Home Fashion What to Wear to Formal Parties to Look Your Absolute Best

What to Wear to Formal Parties to Look Your Absolute Best

by luxirare

Are you trying to figure out what the best clothing to wear to formal parties is? Read this article to learn more about how to look your best.

It’s not every day that you get to go to a formal party. As such, receiving an invitation to this kind of glamorous event is sure to bring a thrill of excitement. Until that is, you realize you have absolutely no idea what to wear to a formal party. 

And then the panic sets in.

What does ‘Black Tie Optional’ mean?! How short is too short for formal party attire?! And while we’re on the subject, what is party attire anyway?!

Luckily, we’re here to help you navigate the sometimes confusing world of formal partywear. From understanding dress codes to finding a look that suits both you and the occasion, keep reading to find out how to look your best for your next formal party. 

What Is Party Attire?

While almost anything goes when it comes to informal or casual party attire, formal party attire is a very different story. 

In most cases, regardless of the specific formal dress code, a dress will be your go-to item of clothing. Of course, certain lengths, cuts, and even colors of dresses are more appropriate than others for the more formal end of the dress code spectrum. 

Or, you might prefer to go for a two-piece gown. These combine a bodice-style top and either a full or column skirt for a more wearable option that you can then mix and match it with other looks. Although, be sure to choose a two-piece that joins at the middle to avoid showing off your midriff. 

Decipher the Dress Code

Now you have a better idea of what party attire is, it’s time to decipher the dress code of the event you’re headed to. After all, there’s more than one formal dress code for a party. Here are the most common dress codes explained, from the most to the least formal: 

White Tie

Also known as Ultra Formal, a White Tie invitation means you’ll need to pull out all the stops with your most formal party attire. While other formal dress codes leave some room for interpretation, only a full-length ball gown will do for White Tie. 

Long gloves used to be an integral part of this dress code but now these are more of an optional extra than an essential accessory. Although, if you do choose to wear gloves, remember to take them off before eating anything. 

Black Tie 

Black Tie means the same as a formal dress code for a party. Although formal cocktail attire is acceptable, a floor-length dress offers a more classic and elevated way to dress for the occasion. Keep your look sophisticated yet simple with a flattering and elegant silhouette in a more understated color. 

An Audrey Hepburn-style black column dress is an ideal option but you shouldn’t feel that you have to wear black if it’s not your usual style. Navy, jewel colors, or something more unexpected like slate gray can all work well if the dress is right. 

Black Tie Optional

Also called Black Tie Invited, this dress code calls for party attire that’s a little more relaxed than standard Black Tie. 

Cocktail dresses, long dresses, or an elegant evening two-piece gown are all great choices for this dress code. You’ll still need to keep a formal edge to your outfit with a classic cut and color, although adding statement jewelry can provide a hint of personality. 

Creative Black Tie

This dress code gives you the opportunity to go for a more modern, fashion-forward take on classic Black Tie. 

As the name suggests, you shouldn’t be afraid to get creative with avant-garde styling and unexpected details. For example, you could choose a floor-length gown with a peplum, embellishments, or draping. 

In some cases, the invitation may suggest a theme for your Creative Black Tie party attire in the same way that the Met Gala does each year. Here, you can opt for a formal look with creative accents as a way of representing the theme in your own way. 

Cocktail Attire

This dress code allows you to have a little more fun with your formal party attire. Think short embellished dresses with a high neck and long sleeves, or form-fitting midi dresses in soft fabrics and lighter colors. 

But, while Cocktail Attire is less casual than Black Tie, don’t go for anything too revealing. Keep things appropriate but fun with a polished and sophisticated look. If you’re unsure as to what constitutes a cocktail dress, a black dress that falls just above the knee is ideal. 

Festive Attire

This dress code is popular for formal parties throughout the holiday season. But don’t think that you can get away with wearing a reindeer sweater or accessorizing with Santa earrings. Festive Attire calls for the same kinds of outfits as you’d consider for Cocktail Attire, albeit with a festive twist.  

Play up to the dress code with a dress featuring tartan fabric, embellishments, or even bow detailing. Festive colors like red and green are also popular, but keep the style more understated if you go for a vibrant shade. 


This dress code can be a little tricky as the requirements change slightly depending on the time of the event. 

If you’re headed to an evening wedding with a Semi-Formal dress code, go for a cocktail dress no more than two inches above the knee. During the daytime, however, you can opt for dressy separates or a simple yet appropriate short dress. 

Resort Formal

More and more summer weddings and outdoor events are recognizing the appeal of a Resort Formal dress code for optimal comfort during warm-weather functions. 

A flowing maxi dress in a lightweight fabric is ideal. Feel free to go for bold prints and bright colors too. As for your shoes, beach events call for flats while wedges are a good compromise for grassy occasions if you need some extra height. 

Dress for the Occasion

Now you have a better idea of what to wear to a formal party, you can start thinking about a specific outfit for the particular event you’re headed to.  

But, as well as the dress code, factors such as the location, time, and season will all have an impact on your outfit choices. For example, if the event is outside, go for something more fitted. A floaty dress might look nice but you run the risk of a sudden gust of wind blowing your skirt up. 

You’ll also need to consider things like whether there will be dancing, a buffet or a sit-down dinner, and who or what the event is for. For example, if it’s a Black Tie dinner in honor of your company’s 50th anniversary, the atmosphere might be more corporate than celebratory. In this case, playing it safe with a simple black dress is advisable. 

Try to find out as much about the event ahead of time from the host. This will ensure you look great and feel comfortable in an outfit that is not only appropriate for the dress code on the invitation, but also for the specific party you’re invited to. 

Stay True to Your Style

While some celebrities seem to be at a formal party or event every week, us mere mortals rarely get the opportunity to pull on fancy gowns. 

As a result, you might feel like you want to try a new look for your party attire. Or, worse still, you might feel pressured into wearing a dress that’s not your usual style. 

Either way, it’s a bad idea to veer too far away from the kinds of looks you usually wear. Doing so is likely to make you feel uncomfortable and out of place. And this is the last thing you want when you’re meant to be having fun. 

Stay true to your style by choosing formal party attire that embodies what you look for in the clothes you love. If you’re more of a jeans and t-shirt girl, make comfort and simplicity a priority by going for an understated dress in a soft fabric. Or, for those of you who are into retro looks, a vintage gown will ensure your formal party look is as original as you are.   

Add Interest With Accessories

Another way to make your formal party attire feel more akin to your usual style is with accessories.

Purses, shoes, and jewelry can all help to bring your look together to make it feel more intentional. What’s more, whether you go simple and understated or big and bold with your accessories, these choices help define and underline the style you’re going for. 

For example, a pair of stud earrings and one or two subtle rings for women can help ground a formal gown in a more adventurous color choice or style. Likewise, a sequinned purse, heels in a contrasting color, or oversized earrings can all add personality to a simple black dress. 

What to Wear to Formal Parties

Thanks to this handy guide, choosing what to wear to formal parties is no longer a headache. 

With a clear idea of what all the different formal dress codes mean, as well as tips for making sure your outfit is perfect for both you and the party you’re headed to, you can’t go wrong! 

For more luxurious lifestyle inspiration, be sure to check out our other blog posts. 


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