How to Do Black Tie on the Cheap

Caparros - Webster (Black/Clear Satin) - Footwear2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to do black tie on the cheap, but you may also want to check out all of our posts on holiday business etiquette.

How do you do black tie on a shoestring budget?  Reader J wonders…

I am a law student who will be working at a firm over the summer. I am expected to attend a black tie event, but I don’t know what to wear nor how to find the dress without breaking the bank. I am also hoping to find a dress that is multi-purpose, so that it won’t gather dust in the closet until the next black tie affair comes along.

Congratulations — black tie events can be a lot of fun, and I don’t think we’ve covered them in quite a while (see my advice for what not to wear to a black-tie, as well as how to dress for a black-tie affair at the last minute).  Here are my tips:

  • If you’re going to splurge on anything, splurge on shoes and accessories. You can wear these pieces to a multitude of different events, so your cost per wear is much less than it is for one-time-only items like dresses.  Comfortable shoes are particularly important — although most business black-tie functions do not have dancing (at least in my experience), you can be on your feet for hours enjoying cocktails.  You can borrow a clutch or wrap if you’re really on a budget, but I would urge you to keep an eye out for these pieces, and when you find one you love at a decent price, consider snapping it up.  If you have a wrap, a clutch, and fancyish shoes, you can make almost any black dress look appropriate for a black-tie event.  (On the converse, if you have a full-length black gown or other great black cocktail dress and then wear it with regular accessories, nothing looks worse to me.) Local places like DSW and TJ Maxx will have great deals on shoes; you can also look to 6pm and other online deal places.  If you already have a favorite brand of comfortable heels, see if they make evening shoes as well.  I would stick with black, gold, or silver shoes for the most versatility, but that’s just me. (Pictured above: Caparros – Webster (Black/Clear Satin) – Footwear, on sale at 6pm for $49.)
  • Do your hair yourself.  If you can do your hair in a fancy-ish way by yourself (put it in curlers, or have a friend help you put it up in a fancy up-do), this is a big place to save on money.  A Cup of Jo has some great tutorials; I’m sure YouTube has a million more.
  • The dress.  The dress is probably the thing you’re freaking out about, right?  I remember for my first black-tie event.  The joke around the office was that it was my law firm’s Prom, and for weeks the first-year associates wondered what the heck we were supposed to wear. (Apparently “ask a more senior associate” didn’t occur to us.)  Were we really supposed to show up in a long dress?  Wasn’t that a bit crazy for a work event?  So I bought a black knee-length velvet cocktail dress, wore it with plain black heels, and, I think a fancyish clutch . . . and I never felt so underdressed in my life!  I honestly think if my shoes had been fancier I would have felt better about it, but for every subsequent Prom I got a floor-length dress.  I will say that if it’s a black-tie event after work (such as when it’s for a charity and a client has bought a table there, for example) that I saw more women wearing shorter, cocktail-length dresses (if not pants) for the event… whereas if it was a Saturday night type affair, longer gowns were far more common.  Here are few tips for you to save money on the dress:
  • Befriend a slightly more senior coworker who has your body type — and then ask her if you can borrow something.
  • Rent a dress, such as through Rent the Runway.  Your cost-per-wear for black-tie dresses can be quite high, so renting them often does make more sense.
  • Check out consignment stores.  You may want to do some legwork before you start heading out — ask around in your town, and perhaps call ahead to the the store to see if you can get an idea of their inventory.
  • If you have old bridesmaids dresses, take a second look at them.  If they’re otherwise acceptable to wear to the event, you might be able to dye them black.
  • Stalk the sales!  I remember getting a full-length skirt and a matching top from an Ann Taylor outlet store for $9.99 for each piece — but that was truly a “right time, right place” kind of sale.  (And it was January, if I remember correctly, which is around the time you see a lot of good sales on this stuff.)

Readers, what are your tips for doing black-tie on the cheap?  What have you worn to different black-tie, work-related events?

Social media picture credit: Pixabay.


  1. Merabella :

    I found an awesome hair tutorial channel on YouTube. It is LetsMakeItUp. She has a lot of updos taken from TV shows and movies and would be perfect for DIY hair for these events. She also has good make-up tutorials.

