IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

What does a black tie dress code entail? Wedding experts fill us in

"Look and feel your best and bring the glamour to your comfort level."
Preparing for New Year celebration
supersizer / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

As suckers for romance, we're always excited to find a wedding invitation in our mailbox. But that joy can quickly turn into confusion when it comes time to interpret the dress code.

With wedding season on the horizon, the Shop TODAY team enlisted the help of experts to decipher some of the most common dress codes. Up first, we're exploring what the term "black tie" really means and suggesting some gorgeous shoppable picks that won't break your budget.

Black tie meaning | What should you wear? | Colors that work best | Outfit inspiration | How to accessorize | Accessory inspiration | Meet the experts

What does a black tie dress code mean?

So you got invited to a black tie wedding, huh? Fancy! According to The Knot's executive editor Lauren Kay, this is the second most formal wedding dress code (after white tie).

"There is little room for interpretation. Traditionally a black tie wedding takes place after 5:30 p.m., necessitating evening attire like a tuxedo or long gown. It's fancy and you can’t really be too overdressed (just don’t wear a floor-length white gown)," she says.

What should women wear to a black tie wedding?

Wondering how fancy you should dress for a black tie soirée? Now's the time to go all out!

"Traditionally it has meant a long gown and tuxedo, however today it really means fancy and festive. Look and feel your best and bring the glamour to your comfort level. A tailored suit, glam dress or classy jumpsuit can always be accessorized to fit the black tie dress code," Emily Forrest, Zola's director of communications, suggests.

If you don't regularly attend formal parties, black tie weddings offer a fun chance to dress to the nines (think an award show or the Met Gala). Here's a quick fashion cheat sheet to get you started:

  • Floor-length gowns are the most popular choice: "[A] black tie dress code for women translates to [a] floor-length gown, but it’s not your only option. More modern black tie dress codes have relaxed this rule a bit. A tea-length dress that hits mid-calf is acceptable, as is a midi dress with a fancy cocktail vibe," Kay recommends.
  • Dresses aren't your only option: "I'm a very big fan of a jumpsuit or a pants look. Dresses are not required in modern day wedding etiquette by any standard. It's more about the feeling and vibe of the look!" Forrest tells us.
  • Consider the material: Steer away from casual materials (denim, seersucker) and gravitate towards chiffon, silk, organza and crepe. "Beading is another excellent choice, as are embossed fabrics and sequins. Just remember, you’re going to a wedding — not a club," Kay adds.

What colors work best for a black tie wedding?

The only real color that's off-limits as a wedding guest is white, but there are some color schemes that work best for black tie weddings.

"Most guests will stick to darker hues like burgundy, black, navy and gray. Jewel tones and metallics are also popular for floor-length gowns or specialty dinner jackets," Kay mentions.

Black tie wedding outfits to shop

Rachel Rachel Roy Harland Halter Gown

Jewel tones and deep hues are the norm for black tie gatherings, but a bold pop of color is always appropriate, especially if it makes you feel your best. We're currently crushing on this hot halter dress with a pleated neckline and side slit. Whether you opt for neon orange or pink, you can't go wrong.

Venus Plunging Back Long Dress

We're getting royalty vibes from this slinky yet elegant gown. It's all business in the front with a demure high neckline, but beautiful details abound in the back with a plunging side back and a metallic ring that cinches the gown at the waist. The budget-friendly style is available in sizes XS-XL in black and red.

ASOS DESIGN Ruffle Shoulder Pleated Maxi Dress

Flirty flutter sleeves give this bold red frock a feminine vibe, while the plunging neckline and fitted waist infuse a bit of sex appeal. Oh, and the pleated skirt is absolutely perfect for twirling with your dance partner all night long.

Prettygarden Satin Mock Neck Dress

Dreaming of a "Pretty in Pink" moment? Now's the time to show up in your fanciest vibrant frock. This satin dress features draping around the collarbone, a chic mock neck and a comfortable elastic waistband. But it's the stunning deep hue that's causing our heart to flutter the most.

Cowl Neck Sequin Maxi Dress

Want to sparkle from every angle? This cowl neck halter dress has got you covered. The maxi is ideal if you want to show off your shoulders and back and it also has a sassy surprise: a back slit. We'd pair it with silver heels and wear our hair in an updo to show off the beautiful neckline. Note: Reviewers mention sizing up if possible.

Pissaro Nights Sleeveless Cowl Neck Sequin Gown

The word "dazzling" doesn't even begin to properly describe this sequin masterpiece. The gown features a cowl neck in the front and back, a side slit and brilliant sequins all over. It's a pull-on style, meaning you won't feel so restricted once you've filled up on the wedding buffet or sit-down dinner.

In Love Forever Satin Lace-Up High-Low Maxi Dress

A ruffled high-low hem lends this maxi dress an irresistibly flirty vibe. Available in three colorful hues, the satin stunner also has statement detail in the form of a lace-up back. It's particularly perfect if you plan to bust a move on the dance floor!

