Styling for elegant events.

There’s a certain art to deciding what to wear to a classy event with no designated dress code. Whether you’re scheduled to attend an upcoming wedding, cocktail party or gala, striking a fine balance between staying true to your style while matching the spirit of the event can prove challenging.

If you’re fresh out of ideas or simply in need of some inspiration, use this guide on how to dress elegantly for any occasion—all while incorporating your unique fashion palette.

Style guide: Formal attire

Outfits by Event

Style guide: Formal attire

Everyday-wear is relatively simple—you account for your day’s agenda, the weather outside, and the mood you’re in as you face your wardrobe. Dressing for a formal event, on the other hand, can be a bit more complex. Finding that outfit that feels true to your tastes while adhering to the expected dress code is admittedly difficult.

In need of some quick style ideas? Use these tried and true style tips to get your fashion mojo going.

Style tip #1: Scan your invite for dress code cues

“Formal dress” and “cocktail attire” are popular terms you see in invitations. While both terms conjure up images of tuxedos, ties, gowns and glam, every “formal dress” and “cocktail attire” occasion comes with a different set of dress code expectations. Rather than scratching your head in confusion and blindly piecing together an outfit that feels appropriate, take a second look at the event information for more pointed clues.

First, consider the event’s purpose—is it to celebrate the holidays with the in-laws, network at a high-profile gala, or to mourn the loss of a loved one? The tone of the occasion can often help with deciding what garments are and are not event-appropriate.

Second, try to learn more about the event space. A party taking place at a local bar typically calls for a more lowkey outfit than a party held at a swanky hotel rooftop patio.

Third, consider your host. For more intimate events where you know the host or hostess well, you should already have an inkling of their unique tastes and party-planning expectations. Your mother may expect more traditional wear, whereas your fashion-forward best friend may encourage bolder ensembles.

Style tip #2: Dress for the season

With so much to consider, dressing for a formal event is a feat on its own. Among the many mental checkboxes you run through when faced with your wardrobe, be sure to account for the season. You’ll want to choose an outfit that beautifully embodies the energy of spring, summer, fall, or winter.

Bring out the shorter hemlines, lighter materials and bright colors for summer and spring, and don your finest deep shades, layers and textures for winter and fall. Formal footwear and accessories are typically more timeless ensemble additions, so you can rest assured knowing your favorite pair of pointed-toe flats and chandelier earrings are perfectly pairable with whatever outfit you piece together.

Not sure how to track the seasonal trends? Use this mini-guide to get your creative juices flowing.

Spring & Summer:

Colors: Blush pink, mustard yellow, gold, lavender, light blue, soft orange, fuschia, white.

Materials: Cotton, linen, crepe, tulle, organza, challis.

Fall & Winter:

Colors: Eggplant, forest green, cream, black, brown, mauve, silver, ruby red,

Materials: Cotton, plisse, silk, satin, lace, chiffon.

Style tip #3: Accessorize intelligently

With the right selection of accessories, you can elevate an outfit from simple to sophisticated. Jewelry is an easy way to add sparkle to your ear, neckline, wrists and hands, but always keep in mind that less is more. The more selective you are, the higher the pay-off.

Finalize your look with a complementary purse or clutch. Make sure that it’s spacious enough to carry your essentials, but compact enough to streamline your silhouette. With all of the wining, dining, and socializing slated on your event schedule, you’ll want to be hands-free anyway.

Style tip #4: Decide on a hairstyle

Formal hairstyles are a completely different genre to everyday hairstyles. They require more effort and a dash of bobby-pinning expertise. Up-do’s tend to be more favorable for formal events, but there’s a wide variety of down-do’s that can be styled to match the dress code and complement your ensemble. From slicked-back ponytails and fishtail braids to ballerina top knots and classic pin curls, the options are truly endless.

Style tip #5: Express yourself

Adhering to a dress code can feel restrictive, but when you explore the many ways in which you can make elegant attire speak to your style taste, you’ll quickly realize how much creative freedom you truly have. For even the most cut-and-dried black-tie affairs, you can experiment with colors, cuts, textures, and shapes. Swap out an ultra-feminine gown for an edgy women’s pantsuit. Trade in the stilt-like stilettos for a pair of dressy flats. However minimalist or maximalist your style choices are, there’s always a way to breathe your boldness into your formal wear.

Ultimately, your level of comfort and confidence comes first, and no outfit is ever complete without those things.

Outfits by Event

What to wear to a wedding

The vibe: Weddings are typically among the most formal of events to grace your calendar. For the upcoming wedding on your agenda, you’ll want something light, breathable, danceable, and chic. Stay away from white, and all variations of the color to keep the attention on the lucky bride. Be sure to survey the setting and season before making any final decisions.

The look: A floor-length wrap dress with ruffle sleeve accents and a pair of elegant round-toe flats.

The accessories: A neutral-tone envelope clutch, a pair of tassel earrings, and a couple gemstone rings for glam.

What to wear to a cocktail party

The vibe: As a time to wind down, it’s fair to think of a cocktail party as a dressed-up happy hour. The perfect occasion to break out your favorite LBD or posh pantsuit, cocktail parties usually call for shorter hemlines, brighter colors, and more eclectic accessories.

The look: A flattering square-neck midi dress and a pair of bold-colored pointed-toe flats.

The accessories: A pair of bold-colored earrings to match your shoes, a black crossbody mini bag, and a couple statement hair clips to tie it all together.

What to wear to a black-tie event

The vibe: Black-tie events are formal occasions where men typically sport tuxedos. For women, the black-tie dress code is a bit more flexible. These events typically call for floor-sweeping gowns and luxurious pantsuits.

The look: A black sleeveless gown with a pair of black ballet flats.

The accessories: A pair of glittery chandelier earrings and an embellished box clutch to add some extra dazzle-factor.

What to wear to a holiday semi-formal

The vibe: For most, wintertime holidays are among the happiest times of the year, so it’s no wonder that many revel in the festivities with a bunch of parties. Bring out the velvets, sequins, greens, reds and golds, as there’s no better time to express your holiday cheer than at a holiday semi-formal.

The look: A forest green pantsuit with a structured blazer and comfortable matching pants, paired with a pair of neutral-toned pointed-toe flats.

The accessories: Gold hoop earrings, a dainty gold necklace, and a matching gold envelope clutch.

What to wear to a symphony

The vibe: The dress code for a symphony typically errs on the side of semi-formal. Dressy pants, skirts and dresses are all fair game when choosing your night at the symphony outfit.

The look: A mauve top tucked into a black pencil skirt finished with a long gray coat and a pair of fig-colored flats.

The accessories: A cream wrap scarf, a pair of minimalist stud earrings, and a fun-textured handbag.

What to wear to a Broadway show

The vibe: Unless you’re attending opening night of a Broadway show, you can expect mostly casual attire. It is worth noting that Broadway theaters tend to crank the air-conditioning, so dressing with layers is a good idea.

The look: A pair of dark wash skinny jeans with an olive green sweater and a pair of comfortable Chelsea boots.

The accessories: A pair of tassel earrings, an assortment of golden stacking rings, and a camel brown handbag.

Above all else, staying true to your style is the key to dressing elegantly for classy events. Using these style tips and outfit ideas, you’ll be able to tackle your next formal event with confidence.