    As for clothes, you can find awesome black-tie event stuff at Goodwill. Stalk the high income area Goodwill for great pieces, I’ve gotten several great c*cktail dresses there for around $10-$15.

  2. Salary/Employment/Law Threadjack

    I just graduated law school and am fortunate enough to just have gotten a job offer (for those of you still searching, the market is picking up!). It’s with a small firm that I have a history with. They’ve given me a decent salary offer but I feel like I should negotiate.

    1. Whether to Negotiate: I don’t want to be one of those women who is too shy/not confident enough to negotiate salary. This is just their first offer, and I know that they have negotiated with others in the past. However, I also know that they low-balled those other attorneys and they are not low-balling me. I would in fact be happy with this salary, but I don’t want to cut myself short. I’m leaning yes.

    2. Negotiation: Because this is a reasonable salary (probably around 75th percentile for the size of firm/location) I’m at a loss for how to ask for more. I have a good relationship with the hiring partner but this makes me feel SO uncomfortable. A higher salary would obviously be more helpful (loan repayment, basis for future raises, etc.) but I don’t want them to think that I’m being completely unreasonable or greedy/etc. Help.

    • You can negotiate benefits, e.g., bar costs, admission costs, vacation/sick time, etc.

      You should absolutely negotiate. You can say something like, “I am very excited to work here, but …” If you feel awkward, just think about it like this – they are hiring you to represent clients, they expect you to know how to get the best deal for them and, correspondingly, for yourself.

    • Former Earner :

      Tell them that you just read about the Israeli supreme court’s recent opinion about a woman who worked at the Israeli version of Home Depot. She asked for 17 shekels/hour. A man with her exact job, history and qualifications asked for 26 shekels/hour. Home Depot paid each what s/he asked for. And tell them you just don’t want to be that woman.

      Here’s an English article about the opinion:

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      “Thank you for your offer. I am really excited about the opportunity to work for you. Is it possible to start my salary at x?”

    • I recently accepted a position and for the first time in my career negotiated a salary – with a government agency no less. The way I put it was: “Thank you for the offer. I was hoping to start at X amount. Is there any way the offer can be increased?” It worked out very well.

      I talked to my husband, who works in the sports industry and negotiated an astronomical raise last year, about it. My reaction to their initial offer was I am “worth” more but he said to put it in terms of “hope” and let them take it from there. In hindsight, I probably should have asked for even more, but I am happy how things worked out.

  3. What’s the geography? Here in Philly, black-tie usually gets you a mix of women in short vs. long gowns. My goal in dressing for fancy-work is to fit right in the middle, formality-wise – that means a dressy c-cktail dress and great heels. My go-tos are all dark colored satin and have relatively high necklines, because that is the LAST thing you want to be fretting about (my favorite is a boatneck with a v-neck back that dips just above bra strap height).

    You might check the j.crew sale section – with the number of “bridesmaid” choices offered, there are a huge array of necklines and dressy fabrics that would be perfect.

    • I was going to say the same thing about length – that’s really regional. Long gowns are always more popular in NYC/Boston than most of the rest of the country (speaking as a former eveningwear buyer.) I’d ask colleagues about length – depending where you live and the current trend in dress lengths you could really stick out in a long dress.

  4. Go to eBay and type in “Tadashi.” I got 2400 hits. I’m sure there is something both affordable and appropriate there.

    Agree with Kat on the nice shoes and accessories, and DEFINITELY also the advice on asking a more senior coworker whether dresses are long or short.

    • Wow – these shoes are pretty

      • I so want these shoes – but in Sapphire, which is completely impractical! Darn you, mamabear!

  5. Are people really seeing lots of floor length gowns at black tie events? Maybe it’s regional (although Kat’s also in NYC) but I rarely see actual floor length dresses anymore on anyone in their 20s and 30s.

    • Here in Boston, it tends to be a mix of cocktail dresses and long gowns (though the long gowns tend to be fairly simple, nothing too elaborate). Tends to depend slightly on the event though.

    • G*d d*mn moderation for c*cktail.

      Here in Boston, it tends to be a mix of c*cktail dresses and long gowns (though the long gowns tend to be fairly simple, nothing too elaborate). Tends to depend slightly on the event though (weekend/charity galas you’ll see more long gowns, after-work or bar association gals get more c*cktail dresses generally, at least in my experience).

