Black-Tie Optional Wedding Dress Code Decoded

Let's take the mystery out of figuring out what to wear for black-tie optional with some great tips and ideas.

Published August 7, 2023

Sometimes a wedding dress code really does feel as indecipherable as a code, but fortunately, there are some hints that can help. If you're going to a black-tie optional wedding or will be hosting one yourself, it's actually one of the simpler dress code options. Plan to dress up and show your personality at the same time with the perfect look.

Black-Tie Optional Dress Code Decoded

"Black tie" refers to a tuxedo with a black tie, so we're talking formal. However, when the black tie is optional, this means you can go fancy but also personal. Color is fine, and dark suits work as well as tuxes here.

Need to Know

Do you have to wear black to a black-tie optional wedding? Absolutely not. Dark suits, colorful but formal dresses, and all shades and patterns of ties are perfect.

What to Wear to a Black-Tie Optional Wedding if You're the Couple

Let's start with the couple getting married. For people identifying as female and wishing to wear a dress, think long and formal. Beading, lace, princess-poufy skirts, and all the fancy fixings are in order. You can add a little more personal style that you might with a straight-up black-tie wedding, though. Go for some funky accessories or embellishments on your gown.

For people identifying as male, you clearly can't go wrong with a black tie and tux. In fact, this can set the stage for your whole dress code. Consider adding some flair or color, though, in the form or a bright boutonnière or accessories like a pocket square. Or up the ante with a white tie.

Long Black-Tie Optional Wedding Guest Dresses

If you're a guest at a black-tie optional wedding, you actually have lots of dress choices. Traditionally, it's always safe to go with a full-length gown. Your gown can be almost any color (no white), and feel free to show your personality a little. Patterns, lace, velvet, satin - it's all fair game.

Need to Know

Is a black dress okay for a black-tie optional wedding? Yes! It's simple and elegant and always a classic choice.

Short Dresses for Wedding Guests

Even though long gowns are the norm for black-tie optional weddings, they aren't the only choice. You can also go for a cocktail dress as long as it's not super short. Knee-length and tea-length are definitely great, and you get your choice of formal styles. With a shorter dress, skip anything that doesn't feel formal. This generally means loud prints and super bright colors are out.

Wedding Guest Dress Alternatives for Black-Tie Optional Events

You're not limited to a dress, of course. If you're going to a black-tie optional wedding, you can also choose a formal pantsuit -- especially something with a little sparkle or shine. Even a jumpsuit can work if it is formal and not a loud print.

Another great alternative is a long skirt and a separate top. Choose a top and skirt that go well together or keep one of the pieces neutral. Again, sparkle is your friend.

Tux Alternatives for Wedding Guests

You can always wear a tux to a black tie-optional wedding as a guest, but you don't have to. If you want to do something different, skip the classic tux for a dark suit (black, navy, and dark grey are ideal). Break out your luxury fabrics too - velvet, satin, fine wool, that sort of thing.

Need to Know

For a summer black-tie optional wedding, consider a white or cream-colored jacket. It feels fresh and seasonal and is still formal.

What to Wear to a Black-Tie Optional Wedding if You're Non-Binary

If you're a non-binary wedding guest, you have tons of options for what to wear to a black-tie optional event. You can go with a dark suit with some flair to it. Think velvet or satin or maybe some well-placed sequins. You can also do a jewel tone like emerald green or burgundy. Basically, anything formal is on the table.

Accessories for a Black-Tie Optional Event

Your dress or suit isn't the only thing to consider when you're figuring out what to wear. Black-tie optional weddings also call for the perfect accessories.

  • Shoes - Formal leather shoes in black or dark brown are a good pick, as are heels and flats that are dressy and match your outfit.
  • Jewelry - Break out your favorite pieces, as long as they are formal. Something that shows your personality is ideal.
  • Hair accessories - This is the perfect chance to wear statement-making hair accessories, especially if they have some sparkle.
Quick Tip

Pocket squares, formal but pretty ties, the perfect clutch - if your accessories are fancy and match your outfit, they are great for this event.

Black-Tie Optional Outerwear

If you're going to a wedding that's in the evening or during the colder months of the year, give your outerwear some thought too. Dark wool coats, warm wraps, and brocades make good options for being stylish and warm at the same time.

What Not to Wear to Black-Tie Optional Weddings

Although there are lots of options for what to wear to a black-tie optional wedding, there are a few things you should definitely try to avoid. Skip these:

  • Flashy colors and patterns - There's a difference between making a statement and stealing the spotlight. Don't wear super bright colors, loud patterns, or anything too attention-grabbing.
  • Revealing outfits - For the same reason, don't wear anything super short or that shows a ton of skin. The couple getting married should be the ones turning heads.
  • White - Unless you're the happy couple, don't wear a white or cream-colored dress to the wedding.
  • Casual clothing - Skip sundresses, khakis, polo shirts, or anything that's not formal.

Have Fun Choosing the Perfect Outfit

Although you need formal attire for a black-tie optional wedding, you actually have a ton of flexibility in what you wear. Whether you're the couple getting married, the parents, or the guests attending the event, this is your chance to have fun and choose something fancy that really fits your personal style.

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Black-Tie Optional Wedding Dress Code Decoded