Try On Haul: Black Tie Optional Dresses for a Fall Wedding

Greetings, friends! I have a different sort of try on haul today. I’m attending a wedding in October with a black tie optional dress code, and these are the dresses I’ve tried.

If you have a formal wedding or any type of gala coming up this fall/winter, hopefully this post will give you some options.

Try On Haul: Black Tie Optional Dresses for a Fall Wedding

Of course, Rent the Runway is always an option for an event like this, if you think you’ll never wear the dress again, but I thought it would be fun to see what’s in stores right now and try some out.

But first things first…

What Does Black Tie Optional Mean?

Black tie optional dress suggests a tuxedo or formal dark suit and tie for men, and a long evening gown or a shorter cocktail dress for women.

At first, I wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go, so I tried some of both.

For size reference, I’m 5’5″ with an hourglass shape, and I typically wear a size 8 dress. Evidently vanity sizing hasn’t reached special occasion dresses because I needed a 10 in most of these. Let’s get started!

Black Tie Optional Dress Try Ons: Long Evening Gowns

Let’s start with the long evening gowns. I’m wearing a 4″ heel with all of the long dresses, so that gives you an idea of how much hemming might be involved.

Black Tie Optional Dress: Eliza J Lace Inset Laguna Crepe Trumpet Gown

Black Tie Optional Dress: Eliza J Lace Inset Laguna Crepe Trumpet Gown

Eliza J Lace Inset Laguna Crepe Trumpet Gown (size 10) // Well, this one is obviously not the best fit for me. The issue I’m having in most dresses is the chest. If you have a small or average chest size, this dress would be fine, but on me, it’s a bit much.

It’s also a bit long, but I’m sure it could be hemmed pretty easily.

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Dessy Collection Lux V-Neck Chiffon Gown

Dessy Collection Lux V-Neck Chiffon Gown (size 10) // I really wanted this gown to work because I love the design, but it’s so revealing, the only picture I could post is this one with my phone in front of my chest. You’ll have to look at it online to see the way it’s designed.

It’s a gorgeous dress, and the color is perfect for a fall wedding. I also like the the slit in the full skirt. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work for me.

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Show Me Your Mumu Milan Mermaid Evening Gown

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Show Me Your Mumu Milan Mermaid Evening Gown

Show Me Your Mumu Milan Mermaid Evening Gown (size 10) // This one is obviously too long, and I’m not a fan of the fit in the top. Even if I didn’t have the chest issue, the straps are cut kind of far in on the sides for an odd fit.

It’s also kind of plain — reminds me too much of a bridesmaid, and I’m not a fan of the mermaid silhouette.

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Social Bridesmaids V-Neck Georgette Gown

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Social Bridesmaids V-Neck Georgette Gown

Social Bridesmaids V-Neck Georgette Gown (size 10) // Another pretty dress that doesn’t quite work for me in the chest area.

I like this a lot, but it would need to be altered to fit me better — if the straps were shortened, it could be nice. I really like the georgette and chiffon fabrics (is there a difference?)

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Hayley Paige Occasions Square Neck Tie Back Crepe Evening Dress

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Hayley Paige Occasions Square Neck Tie Back Crepe Evening Dress

Hayley Paige Occasions Square Neck Tie Back Crepe Evening Dress (size 8) // This one also reminds me too much of a bridesmaid, and it’s plainer than I want. And the chest… gah!

Black Tie Optional Dress: Dessy Collection Sleeveless Crepe Column Gown with Lace

Black Tie Optional Dress: Dessy Collection Sleeveless Crepe Column Gown with Lace

Dessy Collection Sleeveless Crepe Column Gown with Lace (size 8) // I actually really like the fit of this one, but I could barely get it zipped. I would need a size 10, and it would need to be hemmed.

Unfortunately, I have bra issues with the back. It’s all lace, and I’m not even sure what bra I could wear with that.

You may or may not have noticed, but all of these dresses are regular bra-friendly. I have a strapless bra that I like okay, but I’m feeling too old and crotchety to wear one all night. (And that wouldn’t even help with this dress. Sooooo…. it’s out.)

Black Tie Optional Dress: Calvin Klein Embroidered Illusion-Mesh Gown

Black Tie Optional Dress: Calvin Klein Embroidered Illusion-Mesh Gown

Calvin Klein Embroidered Illusion-Mesh Gown (size 8) // This is really pretty, comfortable, and flattering; but it’s overall too long. I know it looks okay in the picture, but it’s too low in the chest and under the arms. If the whole thing could be pulled up, it might work, but the lace is continuous over the shoulder, so there’s no easy way to make that alteration.

