How to Nail Black-Tie-Optional Wedding Attire–and Look Good Doing It

Ace the dress code while feeling like your best self.
Collage of three black-tie-optional guest attire outfits
Photos, left to right: ELOQUII, Anthropologie, Bonobos
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 Jun 04, 2024
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First there was black tie, now there's black-tie optional. If you have a bunch of questions floating around your head, don't worry; you're not the first to try to decode this specific wedding dress code. So, what is black-tie-optional attire? I'm here to spill the tea and help you slay your outfit game by breaking down the meaning and etiquette rules. Not only that, but I'm sharing some of the top examples of what to wear for both men and women, including black-tie-optional wedding guest dresses, jumpsuits, tuxedos and suits. Get ready to turn heads and make a statement as the ultimate wedding guest!

In this article:

THE KNOT ORIGINAL VIDEO

What Does Black-Tie Optional Mean?

Black tie versus black-tie optional, black-tie optional versus formal—breaking down the definitions of these wedding dress codes can be confusing, but I'm here to help. Black-tie optional means that guests have the option of wearing their most formal attire (think: an evening gown or tuxedo) but can also choose to wear a formal suit or cocktail dress instead. Basically, you have some flexibility to play with your outfit. 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. You can either go full-on glam in black-tie-worthy attire or opt for a slightly more relaxed but still formal ensemble.

Keep in mind: A black-tie-optional dress code can be written a few different ways. Some couples write "black-tie preferred," "black-tie invited" or "black-tie encouraged." Typically, these three 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. A daytime reception allows for a little freedom, but 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 dress code? I don't blame you—it's confusing sometimes. Here are a few pointers that might help.

Dress Length and Style

One of the most common things wedding guests wonder about? Dress length. The biggest difference between black-tie attire and black-tie-optional attire is that full-length evening gowns are preferred but not a must. A midi-length dress is also acceptable—just avoid anything above the knee as it will be too casual.

Wedding guest jumpsuits are another gray area for guests. Ultimately, whether or not a jumpsuit is acceptable depends on the style. Avoid anything that feels a little too laid-back (for example, bold patterned fabric) and instead opt for something tailored and elevated. There are a couple of stylish options below to help inspire you.

Black-Tie-Optional Men's Attire

Black-tie-optional men's and gender-neutral attire can be just as confusing as women's attire. Like, what type of jacket do you wear? Well, classic black-tie attire means that tuxedos are mandatory, while black-tie optional means that the tuxedos are, well, optional. It's totally acceptable to swap out the tuxedo jacket for a structured suit jacket and wear an understated tie.

Colors to Wear and Avoid

For black-tie optional, try dark colors such as black, navy and charcoal, and deeper jewel tones like emerald and burgundy. Avoid anything too light or bright, and generally, follow our advice about what not to wear as a wedding guest.

Black-Tie-Optional Dresses for Wedding Guests

Whether you're ready to start shopping or just want to see pictures for inspo, I'm not here to gatekeep any of these black-tie-optional outfits. Keep reading to see some of our favorite dresses and jumpsuits for any and all upcoming weddings.

1. BHLDN Leila Deep-V Flutter-Sleeve Satin A-Line Gown

Short sleeve plunge-neck navy gown with floral print
Photo: Anthropologie

Anthropologie is one of my favorite places to look for both black-tie-optional and black-tie wedding guest dresses. The site offers beautiful styles from a variety of well-known designers in inclusive sizes. The best part? This floral wedding guest dress by BHDLN is suitable for celebrations all year round thanks to the richly colored botanical print.

2. Sachin & Babi Jenny Gown

Long-sleeve V-neck gown with pink and purple floral print
Photo: Sachin & Babi

If you're leaning more toward "black tie" than "optional," this stunning gown is a great choice. The pretty floral print is eye-catching, while the puffed crescent sleeves exude elegance. The empire waist, A-line skirt and side slit complete this breathtaking black-tie-optional ensemble.

3. Lulus Kiska Burgundy Lace Wide-Leg Jumpsuit

Burgundy wide-leg plunge-neck jumpsuit with pockets
Photo: Lulus

If you're a minimalist, this effortlessly elegant black-tie-optional jumpsuit was made just for you. With a chic V-neck, classic burgundy hue and functional side pockets, this sleek and rewearable jumpsuit fits a formal dress code. Plus, you'll have a blast busting moves in the voluminous wide-leg pants.

4. Amanda Uprichard Cherri Gown

Black strapless wedding guest dress with side slit from Amanda Uprichard
Photo: REVOLVE

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 black strapless dress by Amanda Uprichard. The sweetheart neckline, boned bodice and side slit give it a sleek, stylish edge.

5. Solace London Pleated Lila Dress

Yellow wedding guest midi dress from Solace London
Photo: Rent the Runway

If your style is bold and the wedding time or venue leans more relaxed, consider this sophisticated midi dress in a sunny shade of yellow. The asymmetrical cape sleeve is exactly the kind of statement detail I love. Keep your accessories classic and minimal to maintain a black-tie-friendly look.

