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. So I’ve got to say that all these dresses look gorgeous on lie, if I didn’t think so I wouldn’t bother posting…as far as the chest issue, I’ve got the same thing and you know what? You need to rock your assets!!! Women pay a lot of $$$$ to look like that!!  Us gals have it naturally! I used to feel like you and sometimes still do,  but I’m not getting any younger and it’s time to feel confident in our bodies..seriously,  you have a great shape, you are very blessed…having said that, YOU need to feel comfortable, so go with the one you can put on, forget about and have a great time😀

  2. Wow!  Hard to choose because they all are beautiful on you.  Of those that you show trying on in photos, the last one.  It shows in your eyes in the photos.  And you wore your favorite bracelet with it, which you did with none of the long dresses and only half of the short ones.  You put more of your heart into your description of last year’s dress than any of the rest.  You will be happiest with it.  

    Me?  If I had the courage, the green one.  It is definitely LOW in front, but the dress is gorgeous and drapes perfectly.  I agree with you that this is the best one for a black tie only affair and I always try to dress on the more formal edge of what is appropriate.  I really like the first red dress, but it risks upstaging the bride.  Lacking the courage, I would wear the last short one that you wore in the photos.  It looks stunning and it would be great to dance in.   It reminds me of a favorite lace dress that I wore the last time that I dressed up for the theatre.  The lady sitting next to me said that, after seeing me, she wished that she had dressed up.  All my extra work was worth it.  

  3. Of all the dress, the Vince sequin dress that you thought may be too short, is the most attractive of all on you.

  4. I really like the navy and gold lace dress, it looked really good on you!  
    Out of the floor length options,  I really like that red one!   Could you get a tailor to add in bra pads?  Or maybe use one of those stick on ones?  I know normally women with large chests don’t like these options because they don’t offer support, but if the dress is a thicker fabric in a more structured style,  that might not matter as much.  Wish you could find a way to make it work because it’s such a pretty dress,  and it looks great on you!  

  5. I love the sequin one from last year (though I’m thankful it isn’t as short on you as the model). Very pretty. Very not Old Aunt, but in a good way.
    I’ve loved that one since you got it! 🙂

  6. My husband has to go to formal events about twice a year. I’ve done Rent the Runway and made do twice and I decided to go buy a couple of dresses that I love. I’m 5’7″, 130 lbs and not weird shaped in any way. I tried on at least 30 dresses at Dillards. Everything from what I thought I’d love to You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me. I was trying to buy something on sale so sizing was sometimes an issue but UGH. I was worn out by the time I found ONE dress that I loved. Quite honestly the most frustrating aspect was the length of the long dresses. I don’t want to wear 4″ heels but even if I did, everything needed to be hemmed. Seriously at 5’7″? I guess they’re all made for 5’10” people thinking the rest of us can just hem them. The shorter dresses were almost the opposite.

  7. This was such a fun post! I often wish my lifestyle allowed for the wearing of formal gowns, but sadly it does not. But, it was fun watching you try on these gorgeous gowns! 

  8. Well, I’m also an “older aunt”, so I really relate! Being older kind of informs my choices when it comes to something like this because I am old enough to remember “back in the day” strict etiquette that declared what was worn based on the time of day of the wedding.
    Now I know nobody thinks that way any more, but still, that, coupled with everything running more casual all the time would make me shy away from a long gown for an afternoon wedding. I do love your navy velvet dress and think you’ve got an ace up your sleeve with that one. You’re a knockout in it. I almost like the beige Vince Camuto cap sleeve, but I wonder if the length reads a little clubby/young, like you said. Finally, the navy lace over gold satin is beautiful on you, but I’d personally shy away from gold because it’s just so glitzy. For what it’s worth, if I were choosing a dress for myself from all these I’d like the Eliza J. Fit and Flare, but I’m taller. It’s sooo pretty!

  9. The last two are golden. Fit the black tie optional and what I have seen most women wear at those! You look great in them!

  10. This is crazy, but I always find good formal dresses at Boscov’s.  They have petite in stock and they are often inexpensive, which for a 1 or 2 time wear dress, I prefer.

