Emergency reader e-mail: Black tie SOS

Black Tie: What To Do When You Get a Last Minute Invite | CorporetteToday’s reader e-mail comes with smoke signals…

I was just invited to a black-tie dinner at the Waldorf for a benefit my firm supports. Although I have lots of dresses, I’m not sure what is appropriate for a black tie business function. Is a knee length dress ever appropriate at a black tie function?

This is one of those reasons why we always snap up black cocktail dresses, both long and short, when we see them on sale. Our advice actually involves a bit of legwork on your part.

  1. Call the Waldorf. Ask what they recommend ladies wear to the event. (You can do this anonymously.)
  2. E-mail a female coworker who’s attending the event (or two) and ask them what they’re wearing. If you like what the Waldorf’s advice was, include this in your e-mail. (If not, keep it to yourself.)

If the Waldorf’s answer is “long” and your colleagues’ answers are “long,” guess what — you should really wear a long dress. If the answers are somewhat different, then you might want to choose a dress closer to what your colleagues are wearing.  For example: Let’s say the Waldorf answers, “Cocktail attire is fine.” But your colleagues answer, “Long dresses!” You might want to choose a very very simple black dress that’s long. (For what it’s worth, this author has been to galas at the Waldorf on at least one occasion — most of the women at the table were wearing short cocktail dresses, including me. To be honest, we saw women in sparkly evening suits and business suits. But that may have just been that particular event.)

As for where to get the dress… ask your friends if you can borrow anything if you don’t already have one.  Otherwise, you might want to hit a Filene’s or TJ Maxx to see what they have.  If you have time for Internet shopping, we recommend the Calvin Klein dress above, available at Zappos (free overnight shipping!) for a reasonable $134.

You might also want to check out our post (and the comments) on the DC gala scene, and Tim Gunn’s recent suggestions in Marie ClaireReaders, what are your thoughts? What are galas like in your region, and what are your rules of thumb?

Shop more evening dresses, below:

What Not to Wear To… a Black-Tie Affair

what not to wear to a black tie affair2018 Update: We still stand by this advice on office what not to wear to a black-tie affair, and links have been updated below. Looking for general advice on what not to wear to work? Check out our latest discussion.

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.)

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)

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Black ties and faux pas

Cher in 1988We’re not sure why WSJ has this story *now*, given that black tie season is over (isn’t it?) but today they have a great article on why businesswomen need to be very, very careful in choosing an evening gown.

It’s not just a matter of image; sometimes, there can be real trouble. Lisa Goldstein, an attorney and founder of consulting firm Rainmaker Trainers in Philadelphia, says that during a client dinner with spouses, a head of a law firm was propositioned by her male client and his wife. The client “suggested that they swing together,” says Ms. Goldstein, who was informally consulted on how to recover the professional-client relationship. The lawyer felt that her revealing evening dress had set the wrong tone, sending “signals that were misinterpreted,” says Ms. Goldstein.

Ye-ow. We’ve seen some truly bad outfits at various black ties, and can remember more than a few personal gaffes ourselves (after the jump)

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