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How to Dress to Impress for a Gala Dinner

Updated on June 24, 2013

How you dress for a gala dinner defines who you are and how your peers receive you. Dressing appropriately can help boost your status and define your character. Unfortunately for the guest of a gala affair, they will not be praised for showing up in the wrong attire and the admiration of guests will need to come from being sharply presented. Known for their fancy nature and high class populous, gala dinners are generally reserved for special occasions where style is of the utmost importance. Generally speaking, these events require 'black tie' dress.

Worn only at events past 6 p.m., black tie dress is less formal than a white tie event but more formal than informal business and casual formats, depending on the theme of the event. In many cases, this form of dress reflects a statement of wealth and sophistication and is often associated with diplomatic and business oriented affairs.

Women’s Black Tie Elements

Black tie dress codes for women are less rigidly defined than men’s which can open the door for a great deal of confusion. The line between casual and formal dresses has become blurred, thus it becomes increasingly important to take cues from the host of the event and decide on the appropriate dress from there.

Most good hosts and hostesses will include items concerning the dress code on their gala dinner invitation. They will generally remind guests that the occasion is black tie and also add a list of appropriate items. For those choosing a gala dinner dress, this information may be the best way to make a final decision. When choosing a dress, simply keep in mind the nature of the event and the level of formality.

Dress – Smaller dresses are acceptable at many black tie events, but the most formal ones generally require a floor-length evening dress. The final dress decision will depend on the host’s requirements, age, and time of the occasion. In large part, gala dinner dresses can be any style and color as long as they fit the category of formal.

Shoes – Evening sandals or pumps are the most common and acceptable forms of footwear. Much like dresses, the footwear should be stylish, classy, and formal. Avoid the obvious informal wear such as tennis shoes, boots, etc.

Purse – Evening bags made of silk, satin, velvet, or brocade that matches or complements the colors of your dress and footwear. Choose a purse or bag that is compact and able to be easily toted, especially if the event includes entertainment.

Jewelry – Lavish or modest earrings and bracelet combined with a very simple gold or silver necklace is the most common jewelry combination. Keep in mind that more jewelry is worn during formal events than would be worn during cocktail parties. Your gala dinner attire should all be complementary and reflect a sophisticated style.

As a general rule, choose the dress first and build around it. A gala dress should complement your figure and hide problem areas if there are any. Those who choose to go with a short dress should make sure that it is not too short. What is considered appropriate at gala dinners can be quite confusing, but planning and paying attention to hints on the invitation can lead to a successful outfit choice.

Men's Black Tie Dress

For men, the elements of a black tie style of dress involve a wool suit, lapels constructed of silk, white dress shirt, waistcoat or cummerbund, black dress shoes, and of course a black tie.

Jacket – Single pressed and black or midnight blue, the polyester or wool jacket is the most common element of the gala attire, but other materials such as silk have also become commonplace. These dinner jackets generally come ventless but can also be found with side or center vents. When dressing to impress, it is important to know that it is traditionally considered inappropriate to remove one’s jacket during a social event unless the weather permits.

Trousers – Pants worn during a gala dinner traditionally are sans cuffs and belt loops. The outer seams are generally decorated with a single braid of silk or other material that matches the lapel facing. Braces or suspenders are used to hold the trousers up and are hidden by the waistcoat. Both pleated and flat-fronted forms of pants are considered appropriate attire.

Cummerbund – A cummerbund can be worn with a single-breasted coat and come in a U or V shape, single or double breasted, with or without lapels, and backless or fully backed. Since the style of jacket common at black tie events is never unbuttoned, the waist of the trousers is not exposed and the waistcoat need not cover the area.

Shirt – Formal shirts or tuxedo shirts are the style associated with the black tie event and are made of white or off white cotton or linen with a bibbed front. Shirts worn at these affairs have double cuffs and a fold over version of a standing color. The most stylistically prevalent models of this shirt come with matching shirt studs.

Shoes – A brand of black patent leather shoe known as an Oxford is the most common type of footwear associated with gala dinners. It is often seen as informal to wear a shoe that has open lacing such as a derby style. Alternatives to the almost invariable style of black patent leather shoe include the black button boot and the monogrammed Albert slipper.

Black Tie Accessories

Fashion guides strongly urge that accessories are used to maintain and accent the current color scheme of the outfit, favoring a single color. When attending one of these events, it’s important to limit the number of accessories and ensure that the final appearance is still within the vein of formal attire.

Handkerchief – Worn in the breast pocket, this cloth is crafted of linen, silk, or cotton and is folded to fit the pocket properly.

Boutonniere – Not to be worn with a handkerchief, these flowers vary in style but the most common ones are red and white carnations, blue cornflower, and rosebud.

Outerwear – Most black tie events do not include outerwear of any sort. Coats and gloves are no longer considered part of the dress code. For those interested in wearing outerwear to and from the occasion, a matching overcoat in charcoal, black, or dark blue in the Chesterfield style are the most acceptable.

Hat – A gala affair once required a hat to be worn, but modern day events do not require them. Those who wish to accessorize with a headpiece generally stick to hat styles including a black or midnight blue Homburg in the winter, straw hats in the spring and summer, or a fedora.

Timepiece – Traditional events did not include timepieces during gala dinners because time was not supposed to be considered a priority. Current guidelines allow for a timepiece but generally do not recommend sports style watches.


Dressing to impress for a gala dinner can be the easiest and most effective way to boost your status and show your keen eye for style. Now that you know what it takes to achieve a professional look at a black tie event, focus on following these guidelines in order to make a winning statement at your next formal affair. Dressing appropriately for a gala style dinner will establish you in your personal and professional worlds and can be the secret to success in both.

Further Reading...

The Black Tie Guide: Tuxedo Style & Etiquette - The definitive guide to men's evening wear also has information on women's dress code.

Attire Guide: Dress Codes from Casual to White Tie - Attire guide helps you define dress codes and decide what to wear to events calling for white and black tie events, as well as semiformal, festive, and business casual dress.

Black Tie 101 - The Classic Tuxedo: What to Wear and Why It Works

Black Tie (Wikipedia) - A basic article including all the general info.


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    • idigwebsites profile image

      idigwebsites 4 years ago from United States

      Wonderful tips for really dressing up appropriately for such occasion. Up and useful. :)

    • Nicole S profile image

      Nicole S Hanson 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Awesome tips, and wonderful ideas for dressing snazzy. Thumbs up and useful!