening dress. "The lines have been blurred over the years, but it is safe to assume that black tie means fancy, and you really can't be too over-dressed, short of wearing a white, floor-length dress yourself," says Mayer. A tuxedo should be your first choice, but if you want to wear a suit instead, a black-tie event typically means wearing—you guessed it—a plain black necktie or bow tie. For those wearing a dress, a full-length evening gown is the norm. Guests are also expected to stick with darker colors, like navy and gray, and deeper jewel tones, like emerald, sapphire, or burgundy.

Black-Tie Dress Code Details & Variations

How does a black-tie dress code differ between men and women? We've got the answers. For upscale affairs and formal dress codes, here's everything you need to know–plus suggestions for shoes, accessories, and more.

Black-Tie Dress Code for Women

For women, black-tie dress codes mean a full-length dress (or a women's tuxedo, if you plan on suiting up–formal jumpsuits work, too). You should pair the dress with heels, dressy flats, or loafers. Short and mid-length dresses aren't going to be the best fit here.

Black-Tie Dress Code for Men

For guys, the black-tie dress code means it's time for a tuxedo. This means the full look–a proper dinner jacket, tuxedo pants, appropriate shoes, and the necessary accessories. No standard suits allowed, even the fanciest of them.

Black-Tie Preferred Dress Code

For a black-tie preferred dress code, guys are going to want to stick with a tux if it's possible. You can generally expect most suit-wearing guests to be wearing them, though if you need to, you can go with a suit. A suit in this case needs to be particularly formal, though–this means a dress shirt (maybe one with French cuffs), a tie, and perhaps a vest if you want to go with a three-piece look. For ladies, black-tie preferred still means a full-length dress, though there's a bit of flexibility–a nice cocktail dress will do in a cinch.

Black-Tie Optional Dress Code

Black-tie optional has a bit more wiggle room than black-tie preferred. Tuxes and floor-length dresses are probably the best move, but a formal suit (again, with a shirt and tie) or a cocktail dress will do just fine. Think of black-tie preferred as the dress code for which you should wear a tux or an evening dress and black-tie optional as the one for which you can wear a tux or an evening dress.

Your Black-Tie Attire Questions Answered

Still have questions about what a black-tie wedding means for your wardrobe? We've got you covered. Read on for our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about black-tie wedding wear.

Does black-tie mean tuxedo?

For the suit-wearing type, yes, a black-tie dress code necessitates a tuxedo. There's wiggle room if the dress code is black-tie preferred or optional but if it's a black-tie wedding, you're expected to wear a tuxedo.

Does black-tie mean black dress?

No, a black-tie dress code doesn't refer to the color of your dress. You should go with a more subdued or evening-appropriate color, sure, but your evening dress at a black-tie wedding doesn't have to be black.

Can you wear a suit to a black-tie wedding?

If the dress code is black-tie without any modifiers, no, you shouldn't wear a suit to the wedding. Whether the dress code states "black-tie optional," "black-tie preferred," "black-tie invited" or just "black tie," you can assume that a tuxedo is your safest bet. The couple and their wedding party will be wearing their best black-tie attire on the big day, and it's respectful for guests to replicate that level of formality in their outfits.

Can you wear a short dress to a black-tie event?

As a black-tie wedding guest, you can't go wrong with a long formal gown (and if you don't get a lot of opportunities to wear one, you might want to go for it!). That said, it's not your only option, especially with a modern black-tie dress code. "For women, a floor-length dress is great, but a more fancy cocktail-length (midi dress) can also work," says Mayer. It's acceptable to wear a tea-length dress to a black-tie wedding, so long as it feels elevated enough and hits mid-calf or below. Opt for something with elegant embellishments (we're big fans of beading) and stick with darker hues.

Can You wear a jumpsuit to a black-tie wedding?

The short answer is yes! Jumpsuits have come a long way in the last few years, and according to Mayer, there are plenty of options out there that are suitable for a formal black-tie wedding. "Not all women want to wear dresses, nor do they have to," she says. Similar to cocktail dresses, make sure whatever style you choose feels elevated enough for an upscale event. We'd recommend avoiding styles with busy patterns or bright colors.

Where to Buy Black-Tie Wedding Attire

To make shopping for your next black-tie wedding outfit even easier, we're highlighting a few of our favorite retailers to jumpstart your search. Pro tip: Make sure to read the return/exchange policy and the conditions of your purchase or rental before you check out.

Saks Fifth Avenue

Saks Fifth Avenue carries an expansive collection of elegant evening gowns and luxe black tuxes from high-end and designer brands, including Mac Duggal, Zimmerman, Halston, Amsale and more. The best part? While you're shopping, look through their accessories for black-tie weddings, from fine jewelry to dapper ties to dress shoes. It doesn't get much better than that.

The Black Tux

Renting is an easy and popular option that allows you to rock a nice tux at a stellar price. One option to consider? The Black Tux. Simply choose your favorite style, then fill out the corresponding fit survey that will recommend the best size for you. Or, if you want a more personalized experience, you can also visit one of their showrooms to get fitted in person.

