Black Tie: Boring or Bad-Ass?

Black Tie: Boring or Bad-Ass?

Later this month I’m going to a black tie event as a finalist for an award and I am Here For It, as the kids say.  The opportunities to dress up in my black tie finest have been few and far between in recent years, and I do not want to waste this opportunity wearing something…boring.  I will not be wearing my black cocktail dress, or even this dress – no, I will be true to myself and the sense of style that got me to this place in my life.  And since the Google image search results for “black tie women’s attire” makes me want to poke out my own eyes, I thought I’d put together a few alternative options for those of us who might be heading to an awards night, ball or other black tie function.

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First up, I reject the advice that I have to wear a full length gown or cocktail dress that isn’t too revealing.  I may or may not want to wear a lime green vintage jumpsuit, as pictured above. The chiffon-style overlay and the sheen on that gold paisley detail gives this little number just as much glamour as any ball gown could ever hope to have BUT I can still do my favourite thing and sit cross-legged, should I want to later in the evening, and I can stride it out without the hindrance of a tight skirt.  Yes to pants!  We live in a feminist future.  And yes, I am aware of how unfortunate and annoying this will be when I need to pee.  WORTH IT.

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I have straight hoarded this dress for two years against the possibility that someone will invite me to some kind of fancy shindig and I will have an opportunity to wear it.  Every so often I put it on and play the “but could I wear this to work?” game (because I am at work constantly, so that’s my go-to for opportunities to wear things).  I think I could probably force it to work, but then it would lose its special place in my wardrobe as my aspirational cocktail dress.  I love this kind of thing because I love to imagine the woman who bought this, where she might have worn it, and how fancy she must have felt.  Nothing says “I’m here and I’m ready to win this thing” like a fake Moschino belt, so clearly that was the finishing touch I needed for this look.  Plum optional.

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Here’s a handy hint – if your strapless dress is too big, protect your modesty with a massive fluffy wrap.  This is also ideal for black tie functions that are scheduled in winter (come on people – think of us in our cocktail dresses and schedule these things for late spring and early autumn).  Bows on bows is a look, I think we can agree, but nothing lets people know how seriously you are taking things like a BYO shopping cart full of kale.  Just kidding.  Kale smells weird and makes people feel judged, leave that at home.  However, my search for an evening bag that isn’t (a) horrendously expensive or (b) massive cringe has been so hard that at this point I’m considering just taking my entire carry-on suitcase as my clutch.  It’s a real option.

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The rest of these photos are fully gratuitous, and I present them to you because Bex McGill did a fantastic job and because if I can’t pretend to be a fashion model on my own blog, where can I.  However, I am nothing if not thorough and I have researched what people have worn in previous years to make sure that my choice of outfit, while true to me, is not disrespectful of the event (and the effort put into arranging it).  On the basis of that research, and my previous black tie experience, I would like to posit a guess as to other popular looks on the night:

  • Men will mostly wear standard issue black tie, a few will try to wear a bow tie with a corporate suit and pass it off as a tux, and there will be a few vagabonds who decide to be “daring” and wear some kind of coloured jacket.  Most of them will give this a casual ten minutes’ of thought and look perfectly fine on the night.
  • Hopefully one guy will wear a kilt complete with sporran and that man, I am telling you now, is the one person I will insist on having a “casual networking photo” with for posterity on the internet.  Theresa, if I carry this off I will send you the link as soon as it is available.
  • I looked at dozens of photos and I can tell you that most women will be wearing black or navy.  I get it, these are safely chic colours. (I also established that there will be a lot of champagne, which is obviously good to know).
  • We’re doing a muted look, make up wise.  Thank god, because I cannot be faffed with fake eyelashes.  Unfortunately, I do not have time to transition to a cool blonde hairstyle by the time of the event, which will put me in the minority.
  • Accessories are subtle to the point of invisibility.  This is not how God made me – even the photo I sent in for the AV presentation features a hot pink jacket and a statement necklace.  However, the event photos I reviewed are from before the rise of statement earrings, so this might be different this year round.
  • I’m spending my 35th birthday at this event and yet I think it’s safe to say I will be in the younger portion of the audience.  Hopefully this will help to stave off my annual “what have I done with my life” feeling by making me feel like a youthful overachiever.  If not – please refer to my note regarding plentiful champagne (just jokes any work people reading this! I have a two drink limit at this kinda thing).
  • SO. MUCH. BLACK. AND. NAVY.
  • Also, how come I recognise so few people in these photos? I’ve worked in this industry for 12 years.  Hmmmm. Also, obviously nobody is wearing name tags so I look forward to the awkward moments where I’ve forgotten someone’s name.  How influential am I.  Can I start a name tag trend in 16 days.
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For the actual evening, I’m planning to wear the incredibly subtle vintage lime green jumpsuit pictured below, with gold mules and some kind of clutch (if God smiles on me and I find one – otherwise I’m just shoving my room key under my bra strap and calling it a day).  I am going to be overdressed for this event and that feels like an authentic representation of who I am as a human being.  Plus, we will at least have something to talk about other than *D3AL$* which will be awesome.  I can’t wait to force a 50-something year old man who works in the financial markets to talk to me about vintage fashion.   

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Ladies of New Zealand, if you’re planning to go to a black tie event this year, please join me in this sartorial adventure and wear something more thrilling than a black dress with black shoes and a black jacket.  Yes, you look very nice but my God, seize the opportunity!  Black tie doesn’t have to be boring.  Black tie should be a chance to wear something that makes your heart sing.  You know what I’d love for my birthday?  I’d love to walk into that room on 17 May and see dozens of women wearing things that they genuinely love and feel excited about (some of which may be black), and then I’d like us to form a massive huddle around the champagne bar and just gab and gab about our dresses and where we want to go on holiday next and where to buy the best snacks and then formulate a three step plan for overcoming gender bias in the New Zealand workplace.  I am lighting all the candles on my cake and I’m blowing them all out in one go this year, so ladies – get shopping.

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Jumpsuit look: jumpsuit from Painted Bird, necklace from Tatty Devine, shoes from Ted Baker

Velvet dress look: dress from Savemart, belt from Recycle Boutique, shoes from Nine West

Furry wrap look: dress Karen Walker from Paperbag Princess, wrap from ASOS, shoes from

HUGE thanks to Bex for taking these photos, and to the good people of Wellington who largely ignored me being a lunatic at the Sunday morning vege market.  Further proof that this is an A+ place to live. 

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