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What to wear to a black tie optional wedding

May 6, 2024

As you might’ve noticed, 2024 is the year of the wedding dress code, with couples moving toward more formal celebrations. Of course, no matter how laidback a couple is, a wedding is always an elevated special event. But rather than stick to tradition for tradition’s sake, couples are wanting to give guests a rare opportunity to dress according to theme and be involved in the festivities through fashion. So, you may be seeing “black tie” and “black tie optional” dress mentioned on your invites.

Black Tie wedding attire

But don’t fret! In our guide to dressing for black tie optional occasions, you’ll find a little something for everyone: ball gowns, floor length gowns, elevated cocktail dresses, elegant suits, and some statement shoes and accessories too, and the right time to opt for each. Shall we?

gold and black wedding guest fashion at black tie optional wedding
Jana Williams

What does “Black Tie Optional” mean, exactly?

If your invitation reads “black tie optional,” black tie dress is highly encouraged, but you have a little flexibility with how formal you’d like to get. You’re being invited to an event at an elevated venue, with food, drink, and décor that sets the tone for black tie attire. A ball gown wouldn’t look out of place here, so if you’ve been vying for the chance to give one a whirl, now is the time. It also means that many guests will be in black tie attire. People love the chance to dress up, and nobody wants to look underdressed at a wedding or special event, so you can expect plenty of guests to don floor length dresses and tuxedos.

That said, black tie optional dress codes give you more freedom than the invite that drops the “optional” bit. The hosts are inviting you to dress up, but you can choose whether to opt for slightly more relaxed formalwear like cocktail dresses and suits or go all-out with black tie.

colorful wedding guest dresses
Jana Williams

Guests understood the assignment in this glamorous California spring wedding!

colorful formal wedding party attire
Norman & Blake

Black wedding guest dress and tux
Brett Loie

Guests in black at a glamorous Palm Springs wedding at Sands Hotel.

Black Tie Optional for Men

Black tie optional dress for men means that you can wear a suit instead of a tuxedo, but you should consider how it will fit in with all of the other black tie dress at the event. A dark suit is recommended, but guys also get creative with the tie or bowtie, pocket square, and undershirt as well as textures within the suit itself.

Womens black formal wedding fashion
Les Loups

gold wedding guest fashion
Erich McVey

What does Black Tie Optional mean for Dresses?

Women will likely be in floor length dresses at a black tie optional wedding or event, but you can expect guests in formal cocktail dresses (think chic dinner party, not party dress) too. Accessories, jewelry, hair, makeup and shoes all contribute to your final look, so if you fall in love with a cocktail dress rather than a gown, you can always dress it up!

pink wedding guest dress
Mary Kate Steele

Formal wedding fashion at Black tie optional wedding
Anne Rhett Photography

Consider the Season, Style, and Venue

As with any wedding, there are other considerations to make when dressing for the event. Consider the season, especially if the couple are tailoring their wedding theme and palette to it, such as a garden wedding in the springtime or an indoor affair in winter. Invitations tell a lot about the wedding style, as do the events leading up to it, so take cues from information the couple has already shared. Black tie attire can fit into an event in any season, but this can guide you to colors and styles that fit the vibe! Lastly, look to the venue for inspiration for your outfit; from a historic estate to a farm to a country club, there are many ways to match your dress to the ambiance.

mens wedding guest tux
Perry Vaile Photography

This Hilton Head wedding on the beach featured black tie attire while remaining true to its playful spring vibe and outdoor setting.

pink and black wedding guest dresses
Bring Me Somewhere Nice

Bride and wedding guests at glamorous black tie optional wedding

Glamorous formal dresses at a garden wedding in Carmel Valley.

Shop Black-Tie Optional Wedding Guest Fashion

And, find more wedding guest fashion in our guide here!