August 28, 2017
On Wednesday’s post about how to UNPACK your suitcase, a reader commented that she needed advice about what to wear to an upcoming formal event being held in Orlando, in October. Another reader posted a really intelligent, thoughtful response, but I thought that it was an interesting question, worth tossing out to the general Vivienne Files population. (the smartest women around, no questions!)
I haven’t attended a black-tie event since the overly-posh ’80s, when I was in my 20’s and when everything was completely out of control – I could have just glued diamonds all over my body and it wouldn’t have raised many eyebrows. (except when the bill came!) I know what I would wear, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into what would be best for someone else…
So comment away!
And while you’re thinking, I have a few ensembles that I pulled together that I thought were fun…
This first one would almost certainly be too warm in Orlando, but I loved the swish of the dress, and that feeling that it’s just an overgrown tee shirt…
I adore this – it’s a color that’s so flattering, and the cuts are simple. Leaving the top untucked can hide a lot of things we’d like to keep unseen, too…
Black is always good – I suspect that this dress might be longer in person, but a tape measure would be useful if you’re mail-ordering. I tried to choose unexpected jewelry here, just to keep things interesting.
I would wear this in a heartbeat..
And THIS screams to me – if I had a holiday dressy event, this is how I would want to dress. “Tomboy goes to the prom…”
One approach to choosing what to wear would be to pick your favorite color and go wild – if you truly love navy with bright colors, indulge yourself.
Another thought – if you can wear a color that’s not flattering on most people, DO IT. You’ll be the only person in the crowd (probably) wearing that color. I particularly love the touches of pink in this dress – I chose the bag to pull that pink a little bit more into prominence.
Velvet! What’s not to love? Even in Florida, short-sleeves will make velvet wearable.
I like the insouciant feeling of tossing a cardigan over your shoulders when the air-conditioning goes crazy; that’s one of the things that I’ve found that you can count on in Florida…
Which of these would you choose? Or what would you wear, if you had this exciting evening in your future?
Taste of France says
That first dress is gorgeous.
I think she should check out Rent the Runway or a similar service. If a black-tie event is a rare thing for her, she can get something really fabulous and not have to keep it.
Your second outfit seems to straddle the dressy/formal/comfortable divide well. Something on the long side, even if it isn't floor length, looks "fancier" than a short dress. Also, length hides flat or low-heeled shoes. A cocktail dress without heels suddenly looks way too informal. Then there's the bare leg or not question. Our partygoer can play rock/scissors/paper for the right combination–good legs, go for a shorter length; bad feet go for a longer length….
Love the rental idea. Gents have been doing it for years!
What an insightful comment – thanks Taste of France. It's such a dilemma – I have good legs with bad feet! In the autumn/winter I invariably wear black hose with a short hemlength. – nancyo
The Pouting Pensioner says
Well, my black tieing only stopped about 10 years ago when I retired. I've been to just one since and I don't miss them! But I have ended up with a wardrobe full of expensive black tie outfits which I am trying to incorporate into my day to day. So far I've only brought in a tuxedo, a black velvet jacket and a devore sequined stole. But that's something.
My comments aren't helpful at all, but as I was winding up my career of black tieing, long skirts with fancy sweaters were just creeping in (I have a pairing in dark brown) so following that trend, I really like the idea of that gorgeous pink top and skirt outfit. Love it, Janice well done!
For such a special event, I think it's fun to choose something a little outside the personal comfort zone but do it without investing heavily – unless formal events are part of ones social calendar. While I love the idea of a dress, my heart belongs to separates. A mid length swishy silk skirt (Eileen Fisher?) with some sparkle and a delicate low-to- mid heel? Silk or velvet flowy pants with an interesting structural top? And accessories!!! Please please please do not just settle for black on black because you may be uncomfortable with your current figure!! Pick a color and have fun! Or, use Ivory as your base, add sparkle, and smile! You will be lovely!! One more thing: if you find a style recipe that suits you but the prices do not, look on e-Bay or any of the resale websites. You might get lucky….. love the rental suggestion above too….
Another vote for flowy pants and an interesting structural top – I'd love another post of black tie event outfits if you don't do dresses or skirts!
Second selection, pink outfit would do it for me, thank you very much!
TAKE A WRAP!! –Signed, wore a halter dress to a black tie wedding in Florida and spent the night wrapped in the bride's grandmother's crochet shawl
Separates are key for me. I'd create an elegant column of color by pairing flowing silk pants with a simply cut top done in a luxurious fabric to match the pants and shoes. Add fabulous jewelry in an accent color to complete the look. Any color that flatters is a good choice. I prefer neutrals so I'd choose between ivory and maybe a silvery gray ensemble and wear deep purple amethysts with diamonds for a bit of sparkle.
The stunning pink outfit would be my choice. I absolutely love that skirt, in fact I love all your choices. But I would love to have an excuse to wear the pink. Would someone please invite me to a black tie event so I could wear it?
I've never been to a black tie event (unless my senior prom counts) so my opinion probably isn't worth much. Like others have pointed out separates seem more useful in the long run if black tie isn't part of your norm.
