If you receive a sparkling invitation to a formal event, which may be a ball, a charity gala or even a large family party, it’s an exciting time, and dressing to the occasion correctly is key.

Often the invitation will specify ‘Black Tie’ or ‘Formal Attire’, but what’s the difference? Follow our guide to stay in style while opting for the correct evening wardrobe.

Black Tie

Black Tie events are strictly formal affairs, tuxedos & ball gowns or elegant long dresses. For men, a dinner jacket is essential with an optional cummerbund, braces or waistcoat and a black bow tie, normally a dark or midnight blue is a great alternative to black. 

Hemmed trousers are essential, turn ups or casual trousers would not be suitable. Key accessories can include is a pocket square, add a pop of colour or flair of personality with a patterned pocket scarf, and of course cuff links to finish the look.

For ladies think floor length elegance, cocktail party dress can be acceptable as long as they are not revealing. From the invitation you may sense a theme for example 1920’s, or black & white, which will make choosing a dress easier, otherwise luxurious fabrics like silk or even embellished sequin floor length gowns can help you stand out from the crowd & sparkle on the dance floor.

Formal Attire

If your invitation states ‘Formal Attire’ this is often explained as smart, but with out all the extras, men can swap a dinner jacket, in favour of a more casual suit & tie.

For woman, you can have more freedom with the hemline, but remember if it’s a wedding, knee length or below is a great guide to follow. Cocktail dresses are suitable, but you can always check with your host(s) if you are unsure, so you turn up feeling comfortable & inline with the dress code. 

Soft fabrics and pastels are perfect for a spring or summer wedding, and often more muted tones for autumn or winter, remembering the theme to be elegant. If you are accompanying your partner, having a matching dress and pocket square or tie, adds a complimentary touch to your combine look and photos of you as a couple.  


If you’re looking how to word the dress code, try out these phrases as a starting point...

  • Dress Code: Semi Formal
  • Dress to Impress
  • Black Tie Event
  • Dress: Cocktail Attire


We have selected some of our invitations that may have the dress code or Black Tie or Formal Attire mentioned.