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Semi-Formal (Black Tie/Evening Dresses) Dress Code

Evening For Her

(UK and Commonwealth)
     

In General

Evening Gown
A long flowing dress.

Evening Gowns come in various lengths: Tea which is from mid calf to ankle, Ballerina which is to the ankle, and Full Length which is to the floor.

Suitable materials include chiffon, velvet, satin, and silk.
Cocktail Dress
A short gown.

Also known as a 'Dancing Costume' or a 'Cocktail Gown'.

Ranging in length from just above the knee to about two inches above the ankle (Tea length), however the longer length is appropriate to semi-formal wear.

Popular materials include silk, satin and chiffon.

Less elaborate dresses are most appropriate for semi-formal wear.
Dinner Suit
Dressy.

Headwear

Hats are not worn for Semi-Formal evening wear

Top

Camisole
Lace. To complement a Ball Skirt.
Sweater
Cashmere. To complement a Ball Skirt.
Dressy Top
To complement a Ball Skirt.

Bottom

Ball Skirt
Full long skirt as an alternative to a gown.
A relatively recent innovation.

Footwear

Formal Shoes
To suit your gown or skirt.
Sandals
To suit your gown or skirt.

Coat

Chesterfield Coat
The ideal accompaniment to Semi-Formal wear.
Luxury Coat
If weather permits.
Cape
A short cloak which just covers the shoulders or extends to the waist.

Typically black.

Velvet, silk, or satin.
Cloak
A loose over garment which covers the wearer and their evening dress from shoulders to ankles, normally fastening at the neck. There are no arms.

Wool, cashmere, velvet, satin, silk and fur are all common materials for evening cloaks.

Good quality linings and trimmings.

Accessories

Jewelry
As much as you feel is appropriate.

Show off your best.

Dress Code Variants

Black Tie Optional?
If the invitation requests 'Black Tie Optional', then this means exactly that.

If you feel more comfortable in black tie or wish to convey your respect to your hosts or fellow guests, wear Black Tie. If you prefer not to dress so formally, a dark Lounge Suit will be sufficient.

Ladies also get a free choice of evening wear. Anything from Evening Gown to Cocktail dress would be more than suitable. Dressy separates could also be considered.

Obviously some guests will be wearing Black Tie, so all clothing should be of the highest quality.
Creative Black Tie?
If the invitation requests 'Creative Black Tie', or some other variation on the 'Black Tie' code, this generally means that, for him, more modern trousers and dinner jacket is acceptable. Maybe a black shirt, a long tie or some other local neckwear.

The key thing is that the suit and dinner jacket should be black and dressy.

For her, there's more creativity with her dress length, or even wear dressy evening separates.

Obviously, follow any themes requested in the dress code, but remember this is still intended to be a classy event.

Alternatives

Scottish Dress
A White Gown with a tartan sash.

Alternatively a long kilted skirt with a jacket.

The tarten of the lady or her companion can be used for the skirt or sash, or a 'district' tarten approved for general use can be used.
Traditional Dress
Traditional dress is always appropriate for semi-formal events.

History

Formal and Semi-Formal
In high society, White Tie and Ball Gowns was the standard formal form of dress for social gatherings. It shows the wealth of the upper classes and their familiarity of etiquette, and is still expected at the very highest class of event.

However, such elaborate presentation is not very practical for frequent usage, and so the semi-formal dress code Black Tie, consisting of Dinner Jackets and Evening Dress or even the shorter Cocktail Dress was established, for dining in a sophisticated manner, without the impracticalities and lavishness of full formal dress. Overtime, this has become the more standard form of dress for most formal events.