How To Dress For A Formal Event: Gala & Black Tie Outfit Ideas!
How to Dress for a Gala
Being invited to a gala is exciting and gives you the opportunity to help raise money for a good cause. However, figuring out what to wear can seem like a daunting task, whether it’s your first gala or your fiftieth. Dressing for a gala can be easy and fun when you follow the dress code and add your own personal style!
Choosing Your Outfit (Women)
Opt for a full-length ball gown if the invitation says the event is white tie.Choose a glamorous gown in a seasonal color, or opt for an always-fashionable black gown. Make sure the gown touches the floor, which is expected for white tie events. Go to a specialty dress store or search online, and have the gown tailored to fit you. If you’re on a budget, consider renting a gown for the event, which can be much cheaper.
- Long gloves are common at white tie affairs, and can complement or match your dress color.
- If you’ve never bought a gown before, look for a shape that complements your body. Pick a size that fits you the best in most areas, and then get the dress tailored to your body shape for the most flattering results.
Choose a classy evening dress if the dress code is black tie.Black tie galas are only slightly less formal than white tie events. Evening gowns that touch the floor are acceptable, but you can look for unique gowns in a variety of colors or with embellishments. Shorter dresses can also be appropriate, as long as they’re fancy.
- When looking for a dress, check specialty stores, the “formal” section of online retailers, and even some department stores. If possible, try on the dress and have it tailored for the best fit.
- Darker colors are generally more acceptable for a black tie occasion, but you shouldn’t feel confined to navy and blue. Feel free to spice it up if you find a gown that speaks to you.
- If you opt for a dress that isn’t floor-length, the hem should hit at or just below the knee. If you have any doubts about your dress, don't be afraid to ask the party planner for clarification.
Think outside the box if the dress code on the invitation is creative black tie.Although it’s one of the most vague dress codes, creative black tie will let your imagination run wild. Don a pantsuit, play with wild prints, or amp up your accessories. However, remember that the overall impression should be formal and tasteful.
- If there’s a specific theme, like a Valentine’s Day gala for charity, try to stick to it within reason. This is your chance to show off your creativity and look uniquely fabulous. For example, you might choose to wear a sparkly red dress, or a dress covered in hearts or flowers. You can accessorize creatively by wearing little cherub wings or carrying a toy bow and arrow!
Wear a LBD if the invitation specifies a semi-formal or cocktail dress code.Dressing for a cocktail party can be confusing, because it’s easy to under- or over-dress, but a little black dress is the perfect solution. When in doubt, select a comfortable and stylish party dress that hits just above the knee in plain black for a classic take. If you want to get more creative, you can choose a dress in a seasonal color.
- If you don’t want to wear a dress, semi-formal events are great for getting creative while still looking fancy. To switch things up, put on a set of classy but colorful separates or a refined jumpsuit.
Picking Accessories and Grooming (Women)
Select the perfect pair of heels for the venue.While most galas warrant a pair of stilettos, check the invitation to make sure you’ll be able to comfortably walk in the pair that you have in mind. If the venue is outdoors or the flooring is notoriously precarious, opt for a shorter or wider heel for added stability.
- Both open-toe and closed-toe shoes are acceptable, depending on the weather. If you’re unsure about what kind of shoes you should wear, ask the party planner to clarify!
- Your shoe color should complement the color of your gown. If you’re in doubt, opt for a basic black satin heel that will match most evening gowns.
- Wearing flatter shoes may make it difficult to walk without tripping on a long hem, so be sure to try on your shoes with your dress and walk around a bit.
- If you can’t or don’t want to wear heels, choose a pair of glamorous flats that complement your gown without drawing too much attention. Look for pairs that have embellishments like jewels or bows, and are made of high-quality materials like patent leather, leatherette, or even suede.
Choose classic jewelry like pearls, earrings, and bracelets for any gala.Regardless of the dress code, wear tasteful, classic jewelry, like a pair of sparkly earrings or a pearl necklace to draw attention to your face and hair. If your gown doesn’t have many embellishments, wear some silver or gold bracelets to add some glamour to the outfit.
- Make sure your jewelry looks valuable, even if it’s not. Gold, silver, and pearls are all acceptable, even if they’re imitation pieces. If you’re looking for sparkle, cubic zirconia is an inexpensive and beautiful alternative to diamonds.
- Remember to balance your jewelry. If you’re wearing a very colorful or large statement necklace or bracelet, pair it with smaller earrings or bracelets. Alternatively, you might choose to wear one statement piece and no other jewelry.
Stick to a small purse with just the essentials.Since you’ll be on the move all evening, pack a clutch with lipstick or gloss, face powder, your ID, a small wallet, and your phone. Some clutch purses have a small, delicate shoulder strap that allows you to use your hands throughout the night, as well!
- Coordinate the color or fabric of your bag to match your shoes. It will pull your look together and make your choices seem thought-out and purposeful.
- Leave the shoulder bags and totes at home since they tend to be bulky and burdensome.
Have your hair professionally styled to save time.Your hair is an integral part of your gala look, so it needs to be polished and perfect. A professional stylist will be able to achieve the best style for your gown. If you have a gown with a lot of embellishments on the back or neckline, consider getting an updo to show them off.
- For short hair, make sure it’s sleek and polished. Your hairstyle should look purposeful, even if it’s shorter cut.
Do your hair at home for a less expensive option.Devote time to straightening or curling your hair at home with quality products, like a styling balm and strong hold spray. Then, leave your hair down for an ultra-glamorous look, or pin it into an updo for a more sleek appearance. You can even try to do a simple braid, as long as it looks clean and professional.
- Classic styles like the French twist, chignon, and curled bun are easier to pull off at home. Try watching a YouTube tutorial and doing a trial run about a week before the event. If it doesn’t work, choose a different style and try it out before the event!