6. Adrianna Papell High Low Mikado Gown With Asymmetrical Detail

Midnight blue high-low wedding guest dress from Adrianna Papell
Photo: Adrianna Papell

This high-low gown from Adrianna Papell is absolutely showstopping. The rich midnight blue shade is perfect for fall and winter black-tie-optional weddings. The thick fabric makes this gown look absolutely luxurious.

7. Lulus Exceptional Sight Light Blue Floral Lace-Up Strapless Maxi Dress

Blue floral strapless wedding guest dress with slit
Photo: Lulus

Found: your next summer wedding guest dress. This airy blue pick from Lulus is giving "it" girl energy and features fun details all around. From the romantic pattern to its strapless neckline, it's a charming pick for your next luxe occasion.

8. ELOQUII One Shoulder Bow Column Dress

Black one-shoulder midi dress with dramatic bow detail
Photo: ELOQUII

As we already mentioned, shorter dresses aren't off limits for a black-tie optional dress code—so long as you don't go too short. This midi-length dress from ELOQUII looks formal and contemporary at the same time. The column silhouette and asymmetrical neckline were designed to flatter your curves, while the oversized bow adds a memorable touch.

9. ML Monique Lhuillier Sequin Wide-Leg Jumpsuit

Sequin wedding guest jumpsuit from Rent the Runway
Photo: Rent the Runway

What's a black-tie-optional wedding without a bit of sparkle? This glittery jumpsuit comes in a stylish multicolored hue that exemplifies fall wedding attire. The wide-cut leg is right on trend and would look excellent paired with a strappy stiletto or heeled sandal.

10. Bec + Bridge Moondance Dress

Light blue strapless maxi slip dress
Photo: REVOLVE

This sultry slip dress comes in a shade for every season: The Seaspray will look amazing for spring and summer weddings, while the Chocolate is perfect for fall and winter events. An unfussy silhouette means that every detail of this dress gets to stand out, from the strapless neckline to the draped back.

11. Adrianna Papell Sleeveless Asymmetrical Jumpsuit

Asymmetrical high-neck navy blue jumpsuit for wedding guest
Photo: Adrianna Papell

If you're looking for black-tie-optional attire that's stylish and practical, you've come to the right place. This jumpsuit has a fashionable asymmetrical bodice in a chic crepe fabric. Combined with the minimal silhouette, the classic navy color is perfect for celebrations of any season.

12. Lulus Molinetto Burgundy Lace Ruffled Tiered Sleeveless Maxi Dress

Plus-size burgundy lace ruffled tiered maxi dress
Photo: Lulus

We've got plenty more black-tie-optional dresses to come. Check out this formal pick from Lulus in the prettiest burgundy shade. A floral lace overlay and whimsical tiers create a light and airy look that still feels so elegant. And with a V-neckline, defined waist and ankle length, it's a suitable dress for both daytime and evening soirées.

13. Amsale Satin One-Shoulder Gown

Emerald green off-the-shoulder gown for wedding guest
Photo: Saks Fifth Avenue

It's not every day you get to dress up in fancy evening wear. Take this opportunity to wear something truly befitting of the occasion, like this silky floor-length gown. The asymmetrical off-the-shoulder neckline adds character to the column silhouette. Best of all, it comes in multiple sultry colorways, making it one of our favorite black-tie-optional dresses for ladies.

14. Needle & Thread Raindrop Short Sleeve Ankle Gown

Yellow sequin black-tie-optional wedding guest dress with elbow-length sleeves
Photo: Needle & Thread

Needle & Thread's ethereal evening gowns are so gorgeous. Not only will you immediately fall in love with the dress's pop of yellow, but the tonal sequins are a work of art in themselves, creating rows of polka-dot sequin motifs that look like glistening raindrops.

15. City Chic Attract Jumpsuit

Blue strapless plus-size jumpsuit with layered details
Photo: City Chic

Looking for a black-tie-optional jumpsuit that you can pull out for future special occasions? We've found it. Featuring a sleek strapless neckline, comfy elastic waist and wide leg, it can easily be dressed up for a black-tie-optional wedding. All you need is a stylish pair of stilettos and some fine jewelry.

16. Show Me Your Mumu Clarissa Corset Dress

Slate blue square-neck floor-length wedding guest dress
Photo: Show Me Your Mumu

Show Me Your Mumu has a range of black-tie-optional women's attire for every personal style. This chic square-neck wedding guest dress is designed to turn heads and features a showstopping slit and tiered hem. Wondering what to wear to a spring wedding? The Slate shade will look whimsical against a blue sky and blooming florals.

17. Reformation Jeany Silk Dress

Dark floral halter wedding guest dress from Reformation
Photo: Reformation

This sweeping gown is available in five different colorways, but we're particularly keen on the black floral pattern. Feel free to choose whichever design best suits your style and the season, but keep in mind that lighter shades such as champagne should be avoided in case they photograph white. Dress up your outfit with silver jewelry and heeled sandals.

