Knowing when to wear what to an event can be quite confusing. Between the words black tie, white tie, formal, and semi-formal, it is often difficult to distinguish between each of these terms. But despite how similar they may seem, each standard of dress has its own unique requirements. It is critical to decipher between these options in order to respect the wishes of the host or hostess.

White Tie Formal

This form of dress is generally known for being the dressiest standard for attire. For ladies, formal, floor length evening gowns are expected and are occasionally accompanied by long gloves. For gentlemen, the standard is a black tailcoat with matching trousers with a single stripe of satin worn with suspenders.  This is worn with a white piqué wing-collared shirt, a white vest, and white bow tie.  Other embellishments such as shirt studs or cuff links, white gloves, and black patent shoes are suggested.  Events that typically require White Tie dress may be formal, evening weddings, galas, or charity balls.

Black Tie Formal

Black Tie is also very formal but allows for more deviation. Ladies attending a Black Tie event will either dress in formal, floor length evening gowns or dressy cocktail dresses. Gentlemen must sport a black tuxedo with matching trousers accompanied by a formal white shirt. The other additions above are also included, with the exception of white gloves. Esteemed soirees such as business awards, state dinners, or weddings are often when black tie formal is the appropriate dress.


Characteristically, when one hears the term “formal” they are to assume that their attire can be slightly less formal than the standard set forth by a Black Tie Formal event. Conversely, this idea is primarily for the gentleman’s dress. The selection for a ladies’ attire remains between floor length evening gowns or cocktail dresses. Gentlemen, however, can deviate between a tuxedo, as stated prior, or a formal dark suit paired with a white shirt and a conservative tie.


Occasions that are less formal such as cocktail parties or holiday gatherings insinuate a less rigid dress code. Generally, ladies will wear short afternoon dresses, long skirts with a matching top, or dressy pants. Gentlemen often select dark colored business suits with a dress shirt and tie. Occasionally a matching vest is included and leather dress shoes.

The next time you receive an invitation to an event, refer back to this short tutorial on when to wear what to ensure that you are always dressed for success.