The Ultimate Guide to Formal Attire

June 27, 2018 by Rebecca Carhart

Whether it’s on an invitation to a wedding, charity fundraiser, or gala, seeing the term “formal attire” listed as the dress code can strike fear in even the chicest of women. While men have it easy and can blend into any formal situation in a black tuxedo or suit of their choice, that is unfortunately not the case for us ladies. Formal attire for women usually entails buying an expensive gown for every formal event you’re invited to (which can be terrifying for both you and your wallet). Thankfully, there is one simple way that you can nail any formal dress code without breaking the bank, and that’s by renting formal wear for all your upcoming fancy soirées. Read on to learn exactly what is formal attire, and discover rentable looks that will ensure you’re the best-dressed guest at your next formal event.

What Makes a Dress Formal?

While there are exceptions for different situations, when it comes to formal wear it’s always a good idea to stick to pieces that come in dark or muted colors. Typically formal dresses are floor length, though midi or knee-length options can work for certain occasions. Feel free to choose the neckline of your choice but avoid ultra-plunging options that show too much skin.

What is Formal Attire Exactly?

Formal attire is what you would wear to the fanciest events on your calendar. The key to nailing a formal look is by dressing for the occasion. Believe it or not there are different types of formal events and what you might wear to one might not fit in at another. While a ball gown is appropriate at a white tie wedding, it would look out of place at a formal business function. To help you navigate through the tricky world of dress codes, we’re breaking down what to formal attire is appropriate for every type of fancy event.

White Tie: Now’s Your Chance to Wear a Ball Gown

DRESS: SLATE & WILLOW, DRESS: BADGLEY MISCHKA, DRESS: CYNTHIA ROWLEY

White tie affairs are as formal as it gets. Usually reserved for over-the-top galas, ultra-fancy wedding parties, and state dinners, this is probably the only time in life besides your prom that you have the excuse to wear a ball gown. Pump up the volume with options that feature exaggerated ball skirts, or if you prefer form-fitting silhouettes reach for a glittering metallic gown. There’s no such thing as going overboard at these glamorous events, so be sure to accessorize with statement jewels and a great pair of high heels from your at-home closet.

Black Tie: Go All Out Glam With Floor Sweeping Dresses

DRESS: LA PETITE ROBE DI CHIARA BONI, DRESS: CINQ À SEPT, DRESS: AIDAN MATTOX

If you are invited to a black tie affair, the easiest way to fit the dress code is to rent a long floor-length gown to avoid looking too casual. Show off your curves in simple fitted silhouettes with little to no embellishment for a sleek formal look. Add touches of bling with sparkly baubles and bejeweled shoes and clutches.

Black Tie Optional: Reach for Sleek and Chic Cocktail Dresses

DRESS: AMANDA UPRICHARD, DRESS: CHRISTIAN SIRIANO, DRESS: ML MONIQUE LHUILLIER

Black tie optional is still considered formal attire but is slightly more relaxed than white or black tie events. Rent dresses with flirty embellishments like romantic ruffles or lace details. Midi-length cocktail dresses are perfect for this dress code as they look formal without being too dressy. This dress code is less conservative, so feel free to experiment with different silhouettes, textures, and colors. Your feet will be on display with the shorter hemline so make sure you complete the ensemble with a killer pair of heels.

Business Formal: Look Polished to Perfection in Tailored Formal Wear

DRESS: TRINA TURK, BLAZER: WAVERLY GREY, TROUSERS: RACHEL ZOE

Headed to a formal work event? The business formal dress code can be tricky. Rent options that look sleek and stylish but are still appropriate to wear around your boss. Stick with tailored pieces in professional colors like a navy fitted sheath dress that hits just below the knee or a fitted black pantsuit. Finish off the fashionable look with power pumps and a structured handbag that’s big enough to tote around all your boss lady essentials.

Outdoor Formal: Elevate Your Surroundings With Flowy Formal Options

DRESS: NICHOLAS, DRESS: TEMPERLEY LONDON, DRESS: ML MONIQUE LHUILLIER

Outdoor formal may sound like an oxymoron but just because an event that’s happening outside doesn’t necessarily make it laid-back and casual. While you have a bit more freedom to play with colors and prints during fancy outdoor affairs, like beach weddings and garden parties, you should still avoid looking informal and steer clear of mini dresses or super revealing options. Rent a silky wrap dresses or pretty printed frocks that can be dressed up with fancy jewels or an embellished handbag. Stick with loose flowy options that will keep you cool in the sun, and avoid sinking in the grass or sand by adding height with wedges or block heels.

No matter what type of formal event you’re headed to, rent these looks to ensure you’re appropriately dressed for every kind of formal dress code.