Nuuly

With Nuuly, you can rent black-tie wedding guest dresses from brands like Anthropologie, ASTR The Label, Urban Outfitters, Hutch, Halston, and more. Here's how it works: Subscribe to rent any six styles, every month, for $88/month. Plus, we have an exclusive deal just for you: Use the code "THEKNOT20" to get $20 off your first order!

Men's Wearhouse

Men's Wearhouse is a classic choice for many wedding guests for a reason. You can buy a tuxedo or you can rent one with their convenient-to-use rental service. To rent, browse through their pre-styled designs, which you can further make your own with accessories. You can pick up the tux at a store or have it shipped directly to your home—the choice is yours.

Anthropologie/BHLDN

Anthropologie and its wedding shop, BHLDN, sell gorgeous wedding guest dresses for all dress codes, especially black tie. Check out Anthro's curated selection of black-tie dresses, which you can further filter by style, size, color, length and more, based on the venue and vibe of your event. While you're shopping, check out BHLDN's wedding guest accessories to dress up your black-tie outfit.

Editor's Picks: Black-Tie Wedding Attire

As we've covered already, tuxedos and long evening dresses are the standards for the black-tie wedding dress code. If you're in the market for some stylish new evening wear, we've rounded up great suggestions, below, which you can buy online with the click of a button.

Sachin & Babi Aubrey Gown in Black

One shoulder black maxi black tie wedding dress
Photo: Sachin & Babi

Sachin & Babi's Aubrey gown boasts a collapsible bow detail on the shoulder that's further embellished with hand-embroidered black caviar beading. Style your outfit with gold or silver jewelry and peep-toe heels.

Size range: 0-14

Suitsupply Black Lazio Tuxedo

Black Lazio Tuxedo for black tie wedding
Photo: Suitsupply

With wide peaked lapels and a classic cut, it doesn't get much more timeless than Suitsupply's Lazio tuxedo. It's available in a made-to-measure cut, so you can ensure the perfect black-tie fit.

Size Range: Made-to-Measure

BHLDN Dylan Satin Maxi Dress in Dark Emerald

Dark emerald satin maxi dress for black tie wedding
Photo: Anthropologie

This gorgeous maxi dress checks all the boxes without feeling over-the-top fancy, meaning you'll likely be able to wear it again even after the black-tie affair is over. Accessorize with a pair of dressy sandals with a heel and a coordinating clutch.

Size Range: 0-16

Bonobos Navy Empire Tuxedo Jacket

Navy Empire Tuxedo Jacket for black tie wedding
Photo: Bonobos

Bust out some navy at your black-tie wedding with this beauty from Bonobos. It's a burst of bold color without stepping outside of the realm of black-tie dress. You won't regret it.

Size Range: 36S-48L

Adrianna Papell Plus-Size Sleeveless Asymmetrical Jumpsuit in Midnight

Black jumpsuit for black tie wedding
Photo: Adrianna Papell

Jumpsuits for wedding guests aren't off-limits. For black tie, you should avoid styles and materials that feel too casual, such as flowy florals or linen. This refined asymmetrical number is a serious upgrade from your everyday, run-of-the-mill jumpsuit. Most importantly, it comes in standard and plus sizes.

Size Range: 14-26

Generation Tux Black Peak Lapel Tuxedo

Black Peak Lapel Tuxedo
Photo: Generation Tux

"Rent" isn't a four-letter word these days. The folks at Generation Tux provide excellent tuxedo rentals for black-tie weddings with a great find-your-fit function and a super easy return process. There's no need to drop a few hundred bucks on a tuxedo if this is the last time you plan on wearing one, but there's also no reason your tuxedo rental can't have you looking your best.

Mac Duggal Satin Empire Waist Ballgown

Red empire waist ballgown for black tie wedding
Photo: Saks Fifth Avenue

Simple and elegant, Mac Duggal's ballgown is a black-tie hit. It's a year-round staple and will look stellar at any evening affairs the calendar brings your way.

Size Range: 2-16

Indochino Highworth Burgundy Tuxedo

Burgundy Tuxedo for black tie wedding
Photo: Indochino

Burgundy is a big black-tie swing, but one you're capable of hitting. Indochino can help with that, getting you a full made-to-measure tuxedo for under $600.

Size Range: Made-to-Measure

Reformation Senna Dress

High neck maxi dress with slit for black tie wedding
Photo: Reformation

Daytime events allow for a little more freedom in dress length and color, making this Reformation number a surefire hit the next time you dress for one. A dramatic pair of earrings or a statement necklace will add a chic finishing touch to this summery ensemble.

Size Range: 0-12

Polo Ralph Lauren Peak Lapel Tuxedo Jacket

Peak Lapel Tuxedo Jacket for black tie wedding
Photo: Ralph Lauren

You can't go wrong with Ralph. For an all-time stylish formal fit, try out Polo's peak lapel tuxedo jacket. From the double-breasted fit to the cool navy tones, it's a black-tie outfit you can be sure nobody else will match.

Size Range: 32-54

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