    • Every black-tie event I have been to in my biglaw life is an after-work, charity-ish, cocktail-dress event. Only the older women wear long dresses. Only the socialites get their hair done. You really don’t have to put in that much effort, I think. Men wear their hideous prom tuxes that look cheap and fit badly. These kinds of things are far from Academy Award-type events.

    • Reposted without the coattail word.

      Every black-tie event I have been to in my biglaw life is an after-work, charity-ish, coattail-dress event. Only the older women wear long dresses. Only the socialites get their hair done. You really don’t have to put in that much effort, I think. Men wear their hideous prom tuxes that look cheap and fit badly. These kinds of things are far from Academy Award-type events.

      • agree! and many many guys will show up in a dark suit. at the most recent black tie charity event my SO and i attended together he wore a tux and an older gentleman (also in a tux) came over and THANKED him for observing the dress code that others flagrantly ignored. it was kind of funny because tuxes were in the minority.

    • Interesting; at all the black tie events I’ve been to, it’s been 95% or greater floor-length dresses.

      • Yep, I had Kat’s experience with being one of the only women in a short dress at my first. After that, gowns all the way.

        And this was in Los Angeles.

        • MissJackson :

          This makes me sad, as I haven’t had the occasion to wear a full gown in years. Pittsburgh, get it together!

          Maybe I’m just not attending the right events.

          • eastbaybanker :

            Me neither! All my work/charity events are c*cktail attire where business attire passes. I have been debating going to the opera opening night or something, just for an excuse to wear black tie.

          • Nah, I went to some swanky things in PGH when I lived there, and I really never saw anyone under the age of 55 in a gown. Sad, really. Though I do miss the city horribly.

    • In NYC shorter dresses are fine in my experience. i tend wear knees-covered bright colorful silk dresses with light metallic shoes in the spring/summer and lbd’s with some shimmer and dark accessories in the fall/winter. i usually am mid-dressy at all events, sometimes leaning toward more-dressy.

    • I am also in NYC. I have generally seen the vast majority of women in black tie charity events wearing shorter dresses. Probably 80/20 split between short and long.

  6. Blonde Lawyer :

    So for the quick threadjack –

    Associates, how do you refer to the partners when the people you are speaking with don’t know them by name? I’m in a very small firm and mostly work for one partner. For example, I’ll be on the phone w/ a potential client and will have to say “we could likely do that, I just have to get the okay from a partner here and I”ll get back to you.” Occasionally, I have accidentally caught myself saying “my partner” which isn’t correct because I’m not a partner. But it is a one partner to one associate type firm so I’m “his associate” and he is “my partner.” With ongoing cases, I can just say “oh, I have to check with Joe and will call you back.” But it is when people don’t know “Joe” I have to specify and “check w/ my boss” doesn’t sound right either. Ideas?

    • Former MidLevel :

      I would probably say “my supervising partner,” or “Joe X, the partner who would work on this matter with me.”

    • I struggle with this too. Like you, I do most of my work for one partner, so it’s easy to think of her as “my” partner.

      I try to avoid this awkwardness by working the partner into the introduction I make to the client/opposing counsel, etc. “Hi my name is ELS and I’m working with Partner X on this case/matter/deal/what-have-you.” Then later, when I need to go get Partner X’s approval on something, I can say something like, “That seems like a viable course of action. Since I am working with Partner X on this matter, I’ll pass that idea along and follow up with you by Y date.”

    • soulfusion :

      I use “colleague” but in more casual conversations I have said “my partner” and then realized people assume I mean my SO. A male friend of mine shared an amusing story recently about introducing his business partner (also male) as his “partner” in a business setting and the awkwardness of correcting the misunderstanding. Law firms are weird since we don’t really have a “boss” but often end up working for a partner and saying “my partner” can lead people to believe they are in fact your business partner or significant other so in your example I would say something to the effect of “let me discuss it with my colleague and I will get back to you.”

      • I think colleague is the way to go. It has the side benefit of not undercutting your own importance. (They’ll figure out that the colleague is senior to you, but you retain a bit more authority.) If it’s a situation where you’re deliberately trying to downplay your authority, which could happen, I think “boss” is fine.

    • I always just said “my partner.”