MSK 3/4 Sleeve Jumpsuit

"It's so important for you to be you and feel like your best self, so it's more than okay to rock a gorgeous suit or jumpsuit," Forrest said.

This one is simply begging to be worn to a fancy fête and has a sassy cape that's decorated with a touch of bling.

Gigi Convertible Jumpsuit

Like to have options? A convertible jumpsuit could be your fashion soulmate for a black tie wedding. This one can be worn in six different ways and has a universally flattering sweetheart neckline. The fancy chiffon style comes in a bunch of colors and sizes up to 3X.

One Shoulder Thigh Split Maxi Dress

Ruched detailing lends plenty of visual appeal to this asymmetrical maxi dress that's sure to turn heads. Available in three colors and sizes 0-16, the affordable style is made of a stretchy jersey material and even features a side slit.

R & M Richards Stretch 3/4 Sleeve Beaded Scoop Neck 2-Piece Pant Set

If you're leaning towards a suit but want something a bit less stuffy, this breezy two-piece pant set is a worthy option with its bejeweled neckline, sheer sleeves and ruffled jacket hem.

Azazie A-Line One Shoulder Chiffon Floor-Length Dress Steel Grey

We could totally see ourselves rocking this dreamy chiffon gown and feeling like we're floating on air. The ethereal style comes in multiple colors, including plenty of jewel tone hues that are ideal for a black tie celebration, and we're seriously falling for the delicate cascading ruffles.

R&M Richards Off-the-Shoulder Cap Sleeve Floral Lace Mermaid Gown

Can't wait to rock your fabulous red carpet-worthy ensemble? Black tie weddings call for glamour and this mermaid gown certainly serves it up. The off-the-shoulder cap sleeve design comes in 11 colors and has a gorgeous sheen, elegant lace and a stunning silhouette that hugs curves in all the right places.

What accessories work best for a black tie wedding?

Ready to add the finishing touches to your formal ensemble? Don't forget the accessories!

"Accessories are the place to add personality to your look and have more relaxed 'rules' when it comes to the black tie dress code. Given the elegance of black tie, stick to jewelry that has a more refined feel. You can’t go wrong with pearls or diamonds," Kay recommends. "Opt for a chic clutch or a small embellished bag. Heels are most common [for wedding guest shoes], but a dressy flat sandal is a great option too."

Black tie wedding accessories to shop

Isaac Westman Pearl Stud Earrings

Sometimes, all it takes is a classic accessory to complete your look and these pearl studs are certainly vying for our attention. The classy earrings are made of nickel-free metal and would look fabulous with an updo or half 'do.

A New Day Glitter Frame Clutch

This glitter clutch from Target is the perfect way to add a touch of pizazz to your black tie ensemble without spending too much. The metallic style can be worn as a crossbody or clutch thanks to its detachable strap, and it also has a lined interior with a zip pocket so you can store odds and ends like your lipstick and credit card.

Gunne Sax by Jessica McClintock Pleated Satin Convertible Clutch

An evening bag is an accessory essential for a black tie wedding, but it's not worth breaking your budget on something pricey if you're not going to wear it all that often. That's why we're fans of this affordable style that comes in five colors. The pleated satin exterior adds a touch of class and the convertible style makes it a convenient option you can wear a few ways.

Nordstrom Rack Eye Candy Los Angeles Diana Statement Collar Necklace

Best believe you'll be bejeweled in this eye-catching statement collar. The faux pearl necklace would pair perfectly with a strapless gown and will catch the light on the dance floor thanks to its glittering crystals.

White House Black Market Goldtone Floral Statement Earrings

These earrings are giving us serious baroque vibes with their worn metallic finish and delicate structure. The floral design is equal parts sassy and classy and their golden hue means they'll pair perfectly with any ensemble you opt to wear.

Adrianna Papell Metallic Wrap Scarf

You never know how chilly it might get at the reception, so it's always smart to bring a wrap with you just in case. This gorgeous option comes in two neutral hues and has shiny metallic detail that adds a touch of glamour.

Draper James RSVP Riley Women's Slingback Heels

With its oversized bow and sleek material, these slingback heels ooze refinement. The two-inch heel makes them ideal for walking and dancing and the fun hues help add a pop of color to a more neutral ensemble.

Vionic Shoes Adalena Heel

If you're craving a lift, these four-inch heels are happy to oblige. They're edgy like a stiletto, but are infused with comfortable features like a deep heel cup and enhanced forefoot contour to make sure your feet are happy all night long.

Rockport Women's Tabitha Two-Strap Heeled Sandal

We're just a wee bit obsessed with these heeled sandals that have pearl embellishments. The block heels and cushioned footbed put a focus on comfort, while the fun designs (they're also available in a bejeweled style) are appropriate for a fancy affair.

Meets the experts