Besides that, there’s something about it that reminds me of a nightgown. It’s just not quite what I’m looking for.

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Xscape Mesh Inset & Embroidered Evening Dress

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Xscape Mesh Inset & Embroidered Evening Dress

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Xscape Mesh Inset & Embroidered Evening Dress

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Xscape Mesh Inset & Embroidered Evening Dress

Xscape Mesh Inset & Embroidered Evening Dress (size 8) // Cue angels singing!!!

I absolutely love this dress. It is by far my favorite of the bunch. The fit is perfect, the length is perfect, although the short train in the back is a pain. I love the mesh insets, there are no bra issues, and it’s comfortable. It also doesn’t look at all like a bridesmaid’s dress.

I do think it’s too formal for this occasion, though. If it were a black tie event, it would be perfect, but with that “optional” thrown in there, I think I’d feel overdressed compared to the other women my age.

In fact, I didn’t feel quite right in any of the floor-length dresses, although the red one with the lace back would be my top pick if it weren’t for the bra issue.

I just don’t want to look like I’m trying to be part of the wedding party, ya know? It’s been years since I’ve been on the wedding circuit, and back in those days, I was one of the younger set. These days, I’m one of the old aunts. I’ve definitely noticed the shift in roles at the last two weddings I attended.

All that to say, I want to be appropriate and feel comfortable with my choice of dress, and I think going the cocktail dress route is probably best. Here are the options I’ve tried so far.

Black Tie Optional Dress Try Ons: Fall Cocktail Dresses

Black Tie Optional Dress: Eliza J Lace Three-Quarter Sleeve Sheath Dress

Black Tie Optional Dress: Eliza J Lace Three-Quarter Sleeve Sheath Dress

Eliza J Lace Three-Quarter Sleeve Sheath Dress (size 8) // This dress fits well, but I’m not crazy about the fabric — it looks cheaper than it is. For whatever reason, I just don’t love this one.

Vince Camuto Sequin Cap-Sleeve Shift Dress (size 8) // I really like the design and fit of this one, and the material is kind of fun too. It flatters my hourglass shape without drawing undue attention to the chest area, and I love how the sleeves are cut.

I’m just afraid it’s a little too short for this event, more night club than wedding. What do you think?

I’m also aware that it’s not the most flattering color for me, although I like it, and the metallic mesh sandals go with it perfectly.

Eliza J Floral Lace Fit & Flare Dress (size 8) // This is pretty, but there’s something about it I don’t love. I think it’s the length. The color is gorgeous, though.

Eliza J High Neck Lace Sheath Dress (size 8) // This is very similar to the one above, just with an A-line skirt rather than the fit and flare style. I like this one better, but it fits weird in the back. It kind of bubbles where the keyhole opening is. Even my daughter mentioned it when I tried it on.

The skirt is also a bit longer in the back than the front, which looks odd. I think it’s a combination of my chest taking up an extra inch in the front, and then it’s not very flattering over the rear — it kind of flattens me out back there.

All that to say, it’s going back, but I think it would be a really nice choice for someone with a smaller chest.

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Eliza J V-Neck Lace Sheath Dress

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Eliza J V-Neck Lace Sheath Dress

Black Tie Optional Dresses: Eliza J V-Neck Lace Sheath Dress

Eliza J V-Neck Lace Sheath Dress (size 8) // This one is worthy of consideration, and I think it says “black tie optional dress” better than any of the other cocktail dresses I’ve tried.

The navy lace over the gold satin is really pretty, but the lace cocktail dress thing has been done so much in recent years, I’m kind of over it.

I also feel like it makes my chest look even larger than it is, although overall I think the dress is very flattering. I will say that it’s comfortable, which is a huge plus, so at this point it’s still a contender.

Eliza J Sequined Cap Sleeve Sheath Dress (size 8) // Does anyone remember this dress from last winter??? (See more in THIS POST.)

I was planning to wear it to my husband’s holiday office party last year, but they went with a more casual venue, so I never wore it. I just found it in the basement in one of my fall/winter storage bins, and I’m wondering if it’s the answer to this black tie optional dress conundrum.

In Summary…

I’ve also ordered this scuba crepe sheath to try, but I wanted to get this post up today, so I’ll include that in next week’s try on haul.

I’d also like to try this cowl back ruched sheath in a size 10. I tried the size 8, but couldn’t get it zipped, and it’s since sold out in my size at Nordstrom; but I just found it at Dillard’s, and I’m thinking of ordering it.