    • This is why you should all work for LLPs and then you can refer to them as “my shareholder” or “the shareholder” — so much less awkward. ;-)

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        Good point. I’m actually at a “professional association” but everyone still uses the partner/associate lingo.

    • you go with the same language the partner would use to describe you — my colleague.

    • MissJackson :

      I think I would say, “the partner” or “the supervising partner.”

    • I was just thinking about posting this same question today! I have a hard time in particular when discussing it casually (most of my family has no experience in the legal world outside of watching Law & Order). Sometimes I just say “my boss”, but that always sounds strange to me, but I’m not sure how else to say it.

    • Wannabe In-House :

      I say something like “Mr. X, the partner who manages ____ types of cases” or “Mr. X, the partner overseeing your case.”

      I think “my partner” sounds too much like your business partner – as in – you are a partner in the firm too.

      • Seattle Lawyer Mom :

        Definitely don’t use “my partner” unless you are a partner too. It would be completely misleading to other lawyers, who will hear “my partner” and think you mean you are both partners. Just say “the partner” or “Jane, who’s in charge of this case.” I don’t like “my colleague,” since that sounds like you’re trying to obscure the fact that the partner out-ranks you. I don’t like “my supervising partner,” since that puts too much emphasis on your need for supervision.

  7. karenpadi :

    I’ve been to “black-tie” affairs in LA and the Silicon Valley for work so this is likely West coast specific.

    I’ve always worn a LBD that’s dressed up with fancy accessories. If it’s a weeknight, I wear a suit or my LBD with a blazer and pearls. If it’s a weekend, I wear the LBD with flashy costume jewelry, fancy shoes, and dramatic make-up.

    I have a friend who does cruises. She keeps a constant eye open for formal dresses on clearance racks and gets some really good deals. She buys dresses even when she doesn’t have a specific plan to wear them and always ends up wearing them within a year. For LBDs, I kind of do the same: I keep an eye out and if I find one that fits, and is less than $150, I buy it even if I don’t have plans to wear it.

    • Agreed. I’m also west coast. One good LBD and an assortment of accessories goes almost anywhere here. I have a pair of good black dressy pants and matching top + rotating accessories, sometimes more flashy, sometimes less so. Seldom need anything else.

    • Second the advice on clearance racks. I bought a number of formal dresses and tops at Loehmanns, and all were under $80.
      When the school prom season is over, there will be tons of formalwear on clearance in dept and discount stores.
      I needed a clutch in a particular color and ended up getting it from eBay for like $25, which included shipping from China or HK.

      • migraine Sufferer :

        (My wedding dress was a white prom dress on sale for under $99! I got lots of compliments. I second prom wear on sale.)

      • Absolutely agree with you. Don’t forget end of season sales. Depending on your timeline, you can always wait for stock to flip. I bought the gown for my law formal in end of Jan/Feb right before grad season really started for about $160 for a dress that should have been $300-$400. I usually have equal luck in July or August for more cocktail styles.

    • I need to do this. For my last cruise I ordered a few dresses online at decent deals…but by the time they arrived and I tried them on and sent them back…the deals didn’t feel so great AND I just found one that I thought I had returned in my closet! I think I can still return it as it was Macy’s online and I can just take it to the store, but I’m still annoyed! :-)

  8. black tie optional :

    I have a black tie optional wedding in Ohio this summer. I picked up the Sophia dress in silk tricotine from J.Crew when it was on super sale (only managed to get the light blue). I think that the dress will be appropriate and plan to dress it up with accessories. Do you agree that the dress will work? What kind of shoes would you suggest (looking to spend $100 or less, low heel–2.5” or less)?

    • I would think the sophia dress would work. It’s a classic cut, and the silk tricotine is a dressy fabric. I have one in black I wear to events. They key will be to style it in a way that doesn’t scream bridesmaid. I would try to find some bold accessories and make sure to steer clear of pearls or anything too delicate.

    • migraine Sufferer :

      I also bought the Sophia when it was on super sale. I got it in the wine color and plan to wear it with orange(!) accessories the next time I’m called to a formal event.

      • black tie optional :

        I love the wine color. It was sold out in my size by the time I convinced myself to get it, though.

    • layered bob :

      oooh this was my wedding dress. I *love* the dress… so comfy, so easy to wear. I agree with bold accessories.

