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Ask Avery: Black-tie beautiful

blog by Avery Hartmans  • 

Dear Avery,

I’ve been invited to a black-tie event right after Christmas. I’ve never gone to something like this before and I have no idea what to wear. Do I have to wear a long gown? And how can I look festive? By the way, I’m in my late 20s.

When it comes to black tie, guys have it easy — they just throw on a tuxedo and they’re ready to go. But your ensemble presents more of a challenge: you don’t want to look like you’re headed to junior prom, but this isn’t just another cocktail party, either.

What you need is a look that’s sophisticated but not matronly, youthful but not cheap. You want to “wow” the crowd, not have it whispering behind your back that you’re under-dressed or overdone. And besides, how often do you get to go to what is essentially a ball? Might as well find a killer outfit.

Option No. 1

Until now, something about separates as evening wear felt either very early 2000s or very mother of the bride. The new millennium was all about floor-length taffeta skirts and teeny tiny tops with the obligatory bellybutton ring, but let’s try to forget that ever happened.

Instead, re-vamp a tired look by putting your own spin on it. A sleek silver lamé skirt will create a more modern silhouette, while a shimmery, geometric top will add dimension to your look. Stick with the wintery color scheme and add a matching shoe, but opt for a tougher clutch to avoid the matchy-matchy look.

But if that look is a little too futuristic for you, try something more classic instead.

Bring back the taffeta skirt the right way by choosing a holiday color like emerald, but pairing it with a not-so-holiday print.

A floral jacquard t-shirt will be unexpected but still fancy enough for black tie, especially when paired with super-high black heels to keep the look from feeling too sweet. Add a pair of serious statement earrings and a loose up-do and you’ll outshine everyone.

Top: Topshop, $80
Skirt: Topshop, $80
Shoes: Michael Kors, $99
Bag: Miss Selfridge, $68

Top: Topshop, $61
Skirt: Topshop, $136
Shoes: ASOS, $81.67
Earrings: ASOS, $27.22


Option No. 2

If you’re a dress kind of gal but the floor-length look isn’t for you, you can probably get away with a mid-length dress, as long as you dress it up.

I shouldn’t even have to say this, but if you’re wearing a mid-length gown, please wear heels. First, and most importantly, because you’re at a black-tie function and flats are unacceptable unless you’re over the age of 70.

Second, because a mid-length dress will bisect your calves and appear to take inches from your height, even if you have the legs of a baby giraffe.

That doesn’t mean your heels have to be sky-high, however. If you choose a full-skirted, classic silhouette, a medium-height heel will look best in order to keep with the vintage theme.

A red silk dress with hot pink heels is an unexpected color combination, but it looks festive and fashion-forward all at once. Add a bejeweled necklace in the same tones to tie it all together.

If a more streamlined look is your style, a black velvet dress with an understated pattern is sexy, sophisticated and black tie-appropriate, especially when paired with sturdy yet youthful pumps.

But everyone knows that a little black dress was made to be accessorized, so don’t shy away from a substantial statement necklace.

Dress: ModCloth, $129.99
Necklace: Baublebar, $42
Shoes: Nine West, $59.99

Dress: Miss Selfridge, $57
Necklace: Zara, $39.99
Shoes: Whistles, $335.76


Option No. 3

The most obvious — and safest — choice for a formal event is a floor-length gown, but that doesn’t mean that the dress itself has to be safe at all.

A floor-length dress is fancy on its own, so when it comes to the color and print, you can essentially choose anything you like. Just be careful to stay away from cotton and jersey when it comes to fabric — you’re going to a fancy event, not a poolside cabana.

You can never go wrong with gold, especially when it comes to such a fabulous dress.

It’s one part Grecian, one part disco and 100 percent awesome. So awesome, in fact, that you can keep the accessories to a minimum, nude strappy heels will keep your look current, and a super-shimmery box clutch will be the only accoutrement you need.

But if you need a little color to keep your pale, winter skin from disappearing, a cobalt dress is just the trick. The great thing about this color is that it flatters every hair color and every skin tone — walk into the room in this dress and people may even stop and stare.

Gold pointy-toe pumps are the perfect shoe, especially if you opt for metallic statement earrings. And a side-swept braid would be perfect for this look, in case you were wondering.

Dress: ModCloth, $277.99
Bag: Glint, $98
Shoes: Ivanka Trump, $160

Dress: Mango, $109.99
Earrings: Baublebar, $34
Shoes: Enzo Angiolini, $120

Image courtesy of Brittany Lester

TAGGED: ask avery, avery hartmans, black tie, fashion, formal wear

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