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 dress 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

Join the Conversation

52 thoughts on “What to Wear to a Black Tie Optional Wedding

  1. LOVED everything about this outfit. You look absolutely wonderful. Your pictures of the event were beautiful. I can’t believe how grown the kids are already. Time is flying by too fast. You have a beautiful family.

  2. JoLynne I never reply but you look stunning.  The dress is perfect but I was really drawn to those shoes!  OMG they are beautiful and complete your outfit to perfection as does the wrap and bag.   I just had to let you know how  beautiful you look.  Are the shoes hard to walk in?

  3. I love this outift and you read my mind, I’ve been searching through past posts and online to find that dress.
    I also love what you say about accessories lasting longer than the dress, so true we will only wear a dress like this once or maybe twice but the accessories are a different ball of wax. When my daughter got married a few years ago I ended up spending less on my dress than i expected to so i bought myself a small diamond necklace that was perfect for it. I can wear it over and over and think about my daughters day everytime…the dress – well it sits in a garment bag in the back of my closet.

  4. Jo-Lynne, when I saw the pictures of you and your family on one of the past weekend’s posts, I was glad that in the end you had chosen that dress as you looked “mah-ve-lous”.  But one accessory leapt out at me and did so again in the photo shoot pictures: your watch is much too casual for this outfit, or for any dressy outfit.  Maybe put a slim dress watch on your Christmas list?

    1. That’s funny, I thought the exact same thing about the watch.  It just didn’t belong, and the wrap bracelet was borderline ok, as it is a very casual, but pretty piece, but better with jeans and a pretty top.  The rest of the outfit looks fabulous!!

  5. Wow. What a great outfit for the special occasion wedding. Any chance you could recreate the look on a budget for us? I could not afford the retail price tags for one event. I get that items could be worn more than once (but in reality how often is that?) Love your content and appreciate the work and time you put into it. Just looking for more affordable options (and I know you get things on sale which is always exciting, like the shoes) 🙂 

  6. I love the whole outfit! That dress is beautiful! Last year my niece got married, and I started looking early because I didn’t want to be in a time crunch, and ended up with an Eliza J. I got so many compliments all night long.

    Anyway, you look absolutely stunning! Love everything about your outfit. 🙂

  7. Talk about a Perfect 10 outfit!  You look simply stunning and so elegant.  Had to show my hubby & he thought your outfit was classy!  And of course, what guy wouldn’t love those heels as that’s what he picked up on!  You put it all together perfectly!  And I love the pic of your daughter doing your shoes!  Thank you, as usual,  for giving us all the details, as it’s always helpful when putting together a certain look.  And yours is always classy (my favorite word when describing you)!

  8. What a beautiful outfit for a beautiful woman, inside and out. Loved the look of the shoes but I cringed when I went to the website and checked out the heel-to-ball of the foot ratio. I have a formal event to attend this coming weekend and another 3 weeks later and shoes are always an issue. Both are gala fundraisers, which means being on my feet for hours. And dancing! There must be pretty, danceable heels out there. (No flats or one-inch heels for me!) I used to wear pumps with platform soles, but prefer the open sandal look these days. I’d love to see a post on comfortable dressy heels. Happy Hump Day!.

    1. Girl, I feel ya. Even though I love these, I’m not sure I can keep wearing 4″ heels. And honestly, I don’t even walk that gracefully in them.

      My all time favorite lower heel strappy sandal if you don’t want to splurge on Weitzmans is the Sam Edelman Patti. I added it as an option to the shopping widget – https://shopstyle.it/l/89Fl

      Is that heel low enough?

      If you can do 3″ this one is really cute too and it has a 1/2″ platform – https://shopstyle.it/l/89G5

      1. Shoes – what to wear if you just don’t have such pretty feet? After my three pregnancies, my feet have got wider, and they don’t look great in higher heels either as the middle of the top foot is very marked/bulges a bit? Should I try very dressy booties? Or shoes with a strap across the foot? 

          1. Thanks Jo-Lynne, those would work really well. I really appreciate that you reply to your readers, and even post suggestions. Not many bloggers do that. Also, I should have sad – you look absolutely fabulous in this dress! Just stunning.

  9. You were absolutely gorgeous. Your dress looked perfect on you and your accessories were were just right. Your family
    Pictures were great. Thank you Jo-Lynne for doing this Blog today.

  10. You look fabulous, once again!  You are my favorite blogger. You fill a niche in that you go way past the extra mile with your readers. We all got to watch the process of picking out the dress, including hearing the reasons why certain dresses didn’t work. It’s very helpful to us and enjoyable to watch and even chime in. I like how you engage with your readers and all of the different types of posts you do. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks for this detailed feedback, Patt. I have to admit, when putting this post together, I wondered if it was too focused on my personal choices, and not as useful as a resource to my audience. I almost wrote it differently. I appreciate your input, and so glad to know it’s helpful to follow the process.