      • ME TOO! I loved getting married in something so classic and simple, and not constricting :)

  9. You probably don’t need to bother getting your hair did, so there’s a money saver.

    • I bought some great black satin shoes for $30 at Payless. They are my “fancy shoes.” Done.

  10. It’s all about sale racks. I bought a floor length gown for $50 last August at Bloomie’s for a wedding that weekend. I got more compliments on that than almost any other dress I’ve worn. As much as Kat says its about the shoes, and I think to some extent that is true, if you are wearing a floor length dress, you can probably get away with simpler shoes. But if you want to dress up a cocktail dress, then definitely dress up the shoes.
    You can also get a free makeover at most department store counters if you make an appointment in advance – without a minimum purchase.

  11. SoCalAtty :

    Semi-relevant TJ – the shoes pictured are perfect for black tie/evening events, I think….but I need something for the office to wear with skirts/dresses.

    I have never, ever been a skirt person unless it was really required, like on those dreaded skirt suit just in case interviews. I’ve started wearing them at least once a week to the office because I was getting hives from my drycleaner (switched, all better!) and I was trying to let my legs get some air. Now I seem to like skirts! Anyway, I really only just have boring shoes. I’m not so much a shoe person either (unless it is for any of my assorted outdoor sports…), so I need some help. What are some cute summer appropriate shoes to wear with skirts? I don’t like pointy-toed things, but other than that I don’t have a preference.

    This is a pretty casual office (just us 3 attorneys!) and it isn’t unheard of for the female partner to wear very nice, very fashion foward stuff. Think peep toes, and maybe even something sandal-ish would be totally fine here. I also want something I can wear more than once a week and is semi-comfortable. My go to so far has just been a basic black 3′ heel pump (really nice from Taryn Rose before the company had weird things happen, but not super exciting). I’m 5′ tall, in decent shape, and am comfortable with heels. So thing sporty short person :) My skirt colors are white, black, dark grey, and one light tan/khaki colored. Wow, in writing that is a little boring too!


    • How about a fun espradille wedge sandal in a fun color? Like this:

      There are a bunch of similar things out there in a ton of colors. You could get something that would go with a any of those colors of skirts.

      • Something close-toed like this might also work, if you were looking for something a little more summery casual, but maybe also conservative.

    • I bought these in both taupe (really a nude color) and black and would probably wear them all the time if I had a smaller shoe collection.

      I’m a low heel person, but you can find similar styles in higher heels pretty much everywhere.

      • Here’s a similar style with a heel rather than a wedge

        • Here’s a Stuart Weitzman with a higher heel. The snake would probably fly as a neutral in SoCal

          • SoCalAtty :

            Love all of these, but mamabear I LOVE your suggestions. I think I’m going to go with one in the taupe and maybe one of the slingback/peeptoe styles in black or another color. Also…there is a 20% coupon for May so this is going to be a multiple pair order! Yay thank you!

    • Warning – completely non-sensible shoes ahead.

      I got a pair of yellow peeptoe Nicoles and a pair of ombre spotted (like polka dots in shades of black-dark gray-lighter gray) peeptoes from Bandolino. They’re on Endless, I’m too lazy/busy to find them now (plus I need to stay away from Endless!). Both are ~ 2 inch heels and are quite comfortable. The Bandolinos are synthetic, which I normally don’t like, but these are pretty comfortable. I think both will be nice for summer. The Nicoles probably come in other colors, too.

      Or, just go to Endless, filter by your shoe size, heel height, price, and maybe styles. You can also search by color. Black and brown are practical, but I really recommend a metallic (pewter or bronze) and maybe one fun color (yellow or purple, or olive, olive is actually very versatile).

    • Try the Naturalizer website and look for peep toes in a brighter colour that you are comfortable with. I have a pair that are about 2.5in and zebra fabric. It may take some hunting, but every season they seem to have a few cute options that don’t break the bank or the feet.

  12. Get a basic LBD that you can change up with different shoes and accessories. Something like this:

    • I have this dress, and it is also the perfect LBD for dressing up for black-tie or down for cocktail (lucky sizes only unfortunately). They also have a similar version in other colors and a version with shoulder coverings.

