Have you ever been invited to a black-tie wedding? I had the pleasure of attending a friend’s wedding that was black tie, and it was one of my first ever. The first thing that went through my mind when I got the invitation to attend my friend Hannah’s formal wedding was, what to wear to a formal wedding?
I’ll be honest, I thought I could get away with this navy beauty and not have to do any shopping. And maybe I could… but I probably shouldn’t. That navy Gal Meets Glam dress is definitely more of a semi-formal wedding look. A black tie wedding means it is definitely formal. Which means only one thing, gowns! It calls for glitz and glamour and I can’t wait to dive head into it!
Since I don’t own a single formal dress, I knew I had to do some shopping. My wedding date, Cathy and I, headed to the one place I knew would be perfect for this to share some formal wedding guest attire options, BHDLN. This beautiful brand was the place my sister found her wedding dress at, where Cathy bought hers. I couldn’t wait to browse and share some beautiful looks to inspire your next formal event.
Formal Wedding Guest Attire
Anytime you go to a wedding, casual or formal, you want to definitely abide by the dress code on the invitation. It’s there for a reason and is always the first thing I check so I can start shopping! The venue, the vibe, the location, and the couple, all play a role in this decision. You can also see some of my essential wedding dress codes broken down here along with dress options. But today I want to talk solely about formal weddings. Black tie affairs, black tie optional and formal. Whenever you see these on an invitation, you’ll want to pull out all the stops for a fabulous dress (or a jumpsuit!).
TIP: I always like to ask someone in the bridal party if I know them (last resort is to ask the bride, she’s busy!) what the bridesmaid colors are. Nothing worse than showing up looking like you’re part of the wedding party when you aren’t! A good rule of thumb is the color is likely part of the invitation!
What Is Formal Attire?
Formal attire is definitely defined as a full-length gown, very fancy cocktail attire from dresses to a really glamorous pantsuit. When it comes to men, formal wedding attire means a tuxedo. And definitely, a bow tie, which I love! The only time a tuxedo is not required is when it’s black-tie optional. The “option” if you will is to go with a very nice dark suit. Navy is my favorite, but black works great too! However, for women, formal attire, black tie, white tie and black tie optional all mean beautiful gowns.
There are several options to choose from when it comes to formal wedding attire. From floor-length gowns that hug the body that are simple, to embellished beautiful voluminous gowns. You can play with your hem a bit like Cathy and I did in today’s post with tea lengths or high lows. It’s a fun modern take on a formal look. My number one tip though is to always think about fabric. This is not the time to bring out cotton floor-length maxi dresses. Instead, choose fabrics like satin, lace, organza and taffeta.
Formal Wedding Outfit Ideas
I wanted to share several great formal wedding outfit ideas. Cathy and I teamed up with BHLDN to style a few stunning dresses that work for formal attire events. From formal beach weddings to formal evening events, here are some great ideas to help you navigate shopping for one of these glamorous events.
Black Tie Weddings & Night Time Formal Weddings
The time you can really go all out on all the things. Think a fun train, lots of ruffles and sequins are fun here too. These dresses can be over the top which is totally acceptable for a black-tie affair. Just always steer clear of white or ivory! Cathy’s lace dress works great for this. But I personally am so in love with my floral sleeveless gown that has a bit of a train. It’s so beautiful and has pockets!
Shop Black Tie Wedding Guest Dresses
Formal Church Wedding
For a formal church wedding, you’ll want to make sure your shoulders are covered and you aren’t too over the top with sequins and major ruffles and things. Keep things a little more traditional out of respect of the church. The below lace short-sleeved tea length dress that Cathy styled is perfect for such an occasion. We want to avoid anything overly sexy and revealing. If the reception doesn’t immediately follow the ceremony, you can change into something different if you like.
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Formal Beach Weddings
If you’ve been invited to a formal beach wedding you can definitely show off those shoulders and play with hemlines a bit. Keep in mind you’re still at the beach so the fabric should be lighter and flowier. And you can have fun with colors and prints. Try lighter colors and embrace pastels. Or you can also embrace bright fun colors too and some prints since it is the beach!
Even though your black-tie event may be at the beach, it still doesn’t mean you can wear tank tops and casual dresses. And definitely leave the flip-flops at home! And depending on the time of day, you may want to bring a light layer like a pashmina to cover your shoulders as it can get cool and windy by a beach. In addition, my number one suggestion for a beach wedding, wear wedges or flats. You’ll thank me later!
Summer Black Tie Weddings
A formal summer wedding will use all of the same tips and rules we’ve covered. Longer lengths, nicer fabrics and elevated accessories. And yes, summer colors! The only real difference here is you want to keep the fabric in mind. We’re leaving the heavier fabrics like velvet and taffeta in the closet if we’re heading to a summer black tie wedding. Instead try lighter fabrics like lace and silk, and also beautiful light chiffon or organza. These all look really luxurious and formal, but will keep you from overheating at a summer wedding event. And while I always advocate for cotton and linen in the summer, this is NOT the time to wear a cotton dress! Formal dress code requires formal fabrics!
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Fall And Winter Formal And Black Tie Wedding Guest Dresses
For cooler months, I always suggest leaning into rich earthy tones. Think burgundy, navy, browns and hunter greens. And embrace more winter fabrics that will keep you warm and match the season like velvet, satin and tafetta. And now’s the time to try a long sleeved dress. A one shoulder dress or sleeveless dress is still appropriate so long as the fabric and color reflect the season. For shoes, I still think you can wear an open toe suede shoe, or a satin or velvet pump. And if you’re heading to a fabulous New Years Eve wedding, go for all the sparkles!
Fall And Winter Formal Wedding Guest Dresses
Under $150 Formal Dresses
So many great dresses in today’s post. But some may be on the pricier end because let’s face it, gowns aren’t cheap! And while not everyone may have the budget for a fancy ball gown, I also understand that even if you DO, you may not want to spend a ton on something you’ll only wear once or twice. I’m in the camp of, it’s just one night, I don’t need something super expensive! Here are some of my favorite formal dresses for formal wedding dress codes that are all under $150. A few favorite brands to shop for affordable formal dresses are lulu’s, ASOS, Maggy London and Dress The Population. I’ve included some of my favorites from them below.
Black Tie Wedding Accessories
Lastly, you want to ensure your accessories also match the black tie dress code. Leave the espadrilles and leather purses at home. This night calls for sequins, sparkles and all things dressy. I like to always bring out my fun small bags, or a sequined clutch. For shoes, You can always be safe in these strappy Steven Madden shoes and get away with them just fine. But to go over the top and really lean into the formal attire, opt for sparkles! Plus, don’t forget a little light jacket or wrap to go over your dress. Here are some of my favorite pieces to wear over a dress to a wedding.
Jewelry can go a few ways. I like to keep things simple especially if the dress is bold and has more sparkle and glam to it. A simple gold hoop or diamond stud works for just about any look. But if you want something more fun, a sparkly earring or maybe fun tassel earrings as I did above is always a great choice. This can really spruce up a simple gown as well and make it feel way more special!
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