What Does It Really Mean to Throw a Black-Tie Wedding?

And why do some guests dread seeing these words on an invitation?

formal fall wedding guests
Photo: Michele Beckwith

When you get a wedding invitation in the mail, there's usually one line you zero-in on: the dress code. If it says "cocktail attire," there's often a sigh of relief. "Black tie," on the other hand, is often met with a begrudging groan. The most formal of the dress codes (other than "white tie," which, unless you're transporting back to the time of Downtown Abbey, you'll likely never see on an invitation), often gets a bad rap, for reasons we honestly can't explain. Although the phrase "black-tie wedding" generally refers to the expected attire, that's not all it indicates about the big day. Generally speaking, it's a sign that the couple will likely be hosting a more formal, traditional ceremony and reception.

So, what does this mean for the couple and their guests? In addition to expecting a fancier atmosphere, it's true that a black-tie dress code means you're going to have to get dressed up. To calm your nerves, we're breaking down the black-tie barriers, proving that a night of dressing up isn't all bad. In fact, it's pretty glamorous!

Let's break down the basics: Traditionally speaking, a black-tie dress code denotes a formal, evening occasion, where men are meant to wear tuxedos and women floor-length gowns. Of course, times are a'changing, and the intricacies of dress codes aren't what they used to be. Most people don't follow the rules as strictly as they used to, but know this: If you're throwing a black-tie wedding, the men, if not in tuxedos, should wear dinner jackets and really nice shoes, and the women, if not in floor-length gowns (although preferred), should wear a cocktail dress that's not too revealing in a rich fabric and rich tone. Ultra-glam accessories are a welcome addition.

If a black-tie dress code seems a bit too strict (while people don't always follow it, tuxedos really are preferred), you can host a "black-tie attire preferred" affair, which ever-so-slightly loosens things up, giving men the option comfortable wearing a dark formal suit instead of a tux and women certainly the option to don a cocktail dress rather than a full-length gown. The most important thing is to note your hosts' intentions. If the couple who's throwing a black-tie wedding is going for a more fun atmosphere, you may have a bit more lee-way in your attire, but if they're extremely traditional, it's time to break out that tux and gown!

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