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Black tie affair? Now what?

Receiving a black tie invitation means gentlemen are expected to wear tuxedos, while women wear long, formal gowns.

Receiving an invitation to a wedding or another party in the mail can be an exciting prospect, presenting a chance to enjoy a night out and share several hours in the company of friends and family. Upon opening the invite, you may find the words "black tie." If you have never attended a black tie event, you may be unsure what that entails and how to prepare.

The appearance of "black tie" on an invitation means the party hosts are planning a formal affair and they'd like their guests to dress appropriately. For men, this dress code is unequivocally a black tuxedo. Gentleman who want to dress in the spirit of the occasion should purchase a tuxedo or rent one if finances do not allow for the purchase. Accompanying the tuxedo is a bow tie. Now is not the time to don a clip-on. Only a hand-tied bow tie will suffice. Additionally, men are expected to be conservative with their choice of tuxedo shirt. A white shirt is customary. It may have ribbing or a subtle detail. If a cummerbund or vest is worn, it should also be black. However, sometimes matching the vest or cummerbund to a date's dress is acceptable.

Women have a little more wiggle room when it comes to dressing for a black tie affair. A cocktail dress is customary, and many women prefer to wear something floor length because it appears more formal than a shorter dress. Dressy separates also are acceptable, provided they look formal enough. A ball gown or something you might see a celebrity wearing on the red carpet is customary.

On some occasions, some men may not want to be curtailed by dress code and may use the opportunity to dress as they would like. This is a breach of etiquette. Although a party host may be accommodating to the lack of tuxedo, he or she doesn't have to be. If you are invited to a black tie party, try to keep with the dress code so you are respectful of the party hosts.

In some instances, an invitation may read "black tie preferred" or "black tie optional." At such events, the hosts are giving guests the option to attend even if they prefer not to wear extremely formal attire. In this case, it's still in your best interest to dress as formally as possible. A black suit for a man and a cocktail dress for a woman are appropriate.

White tie is similar to black tie. Men are expected to wear full dress with a white shirt, white vest and white tie. Women wear long, fancy gowns.

Party hosts who request formal attire are trying to keep a uniform look to their party and avoid any conflicts that could arise with lax dress code requirements. If a host or hostess has specified a dress code, it is in proper form to stick to the requirements or decline the invitation. If you are ever in doubt about what to wear, you can always ask your hosts what is expected of you.

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