How to Nail the Dress Code at a Black Tie Optional Wedding

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Collage of three black tie optional guest attire outfits
Naoimh O'Hare - The Knot Associate Commerce Editor
by
Naoimh O'Hare
Naoimh O'Hare - The Knot Associate Commerce Editor
Naoimh O'Hare
Associate Commerce Editor
  • Naoimh writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in shoppable roundups from gift guides to wedding fashion
  • Before working on editorial content, Naoimh wrote storefront descriptions for some of The Knot Worldwide's many wedding vendors
  • Naoimh studied creative writing at the National University of Ireland, Galway
Updated Sep 02, 2021
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As a guest, picking out some fancy new attire is one of the most fun parts of prepping for a wedding. There's just one little thing you have to take care of first, and that's understanding the dress code. If you've been invited to a black tie optional wedding, you might be feeling a little unsure of exactly what that means for your wardrobe, as this tends to be one of the least straightforward dress codes. The good news is that we're breaking down the meaning and etiquette rules of the elusive dress code right here so you'll never be confused again. Not only that, but we're sharing some of the top examples of what to wear for both men and women, including black tie optional dresses, suits and tuxedos.

In this article:

What Does Black Tie Optional Mean?

A black tie optional dress code isn't as confusing as it sounds (we promise!). It means that guests have the option of wearing their most formal attire (think: an evening gown or tuxedo) but may also choose to wear a formal suit or cocktail dress instead. Generally, a black tie optional dress code means that the couple and their wedding party will be dressed in black tie. It's therefore courteous for guests to reflect this level of formality in their own attire.

One thing to keep in mind: A black-tie-optional dress code can sometimes appear differently on wedding invitations. Some couples write "black tie invited" or "black tie encouraged" instead. Typically, both of these terms mean that the to-be-weds really want their guests to wear a tux or full-length gown, but will also accept formal suits and dresses (especially if it's a daytime reception, which allows for a little more freedom). An evening black tie optional wedding definitely calls for the dress code's most formal attire.

The Etiquette Rules of Black Tie Optional Attire

Still have some questions about how to dress for a black tie optional wedding? That's what we're here for! One of the biggest FAQs is dress length. Unlike a wedding that's strictly black tie, full-length evening gowns are preferred but aren't the only way to go. A midi-length dress is also acceptable—just avoid anything above the knee as it will be too casual.

Another etiquette rule guests are often unsure of is the type of jacket to wear with their dress pants. Historically, the biggest difference between black tie optional and black tie is that tuxedo jackets are mandatory for the latter. For a black tie optional wedding, it's acceptable to swap out the tuxedo jacket for a structured suit jacket and understated tie. No matter which you decide to go for, darker hues such as black, navy and charcoal are preferred.

Finally, jumpsuits are another gray area for guests seeking out black tie optional wedding attire. Ultimately, whether or not a jumpsuit is acceptable depends on the style. Avoid anything that feels a little too laid back (for example, patterns, brightly colored fabrics and flowy silhouettes) and instead opt for something tailored and elevated. We've included a couple of stylish options below to help inspire you.

Our Favorite Black Tie Optional Dresses

Whether you're ready to start shopping or just looking for inspiration, you've come to the right place. We know where to find all the best dresses (and jumpsuits!) for a black tie optional wedding. Keep reading to see some of our favorite styles for any and all upcoming celebrations.

Cobalt blue asymmetrical evening gown with ruffle layer and one-shoulder neckline

If you're leaning more toward "black tie" than "optional," this stunning gown is a great choice. The saturated cobalt hue is eye-catchingly cheery and the cascading asymmetrical ruffles on the skirt bring a romantic vibe. A dramatic one-shoulder detail adds the finishing touch to this beautiful evening gown.

Glittery bronze-colored jumpsuit

What is a black tie optional wedding without a bit of sparkle? This glittery metallic jumpsuit comes in a stylish bronze hue that'll complement a fall or winter celebration. The wide-cut leg is right on trend and would look great with a pair of strappy stilettos or a heeled sandal.

Multicolor floral floor-length evening gown

Rent the Runway is a great place to look for black tie optional wedding guest dresses. The site offers beautiful designer outfits you can wear for a fraction of the price by renting instead of buying. The best part? If you really fall in love with your outfit, you can decide to buy it after. This floor-sweeping gown is suitable for celebrations all year round thanks to the richly colored florals.

Navy blue sequin evening dress

This opulent evening dress is covered in sparkly sequins, making it a great choice for celebrations around the holidays (or for a starry night theme). The scoop back and cap sleeves add an element of vintage charm.

Long-sleeve velvet midi dress in blue

As we already mentioned, short dresses aren't off limits for a black tie optional wedding so long as you don't go too short. This midi-length outfit feels formal enough for the dress code, especially thanks to its velvety texture. The bodycon silhouette is designed to flatter your curves while the long sleeves will keep you warm no matter the venue.

Pewter-hued cowl neck slip maxi dress

This sultry maxi comes in a shade for every season. The pewter (shown here) is perfect for fall events, the wine color will look amazing in the winter and the dusty rose shade is basically made for spring and summer celebrations. An unfussy silhouette means that every detail of this dress gets to stand out, from the cowl neckline to the thigh-high slit.

Tonal sequin watermelon pink evening gown

Needle & Thread's ethereal evening gowns are an undeniably beautiful sight. While a lot of the brand's elegantly detailed dresses are a little too bridal for wedding guests, this vibrant outfit is a stunning exception. The watermelon pink hue is a distinguishing feature complemented by romantic ruffle sleeves and glamorous tonal sequins.

