White-Tie Attire: Everything You Need to Know

White-Tie Attire: Everything You Need to Know

January 23, 2022
By Erin Clark

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Dating back to times before WWI, white-tie events are the most formal invitation you can receive. The dress code refers to the color of tie men wear with their tuxes: the black-tie is a white shirt and black tie and tux, whereas white-tie means white-tie with a white shirt and black tux with tails.

White-tie events used to be the most common type of affair; anyone who had a party required a white-tie dress code, but during and after the war, as fabrics became more expensive and financial situations for many people waned, white-tie became reserved for only the most special occasions.

If you are planning or have been invited to a white-tie event and are unsure of what to wear, we have you covered. We are going to break down all the right and wrong ways to dress for white-tie affairs to get you ready for the night.

The Basic by-Laws

First things first: white-tie affairs call for the most formal of evening wear, so floor-length gowns in luscious fabrics only. Formal occasions have a requirement for your most lavish attire and gowns are the only way to go. We say garments in only the most luxe of fabrics because these will give the air of even more formality while being stylish and showstopping.

It’s just as important to stand out for the right reasons as it is to not make the wrong style decisions. A short cocktail dress would be inappropriate at such a formal affair and could be seen as insulting to those who planned the event. As we’ve said, white-tie events are few and far between at present times, so if the president invites you to a ball, dress accordingly.

While we will say that modern gown silhouettes allow for gowns to be formal and add a bit of sexiness, you will want to cover a little more than other events to present a polished and pristine appearance.

So plunging necklines or thigh-high slits will need to be added with a grain of salt. Instead of the gown with the slit all the way to there, try one that hits at mid-thigh so you can show off some skin without offending your hosts. You could try an illusion neckline for a plunge option instead of one that is completely open. Here are a few great choices for these:

Nice and Neutral

We need to address the elephant in the room: your orange dress just isn’t at home at a white-tie event. While color can add personality and playfulness to your look, white-tie events call for more basic color schemes. Some color is ok but stick to either muted options or deep shades.

The best options are going to be in the neutral family. Black and white gowns for a white-tie affair are right at home and will look the best. Keeping it simple and classy is the easiest way to ensure a formal enough look. If you are a girl that requires color for gowns, navy blue, deep purple or blush pink are great places to start looking.

These colors have always been colors attached to royalty and high status, so if you are in need of a seriously formal frock, these are acceptable ways to wear color. The simpler color scheme also pertains to patterns and designs for your dress. Simpler-cut gowns with sparkle are great for these events, but leave the bright florals at home. Loud patterns are too much for white-tie affairs. For your shopping pleasure:

The Feel of the Fabric

As we’ve said before, simpler cuts in luxurious fabrics are the right route for white-tie affairs. The theme of the evening is over the top formal, and sleek gowns translate better. So how do you accomplish this while still maintaining some personality and adding some drama to your look? It’s all in the fabric!

You’ll want to exude elegance and sophistication, but in understated looks, the best way to achieve this is through utilizing the fabrics and natural movement they have. Gowns in layered organza have a luxurious feeling to them that was made for the most formal of white-tie affairs. Think back to the gorgeous cross-neck organza gown First Lady Michelle Obama wore to meet the Queen. It was elegant, sophisticated, stylish but so effortlessly gorgeous.

That is the name of the game at white-tie affairs. Fabrics that translate this best will probably be a little more expensive, but worth it on a gown of this magnitude.

Think sheath or fit and flare gowns in silk, A-line gowns made of tulle, sheath gowns in organza, and mermaid gowns in satin. These are style and fabric combinations that will shine at the event without taking away anything from the evening’s main event. This is the best way to attend a white-tie affair: draw the eye without distracting from the cause.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, these are great styles to consider:

Modern Mania

We know that there are some stylish women out there that need to go for trend rather than tradition. If modern is the name of your game, then we have a few options for you!

Try something with a structured shoulder; this is a silhouette that is trending hard right now and with a long sleeve and fitted gown will look modern and flawless. Your dress will fall in all the right places and the covered style will be appropriate yet up to date.

One other modern style that would be suitable for a white-tie affair would be a jumpsuit with a skirt overlay. Celebrities have really made this style a trend staple and the floor-length skirt is enough formality to make the modern jumpsuit elegant.

These styles have trendy flair and just the right amount of tradition to be right at home at a white-tie event without taking away from the very strict dress code. If you need a place to start with these silhouettes, we’ve put together a few choices for you:

Gloved Gal

It might seem a bit extra, but white-tie affairs do call for elbow-length gloves. They are a traditional feature that might be a bit old school, but an over-the-top formal affair such as these calls for little skin showing, so a gloved hand and arm is more than acceptable, and not wearing gloves can be a bit of a risk.

Pro-tip for wearing gloves: traditionally, gloves come in white or black, so be sure to stick with our approved color palette of neutrals or darker shades in order to ensure that your gloves don’t look out of place.

Gems and Jewels

Jewelry is another piece of the white-tie puzzle that you would be remiss to forget. The rule for gowns might be simple and understated, but the opposite is true for your jewelry. You need to make sure to accessorize, and properly, for a white-tie affair. Wearing chandelier earrings and thick bracelets (over your gloves of course) with coordinating necklaces is the name of the game for white-tie attire.

Don’t be afraid of your accessories for a white-tie event. When you mix a simple gown with simple jewelry the effect can come off as more casual or incomplete; both of these adjectives are not what you want your outfit to be described as.

Be sure to also downplay your purse; a small handheld clutch or small shoulder strap purse that’s barely noticeable is a necessity. To put this into context: your purse should barely be big enough to hold your bare minimum essentials.

Just like a slouchy shoulder bag is out of place at a cocktail party, a clutch that draws more attention than necessary is the same level of inappropriateness at a white-tie party.

Haute Heels

If you haven’t figured it out by now, we will just have to say it again: keep it simple! Heels with thin straps in a medium to a short length in neutral tones are the perfect pairing to any white-tie attire gown. Anything too high will be offensive; I know this sounds weird, but trust us, the uber formal setting means that your sky-high heels need to sit this one out.

If heels aren’t your thing, flats can be worn to a white-tie affair, but must also adhere to some rules. First, nothing that ties up your ankle. We know that some of these styles can be cute and can be dressed up, but they will never be formal enough for a white-tie affair.

Similarly, rule out any flat sandal option. Unless it has a kitten heel, a strappy flat sandal will not be fancy enough. Instead, opt for a neutral ballet flat in a preferably pointed toe, a rounded toe can work but a pointed toe style is the most formal option.

Finishing Touches

When it comes to makeup and nails, less is still more. Soft pinks or nude shades are perfect for your manicure; anything bright or too dark will be heavy and harsh for this style of formal event.

The same goes for makeup looks; smokey eyes are great but use a nude or neutral palette as opposed to a dark gray or black. Where the darker colors are appropriate for the gown, lighter shadows will make your eyes pop without being too heavy. Do opt for a great red lip though! Because the other elements to your makeup and nails will be so soft, a bright pop on the lip is a perfect way to draw a little attention and add a bit of glamor.

Go for Gala!

Stick to these style do’s and we are sure you will be the epitome of perfection at your next white-tie affair. These events are special and invites are rare, so show off your extensive etiquette and there will sure to be invites in your future!

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