Susan Miller

·Master of Fine Arts in Jewelry Design, Pratt Institute, 2012

·Bachelor of Arts in Gemology, University of California, Los Angeles, May 2005

·Editor-in-Chief, White Victoria (2018 - present)

·Write and research feature articles and profiles for print and online publication

·Contributing Writer, Modern Jeweler and Ornament

·Write and publish freelance articles for IGS and WSJ Magazine

·Jewelry Appraiser (2012 - 2020)

You deserve to look and feel amazing at any formal event. But it can be daunting trying to decipher what the appropriate attire should be. What is considered professional? Is there a dress code? What happens if you show up in something that’s not quite right? 

Formal Attire

As a fashion stylist, I’m here to help! In this complete guide, I’ll provide you with the latest tips on formal attire for women in 2023. 

You’ll learn about the dress code for formal events, discover what to wear based on the season and occasion, and find out how to accessorize your look for maximum impact. With this guide, you’ll be ready to tackle any formal event easily and confidently! 

What Is Formal Attire?

Formal Attire

Formal attire often referred to as “black-tie” or “white-tie” dress codes, is the most formal type of clothing you can wear. It is typically used for special occasions such as weddings, galas, and other formal affairs. 

The traditional dress code dictates that women should wear a floor-length gown or dress, usually in a dark color such as black, navy blue, or burgundy. The origins of this look can be traced back to the 19th century when women were encouraged to dress in long gowns with a corset and petticoat. 

Modern formal attire has become more flexible and allows the wearer to choose from a range of colors and appropriate silhouettes for the event. For example, pantsuits, cocktail dresses, and knee-length dresses can all be considered acceptable!

Black Tie vs. White Tie: What’s The Difference?

Formal Attire

Black tie and white tie are two different dress codes that refer to very formal occasions. 

The black-tie dress code typically consists of a floor-length gown, usually in a dark color such as black, navy blue, or burgundy. 

Men’s attire for this event is also formal. It includes a tuxedo with either black trousers and a black bow tie or a white dinner jacket with black trousers and a black bowtie. 

White tie is the most formal of all dress codes and is usually reserved for state events such as royal weddings. 

Women are expected to wear long gowns in light colors such as pastel pink, blue, or pale yellow. Men should wear a white dinner jacket with black trousers and a white bow tie. 

What Are the Differences Between Semi-Formal & Formal?

Formal Attire

Semi-formal and formal attire are two different dress codes that refer to occasions requiring more formal clothing. The key difference between them is the formality of their attire. 

Semi-formal attire is slightly less formal than formal. It can include cocktail dresses, dressy jumpsuits, skirts, blouses, or tailored pants with a nice top. Men should wear a suit and tie or a blazer and slacks. 

Formal attire is the most formal type of clothing you can wear. It is typically reserved for special occasions such as weddings, galas, and other formal affairs. 

For formal attire, women should wear a floor-length gown or dress, usually in a dark color such as black, navy blue, or burgundy. Men should wear a tuxedo with either black trousers and a black bow tie or a white dinner jacket with black trousers and a black bowtie. 

So, if you are looking for something more formal, then black tie or white tie dress codes are the way to go. 

Formal Do’s & Don’ts

Formal Attire

If you’re attending a formal event, it’s important to dress appropriately. Here are five do’s and don’ts of evening wear that you should keep in mind:


Formal Attire

1. Consider the Location: When selecting an outfit for a formal event, always consider the location and the time of year. For example, if you’re attending a summer wedding, you’ll want to opt for lighter fabrics and colors.

2. Wear Comfortable Shoes: While it’s important to look your best, don’t forget that you’ll be on your feet for a long period. Consider investing in a quality pair of shoes that are comfortable and stylish.

3. Accessorize: Adding accessories such as pearl jewelry, a clutch, or a hat can make your outfit stand out. If you’re wearing a dress, consider pairing it with a belt to add a touch of elegance.

4. Wear makeup: Wearing light makeup is a great way to enhance your natural beauty. Consider adding subtle touches of blush, lipstick, and mascara for a polished look. 

5. Get your outfit professionally tailored: A professionally tailored outfit will make you feel extra special and ensure a perfect fit. 


Formal Attire

1. Over-accessorize: Too many accessories can make your outfit look cluttered and unappealing. Stick to one or two subtle pieces of jewelry that complement your outfit.

2. Wear revealing clothing: When it comes to formal attire, less is more. Avoid showing too much skin and opt for timeless silhouettes that are classy and sophisticated. 

3. Wear uncomfortable clothing: Don’t sacrifice comfort for style! Instead, choose a stylish and comfortable outfit so you can enjoy the event.