  11. I remember the sequin dress for the office party.  It’s gorgeous on you and I think it would be perfect in the Fall.  I look forward to seeing the other dresses  you’ve ordered next week.  I wish I was nearby and couldn’t come to the Kendra Scott event tonight. Have fun!!

  12. Wow.. what a line up of dresses. I really think the shorter length is the way to go unless it was more casual and it was a maxi type dress. You’re right it’s hard not to look like a bridesmaid. The dress you bought for your Christmas banquet and didn’t wear looks amazing… I also like the little gold dress too😉.
    Happy decision making:)

  13. Agreed – sequin cap sleeve is perfect! I may purchase for a formal work event. Navy blue is great for fall.

  14. Hi Jo-Lynne! You tried on some beautiful dresses. I had a little gasp when I saw you in the dress I’ve chosen for my son’s October wedding. I’m wearing the green Dessy Collection Lux V-Neck Chiffon Gown you showed. You’re absolutely right that the chest size makes a difference. Hahaha! I’m MUCH smaller than you there, and it works beautifully for me. Actually, it still gaped a little until I took it to Nordstrom yesterday for my alterations fitting. Once the tailor took up about a half inch in the shoulders for me I didn’t even need the privacy snap I had intended to ask for. So this is definitely a lesson in how much body shape and variations make a difference in fit.

    I thought all of the dresses with the higher neckline were gorgeous on you. It does take a lot of trying on with these dresses. I received mine in a Trunk Club trunk, so that’s a good way to do it, too. Good luck!!

  15. Go with the one you have! It’s beautiful! Here’s a tip for those in the mid-height range who are shopping for long gowns: try a petite. Last year I ordered an Eliza J long chiffon pleated dress for a garden wedding. When I returned it to the store saying it was extra long for a petite, the clerk held it to herself and said, “Oh my, I’m 5’7” and I would need heels with this.” It depends on the fit of the dress, of course, but it might work for you. 

  16. What a nice show! I like the long red one on you. So beautiful. I think you said it has lace on the back so it may be a bra issue. 
    You didn’t reveal the back view so I’m not sure. My second favorite is the Vince Cumit’s one. You’ll have to let us all know which one you decide on! 😀

  17. A very interesting post – and my hat is off to you for being brave and showing all your “fails.” Although, you look pretty darn good in all of them. I am not a fan of the long formal dress, and see so few people who actually look good in them. I like the short dresses better, and agree with most, the navy is really pretty. Over the last few years, attending fancy and not so fancy weddings, it really doesn’t make a difference anymore what you wear. We see it all here in Texas!

  18. Reading this post was a bit of a giggle for me. My son is getting married in September in a Micro-brewery. My future daughter in law wanted me to wear a long dress. I had to order about 50 of them and all but one went back. The pictures of the models in the dress’s looked great of course , then for me it did not work. Your comment about “you just didn’t know what was wrong with the dress” was exactly my feeling in many I tried on. I agree with that some of them I felt like they were bridesmaid dresses. Thanks for the post, and I like the short shimmery dress on you. To me it did not look short on you.

  19. JoLynne, I have loved that blue dress since the first time I saw it last year. It’s darling and looks amazing on you. IMHO I vote for it. Ha! Sharon

  20. You have great legs! Show those babies off!!  My two choices are the short, Vince sequin dress and 2nd is your dress from last year. I like the Vince dress and I do not think it is too short on you.  I think it looks great on you. Regarding the color, it may not be your “go-to”, but you can definitely wear it.  Especially with your dark hair.  I like the dress from last year, and it also looks great on you…, love navy, but I am leaning towards the Vince just because of the velvet. You can wear velvet in Oct., but if the two dresses were lying on my bed, I’d pick the Vince one.