18. ML Monique Lhuillier Dark Floral Embroidered Gown

Dark floral embroidered mesh wedding guest dress from ML Monique Lhuillier
Photo: Rent the Runway

Floral embroidery adds an ethereal element to this illusion mesh gown by Monique Lhuillier. The modest high neckline and long skirt make it a great pick for anyone who prefers more coverage. You can rent this glamorous gown starting at $90 for a four-day rental, or you can purchase it at a discounted rate.

19. ELOQUII Satin Puff Sleeve Pleated Dress

Deep blue wrap satin maxi dress with puff sleeves
Photo: ELOQUII

We can just picture this bold blue wrap dress at an upscale ballroom wedding. This black-tie-optional 'fit features a wrap front and pleated draped detail, while the satin fabric and deep hue keep it chic. It's a comfortable and fashionable pick for your sophisticated soirée.

20. Abercrombie & Fitch The A&F Giselle Pleated Trapeze Gown

Light green pleated trapeze maxi dress for wedding guest
Photo: Abercrombie & Fitch

Looking for something that's just as comfortable as it is chic? Abercrombie & Fitch has a range of stunning black-tie-optional dresses for women, and this pick is a no-brainer. With an elegant trapeze silhouette, halter neckline and eye-catching pleats, you'll be reaching for this effortless maxi for many occasions to come. Better yet, it comes in petite and tall lengths.

Black-Tie-Optional Tuxedos and Suits

On the hunt for black-tie-optional menswear? Don't worry, I've thought about that too. Check out our favorite suave styles for both men and women, below.

1. Indochino Hampton Midnight Blue Dinner Jacket

Navy blue dinner jacket with satin trim and matching pants
Photo: Indochino

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

2. ASOS DESIGN Slim Suit Jacket

ASOS DESIGN slim-fit suit jacket in charcoal
Photo: ASOS

We know that buying a new suit can get expensive, so here's an affordable suit that can work for men's black-tie-optional attire. The single-breasted suit jacket is equipped with notch lapels, a two-button fastening and functional pockets. Meanwhile, the matching fitted pants are crafted from a stretchy, plain-woven fabric. The charcoal is a refreshing shade for formal events.

3. BLACK By Vera Wang Slim Fit Tuxedo Jacket

Black tie tuxedo from Men's Wearhouse
Photo: Men's Wearhouse

Men's Wearhouse is one of our favorite destinations for black-tie-optional tuxedos and suits. If you're leaning more toward timeless luxury, this slim-fit tuxedo by Vera Wang is a worthwhile pick. The set comes with a black tuxedo jacket accented with a grosgrain-faced lapel and matching flat-front trousers. Accessorize with a black bow tie and dress shoes to complete your luxe outfit.

4. Hawes & Curtis Navy Birdseye 3 Piece Tailored Italian Suit

Navy 3-piece suit for black-tie-optional wedding
Photo: Hawes & Curtis

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 an excellent 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.

5. Suitsupply Dark Grey Checked Tailored Fit Havana Suit

Dark grey suit from Suitsupply
Photo: Suitsupply

Suitsupply is a one-stop shop for contemporary men's formal wear perfect for black-tie-optional weddings. This modern suit has a subtle pattern for extra style. Simply add a white dress shirt, then you can officially move onto accessories. A white pocket square and black tie are foolproof options.

6. SuitShop Women's Burgundy Suit

Burgundy women's suit from SuitShop
Photo: SuitShop

Suits are also a great option for women attending black-tie-optional weddings. We love this stunning burgundy pantsuit from SuitShop. It's crafted from stretch-fit fabric for extra comfort, while the dark burgundy shade is suitable for dressy events. Style your outfit with a chic pair of heels or bedazzled loafers.

7. The Black Tux Black & Tartan Tuxedo

Tartan tuxedo from The Black Tux
Photo: The Black Tux

Depending on the wedding style and season, you could also play around with different patterns and textures. This slim-fit jacket is covered in a tartan pattern that looks both fashion-forward and dressy enough for black-tie-optional weddings. Wear it with a black bow tie, white tuxedo shirt and slim-fit tuxedo slacks.

8. The Black Tux Ocean Velvet Tuxedo

Black velvet tuxedo from The Black Tux
Photo: The Black Tux

If you're attending a black-tie-optional wedding in the fall or winter, what about rocking a velvet tuxedo? This soft cotton velvet will add a luxurious element to your overall look. The rich fabric goes well with black pants.

9. Michael Kors Windowpane Suit Jacket

Navy blue windowpane suit jacket
Photo: DXL

This black-tie-optional suit jacket is ideal for your forthcoming outdoor affair. The blue hue and windowpane print make it a great option for daytime events, such as at the beach or garden. Another plus is that it's made with comfortable mid-weight material, making it a great pick for any kind of weather. Style your outfit with the matching pants, a white dress shirt and simple necktie.

10. Bonobos Empire Stretch Italian Wool Tuxedo

Navy Italian wool tuxedo from Bonobos
Photo: Bonobos

Looking for an alternative to your typical black tux? We love this navy option from Bonobos, which features a single-button front and contrasting satin shawl collar. Made with luxurious Italian wool with a hint of stretch, it's an ideal option for fall and winter weddings where you may want a bit of extra warmth.

Kate Ferris contributed to the reporting of this article.

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