    • OMG. I hate the word c*cktail with all my might (though clearly I love it since I use it ALL THE FRIGGIN TIME).

      I have this dress, and it is also the perfect LBD for dressing up for black-tie or down for c*cktail (lucky sizes only unfortunately). They also have a similar version in other colors and a version with shoulder coverings.

      • MissJackson :

        I have that dress in a different color (this seems to be a constant in the adrianna papell line — mine is blue) and it is crazy flattering. I highly recommend it, too.

      • I have basically that dress from a few seasons ago, as well. Got it in black as my LBD and love it. Be forewarned, though, that because it’s been so ubiquitous at Nordstrom and a constant offering by the designer, I’ve seen MANY people wearing it for various occasions. So there’s a chance someone else might be wearing it if you do…

        • True story. I showed up at an event once and one of the partners from my work was wearing the same dress in a different color. But I don’t even care. Its SO flattering. :-)

          • I once showed up to the wedding and someone was wearing the (95%) same dress as me; I wouldn’t have cared at all, except it was the mother of the groom!

            It was an white top/black bottom adrianna papell


  13. Wait, can we honestly not say the word “cocktail” in comments? It’s in the post 4 or 5 times! And it’s not an inappropriate word!

    • The whole moderation issue escapes me. I constantly see posts that sub in random characters for letters (e.g., “where can I find a [email protected] that will fit my b**bs?”), but I have never had any post put in moderation, even when using words that others find questionable. Perhaps they are just being overly cautious?

      • Yup, I have no idea what will or won’t get me into moderation, so sometimes I just guess. :-) Hence the boobs and the bra thing probably (watch this go into moderation now…lol.)

    • I know! Kat fixed the word “petite” a few years ago I believe – it was getting caught for containing “t-t” – so I have no idea why c*cktail is still getting banned.

    • Fortunately no one is posting about interviewing for a job in Scunthorpe.

  14. LA Restaurant? :

    LA ‘rettes, I need some suggestions for dinner this Sunday.

    It will be 3 grade school friends who haven’t seen each other in decades and the three wives, so I’d like someplace quiet enough to talk and where we can linger.

    Other considerations:

    * we can’t start until 8 and may go until 11.
    * no French or Italian or anything heavy.
    * no sushi.
    * preferably something clean: Asian, mediterranean, seafood.
    * preferably less than $100/$125 per couple.
    * preferably on the west side (people are coming from Santa Monica, the Valley and OC).

    I can’t find anything.

    what is it with moderation today?

    • I posted in the earlier thread. Try True Food Kitchen or Sonoma Wine Garden, both at Santa Monica Place (the redone mall at the end of 3rd Street). Both are great. Sonoma Wine Garden has better ambiance, but True Food Kitchen has healthier food.

      • Gigi’s suggestions are both great!

        A few other options:
        FIG at the Fairmont in Santa Monica
        Tavern in Brentwood (may go over your budget depending on alcohol orders)
        Gulfstream at the Century City mall

        • I posted earlier about Bandera and Nook.

          • Bandera! Another great option (same owner as Gulfstream). Along the same line, you could probably throw Hillstone in the mix too.

          • I second Fig, it is delicious. Mercado has a fun ambiance(near 3rd street Promenade/10 freeway) classy mexican food, or tar and roses.

            Nearer to the 405/pico is Westside Tavern, in the Westside Pavilion but really good food and atmosphere.

  15. LA Restaurant? :


    i have tried to post twice just now and twice this morning. no tricky words in my text. why can’t i post?

    • You can – it showed up multiple times this morning and people responded to you.

      • LA Restaurant? :

        really? it doesn’t show, nor do any of the responses, on my screen! wow. let me go try again. thanks for telling me.

        • No problem – if you still can’t see it, reply back and I’ll copy/paste the recommendations you received.

        • You have to refresh your screen if you want to see responses, they don’t just appear..

    • stop using the name of this website in your post, that will frequently get things thrown into moderation.

      Just fyi.

    • I got told I was posting comments too quickly. I hadn’t posted a comment in weeks.

  16. Hijack!

    I just bought an adorable sleeveless peplum blouse (light blue), and it looks great over my pencil skirts. One problem- what do I wear to cover my arms at work??? My blazers weren’t working with it, and I only found one cardigan that sort-of worked. Any suggestions?

