Basis for Black Tie: What dress is appropriate for your event?

by epi on May 3, 2012

Q: I’m in the process of planning an event for my nonprofit organization.  Last year, we had our usual dinner, but to enhance the mood we changed the dress from business attire to black tie optional.  This year, we’ve decided to substitute a cocktail reception for the dinner.  Is black tie optional still appropriate, even though it’s a reception?

A: There’s no rule that says a black tie affair must include a meal, so technically it remains appropriate to indicate black tie.  Practical reality is another thing,  however.  A sitdown meal makes the effort and expense of renting or dry-cleaning a tuxedo worthwhile.  Requiring black tie for a cocktail reception, on the other hand, may be over the top.  Fortunately, the word “optional” saves your bacon.  This means tuxedos are voluntary, not mandatory.  Those who want to wear a tux can, while those who don’t want to can attend wearing a dark suit and still be perfectly appropriate.  The whole point of indicating dress is to give people a clue what they should wear.  For an event like yours, giving guests a choice makes sense.  If you’re still not sure what to do, ask a few invitees whether they’d like the chance to kick their dress up a notch.  If people enjoyed the formality option last year and seem intrigued by it again this year, go for it.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris G May 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Every year, our home school group has a prom for about 30 kids. This year, one mom agreed to have the “after party” at her house… …but there will be two or three teen guests at her home that are not part of the home school prom group.

Does proper etiquette state that the hostess is within her rights to invite whoever she wants to her home? Or will she be in the wrong by allowing teens who are not within the prom group to be at the after party? Thanks for any guidance on this.


Zakafury May 7, 2012 at 11:00 am

If the homeowner is actually The Host, then she is well within her rights to invite whomever she likes.

It seems possible that she is The Venue, and more than one parent will be contributing to the planning (in time or money) of this after-party. In the latter case, the co-hosts are entitled to input as well.

The biggest problem with guest lists is how to limit them without hurting any feelings. It may have been a misstep to dismiss the clearly appropriate distinction of prom-goers.


Chris G May 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Thanks Zakafury. I was siding with what you said in your first paragraph. The hostess is presenting this after party (after the prom venue) as a generous “bonus” offering and this was not planned by other parents.


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