  11. You looked absolutely gorgeous! The dress and all of your accessories were perfect!  I loved the picture of your whole family.  Everyone looked fabulous and the church was a beautiful backdrop. 

    I have a family wedding to attend right before Christmas and am leaning toward a black or dark colored velvet dress.  The wedding is in a church and reception is at the country club.  I don’t really want to do bare legs in the winter.  Do I wear super sheer nude or black hose and closed toe shoes? Any suggestions?

  12. Your dress is gorgeous! It’s a classic little LBD with that amazing bow detail. I think you will find more occasions to wear it. Perhaps, a formal night at one of your blog conferences, formal dinner on a cruise or at a vacation resort, New Year’s Eve. As long as the people are different, then your dress is new again. You nailed the perfect, formal Aunt of the Groom dress! 😉
    This post was very helpful in figuring out Black Tie Weddings. 

  13. Simply Stunning!! Everything works about this outfit. I had to admit when I read “bow” I thought–oh no!! But it really is a very classy and sharp on this dress, without overtaking the entire look. You definitely knocked it out of the park with the entire outfit!

  14. Wow! What a stunning dress, accesories and look! Thanks for including us on your shopping and try on sessions of other glam dresses beforehand. It was fun to share with you! I rarely go to formal events so I (and we) got to experience the event vicariously through you! 😉

  15. Thanks for sharing!  I too have this dilemma for a family wedding, but it’s Dec 28th.  I also have 2 teens to dress – a son & daughter.  Homecoming for my son was last week, so I think I have him covered and we will add a vest or something.  Pants were the biggest issue, he just sprouted to 6’ 2”. LOL
    I want to look great, but be comfortable and not too Christmas-y. I don’t want to look like I’m going to an office party.  I live in the St Louis area, so it will most likely be really cold. Any thoughts?  I would love to have some ideas as a starting point.  (Like, are sleeveless dresses a yes or a no in Dec?)
    I especially liked your family pic on the previous post.  I want my 14-ur old daughter to look great too, just age appropriate and not trying to make a statement….

  16. You look amazing….beautiful dress and accessories….but none of us are surprised by that.  You know how to pull it off.  I hope you had an amazing time.

  17. I love your blog. You make fashion accessible for middle-aged mom’s like me. I had to comment because we seem to be at the same place in life. I also took my son to the PSAT this morning, and I also went to my nephew’s black tie optional wedding, back in April.

    This post is sure to he super helpful. You are absolutely right about putting the entire outfit together. The details are actually my favorite part, once I’ve got the dress. My girls (young ladies) and I had fun getting ready in our floor-length gowns and putting our hair up, and all the males looked great in their suits and ties. My oldest son, the one at the PSAT, even wore his tuxedo from choir. He looked so sophisticated! I was such a proud mama of my brood.

  18. This outfit is definitely a home run!! For our daughters wedding I bought my dress two months before the wedding. Everyone who knew me was shocked, as I’m such a planner but I just waited for one to jump out at me. I didn’t want the typical Mother of the Bride dress lol. The dress was flirty and fun and sat just above my ankle. I have two family weddings coming up in the next two years so you’ve given me much to think about.

  19. Great post JoLynne! You look so lovely, just perfectly put together from head to toe. Thanks for sharing all of this with us, such wonderful insight and tips. We have a wedding to go to in November that is also ‘black tie’ optional. I’ve bought and returned 2 dresses and have 2 more coming haha! If both moms and all 10 bridesmaids are wearing black what color is a guest to wear? Right now I’m at navy! Shoes and accessories are next. So fun to put together a dressy outfit, thanks again for you expert advice!!

  20. Beautiful, beautiful outfit. Love every bit of it and I may borrow the look for an upcoming wedding for my own nephew. One thing I noticed is your handbag looks different in the family photo at the actual wedding vs the photo shoot here. Both are pretty but I was really drawn to what looked pouchy at the wedding because it was unique. Camera angle?  Is the clutch open & hanging or is it a bag you already owned (more power to you) and you’re trying to link up something that’s actually available for purchase. I’ve looked at both photos and I think it’s a different bag. Love, love, love your shoes but I’d last 15 min in them.  Thanks. 

  21. You look fabulous Jo-Lynne!  I know that Paul was extra proud to have you by his side that night.  I love the picture of your daughter buckling your shoe!

  22. Oh to be able to go to a wedding where I could wear something like this. The small town weddings here are in a barn or open field under a oak tree so the wear is jeans shorts tee shirts and boots. I do however wear a simple dress with flats can’t stand not looking like a redneck even though I live in a redneck town

  23. Such a gorgeous look — all of it! You sure landed all the right pieces. I guess taking your time to try on multiple dresses paid off big time. You and your entire family looked so wonderful, and it appears you had a great time! Hooray!

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