I would probably pick an outfit based on the print skirt one. (I wear a lot of print skirts anyway though, so that outfit is very me.) I'd get a longer print skirt, a silky blouse (better if it's hot) with matching shoes and a velvet jacket or wrap (for the possibly overdone AC). All three would be easy to mix with less dressy pieces for church or less formal events.
On a side note if we could afford it my 23 year old daughter would adore that gray dress. She loves swishy but not fussy and loves the idea of an overgrown tee shirt. She'd probably wear it everywhere (definitely not JUST to special occasions).
Is it written down that black tie has to be a dress or a skirt for a woman?
The pink one is my favorite. No black tie events in my life though. Even weddings in our family are not that formal. If I had a black tie event I would probably consider a rental too.
Gail Finke says
I have only been to a few black tie events, and only recently. They were all fundraisers. At some of them, women wore dresses and/or suits or some sort of jacket/sweater and dress combination. At others, women wore cocktail dresses. I was sort of in the middle in a nice but not very expensive "little black dress" (they really do work pretty well!). I do not own a cocktail dress. Nor do I own an expensive, really cool non-cocktail dress. I don't have the budget for one. Oh well, at first I felt very self-conscious at these. Now I realize that I will never be the best dressed, and so far I have never been the worst dressed, so anything in the middle is fine!
Most of these don't seem dressy enough to me for Black Tie – if the men will be in tuxedos, most women will be in a formal tea-length or floor-length dress or maybe a super dressy suit (metallic fabric, tuxedo cut, etc.). Rent The Runway would be great for this – and they do carry a limited selection of plus-sized dresses.
UK size 18 is equivalent to a US 14, so Catherine might not need to go with plus sizes. – nancyo
Carlene Ziegler says
I'm pretty old school on this topic. If the invitation is black tie, I'm going to wear a full length gown and my best jewelry. Having said that, I think separates in luxurious fabrics and colors (like rich jewel tones) also look great, and can be dressed down for future use in your wardrobe. I also think the rental route is a great idea-be glamorous for one evening and send it back!
Katrina Blanchalle says
My last black tie event was also in the 80s, unless evening weddings count, in which case it was the late 90s. I don't see many in my future, but I still keep formal outfits (just in case?). All separates for me: floor length velvet skirt and long pleated silk trousers, silk top and beaded top to mix and match.
That pink outfit is so pretty! I've never worn that color and it would fall off my sloped shoulders but I would stand up straight and give a shot. So pretty! The top, the skirt, the shoes…each piece is just wonderful.
Wow, what a lot of great ideas. I'm so glad I asked. I love the first dress featured here but as you say, it might be too warm. Issey Miyake Pleats Please jumps out and I must say I think this might suit me. The pink top is lovely but the pleated skirt would not do my hips any favours. Wide leg black evening trousers would be a sensible and useful item. Easy to wear with a silk blouse and statement dangly earrings.
Funnily enough there was an article yesterday in the Sunday papers about renting high cost evening outfits. Rent theRunway was mentioned. I might investigate that. Only thing is if the outfit is delivered to my sister in laws and does not suit me I will be up the creek without a paddle. Where should Iook for larger size women's wear over the pond if this happens? I am a UK size 18.
Thank you everyone for your thoughts and ideas. There is bound to be something out there for me.
Taste of France says
Rent the Runway gives you a free backup size. I would choose where to rent based on the return–if you have X number of days of travel, will you be back home in time not to get charged extra? If not, use your SIL's address.
Flowy black trousers with a silk top and jacket/cardigan would work great. You can use the pieces for other events. Maybe get a great cocktail necklace or ring to make this event extra special.
I'm from Europe so not 100% sure of the details of this dress code…
…but I feel compelled to say that this year I've found not one but TWO pretty amazing dresses. In plus size. I don't have many special occassions to attend, but owning these dresses may compel me to find some.
I first thought that off the shoulder look might not good look on a woman with broad shoulders…but these do. The velvet dress also comes in gorgeous dark blue, and the second dress comes in several colors. Both of these go great with gold pumps & clutch and some lovely jewelry.
Lace dresses are so hot right now and with the right hem and sleeve length can be appropriate on women of any age. Lace is also a lot more breathable than many of the black-tie traditional fabrics (like velvet) so can work in variable climates.
I'm also a big fan of the tuxedo for women, a portrait collar satin blouse with very slim trousers and very high heels, or a close fitting silk sweater with a very full ballgown skirt for less traditional looks.
And if you don't want to shop and aren't going to be the star of the night, a black suit can be made quite dressy with the right accessories.
These seem on the casual side for black tie, but if those are the options, I would go with the pink. It has the elegance that is needed, if not the luxury.
