Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Black Tie Wedding

Dear Belle,

April showers brings May flowers and scads of weddings. Similar to tour twenty-something peers my boyfriend and I have a couple weddings to attend in May, one of which is a black tie event in North Carolina. In the past I usually looked forward to wearing a classic summer dress with a cardigan and pearls. However this will be my first black tie wedding and I can’t help but feel slightly nervous and anxious about finding something that is event appropriate but still youthfully stylish.

Any fabulous input you may have on how to pull together the perfect outfit would be greatly appreciated.



Polyvore Set Found Here

I firmly believe that short, fancy cocktail dresses are appropriate for black-tie events.  And for a wedding, I think a full length gown might be a bit much.  However, I would check with other guests before I made my final decision. 

This dress, by Lela Rose, has an evening fabric, a flirty shape and enough sparkle for a formal event.  Making it work ro a black-tie affair is all about the accessories.  Here, I’ve added a simple satin sandal, but I would have preferred a peep-toe in satin.  I also added some black chandelier earrings, a sparkly clutch and a fabulous cocktail ring that costs under $100. I would also wear more eye liner and a berry lipstick shade to complete the evening look.

The smartest thing you can do is ask the Maid of Honor (or the Bride if you know her well) what she thinks about long vs. short.  Some brides will be insistent, others will be more understanding that not all of us have gowns in our possession.  If you need something formal, but you don’t want to spend a fortune, try Rent the Runway


    leave a comment

  1. Kay says:

    It's not just a black tie wedding, it's one in the South. For which this dress seems very casual to me (though I would agree that it would be appropriate for black tie charity functions). I have somehow gone to a ton of black tie Southern (and Northern) weddings (and had one myself) and while I typically wear short dresses to these (something like this:, I always note that short dresses really tend to be in the minority at these events, among every age and fashion representation. I wouldn't pay as much attention to the length as to the general formality, and something about this dress fails in that regard, compared to my experience.

    April 21, 2011/Reply
  2. VA says:

    I definitely seconding asking the bride/her mom/her maid of honor re: long versus short. Some people say “black tie” and really mean “cocktail dresses and suits, please,” not realizing that it technically means long formal gowns and tuxedos. Others say black tie and definitely have the expectation of very formal attire.

    April 21, 2011/Reply
  3. VA says:

    Please ignore the awful grammar in the first sentence, I was typing fast.

    April 21, 2011/Reply
  4. Belle says:

    I agree you have to ask. Several years ago, I was invited to a black tie wedding that was full-length gown and tuxedo. The next month the bride's sister married and it was black tie, but it was cocktail and black suit. So you need to check.

    If you look at this dress, it's a very heavy brocade and the fabric is very intricate, so I think it could be okay. But the only way to know for sure is to ask what the bride's expectation is. After all, they're her pictures.

    April 21, 2011/Reply
  5. Lisatella says:

    Thanks so much for this–I have a black tie “requested” wedding on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend (I know…I know) and was starting to panic about the long vs. short situation. I appreciate this advice!

    April 21, 2011/Reply
  6. C says:

    I used Rent the Runway for the first time this weekend and can't recommend it enough! They send you two sizes, so you don't have to worry about fit, and you can even get jewelry and bags. With the increase of weddings in the summer, though, I would recommend booking a dress early so your options aren't limited.

    April 21, 2011/Reply
  7. C says:

    I've only ever been to Southern black-tie weddings, as well as a black-tie cotillion every year at Christmas in the south's oldest city, Savannah, and I'd say that the long dress requirement for black-tie is way out, unless you are one of the girls making her debut or the bride…All of my friends that have gotten married have had black-tie weddings and the groomsmen have worn tuxes or white dinner jackets in the summer, but the bridesmaids have always worn short dresses. The dress needs to be dressy, with appropriately dressy accessories, but I'd say length, especially in May, is a non-issue. It's hot down there, y'all!

    April 21, 2011/Reply
  8. Jaime says:

    I agree with C. I was just at a black tie wedding in NC and only the older ladies were wearing long gowns. In fact, I think the last time I felt obligated to wear a long gown to a formal function was to a sorority formal in college 10 years ago. Sign of the times? Who knows, but you won't be the only one that decided to forgo the hot as heck long gown you will never wear again fiasco. Good luck!

    April 22, 2011/Reply
  9. Kim says:

    Dear Belle,

    I've been following your blog since I moved to DC for college!! I'm approaching graduation in a few weeks and would love some advice in selecting a dress for graduation. Thanks for your time!

    -Scared senior.

    April 23, 2011/Reply