Black tie optional wedding: bride and groom kissing in front of their guests

You open a beautiful invitation and are filled with joy at the thought of attending the nuptials of someone you love. As you continue reading the invite, you see the words “black tie optional,” and like many others, you’re a little confused. The words “black tie” suggest highly formal attire, but “optional” is a bit vague.

Fortunately, we’re here to help you navigate the nuances of a black tie optional wedding dress code with ideas for the perfect outfit. Plus, if you’re planning your wedding as a black tie optional event, we’re also sharing etiquette and decor tips to ensure your dream day goes off without a hitch.

What Does Black Tie Optional Mean?

Black tie optional wedding: groom looking at his wristwatch

A black tie optional wedding is a relatively new trend. It’s born out of couples wanting a highly sophisticated celebration but also understanding that not all guests can splurge on the required attire. 

To understand this wedding dress code, let’s quickly address what black tie wedding attire means. A black-tie wedding is a formal evening event where guests are expected to wear tuxedos and floor-length gowns. It’s one step below the uber-fancy white tie attire and a step above formal dress codes.

A black tie optional wedding allows for some flexibility. For example, guests can wear long, elegant cocktail dresses instead of ballgowns or a nice, tailored suit instead of a classic black tuxedo. If guests can adhere to the black tie attire, great. If not, something a little less fancy but still elegant and evening-appropriate is acceptable.

The idea is that the couple wants a formal event, ideally with black tie attire. However, they also know that this attire can be expensive and harder to obtain — especially when you consider the cost of tailors and specialty stores. With a black tie optional wedding, guests can go all-in with formal wear or keep it simpler with formal wedding guest dresses, a dark suit, or a dressy pantsuit

Black Tie Optional Wedding Dress Code Ideas

Black tie optional wedding: bride and bride walking down the staircase

While a black tie optional dress code allows for greater flexibility than a strictly black tie affair, it’s still a very formal event. With this wedding dress code, think about the location and timing of the event when choosing what to wear to a wedding. An evening wedding in a church will be more formal than an afternoon ceremony on the beach. Do your best to match the formality of your attire to the event.

Dresses

As a wedding guest at a black tie optional ceremony, you could wear an evening gown, a sleek pantsuit, or a full-length dress. Avoid wearing short dresses, midi dresses, sundresses, and mini dresses, which can be too casual for this formal affair. It’s also a good idea to avoid any clothing that is too revealing or might take attention away from the bride — like fully-sequined gowns.

Colors

For colors, skip the eye-catching neon and softer pastel hues as these simply don’t meet the level of formality needed for a black tie optional wedding. Instead, choose luxe jewel tones (emerald, ruby, amethyst, onyx, sapphire), intricate patterns, and rich textures — including pleats and fabrics like chiffon or velvet. Also, consider the season of the wedding and choose colors to match. For instance, navy blue and magenta are great for a summer wedding while deep shades of yellow, red, or hunter green are perfect for winter fetes.

Suits

For a black tie optional wedding, if you are opting for a suit go with a classic black tux and black bow tie or a dark-colored suit with a white dress shirt and a dinner jacket. Stick to darker colors like navy blue, black, or charcoal and look for elegant accents like grosgrain-faced lapels, satin lapels, or jetted pockets. If you want, you can include an accent color with a tie or pocket square. Dress up the look with accessories such as a watch and cufflinks.

Shoes

For footwear, pair a suit with your preferred dress shoes. Consider wearing a nice pair of leather shoes to elevate your black tie optional attire. Loafers are too casual for this event, and lace-up sneakers are an absolute no-no, so stick with elegant oxfords. To compliment a dress or pantsuit, heels or dressy flats are ideal footwear.

Tips for Planning a Black Tie Optional Wedding 

Dreaming of planning a black tie optional wedding? This formal affair is sure to be a beautiful event with memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime. Here are some tips for planning your dreamy black tie optional nuptials. 

Focus on Elegant Decor 

Classic Blooms Invitation

Design: Claudia Owen

Set the scene with sophisticated decor and beautiful blooms. Drape velvet, faux fur, or satin throws on guest chairs. Alternatively, you can use these luxe fabrics as drapery throughout the event space. 

Adorn tables and the wedding aisle with gorgeous floral bouquets. Choose flowers to coordinate with your wedding color palette, or stick to neutral shades with white or soft pink roses. Use tall vases to add drama and height to your guest tables. 

Add metallic accents — like gold silverware or diamond-encrusted nameplates — to create a magical effect. Incorporate soft lighting that makes these elements shimmer and shine.

Select Stunning Wedding Invitations

Signature Names Invitation

Design: Stacey Meacham Design, LLC

Set the foundation for fancy vibes when choosing your wedding stationery. From the moment guests open their save the dates, they’ll know they’re invited to a glamorous celebration.

Select wedding invitations with a formal look. Elements like calligraphy, monograms, and elegant color palettes can help impart this aesthetic. You can also choose formal wedding invitations with matching accents you plan to incorporate into your ceremony.

In your invitation, be sure to use formal wedding invitation wording and ask guests to wear black tie optional wedding attire. To make it easier for your wedding party and guests, you can include a link to your wedding website where they can find a brief section on preferred attire.

Adhere to Etiquette Guidelines

Chic Shimmer Invitation

Design: Eric Clegg Design

Certain rules of etiquette apply to black tie optional weddings. Always use formal wording in your wedding stationery, including spelling out the full names and titles of guests. Dates and times should also be written out completely to meet etiquette standards.

When planning the event, keep formality in mind. That means choosing event-appropriate music, decor, and readings for the ceremony that suit the tone you want to maintain from beginning to end.

When writing your vows and wedding stationery, your words should also reflect the formality of the moment. Use formal language to ask guests to attend your wedding — such as “We request the honor of your presence”— and use full names and titles on place cards and seating charts.

Plan the Black Tie Optional Wedding of Your Dreams

Your wedding is one of the most important days of your life, and a black tie optional wedding offers you the chance to have an elegant event while still offering some flexibility for you and your guests. 

Start by choosing elegant wedding stationery from Greenvelope. Designs are curated by artists worldwide, with sophisticated accents such as gold foil embellishments and gilded frames. Customize each design by choosing typography and color palettes that match your black tie optional theme.

For more wedding planning tips and advice, continue browsing our Stationers blog. You’ll discover wedding decor ideas, wording advice, and etiquette tips to plan the wedding of your dreams.