7 Outfit Ideas to Wear to a Formal Event
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  • Writer's pictureBrenda

7 Outfit Ideas to Wear to a Formal Event

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

I love everything about getting dressed up for fancy occasions. From hair to makeup to shoes and of course my outfit – I live for both the process as well as the final product. When it comes to formal events, there is a dress code that needs to be followed to be respectful f your hosts and fellow guests.

Whether you like the idea of getting dressed to the nines or not, you have to admit there is a skill to getting it right. When you see your favorite celebrities on the red carpet, you only have a small idea of the number of hours and people it took to get them looking like that. It really does take some effort to show up for a black tie event.


Some of you may be wondering what types of events may be considered formal occasions so here are some examples:

Some examples of formal events

- A wedding

- Baptism, Bar Mitzvah or religious ceremony

- Dinner party

- Charity Gala

- Bridal Shower

- Birthday Party

- Quinceanera

- Awards ceremony

Of course, there are instances where one of these events may enforce a less formal dress code but this would be specified by your host. Whenever you are unsure, your best bet is to show up in cocktail attire which is semi-formal attire. You do not want to show up under dressed at a formal event.

In today’s blog post, I would be going through some great options of formal attire you could wear to your next black-tie event and beyond. Regardless of the type of event you’re preparing for, there are certain outfits that can work for any special occasion. Keep reading if you are interested in some style inspiration for your next cocktail party.

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Formal wear does not have to be boring or look like your typical ball gown. No, we have come a long way from Victorian dresses being considered the standard when it comes to female black-tie attire. There are many chic dresses and outfits you can put together to create a stylish look for a formal event so let’s jump right in.

*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through the links, at no cost to you.

What to wear to a formal event

1) A little black dress

I just had to start this list with the most popular of all cocktail dresses. I do not need to explain what an LBD is but when it comes to formal and semi-formal events, there are some things to consider when choosing the perfect LBD. For one, you want your LBD to be at least a knee-length dress. This conforms to a cocktail dress code.

Get the look HERE

Another thing you want to pay attention to when choosing your LBD is the sleeves. Longer sleeves are seen as more appropriate for cocktail events, however a strapless gown could be worn as well. A great option would be an off-shoulder midi black dress.

Think of your favorite celebrities on the red carpet. Cover your arms with a shawl or bolero if there is a black tie dress code.

Read up some more on how to cover your arms and/or shoulders on my post: 8 items you can wear over your cocktail dress or formal attire.

2) A floor-length gown

If you’re ready to go all out and turn heads at your next white tie event, a ball gown is a good idea. This is a great way to stand out at a formal event such as a charity gala.

Choose a dress made from thicker fabric if you need some help making your belly appear smaller. A dress with a bold patter is also a great idea if you don’t have a flat stomach and are self conscious about that.

Get the look HERE

If it’s your party, choose a long gown in a bold color such as gold or white. A long dress in a dark color is more flattering and slimming than one in a light color. Complete your look with a pair of high heels and a small purse. If your dress is strapless, take your look up a notch with a statement necklace.

I like this more affordable version HERE as well.

3) A dark suit

Men don’t get to have all the fun when it comes to suits. I love a good pantsuit and they do have a place at formal occasions. A suit in a dark color is a good option to go with unless the dress code states otherwise. Wear a white dress shirt (or even a black dress shirt) underneath to maintain a formal look. The most important thing when it comes to a pantsuit is a tailored fit.

Get the look HERE

For those women who are not fond of formal dresses, this is the best option for you. Complete your look with a pair of dress shoes or you can go for a pair of heels. Wear your hair in a ponytail or high bun to show off your facial features and elevate your overall look.

My plus size queens should check out this charcoal option HERE.

4) Dressy separates

For semi-formal events, you can let your personal style shine through by choosing a stylish set to rock to your next wedding party. During the summer months, choose a pairing made from lighter fabrics as they are more breathable. You could wear a dressy crop top and maxi skirt set for example as long as the skirt is high waisted.

Get the look HERE

This is a great choice if you are attending an Indian wedding. You could also go with a pants and top set. Choose a set in bright colors for a family gathering or baby shower during the summer months. Gold shoes are my favorite to wear to formal occasions.

You can get some more inspiration for outfits to pair with gold shoes on my post: What to wear with gold shoes.

5) A midi dress

Midi dresses in solid colors is a good option to go with if you are attending formal weddings. This is because they are long enough to be considered formal while being short enough to permit you to dance around freely. For a casual wedding, you could go with shorter dresses. My general rule is the shorter the dress, the longer your sleeves should be to balance things out.

Get the look HERE

Show off your legs with a pair of strappy heels or pumps. During the colder months, you could add a pair of black tights under your dress to add an extra layer of warmth. You can go for a form-fitting dress most often if you are comfortable with your body. Remember that there is always Spanx if your dress fails to snatch things together the way you need it to.

6) A dressy top and skirt

Another way to pull up to a fancy event in style is to pair a dressy blouse with your best midi skirt. If the dress code is smart casual, you could pair a midi black pencil skirt with a long-sleeved pussybow blouse. Elevate your look with statement accessories and a nice purse.

Get the look HERE

During the colder months, complete your look with a pair of tights and a long coat. You can also go with an off-shoulder blouse paired with a maxi skirt to create an elegant look perfect for a wedding or holiday party. To get more ideas on how to wear a black pencil skirt, check out my post: 15 ideas on how to wear a black pencil skirt.

7) A skirt suit

We can’t have a pant suit on this list without having a skirt suit as well. Skirt suits are great business attire you can also wear to other occasions with a more formal dress code.

I recommend getting your suit tailored to really flatter your body shape in order to look your best. A black suit is probably the most popular, but you can opt for brighter colors during the warm months.

Get the look HERE

Complete your look with a pair of pumps or heels and some beautiful jewelry. A crisp white shirt could be worn underneath or if your event is in the Spring, try going with a shirt or suit with floral prints. If your skirt suit is darker in color, try going with a pair of heels in a lighter color.

I hope you have gotten lots of outfit inspiration you can use the next time you’re worried about making a fashion faux pas at your next cocktail event. Formal dressing does not have to be scary and you can still add your own personality to your outfits.

The golden rule is to wear longer clothing when it comes dressing for formal events. Let me know which ones of these looks was your favorite.

Check out my post: The 10 best dresses to wear to a gala and other formal events for some more ideas on what to wear to a formal event.

Headed to a formal awards ceremoney? Check out my post: What to Wear to an Awards Ceremony for some inspiration.

My post 7 Outfits to Wear to a Birthday Dinner offers some great ideas on what to wear to a birthday dinner.

If you need some ideas when it comes to pairing your long formal dresses with the right shoes, check out my post: 15 Shoes to Wear With a long Formal Dress.

I also have a post to guide you on what to wear to a dinner party at a restaurant. It is titled 9 outfits to wear to a restaurant dinner party.

Looking for general outfit ideas to wear to a gala? Check out my post 17+ Outfits to Wear to a Gala.

For those of you looking to wear a rose gold dress, check out my post: 11 Colors of Shoes to Wear With a Rose Gold Dress for some ideas.

Until the next post,



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