C'est Moi says
some pretty choices but mayhap a bit casual for my old-school definition of black tie. if the men are going to be in tuxes, i usually take it to mean women turn up in formal wear as well. i go to black tie events a couple times a year, and whilst i do see separates a la swishy silk pants or skirts with sparkly tops, i more often see cocktail dresses and gowns. i have a tuxedo i bought from brooks brothers (worn with a subtle camisole and a brooch) and a ralph lauren black cocktail dress with a deep neckline (both on sale), that pretty much are my go-tos in winter and summer respectively. they are both black and probably pretty boring, but not being very memorable i don't have any qualms having worn them over and over again over the years. every fall Ralph Lauren puts out quite a few inexpensive evening gowns for the holidays, and they have a good size range, strategic draping, and sometimes even dresses with pockets. i think mine was $180 or so before the sale at Lord & Taylor.
I am drawn to the black lacy dress and the velvet top and skirt combo which I would wear to a Christmas party/work's do, but not a black tie event. I have only been to one proper black tie event which was in January several year's ago and I wore a designer black velvet dress with jewelled coloured hand sewn silk embellishments throughout. Unfortunately, I disappeared in a sea of black, but one women stood out who wore a knee -length cocktail dress in a very memorable metallic ice blue which was stunning. Sharon. U.K.
I live in Florida, formerly in Orlando. In October, the weather should be beginning to cool, especially at night. Definitely make a wrap part of your ensemble. Shopping is very good there, with most of the larger chain department stores represented such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdales. If you don't find exactly what you're looking for before you leave England, make an appointment with a personal shopper at one of the stores, give her all your info, and she'll have several outfits ready for you to try on. There is no cost to you other than the clothes themselves when you use the store's personal shoppers. Florida also gives you the option of wearing colors you might not normally consider in cooler climes (like that beautiful pink). Just be careful with the prints and crazy florals 'cause we can spot a tourist from miles away. That said, don't worry, have fun, and be yourself. Your lovely British ways will carry you far.
That's a great idea. I'm going to book an appointment as I have several days before the event. Time to shop and get my nails done.
The Bride says
Last time I was in this situation (which, incidentally, involved crossing the Atlantic in the other direction) I bought a dress with a fitted velvet bodice and a long, priinted silk skirt. Afterwards, I had a tailor cut off the top and make it into a skirt that I could wear for less dressy occasions like weddings and Christmas parties. If I had to do it again, I would try to do the same thing- find something dressy that could be altered in some way to make it more useful.
On another topic, I find that metalllic kitten heeled sandals look dressy but are bearable for the length of an event on my terrible feet.
My husband had a high profile awards black tie event. He told me on a Thursday night I was to go with him in two days! I had never been, so I started trying on dresses for him. I had bought a dress at a thrift shop that was floor length black organza with beading on the bodice as well as a very fancy clutch and high heels. The outfit was beautiful and set me back $19 all together. The organization I shop at is filled with Nordstrom brand new off season donations as well as White House Black Market etc. I'm not a capsule closet kind of gal. What's wonderful is looking great, not spending a fortune and not freaking out when stuff like this comes up.
Love the blush pink ensemble—-the back of that top is fabulous! Also like the Issey Miyake. Last month I attended a black tie fundraiser and wore a vaguely flapper style tiered black organza. Knee length, with a 44" rope of pearls wound just twice for a twenties look length, sparkly black beaded ballet flats with black stockings, big mabe pearl earrings and a gold tissue lame stole. I have worn this outfit at various events for five years. It's never out of style because of the vintage look. As a bonus, it's twirly and fun to dance in!
What fabulous ideas from everyone. I am so grateful that you all took the time to think about my dilemma. Truly stylish women.
I attend black tie events frequently…and I would consider most of the ensembles shown here to be too casual. If I were to go such a party in Florida, in October, my first choice would be a floor-length gown (emerald, sapphire, ruby, chocolate, charcoal–no pastels of any kind) especially if it's a fundraiser or a work-related event. If it's a wedding or formal anniversary/birthday party, I'd wear a below-the-knee beaded dress (gold on cream, silver on charcoal, black on black) with subdued accessories, or just the opposite: a superbly-tailored dark-colored cocktail dress rendered in a "rich" looking fabric (silk, brocade, velvet, a good-quality satin) with an eye-popping, fabulously beaded clutch, strappy heels, and cashmere wrap. I'd stay away from florals, although some dark prints (especially geometric ones) would be lovely on a skirt if you go the separates route. The only pants I'd consider black-tie appropriate are palazzo pants, but only if they are exquisitely done and worn with sky-high heels.
As other ladies suggested, Rent the Runway is good if you know you will not likely wear this outfit in the next 2 years, and Nordstrom, Saks, and bridal stores are better if you think you might want to invest in a classic frock that you'll wear again. Good luck!
I decided to go with your advice because I know it will be a very dressy event. I bought a Gina Baconni gown which has a chiffon draped top edged with matt "sequins". I'm not sure what the trimmings are called. However I did decide to buy it in a pastel shade of pale turquoise. I have a fair Northern European skin so deeper jewel tones do not suit me at all. They look too hard against my skin tones. It just needs the hem altering which I will get done professionally. I have beautiful silver sandals from my daughters wedding and a silver clutch bag.
Traveling across the pond makes it more difficult, but perhaps friends or family would be willing to loan you dressy accessories like jewelry, evening bag or wrap.