Wear makeup with accented eyes or lips.Keep your foundation and blush looking natural, and use concealer to cover any blemishes. Focus on your eyes or lips as the accent for your makeup look, but not both. If you choose a dramatic eye look, keep your lips a natural nude color. If you’re wearing a deep or bright lipstick, use only mascara and eyeliner to accentuate your eyes.
- For a more natural look, try wearing a light foundation, a few swipes of mascara, and a clear lip gloss. This gives a very subtle but professional look, and allows your clothes to be the focal point of your appearance.
Selecting Your Outfit (Men)
Wear a full tuxedo with tails for any event with a white tie dress code.White tie galas require a tailed coat, matching trousers, a wing-collared shirt with studs and cufflinks, white waistcoat, and a white bow tie. For shoes, wear black evening pumps with comfortable black socks in a fabric like silk.
- The dress code for men is pretty strict when it comes to white tie events, but you can still accessorize with items like pocket squares, cufflinks, and studs. Show your creativity and unique style wherever possible.
Choose a tux without tails for a black tie dress code.Select a tuxedo with a 1 or 2 button dinner jacket, matching trousers, real bow tie, and cummerbund or waistcoat. For shoes, wear black pumps or oxfords to complete the look.
- Although the dress code is black-tie, you can alter the color of the tie to match your date’s outfit for an added fashion statement.
- Stick to black or midnight blue for your tuxedo, unless it’s otherwise specified on the invitation. In the case of “black tie optional” events, you can choose other colors or unique fabrics, like velvet.
Put on a classic dark suit if the invitation says semi-formal attire.Although you don’t have to wear a tuxedo, you should still look put together. Wear a white shirt with a well-fitted black, navy, or charcoal suit with a dark tie. Finish out the outfit with classic, shiny oxford shoes.
- If you want to add some intrigue to your outfit, wear a shirt that matches the color of your jacket and trousers.
Try a patterned suit if the invitation says the dress code is creative black tie.For themed events, get creative with your suit fabric by choosing an unconventional color or pattern. Details like embroidery and embellishments can make your out interesting without being too over the top. If you have a date for the event, try to coordinate with their outfit, as well!
- You can also stand out with your shoes, the color of your button down shirt, and even your tie.
- When dressing for a themed event, try to stick to a specific color scheme to avoid looking like your outfit is mismatched!
Have your tuxedo properly fitted before the event.The key to quality menswear for a gala is a good fit. Visit a tailor to have your pants, jacket, and shirt tailored to your body and style. The tailor will make sure your labels, trousers, and overall appearance are exceptional.
- They can also suggest ways to stand out, especially when all of the men are wearing the same general outfit. They might recommend a printed lining for your jacket, unique braiding on the trousers, or an eye-catching pocket square.
Grooming and Accessorizing (Men)
Pick the best bow tie for your outfit and face.When it comes to formal events, clip-on bow ties are never acceptable. Look for a sturdy fabric in a color that either complements your tuxedo or your date’s outfit. The edges of the bow should align with the outer corners of your eyes.
- If you’ve never tied a bow tie, now is the time to learn! There are many different styles, but the classic semi-butterfly is the most popular. If you’re having trouble, ask the tailor to help you tie the perfect bow.
Accessorize your look with cufflinks and jewelry.Pick out silver or gold cufflinks with gems or engraving on them. If you have a watch with a metal or leather band, you should wear it to the event. It’ll help with staying on time, and it gives a more professional appearance.
- You can also wear jewelry like small chain necklaces or rings, as long as the metals don’t clash with each other or look gaudy.
Make sure you look clean and polished.A few days before the event, get a haircut and tame any facial hair. Good grooming pulls the outfit together and is important for appearing tasteful. On the day of the event, wear your hair slicked back or styled.
- Remember to trim your fingernails and shape your eyebrows, as well. You can get a manicure and an eyebrow wax at a salon or spa.
QuestionFor a black tie charity event, should a vest be worn with a tux, or is that reserved for weddings and proms?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can wear a vest or a cumberbund if you'd like, but both are optional.Thanks!
QuestionIs illusion mesh in the back of a dress appropriate for church dinner?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAs long as it only shows your back and there is not too much of your back showing, it should be fine.Thanks!
QuestionCan a man wear a hat for dinner?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou may wear it, but you'll have to take it off when you enter the restaurant.Thanks!
QuestionWhat is the dress code for a fundraiser starting at 3:00pm for a woman?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on the event. A simple tea length dress and low heels should be appropriate for most events.Thanks!
QuestionCan I show my jewelry to people before a gala event?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can, but this is not recommended. It would be best to keep you entire outfit a secret. You wouldn't want to give spoilers to other people, after all!Thanks!
QuestionDoes the man have to wear a tie to a charity ball?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThat is generally a formal occasion, so it would probably be expected.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do I wear to a business gala?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerDress to impress. Wear something that doesn't scream "look at me," such as a simple look like a black dress with nice high heels, or simple high heels and an interesting evening dress.Thanks!
QuestionCan I wear all black?Top AnswererYes, you can. Black dresses are often a great choice.Thanks!
QuestionIs a mid-length, plain, red dress suitable for a gala dinner?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. It would be very nice, and maybe wear it with some nice jewelry.Thanks!
QuestionIs a cream dress with red roses appropriate for an October gala?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThat sounds a little springy; the same dress in a darker color would serve you greater, in wine or plum.Thanks!
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- When in doubt, ask the host or party planner to clarify the dress code for the event. If possible, get their approval on your outfit in advance.
- If you are on a budget, consider renting a gown or tuxedo instead of buying one.
Sources and Citations
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