    • MissJackson :

      You’d have to try-on to be sure, but I’d suggest looking for cropped cardigans. I think it’s going to be most flattering if the cardigan doesn’t get in the way with/cover the peplum. That’s just my inclination, though.

  17. What about tea length dresses? I found an awesome gown on sale for $80, but it had a bit of a prom/nightgown feeling. I had it taken up (at the waist, to preserve the fancy stuff at the hem) to tea length and it looked and felt fantastic. I had my hair cut the afternoon of, so that brough the price of styling it down (needed a cut anyway).

  18. traditionalist :

    I have heard that if an invitation specifies black tie, then long dresses are the only *truly* appropriate attire (as well as tuxedos for men). In addition, evening shoes should be satin, velted, or silk–not leather or patent leather. It is not necessary to get one’s hair “done” or wear an updo.


    • I’ve also *heard* that one shouldn’t wear white after labor day, that your shoes should match your purse, and that women should wear pantyhose and a skirt suit everyday. Times they are a changing.

      (Though I guess, if you’re going to something truly black black tie, then yes, the rules above are probably right, except I’d add that this years trends of glittery shoes or metallics would work as well).

      • I heart S&G :

        Come Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call…

      • Random side note: I recently moved to Houston from the East Coast, and they laughed at me for wearing a skirt suit and hose on the first day of work (they all wear ankle pants and sandals unless they’re in court!). I’m going to get “Know Your Office” embroidered on a pillow.

    • i have researched this to death because i am not one to be inappropriate, all of the information i’ve found says that younger women can do black tie with shorter dresses so long as the formality level is the same (though older women are expected to be in long gowns). i am 27 and no interest in joining the older women’s club just yet. my dresses always cover my knees and are of dressy fabrics.
      i agree that generally leather and patent would not be appropriate, but that truly depends on the styling of the shoe and the dress. i often break this rule and have many pairs of metallic leather shoes that go with my evening wear (generally closed toe pumps).

      • traditionalist :

        alright, well, good to know! I am perfectly comfortable breaking “rules” for casual clothing but I guess I associate “rules” for formal wear with ettiquette rather than fashion. But I guess if I can think of these rules to be similar to the no-white-after-labor-rule, which I break all the time, I can allow myself to break them as well!

    • Leslie Knope :

      I did the same research last year for a massive black-tie wedding and came to the same “just get a long dress to be on the safe side” conclusion. I get to the wedding, and of all the 400 guests, I am one of two women in a floor-length dress. GRRRRRR. I guess that explains why I had such a hard time finding the stupid thing in stores!

      • Next time tell everyone that it is a maxi and you can feel at the height of the trend?

    • Personally, if it says “black tie” I’m wearing a gown, no question. I would much rather be overdressed than under-dressed when it comes to black tie events!

      • Same here! I don’t get many chances to wear them and it’s fun to change it up.

    • what’s velted?

      • Is there no way to delete a post? I just put a RANDOM name on the last one (it made sense prior time I posted) and can’t delete it…?

  19. NO NO NO – do NOT ask a co-worker (especially a senior person) if you can borrow a dress. That is completely inappropriate.

    • Yeah, I kind of blew past that part. I’m going to assume, since this advice was to a summer associate, that she meant like a junior associate at the firm. And not like a partner or something. But yeah….don’t ask to borrow your bosses clothes. can we all say awwwkkkward?

    • I know!

    • Agreed. Ask friends, prior co-workers at other firms (who aren’t invited to the proposed party).

    • Even for an associate, don’t ask that!

  20. Has anyone tried Rent the Runway? After Kat mentioned it, I looked at their site, and I’m thinking about renting a dress for a June wedding.

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      I thought about it for Barrister’s Ball, but it’s quite expensive. I ended up buying a dress for $175 from RueLaLa, which was how much most of the rentals that I really liked were on Rent the Runway, and this way, I got to keep the dress. The other issue I had was that it’s hard to tell if the dress will fit, and their fit specialists were not very responsive.

    • I’ve had success. They send you two sizes which i like

    • I lOve it. I am just very careful with what I choose, only shapes that I’m really confident will work on my body. I also like to pack an old lbd in case it doesn’t work if I’m having rtr ship to a hotel.

