What to Wear to a Black Tie Optional Wedding

A few months back, I shared that I was going to be attending a wedding this fall, and the requested dress code was “black tie optional.” Of course that had me immediately tumbling down the rabbit hole searching for what to wear to a black tie optional wedding.

What to Wear to a Black Tie Optional Wedding

From The Knot: For a black tie optional wedding, men can wear a tuxedo, but it’s not a requirement. If they end up going tuxedo-less, though, they should wear a formal dark suit and tie instead. Women can go the long evening gown route, but a dressy suit or shorter cocktail dress is fine too.

Helpful? Not really. I mean, I knew that. What I really wanted to know was: What should a 47-year-old aunt of the groom wear to a black tie optional wedding in October???

No websites speak directly to that, so I started asking around and ordering dresses to try.

My gut instinct was to leave the floor-length gowns to the younger set and those with a role in the ceremony, and find a more formal cocktail dress . . . but that proved to be harder than I expected.

Velvet and/or sequins seemed too holiday for an October wedding, lace seemed too predictable, some dresses seemed too safe, and on and it went.

Finally, after trying on and returning over a dozen dresses (see my formal try-ons here and here), I landed on this Eliza J side drape crepe cocktail dress.

*cue angels singing*

What to Wear to a Black Tie Optional Wedding: Cocktail dress or ball gown?

It was exactly what I wanted and didn’t know I was looking for.

I actually think the description on the website says it all: Effortless elegance results when high-quality crepe meets clever design on this cocktail sheath styled to emphasize the waist with a lavish bow-inspired detail.

Fashion for Women Over 40: What to Wear to a Black Tie Optional Wedding

At first, I thought the crepe material wasn’t dressy enough for a black tie optional event, but it’s such good quality fabric that it feels and looks very luxe. It also has just a hint of spandex, so it was comfortable to wear (and dance in) all night.

And of course there’s that dramatic bow detail on the side.

I also love the bateau neck. It’s super flattering on pretty much everyone, and bonus! The wide shoulder straps allow for a regular bra.

Finally, the deep V in the back adds an unexpected touch of glam from behind.

This stunning Eliza J Side Drape Laguna Crepe Cocktail Dress is perfect for a black tie optional wedding.

I actually think that feature is every bit as important as the bow. Both details work together to give this classic crepe sheath just the right amount of wow factor for a black tie optional event.

If anyone is wondering about sizing, this dress runs very small. I typically wear an 8 in Eliza J dresses, but this is the 10, and it was still snug.

Speaking of which, here’s a funny outtake for you . . . my daughter buckling my shoe for me because bending over that far was pushing the limits of this dress. (She had to do this the night of the wedding too, bless her heart. She’s a good girl.)

After I had the dressed picked out, the rest of the outfit fell into place pretty easily. Fortunately I found the dress a month or so before the wedding, so I was able to take my time with that part.

I think that’s the biggest mistake I’ve made in the past when shopping for formal events, and something I’ve learned from listening to my friend Kelly Snyder’s Adore Lives.

It’s easy to focus on the dress hunt when putting together an outfit for a special event, but don’t let your accessories be an afterthought.

The bag, the wrap, the shoes — yes, even your nail color — are all important to the finished look.

What to Wear to a Black Tie Optional Wedding in the fall for women over 40

While a formal dress may be memorable and not worn again, the accessories will be in your closet for many years and can be worn over and over.

If you need a piece — a proper bag or earrings or whatever, go ahead and make the investment. They don’t have to cost a lot, but the accessories really can make or break the outfit.

Besides the dress, my favorite part of the outfit is these shoes. I happened across them when I was looking for something else, and when I saw they were 60% off, I almost fell off my chair.

What to Wear to a Black Tie Optional Wedding: Stuart Weitzman The Nudistsong Sandal in Black Suede with Crystal

I had no intention of splurging on designer shoes for this event, but it’s rare to find such a deep discount on this brand, and they had only one pair left in my size, so I decided it was fate. Plus it’s a timeless shoe that can be worn for many more formal events down the road.

I decided to keep the black and crystal theme going, so I ordered these Cristabelle double hoop earrings. I also wore a silver and hematite wrap bracelet that I already had. I didn’t feel the dress needed a necklace, so I went without.

This silver mesh clutch with chain strap is a great little evening bag when you don’t need to carry much.

I also ordered this metallic wrap. As it turned out, the weather was quite mild, and I didn’t really need it, so I wore it to the wedding ceremony and then ditched it in my hotel room before the reception.

Finally, I had my nails done in CND Masquerade — a deep, rich red with just a hint of shimmer.

I absolutely love how this look came together, and I had so much fun with the process. Thanks for following along. I hope it was helpful to you too!

This stunning Eliza J Side Drape Laguna Crepe Cocktail Dress is perfect for a black tie optional wedding.

dress // shoes (option) // bag // earrings // bracelet // wrap // nails

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photos: Alison Cornell