What is the Difference Between Black-tie Optional and Formal?

Wedding guests have it tough. Sometimes it’s difficult to decipher exactly what to wear based on the time of day, especially these days as more and more weddings move away from the traditional noon and 5 pm, and instead walk the fine hours between 3-5 pm. Luckily we have the attire to accommodate even the most ambivalent wedding invitation. the difference between black tie and formalFrom semi-formal cocktail dresses to more formal social dresses, we’ll dress you to the nines, even if your wedding ends way before it. If you can’t figure out your ensemble based on the invitation’s hour, take note from the terminology and style instead:


If it says “Formal or Black-tie Optional,” a tuxedo is not required but is still appropriate, as is a dark suit. Ladies should opt for long dresses or cocktail-length in neutral hues. If it says “Semi-formal or Dressy Casual,” a light suit or dark is appropriate, and men should choose their suit color and type based on the ceremony time—before 3 pm, light, after 4pm, dark. Ladies should follow the same judgment: brighter colors earlier in the day, formal shades later.


Invitation style sets the stage for the couple and the wedding day more than you think. A plain invite with formal script and an ambiguous ceremony time of 4 pm, and we’d lean more toward floor length with neutral hues. A bright invite with not-so-formal typography and a late ceremony time, say 6 pm, and we’d lean more toward cocktail length and relaxed hues. While the wedding time and description are important, don’t forget to take stock in the style of the invitation and the couple in general. Both of these are key factors in choosing the best guest attire.