But after all of my shopping and try-ons, I’m tempted to wear my own navy sequined cap sleeve sheath and call it a day. I love it, and it fits great (or will if I can drop a few pesky pounds, which I usually do in the fall.) My only concern is the fabric.

With the combination of velvet and sequins, is it too wintery/holiday for an October wedding? Tell me what y’all think.

In fact, tell me what you think of all of the above, and if you’ve been to a black tie optional wedding recently, which style seems the most appropriate for this old aunt?

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101 thoughts on “Try On Haul: Black Tie Optional Dresses for a Fall Wedding

  1. Wow, that was an exhausting number of dresses. And I hate to say it after all the effort that went in to trying that many but that one from last year that you didn’t get to wear is the standout winner for me.
    Completely stunning and appropriate for the event.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I will attend a black tie wedding in October and I am finding the same problems as you —dresses are so low in the front! Your comments of why you like/don’t like certain dresses are really helping to steer me in the right direction. I have never been to a black tie wedding and at 58 I am discovering I just don’t look good in long gowns. But that black one you had on might be the one for me! Thanks again.

  3. I really like all these dresses I have September weddings to attend this is a great post! One I can refer back to in the future as well

  4. Oh my that cowl back is adorable. The name had me unsure until i clicked on it and saw it….wow. Wish I would have seen that when i needed a mother of the groom dress although i loved the one i got….that was pretty fun looking.

  5. My favorite is the gold sequin (the short one) and then my next favorite is the last one. The others are a big no.

  6. That is so funny because while looking at all these dresses I was thinking of the one you didn’t get to wear !!! Don’t ask how I remembered it when I sometimes can’t remember yesterday 😄… I liked the shorter style dresses on you… thanks for showing us options though

  7. The last one is my pick! In the past, I have spent days looking for appropriate wedding guest attire. Then I find myself in a darkened reception room at a table back in the corner and wonder what I was worried about…

  8. Since the invitation says “optional”, I’m sure you will see people there who won’t be wearing black tie. I would go with a cocktail dress because of that. The one you already own is perfect. We always have two charity events each year that are formal and I take into consideration what my husband will be wearing to decide what I wear. If he’s in a tux, then I wear a long dress. If he’s in a dark suit, then I wear a cocktail dress.

  9. Wow, I’m exhausted just reading that post, great job! 
    My favorites are the last 2…the last one, that you already had, is my ultimate favorite. 

  10. My favorites were the long black one that you like and the gold/navy lace cocktail dress. I recently went to a wedding that was “black tie preferred” and there were more long gowns than short ones but a mix of both. I wouldn’t worry about anything being too dressy because that definitely wasn’t an issue at the wedding I attended. I also think it depends on the wedding venue. I also like the navy one that you already have. You look amazing in all these dresses–you definitely aren’t going to be the old doddering aunt…lol!

    1. That is good to know. I have a feeling there will be quite a mix with this crowd, but I think the women my age that I’m hanging out with (my sisters-in-law, etc) will be in cocktail dresses.

  11. Love this post, even though I have no occasions to dress up for in my future! I personally think the full length dresses either look too much like bridesmaid or mother of the groom/bride dresses. One question is, what time is the wedding? If reception is at night, I think the gold short one would be appropriate and lovely. It looks great on you! I agree that the lace style is overdone and you may see many at the wedding. I love the navy one you already own. So many times I’ve shopped for new clothes and then gone with what I had! It sounds like you would be most comfortable in that. And as I always think, the crowd is looking at the bride anyway, so why spend the money?😉

    1. The wedding is at 4:00 and the reception is at 6:00. And yeah, I know no one cares what I wear, but I don’t get to dress up this much very often, so I wanted to have fun with it. 🙂

    2. The bride definitely steals the show, but wearing  a pretty cocktail dress makes a woman feel beautiful and confident on such a special occasion😊

  12. I like the last one the best!  You look amazing in it and it looks comfortable and like you could dance in it.  Two key factors for event dressing I think.  

  13. I only liked the black long dress–the one you thought was too dressy.  I think you could wear it.  Of the short dresses, I like the one you were going to wear last Xmas and the navy lace over the gold satin. Yes lace cocktail dresses have been around awhile — but you know why? because they look good and are “fancy” without being long.

  14. Love you trying all these dresses on!  Dresses are hard because you really have to try them on.  I’m a 60 year old with a similar figure and I love that you try to find the most flattering and modest (ish) options.  The designers don’t realize that just because we don’t want to hang our bosom out there we still want young, fresh clothes.  Love, love love the black long dress, but I agree its too dressy.  I think the navy cap sleeve dress would be great, not too wintery!

