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Last-minute black tie

Categories: beyond 9 to 5


Stacy has a rather enviable dilemma.

My husband and I are expected to be called nearly last minute (about 10 days) to substitute at an industry black tie event. The event is in NYC, at the W Hotel. That is all I know right now.

We don’t have black tie lives, so I would like to avoid buying something for one evening where I will know no one. I’m 52, 5 feet tall and about a size 10. I have a great LBD that is heavy satin material and tailored for me. I have great big pearls that were a gift and good diamond earrings. I’m thinking with evening shoes and a good bag. I’ll be set. I feel my only long option I own is dated and not appropriate. I’m also afraid that a long dress will make me look short and a little stumpy.

However, my mother, who is old school, says I must wear a long dress since it is black tie. Internet searches yield about a 70/30 split long/short with the older women wearing long on the east coast. My sister says there will be all kinds of outfits since people are coming from all over the country. She says channel my inner Audrey Hepurn, throw up my hair and wear the great LBD.

Now that’s a great problem to have.

First of all, the NYC W is one of my absolute favorite hotels ever; so swanky and hip and a great place for a party. Plus the idea of a fun black tie date night makes me a little jealous. I’m just hoping my husband and I can sneak away to see “Skyfall” sometime soon.


Stacy has a couple of options; the first, obviously, is to wear the dress she already has. This would be my choice — she knows the dress fits, she can try on all the pieces ahead of time, and she doesn’t have to scramble around trying to buy (and possibly alter) something. I would opt for a really fabulous clutch, something blingy and super cool, and go for it.

But isn’t the rule that black tie calls for a long dress? Well, yes and no. Once upon a time, a certain class of woman wore evening gowns on a fairly regular basis, and the rule was that black tie meant a hemline that touched the floor. Those were also the days when women wore beautiful suits to run to the grocery, of course. You know, back before yoga pants.

These days, black tie is still dressy, but the rules are looser. Black tie events often mean men in suits rather than tuxedos and women in cocktail dresses instead of evening gowns. A short dress is perfectly appropriate for a black tie event, as long as it is dressy enough. The ensemble Stacy is describing here — perfectly tailored black dress, big pearls, diamond earrings, dressy shoes and bag — is spot on. Nothing about this look says running errands around town; it’s all party.

Having said that, though, I will also say this: There’s something for taking advantage of the opportunity to go all out and wear an actual evening gown. How often do we get to do that? Rather than buying a gown, though, I would suggest that Stacy check out Rent the Runway — she can rent a dress for the event and then send it back after. Perfect! Rent the Runway will send the dress in two sizes, just in case, to guarantee the right fit. It’s a fun way to glam it up without committing to a piece that will just wind up hanging in the closet.

Photos via Rent the Runway and Nordstrom

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4 comments so far...

  • I love Rent the Runway!!! Rented a dress this summer for a wedding and loved the experience. I would never buy myself a $300 dress, but renting it for $60 was perfect and I felt like a princess for the day!!

    Nicole  |  November 30th, 2012 at 6:13 am

  • And for your Canadian readers, Rent Frock Repeat offers the same service in Canada. (I’m not affiliated, just a very satisfied customer.)

    Sian  |  November 30th, 2012 at 8:58 am

  • I was in a similiar situation this fall: a black tie wedding invite but no black tie dress in my budget. I rented a dress from Rent the Runway.

    I made sure to read the reviews and fit details carefully and look at the pictures of other women in the dresses I was considering.

    The dress I choose came exactly on time, fit perfectly, and was a big hit at the party. I felt beautiful!

    Bryahnn  |  November 30th, 2012 at 3:04 pm

  • Ahhh, I’m so happy to read this! I decided that Attend an Inaugural Ball is on my life list, so I’m currently hitting up all my acquaintances for a chance invitation. I’m going to go pick my dress now…

    {sue}  |  December 21st, 2012 at 12:56 pm