2015 Update: Links have been updated on this post; you can also check out our more recent ideas on black tie.
On the off chance anyone’s company is still having their black-tie affair this year, we thought we’d give some advice on what to wear, and what not to wear. (Although the best advice we can give you is: ask a colleague who’s already been to the dance at least once.) Photo credit at left: the perfect martini, originally uploaded to Flickr by berbercarpet
1. First of all, ways to tell dressy formal attire is required: generally, your invitation will tell you what to wear. Secondary clues that dressy attire is necessary:
- the event is held on a Saturday, not a Friday
- significant others are invited
- the event is held in a swank place that is not necessarily well-located near the office
- your company holds two parties: one for staffers (held on a Friday night near or at the office) and one is held for the executives/lawyers (the dress code will be very different for the two events) (check out this advice on what to wear to a more low-key holiday office party)
2. Our first piece of advice: Even if it’s not black-tie, buy a black dress or another muted color — although color is acceptable to wear at some events, this can vary greatly from event to event. (Nordstrom has some amazing sales on plain long gowns — and Rent the Runway is always a great option.)
3. When shopping for your dress, think “classic beauty,” NOT sexy. To this end, avoid skin in unexpected places (see left — the keyhole above the empire waist is trouble). No side-boob, no under-boob, and no dresses with the low-low back (um, at right).
4. Strapless can be acceptable so long as your dress is well-anchored — no chance of things heading south.
5. Cleavage can also be acceptable — a very little amount of cleavage — if it’s controlled. (If you’re on the busty side (same here, sister!), check out our advice on dressing professionally if you’re busty.)
6. No trains or fishtail hems (see below). Seriously, you’re going to be mingling, trying to balance your drink, and trying to indulge in the occasional bite of sushi or pig in a blanket. You don’t want people stepping on your dress in the midst of all that…
7. In fact, a cocktail-length dress (above the knee) can be acceptable if the dress is fancy enough. You can always accessorize with a crystal or diamond brooch, sparkly shoes, a sparkly wrap, etc. If you’re unsure of how fancy the event is, you may want to go with either a fancy cocktail dress or a plain floor-length black dress.
8. Don’t wear anything too outre. Even if you really know your fashion stuff, anything cutting edge can just make you look like a hack. (Remember Patsy and Edina, after all.)
9. Splurge on accessories or shoes. A sequined or beaded wrap, some jeweled shoes, or a quality clutch will all serve you well throughout your life.
10. If time and money allow, get your hair done, but definitely get a manicure. We always find that if you’re shaking hands and talking with people while holding a glass, focus tends to be on your hands and how well manicured they are. If you’re not a polish sort of girl, just get clear or pale polish. If you are a polish sort of girl, we recommend keeping it tasteful and avoiding sparkles and trendy shades like gray. Still, it’s a party — choose a color that compliments your outfit.