Navy blue jacquard floral midi wrap dress

We've got plenty more black tie optional dress ideas to come. Check out this formal pick from Lulus in a classic navy blue shade. The chiffon overlay and sleeves create a light and airy look that's finished with an elegant floral pattern. The dark hue and midi length make it a suitable choice for both daytime and evening weddings.

Silky cayenne-colored column dress

It's not every day you get to dress up in fancy evening wear. Take this opportunity to wear something truly befitting the occasion, like this silky floor-length gown. The asymmetrical off-the-shoulder neckline adds character to the column silhouette. Choose between six different colorways depending on your style and the season. The warm cayenne hue is great for a black tie optional wedding in the fall.

Navy full-length dress with frill neckline and back

If you're a fan of frills, you'll love this outfit. The ruffles on the neckline and back add a whimsical touch, while the flowy georgette fabric feels effortlessly romantic. Bonus: It can be customized with a knee-length skirt for slightly less formal events.

Black and white midi length corseted bodice dress

Still not sure what to wear to a black tie optional wedding? Darker, traditional hues can instantly make an outfit feel more formal. Exhibit A: This monochrome cocktail dress by Marchesa. The corseted bodice brings a sultry edge.

Beaded sequin evening dress

This beaded sequin gown is right out of our wildest Great Gatsby fantasies. The Art Deco-inspired look is also available in extended sizing, including plus-size and petite options.

Yellow midi with dramatic draped sleeve

If your style is bright and bold, consider this sophisticated midi in a sunny shade of yellow. The asymmetrical cape sleeve is exactly the kind of statement detail we live for. Keep your accessories classic and minimal to maintain the formal look.

Red flowy V-neck midi black tie optional dress

Looking for a versatile mid-length dress you can pull out for future special occasions? We've found it. This flowy V-neck outfit can easily be dressed up for a black tie optional wedding. All you need is a stylish pair of stilettos and some fine jewelry.

Ruffle tiered slate blue maxi with leg slit

Here's another formal dress for a black tie optional wedding. This high-low maxi dress features fun details all around. The front has a playful leg slit and ruffled hemline, and the back boasts a detailed crisscross design.

Black and white polka-dot maxi dress

Dainty polka dots make this airy maxi stand out without feeling too busy. The long sleeves and skirt make it a great pick for anyone who prefers full coverage. Plus, if you're wondering what to wear to a black tie optional wedding in the summer, the breezy fabric prevents overheating.

Fitted wide-leg blue jumpsuit black tie optional attire

A ruched asymmetrical bodice gives this otherwise minimalistic jumpsuit a unique focal point. Complemented by a flirty V-neckline and wide-cut leg, it's a sleek option for any formal event.

Burgundy long-sleeve lace bodice midi black tie optional dress

We can picture this beautiful burgundy midi at an upscale winter wedding. This black tie optional 'fit features lace detailing on the top half and a glamorous skater skirt on the bottom.

Emerald green maxi dress black tie optional wedding guest

This sweeping gown is available in ten different shades, but we're particularly taken by the regal emerald hue. Feel free to choose whatever color best suits your style and the season, but keep in mind that lighter shades such as champagne should be avoided. The last thing you want to do is compete with the newlyweds.

Blue-green one-shoulder midi dress with bow detail

Looking for something that's a little more tailored to your body type? ASOS has a range of wedding-worthy attire in tall, petite, maternity and plus sizes. This chic one-shoulder midi is designed specifically for taller figures and features a statement bow detail at the waist.

Our Favorite Black Tie Optional Tuxedos

On the hunt for a sleek suit or tuxedo to wear to an upcoming wedding? We've got you. Check out suave styles for both men and women below.

Black tie optional guest attire black tuxedo with double-breasted jacket

Suitsupply is a one-stop shop for contemporary men's formal wear perfect for black tie optional weddings. This slim-fit tuxedo features a structured double-breasted jacket with signature satin-covered peak lapels and buttons. The trousers also have a silk-trimmed outseam to keep up appearances. The icing on the cake? This tux is made from soft and breathable seersucker cotton, making it ideal for warm weather. Simply add a white tuxedo shirt and you can officially move onto accessories. A white pocket square and black bow tie are excellent options.

Navy blue and black dinner jacket with black dress pants black tie optional guest attire

A black tie optional wedding is your chance to don a seriously dapper dinner jacket like this one from Indochino. The website is chock full of stylish men's attire for formal events, including dress pants and tuxedo shirts to complement the jacket. The deep navy blue color adds a unique edge while still looking appropriate for a black tie optional affair.

Velvet women's blazer and pants black tie optional guest attire

Suits are also an option for women attending black tie optional weddings. We love this luxe velvet blazer from Reiss. Pair it with coordinating black velvet pants for a cohesive final look.

Classic black tuxedo black tie optional guest attire

Bonobos is another great place to shop for black tie optional attire online. The site offers a range of dressy suits and tuxedos in extended sizing, such as this Italian wool tux. The set includes a traditional black tuxedo jacket and matching pants—all you need to do is pick out a shirt and necktie or bow tie.

Three-piece navy suit black tie optional guest attire

Of course, it's black tie optional, not black tie period. Feel free to swap out the tux for a structured suit instead. Three-piece suits are a great option because the addition of a vest takes the formality up a notch. Remember to stick with a dark suit, particularly for evening events. Once you've got that figured out, a nice pair of dress shoes will complete the look.

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