4. Forget to iron: Before leaving for your event, ensure all your garments are freshly pressed and wrinkle-free. 

5. Wear the wrong color: Always consider the event’s dress code before choosing a color. For example, black is usually the preferred color for formal events. In contrast, lighter colors are better suited for semi-formal occasions. 

Following these dos and don’ts of evening wear will help you look your best and make a lasting impression when attending formal events. With these tips in mind, you can make a positive impression. 

What Kinds of Formal Attire for Women to Wear?

Formal Attire

Formal attire for women can range from floor-length gowns to cocktail dresses. When selecting your outfit, it’s important to consider the event’s dress code, the season and location of the event, and your own personal style.

Here are some of the most popular types of formal woman’s attire that you can wear depending on the occasion:

Ball Gown

Formal Attire

Ball gowns are floor-length, often strapless dresses with full skirts and a cinched or fitted bodice. These dresses usually have embellishments such as sequins, ruffles, beading, or lace. Of course, they can’t be worn for all events, but they are perfect for formal affairs such as galas, proms, and black-tie weddings. 

Accessorize your glamorous event look with bold statement jewelry and a pair of fabulous heels. Get noticed by choosing an exaggerated ball skirt or opt for something more form-fitting like a sparkling metallic gown - the endless possibilities! Go all out; there’s no such thing as overdoing it.

Top picks:

NYD Cinderella Divine Dress

Jovani Tulle V Neck and Back Ballgown

Jason Wu Collection Ruffled Ball Gown

Floor Sweeping Dress

Formal Attire

Floor-sweeping dresses perfectly compromise between a ball gown and a cocktail dress. These longer-length evening gowns typically hit the floor but don’t always have a full skirt. They are typically more form-fitting and come in various colors and fabrics.

Invest in an elegant floor-length dress with intricate beading or dramatic details for formal events like a charity ball. Accessorize with classic jewelry and a pair of statement shoes. 

Top picks:

AQUA Belted Sequin Gown

ASOS DESIGN exaggerated sleeve open back maxi dress with sweep hem in aubergine

Satin Angelina Gown

Cocktail Dress

Formal Attire

Cocktail dresses are the perfect way to make a statement without going overboard. These knee-length or slightly shorter evening frocks can range from simple and sophisticated to bold and daring. Choose bright colors or intricate patterns to stand out from the crowd.

They are perfect for a prom, work event, or cocktail party! Whether you opt for a lace or jersey fabric, accessorize your outfit with subtle jewelry and a pair of stylish heels. 

Polish the look with a little bit of blush, lipstick, and mascara for a polished look. 

Top picks:

Lace & Beads exclusive wrapped tulle mini dress in light grey

LoveShackFancy Brenaya Dress

Adrianna Papell Women's Beaded Short Dress

Classy Mid-Length Dresses

Formal Attire

If you don’t feel comfortable in a floor-length dress but still want to look sophisticated, then a mid-length dress is the way to go. These knee-length dresses are great for semi-formal events or afternoon tea parties.

Choose a dress with classic details like lace, embroidery, or beading for a timeless look. Accessorize with simple pearl jewelry and a pair of low-heeled pumps. You can also opt for a more modern look with a bold print or bright color. 

Top picks:

ASOS DESIGN halter embellished midi dress with gem encrusted detail in white

Eliza J V Neck Fit & Flare Dress

Dress the Population Women's Bailey Off The Shoulder Sweetheart Bodycon Midi Sheath Dress

Tailored Pantsuit

Formal Attire

Tailored pantsuits are a great option for formal events if you don’t feel comfortable in a dress. Choose a well-fitted pantsuit in a neutral color such as black, white, or navy. 

Pair the suit with a sophisticated blouse and add some subtle accessories such as a strand of pearls or pearl studs. Finish off your look with a pair of classic patent pumps, or opt for a more modern look with pointed-toe mules. 

Top picks: 

Yasmine tailored pantsuit

Cherry Double Berasted Blazer & Flare Pant Suit Set

Saint Laurent single breasted tuxedo jacket & pleated slim-fit trousers 

No matter what formal attire you choose, ensure it fits your body well and is comfortable. The right outfit will help you look and feel confident and make a lasting impression. With these tips in mind, you can make a positive impression. 

Bottom Line

Formal Attire

Formal woman’s attire can range from floor-length gowns to cocktail dresses and tailored pantsuits. Consider the occasion, dress code, season, and color palette when choosing your outfit! 

No matter what formal clothing style you select, be sure that it fits your frame beautifully and is comfortable to wear.

Choose a look that reflects your personal style, and don’t forget to accessorize - the right accessories can make all the difference. With these tips, you’re sure to look and feel your best at any formal event!