  21. Oh my………..I hadn’t looked at the navy dress that you already owned. If you thought the other one was a little short….
    The navy dress is really short. The one you found at Dillard’s is gorgeous! If time is on you side I think you should order and try that one!!! 😀

  22. Wow! You look amazing in all the dresses! I agree – show off your gorgeous figure! My fav is the last one from last year’s Christmas party. I prefer the cocktail length dresses. Living out west, we dress less formally so some of the ball gown length dresses look either bridesmaid-y or matronly to me…. But just my opinion. Your dress is perfect!! Have fun! Thanks for letting us weigh in.

  23. About 1/2 way through reading the post, I thought I wonder what happened to that dress she got to wear to the Christmas party last year! I think that one is the best bet, plus you’ve already bought and paid for it!! I love the drama of the last dress you’re thinking about, but I’m afraid the sleeves might be a little annoying if you were dancing the night away!

  24. They’re all gorgeous, and you’ve got a lot of great looks to choose from! But I like the middle length ones the best (aside from the gorgeous black gown). If you’re not going to go with floor length, I think the above the knee dresses are too short for a black tie optional affair. They strike me as a bit more appropriate for the office holiday party than the wedding. 

  25. When you started out the post with the black tie optional note, the first thing I thought of was the gorgeous dress you bought last year but never wore. That gets my vote!

  26. Hi jolynne,  just thought about this post as I was scrolling through the TJ Maxx site looking for a dress I’d seen in store.   Noticed they had a lot of semi formal dresses (floor length and cocktail), and several had higher necklines (halter, one shoulder, high neck, etc).  If you’re still undecided, it might be worth a shot!  

  27. My two favorites are theVince Camuto Sequin Cap-Sleeve Shift Dress and the one you originally wanted to wear to your husband’s party. They both look great on you and are the perfect amount of “formal”. I also love the Dillards one on the model and would love to see it on you, as we are so similar in coloring and size.

  28. Xscape Evenings
    I would purchase the Xscape Evenings and have it altered to a dress. I know it will be an additional expense, with the right seamstress, it will be priceless\well worth it for your niece\nephew wedding. In addition, ten years now, when you look back on the pictures, you will smile.

  29. The blue one from Paul’s party is definitely the 🏆in my humble opinion! No need to spend any money. I love your mesh bracelet. The shoes are fine as well. Or you could go strapier.

  30. What a fun try-on session! This is something I haven’t had to look at before in the evening gowns, but so fun to see the varieties. I love the black Xscape gown, it’s beautiful on you. But I think you’re right to go cocktail. I would go either the gold Vince Camuto or your Eliza J blue velvet. The gold would be so pretty for fall and I think it looks great on you. The two you’ve ordered to see are pretty and I’m looking forward to seeing them, however they do look like they’re cut longer and might not work due to that. Thanks again for the fun looks!

  31. Love the black long dress! I had a mother of the groom dress like it and
    I had the train removed. The navy short one is also very nice. You look so pretty in so many but these were my favorite. Good luck!

  32. I have to say, your chest looks amazing in those low cut dresses!! But I totally get where you’re coming from. (BTW, you are NOT an old aunt!) My favorite is the long Xscape black dress. (Interestingly, it really reads dark, forest green on my screen??) I don’t think it’s too formal at all. Seems just enough to look special but not over the top…looks amazing on you! 

    The navy lace over nude looks fab on you, but I agree the look is a bit over done. While I like the dress from last year, it seems more holiday/NYE to me. The scuba dress you’re ordering is plain but could be great super blinged out! (Shoes, too!) The gold cowl back c/b great…wondering about the mobility…eating, dancing? 

    You say you’re not organized, but I say you’re on it! Lots of women wait until the last minute to shop, and then they have to settle. No settling for you, my friend! 

    1. Ha! I really feel a pressure to get this one right, I guess b/c of the blog? But I’ve always been that way — I like to research things and do them right, or choose the best option. I’m not sure any of these is right. I came to the same conclusion about the navy one from last year, and the scuba dress didn’t fit well at all, so I’m still looking.

  33. When I started reading this post I thought about that navy dress you already own. I think you should wear that one. I remember you really liking it but not having anywhere to wear it to and like you said this is the moment! I think it will be great for October. 

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