  15. My general rule is that I go with a long dress if my sweetie wears his tux. I go with short if he wears a dark suit. If I do wear a short dress and he’s in a tux, I go very dressy. I LOVE the Vince Camuto sequin sheath, but don’t think it says formal wedding if you’re looking for traditional. That said, I think we should go with what makes us feel good and throw tradition to the wind sometimes. I also think the venue matters.
    My other favorite is the dress you own. I say go with that one because you look gorgeous in it!
    I love the Vince Camuto sheath so much that I may order it to try it on. I don’t have a specific event in mind, but I do get an opportunity to wear something like that once or twice a year and it’s that amazing.

  16. I love a lot of the floor length gowns on you but I get what your saying about feeling like they are too formal for an optional black tie or like a bridesmaid.  The red one is very pretty on you but not worth it if you’re uncomfortable with the bra choice you’d have to make.  My favorite is the Xscape black  evening dress.  Wow!  😍❤️

    For the cocktail length dresses I’m not too crazy about any of them.  The Eliza J V Neck is probably the most appropriate and flattering but I get what you’re saying about the lace dresses being overdone.  The one you already own have from last holiday season is my favorite out of them and looks great on you but I think it’s just too much of a party dress look – but that might just be me.  But I know whatever you chose you will look great!  

    1. I agree!  That dress is gorgeous but all the sequins almost make it too flashy for a wedding.  I almost feel like it’s better suited for a New Years Eve party.  But it is really pretty! 

  17. Jo-Lynne, I really like the gold short dress. It’s super flattering on you and the gold screams fall wedding to me. I do not think it’s too short for a cocktail dress. You look fabulous in it! 

    LOVE the long black one as well but I know you’re not going long this time but maybe if you have another formal event later on that would be the one. 

    The navy/gold lace sheath is really pretty as well and would be my second choice for a cocktail dress. 

    The navy velvet one you already own is also nice. I personally wouldn’t wear it in October b/c it does look wintery to me but I live in FL so I’m probably not the best person to ask about that part. 

    Have fun! I wish I had an upcoming event. I’m kinda jelly lol. K 🙂

  18. I would love to see the silver Cowl back dress on a real person and Get your opinion on whether the sleeves are annoying. I’m tempted to order it for an event myself!

  19. Okay, so why in the heck do so many clothing designers make their garments so that the girls are well exposed to everybody and their brother?  I just don’t get it!  A woman can be sexy and beautiful without things hanging out.  Any way, I love the dress that you already own, and you look fabulous in it.  However, I also really like the ones you want to order and try on.  Since you seem to have some doubt about wearing the one you own, I would try the others.  You want to feel Aunt appropriate, so that you will fully enjoy the wedding.  So, I can’t believe you are loving the humidity and soaking it all in.   You definitely need to be down here.  Have a fabulous day!

  20. The Vince Camuto short dress looks darling on you!! If you don’t wear it to this wedding you should still add it to your wardrobe…maybe for a fun holiday cocktail party?? You look amazing in the navy lace over gold dress too and absolutey stunning in the one you already own. If I were you I would wear it to the wedding and buy the Vince Camuto for fun!!

  21. Wow, such a great selection of dresses! Not that I’d ever have an opportunity to wear such beautiful dresses, but I LOVE the long black gown! So classy and elegant and it looks like it fits you so well too! Good luck with your decision!

  22. Yes!!!  The entire time I was reading this and rolling through pictures I was wondering about last year’s holiday party dress that did not get worn. I was wondering if you kept it (hoped you did). It’s gorgeous on you and I like it better than any of these. I think it fits the bill for black tie optional. It fits you perfectly.  Wear it. You look stunning in it!  

  23. Well Jo-Lynne I’m with you on ‘last years’ dress. It doesn’t look out of fashion in the least and it is in my opinion the best choice… look very good in it too!
    I’m really surprised at the lack of choice for women who ARE more conscious of our decolletage!!!!

  24. I DO remember the blue dress from last year and I still LOVE it. It looks terrific on you. 
    I know you feel it is a little short but also loving the Vince Camuto cap sleeves taupe dress. 
    Even though they are pretty , I agree, I would be looking for something different. 

  25. I thought the navy sequin dress looked the best on you out of the options you chose. Color, a bit of glam and chest coverage were spot on.

  26. Definitely the xscape lace inset dress on you! It looks perfect-the other long dresses seem too busty and the cocktail dresses seem too party-ish, except the lace overlay, which I am also over!

