We’ve all been there; your invitations arrive but that one ‘black tie optional’ dress code rule transforms your initial excitement to anguish. However, there’s no need to panic this time. Tan France, makeover maestro and style guru from the Emmy Award-winning Netflix series Queer Eye, is here to break down the do’s and don’ts of black-tie fashion for women. With his help, we’ve whipped up a guide that will not only help you navigate the dress-code etiquette for black tie, white tie and black tie optional but also encourage you to style them with confidence.

Tan France what to wear black tie event

Keep scrolling to read our guide and discover Tan France’s styling tips.


The most frequently used of the dress codes, black tie is always formal, but there is room to maneuver. Men are expected to wear a dinner jacket, or at least a well-fitted suit, while women should mirror this formality with a sophisticated dress. However, formal doesn’t necessarily have to mean boring. Where you are conservative with length you can play around with color; if you opt for demure shapes, you can go bold with accessories. Cocktail dress lengths can be permitted but, generally speaking, higher hems are deemed more casual and therefore less appropriate.

With this being said, consider your venue and host before committing to your outfit. A fundraising event in one of London’s most glamorous hotels may require different attire to a 50th birthday dinner at someone’s home, depending on the host. Plus, while a striking tulle skirt may look fabulous for a dance, it is not so practical for a seated event. Similarly, a form-fitting ‘red carpet dress’ may be uncomfortable for a full evening meal, so be sure to do your research first.

Whichever dress you choose be sure to add accessories that compliment rather than overshadow. Opt for a clutch bag to avoid any straps getting in the way of your look.


White tie, or sometimes called full evening dress, is the most formal of the dress codes and will, more often than not, be for very important events, charity galas or evening weddings and will always be stated on the invitation. Men are expected to be in tails and women are expected to wear full-length dresses, though this tends to veer more towards a gown.

A step up in formality from black tie, the rules are more restrictive, which can be seen as limiting for some. Showing too much flesh is a definite no, though décolletage and shoulders may be permitted, depending on your host and the occasion. This dress code can be where your accessories can really take center stage, depending on your dress. Handbags are expected to be small, so a bold, embellished clutch bag and fabulous earrings can elevate your look perfectly. Or, depending on your neckline, a show-stopping necklace could be a perfect finishing touch to amp up the glamor.

If you've opted for a stand-out dress use delicate jewelry to add a subtle but elegant finishing touch. If your dress or gown is simple, have fun with more show-stopping jewels.


Black tie optional is the least formal of the invitation dress codes and therefore can be much more playful than the previous two. You will usually see it on invitations for parties and celebrations like big birthdays and daytime wedding receptions, rather than formal, evening events. This means that it is far less restrictive in terms of traditional rules, so you can venture into cocktail dressing with shorter hemlines or even look to wearing a jumpsuit, or a fun co-ord. Plus, with more room to maneuver and varying skirt lengths accepted, this means your shoes can take center stage if that’s what feels natural for you.

However, with more freedom can come more elaborate choices and, unfortunately, room for error. Therefore, remember this dress code still denotes an important occasion but if you’re unsure, always consider your host, venue and event in line with the above.

Just because you may be wearing a floor length dress doesn’t mean you can forget about the shoes. If you are comfortable in a heel, go high and go bold, but if you’re not then even adding a small heel can do wonders for your posture and confidence.

Watch our video above to see what Queer Eye’s Tan France showed friend and customer of THE OUTNET, Emily, what to wear for black and white-tie events.