What Is a Black Tie Wedding?

A bride wearing a lace dress and a groom wearing a black tuxedo.

Your wedding invitation arrives, and the dress code reads: black-tie. What does that mean? Simply put, a black tie wedding means you’re going to have to get majorly dressed up (which, yes, might mean including a black tie). But a black tie wedding is more than wearing formal dress attire. It’s typically the most traditional and sophisticated type of wedding to which one can be invited. It’s fancy as heck, and is an opportunity for you to feel like royalty for the night. But if that makes you break out into a cold sweat, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered on what you need to know when it comes to a black tie wedding.

What do you wear to a black tie wedding?

Wedding guests toasting with champagne.

Typically, guests are asked to wear a tuxedo or an evening gown to a black tie wedding. You really can’t overdress for a black tie affair, so if you have been saving a really chic suit or dress for a special occasion, then this would be the one.

While a tux should be the first choice for men, a nice suit is an acceptable substitute. A dinner jacket is also a fine choice. No matter what type of suit you’re wearing, you should definitely include a black tie or bowtie (hence, the phrase “black tie”). For women, a full-length dress is the norm. So, no mini-dresses or skirts. If you don’t have a long evening gown, you can definitely choose a tasteful dress that hits just above or below the knee; just ensure it’s elegant and feels elevated enough to fit in with the vibe of the evening.

Shoes are to be kept classic and timeless, whether you choose a pump or a high-heeled sandal. Accessories are another must at a black tie wedding. After all, this is a time for you to literally shine with any bling you might have. Elegant embellishments, pearls, gemstones, and diamonds are all welcomed at this type of fancy soirée.

As far a color palette goes, aim for muted and neutral tones and colors, like black, white, grey, and navy blue or deeper jewel tones like emerald green and ruby red.

What to expect from a black tie wedding

A wedding reception decorated with tall florals and white linens.

Traditionally, black tie weddings are an evening affair and start after 7 pm. Expect the wedding to be held at an elegant venue, like an ornate ballroom or a fabulous hotel, as to ensure the ambiance is luxurious and filled with opulent details. While the color palette is traditionally minimal (think black and white, cream and navy, or delicate pastels) the vibe will look like something out of a Hollywood extravaganza. Beautiful romantic candlelight, rich tablescapes, and glam linens and decor galore. Don’t be surprised if there’s large buildouts, draping, and customized floral walls. Anything that screams luxury belongs at a black tie wedding.

A cocktail hour is standard and you can expect a top-shelf bar and a signature drink for the couple. Wine will also be served in addition to champagne for toasts. The menu is usually highly stylized and elevated. Artisanal dishes are the norm at a black tie wedding, and you might even find yourself almost afraid to touch the food since it will be presented so beautifully!

When it comes to entertainment, don’t be surprised if you’re treated to something a little more upscale than a DJ or an online playlist. A live band or string quartet (or both) are popular choices for music. Of course, there will be dancing—just probably not the type you might expect at a more casual event. There might even be extravagant touches of entertainment like a fortune teller, dancers, or a firework display.

Being invited to a black tie wedding might cause a bit of anxiety for those who feel a bit intimidated by the magnitude of it all, but you needn’t feel that way. Attending a swanky party such as a black tie wedding is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that will leave lasting memories. Plus, it gives you the excuse to finally wear that very fancy dress!

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