  27. It has been my experience that if the invitation says black tie optional, the majority of the people by far are in long gowns/ tuxedos – says someone who was not 🙃 My husband was in a dark suit and it was obvious he was only one of a few not in a tux. I would wear a gown next time. Just saying.

  28. I’m all for the dress you already own. Style, color..everything about it is just right. We’re hosting our daughters wedding Oct 5 and included “semi-formal attire is welcome” after seeing how people dress at recent weddings. (She photographed a wedding this year where a guest wore a Def Leppard T shirt! 😂) Your dress is exactly what she’d like to see her guests wear.

  29. Hello – the navy sequinned cap sleeve has my vote! It looks great and perfect for autumn – with a nice wrap?
    Best wishes 

  30. I really like the navy lace sheath dress. I think it’s the most flattering on you. What about that dress you wore to your nephews wedding, but in the teal or black? You could dress it up with a statement necklace. Just a thought. I’m sure you’ll find the perfect solution soon.

  31. Definitely the one you already own! It fits you perfectly and the sparkle glams it up but the style is youthful and not over the top . The neckline is really flattering- I have the same chest issues and it’s very hard to find a dress that I don’t feel like I’m hanging out of. No one wants to be yanking their dress up all night! The cocktail length looks great on you. 

  32. Wow!  That’s a lot of trying on!  And you picked such a great variety!  Personally, I like the navy one you had already. From the picture, I’d never have noticed the velvet part.  It sounds though that you really like the fit & look of the dress. !  And if it passes the “sit down test” as I call it, go for it!  I say that as my daughter had an issue with a gown we purchased years ago. It fit her beautifully but we never had her try & sit while wearing it. Brought it home & on the night of the event, she left the house & went to get into the vehicle, couldn’t sit down unless she hiked it up to her thighs!  It was too late then, but lesson learned!  Always make sure you can actually sit in your outfit!  

  33. Another vote for the lace one! I’m not a fan of the back zipper on that last blue shiny one! 😉 You’ll looking stunning, no matter what! 😉

  34. Haahaa – It makes me laugh when you call yourself the “old” aunt! I do agree with you that the best one is the one from last year. I remember I loved it on you in the original post – its a winner! Maybe its just me but I can’t get on the lace trend, maybe because I wore a lace dress to my high school grad in the late 80’s! LOL!

  35. Definitely the blue one you own. I commented on that last year and I still think it’s the most flattering dress you have ever modelled. Just a comment, I’m on the west coast and we’re Uber casual here. The young show lots of skin and a long gown looks so middle aged to my eye. I know it’s a cultural, regional thing and I’m guessing you wear more formal attire on the east coast so I don’t like any of the long gowns. You look so much more vibrant in a cocktail dress. 

  36. Wow!! That was quite the Haul… I liked the ones you liked. They looked great on you… Alterations you could do on the ones too long if you love them enough.. Thanks for this post. I don’t get invited to many Black tie affairs but I would consider some for Fancy date nights!

  37. Hi Jo-Lynne, I really like the gold dress but hands down my favourite is the last one. The navy dress looks awesome on you. I’m curious though, what would the navy dress look like with the nude shoes?

  38. Black tie optional, usually means black tie.  The “optional” part is put in there as a courtesy to the few who would be feel put off by black tie attire, as some would.  I have been to a few optional black tie, and just a handful of people went with the “optional” attire, but it could be different in your area.  I love the chiffon green dress on you, and it is fashion forward this fall.  I would just have the bust area altered to your comfort level.  You could dance the night away in that dress, but you looked beautiful in many of the dresses. 

  39. I would wear with cocktail dress you already own It looks fabulous on you! It’s classy and a bit edgy – perfect! I do love the black long dress on you also, but its too formal. I know how you feel about the shift in roles at weddings. My husband and I attended a wedding in May this year and we hadn’t been to one in a few years. We had a nice time but the days of dancing through the night are way over : ( I think we left around 10:00 and were home in bed before 11:00

  40. After all those, my favorite is the navy one as well. I did like the black embroidered one, but agree you might feel overdressed. I think the navy one is a winner.

  41. Beautiful dresses! I always pick a dress I’m comfortable wearing. It has to be a great fit and appropriate for the venue. I love the lace dresses for these events. They are just so feminine without being overtly sexy as some dresses are these days. I love the Eliza J Lace dress on you. I just might order it for myself. 

  42. Definitely the one from last year! Old aunt=no cleavage showing! And the bit of sleeve is nice too. Besides all of that, it looks great on you!.

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