Dance Related TipsEtiquetteShoes and Attire

What to Wear: Formality

What you wear to a dance (or other event) depends upon the type and formality of the event.  Usually this information can be found on the invitation, website or other places with information about the dance.  If all else fails, you can always ask the dance organizers about the dress code.

Here are some general guidelines:

White tie and black tie refer solely to the combination of relevant pieces of clothing, and are formal attire:

  • White tie: White tie is the most formal category of dressing.  For men it means a black dress tailcoat, matching trousers with stipes of satin, ribbon or braid down the leg seam, and no cuff; a white pique’ bow tie and white pique’ vest; white pique’ front or plain stiff-front shirt with detachable wing collar; cuff links and shirt studs; and accessories.  The lady appears in a ball gown, which is an evening dress with a full skirt, possibly with open back and low neckline.  Elbow-length gloves are a nice addition for the lady.  This level of formal dress is almost unheard of in many places.
  • Black tie:  Men wear a tuxedo coat, uncuffed trousers with one stripe down the leg seams; a stiff wing or soft folded collar shirt with either placketed, pleated, pique’ or ruffled front; a black or colorful bow tie; black evening waistcoat, or cummerbund that matches the tie; cuff links and shirt studs; and accessories.  Ladies appear in ball gowns.
  • Black tie optional: Same as above, except men have the option of wearing a regular suit with a tie (bow tie preferred), and ladies may wear a cocktail gown or dinner dress.  Long to full-length skirts are preferred; short skirts are not recommended.


Other terms denote groupings of dress codes:
  • Formal: Men in suit and tie, ladies in cocktail gown or evening dress.
  • Semi-formal:  Men in dress slacks with dress shirt and tie, jacket is optional.  Other options include a vest or a sweater that shows the tie.  Ladies in evening dress or dinner dress, but other dressy outfits are also acceptable (like flowing pants.)
  • Dressy Casual:  Applies to most practice dances, workshops, and dance lessons.  Men can wear cotton slacks with solid color T-shirt, turtleneck, mock turtleneck, or polo shirt.  Ladies have a much wider set of clothing options.  In general this is a conservative and toned-down appearance that has grown increasingly popular on the dance floors.

And of course with any of the above, your dance shoes!

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