From weddings to galas to charity fundraisers and other special events, it’s inevitable that every woman will be invited to at least one formal event in her lifetime. After the initial excitement about receiving such a coveted invitation subsides, one overwhelming question takes precedence above all else: “what am I going to wear?”
Getting dressed up for a formal event can be overwhelming, but it will be easier to nail your look if you understand the general dress codes for the various types of formal events. While evening gowns are suitable for many formal occasions, there are some events for which an evening gown might be considered too over-the-top.
If you’re wondering whether an event you’ve been invited to calls for an evening gown, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about various types of formal events and how to choose the perfect dress for each.
Consider the Type of Event
Generally speaking, considering the type of event you’ve been invited to can help you decipher what you should wear. There are several main events that fall within the formal spectrum. Here are the basics for each.
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Dressy casual and business formal fall on the casual side of the formal spectrum but still require more elevated looks than your everyday casualwear. While these types of events leave the door open for a more relaxed approach to dressing up, you should still plan to push the envelope with sleek and stylish looks.
Cocktail attire is one of the most common dress codes for special events, and it’s one of the most fun to follow. The boundaries for cocktail attire are broad, and the only basic rules are to stay away from gowns, minis, and sundresses. Midi, knee-length, and tea-length dresses are perfect options for cocktail dress codes.
The semi-formal dress code is another popular type of formal dress code. It follows many of the same guidelines as the cocktail dress code and is often used for the same types of events. As long as your look is elegant and your dress length falls around the knee, the rest of the rules are more relaxed than other types of formal dress codes.
If an event calls for a formal dress code, you can usually be safe with a floor-length dress that’s a step down from an evening gown. In some cases, midi and knee-length dresses are appropriate for formal occasions as long as they’re tasteful.
While black-tie optional is on the more formal side of the formal spectrum, it’s slightly more relaxed than black and white tie dress codes. The basic elements of the black-tie dress code should be followed by choosing elegant dresses that are mid to floor-length, but there’s more room to experiment with different silhouettes, colors, and textures.
Black-tie events present the perfect opportunity for an elegant evening gown. A black-tie dress code calls for floor-length gowns in fitted, A-line, or mermaid silhouettes.
White-tie events are the most formal an event can get. Think super-fancy wedding parties, celebrity galas, and state dinners. A simple evening gown is probably the most casual option you can get away with wearing to an event like this, so don’t be afraid to choose the most elegant evening or ball gown you can get your hands on.
Which Events are Most Formal?
Evening gowns are typically reserved for the most formal events and dress codes. Read on for some examples and style tips for these auspicious occasions.
White-Tie Events and Dress Code
A white-tie event is the most formal type of event you can attend. One in which an elegant evening gown is the minimum dress code requirement. White-tie events include:
- State dinners
- Debutante Balls
- Formal evening weddings
- Royal ceremonies
The dress code for a white-tie event calls for long, full-length evening gowns with movement; top off the look with sophisticated high-heels.
Black-Tie Events and Dress Code
A black-tie event is not as formal as a white-tie, but still very formal. Black-tie events include:
- Evening weddings
- Award ceremonies
- Charity balls
The dress code for a black-tie event calls for long, full-length evening gowns, nice evening shoes, and tasteful accessories.
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Black-Tie Optional Events and Dress Code
A black-tie optional event is still formal but a little more relaxed than black-tie and white-tie events. Black-tie optional events include:
- Social events that happen in the evening
- Formal birthdays
The dress code for a black-tie optional event calls for full or mid-length evening gowns paired with heels or nice flats.
While some formal and semi-formal events don’t require gowns, you may be able to wear an evening gown to others. Full or mid-length evening gowns can be appropriate depending on the occasion. If you’re unsure, read the invitation or ask the host.
Dressing for a special event doesn’t need to be an overwhelming ordeal. The more you know about the event and its dress code, the easier it will be to find an evening gown, ball gown; or other dress that perfectly suits your body, personal style, and dress code.
Jonah Levine is the Creative Director of NewYorkDress.com. NewYorkDress.com, established in 2008, is the #1 online source for Evening and Prom dresses worldwide. As Creative Director, Jonah works to create the ultimate online and in store luxury shopping experience with a focus on service and personalization.