    • I love Rent the Runway! I’ve used it when I’m attending weddings because you can get $50 rentals (cheaper if you have coupons!) and that way I don’t have a $150 dress sitting in my closet that I never want to wear because it was photographed to death at the last wedding. I haven’t tried their uber formal gowns because I feel that those usually need to be tailored, but for c*cktail dresses? Absolutely!

      • I’ll try it out, then! I’m at the age of weddings (2 this year that I know of, and 3 confirmed for next, plus mine), and it seems like a good solution to not wearing the same dress all the time.

  21. eastbaybanker :

    I’ve never done Rent the Runway, but if anyone in the bay area is looking for a rental dress, I highly recommend Dress. Amazing service, nice boutiquey shopping environment, and good options for $100.

  22. I have successfully hemmed and re-worn a bridesmaid’s dress. It was red chiffon and a-line, and the style actually worked better just below the knee than floor-length. It has some draping, and I dress it up with a crystal pin, black silk velvet wrap, and black heels (2″). My last job had a lot of formal events, but never quite black tie – mostly party dresses and suits. Thanks to the posters for the neckline comments! Lots of party dresses are not work-function friendly, because of hem or necklines. Always do a bend test!

  23. Have never seen long at a black tie business event in D.C. – only at very social evening weddings and charity balls. Clearly it’s a regional thing. White tie? Yes, long. But black tie more often than not means dressy cocktail attire for women (follow Kat’s advice re. little black dress and dressy accessories), but it can depend on the occasion. Social, depending on the occasion (wedding rather than cocktail buffet) and as opposed to business, can mean long for women, but checking with the hostess/sponsor seems imperative. Personally I’ve usually been warned when long is requested or required – and wouldn’t be caught dead in long for business.

  24. For a black tie event this beautiful black suit will have you looking stunning. Available up to size 28!

  25. Thanks for the Rent the Runway tip. Lifesaver! I end up at my share of black tie/ formal events and am tired of buying dresses I only wear a couple of times.

  26. Womens Church suits :


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  28. I know this is an old thread, but I feel I must comment for anyone who may reference it. “Black Tie” does NOT mean you must wear a black dress!!! It is merely the description of the level of formality for the gentlemen. Here is a guideline for women:

    WHITE TIE: This is the most formal. You generally will not see this outside of State Dinners, very formal Charity Balls, or very, very formal large weddings. Gentlemen must wear White Tie, meaning a black tailcoat, black trousers, white pique tie, shirt, and vest. No exceptions. (This is what the gentlemen wear for dinner on the show “Downton Abbey”) LADIES: Ladies should wear a formal, full-length gown… this is your night to break out your finest jewelry too! A cocktail dress will be too casual.

    BLACK TIE: This is one step down from White Tie. Gentlemen wear a tuxedo. They have a bit more freedom here as to color, tie-style, etc., depending upon the tone of the event. A younger, more fun crowd, do a colored bowtie or a long “European” tie (think of the guys who attend the Oscars), if it is a work event, you can never go wrong with black tux, white tuxedo shirt, black bow tie. (Hey, it works for James Bond!) LADIES: You have more leeway too! You are invited to wear a long evening gown, or you may choose a very formal cocktail dress. Fabulous accessories are a must. If you are going for a cocktail dress, your go-to LBD may not be formal enough. Think embellishment, even if subtle. There have been some gorgeous lace dresses recently that would be perfect paired with your most fabulous stilettos and formal jewelry. Leeway does not make the choice easy, so never hesitate to contact someone in the know (a friend who has attended the event before, an event organizer, etc.) and ask them.

    BLACK TIE OPTIONAL: Gentlemen are invited to wear their tuxedos, or they may wear a formal, dark suit. Black/grey/navy. Keep the accessories elegant (tie, pocket square, cufflinks). LADIES: You may wear a simple long gown or a fabulous cocktail dress. You can be a bit more playful and creative here. Same advice for asking someone in the know!

    COCKTAIL ATTIRE: Men in dark suits. LADIES: this is what the cocktail dress was made for. No long gowns tonight! Keep it dressy and chic. A sedate skirt and top will not be dressy enough. It should feel a bit special.

    Remember two bits of advice from Coco Chanel:

    “Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.”

    “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”

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