Black Tie Fabulous- Tips to Style a Formal Look

I recently asked for suggestions on where to purchase a black tie event appropriate dress at Old Orchard for an event the next day (nothing like waiting until the last minute!). I had suggestions for tons of stores- Macy’s, White House Black Market, Lord & Taylor, Saks Off 5th, H&M and more. I tried all of the stores including Bloomingdale’s, BCBG, Bebe, Nordstrom Rack, and the list goes on. I finally stumbled into Akira because I just couldn’t find a dress that was affordable (my budget is $100….they laughed me out of BCBG….literally) or didn’t make me look like a stereotypical mother of the bride. At the last minute (they were about to lock the door), I found a dress with clean lines, fit my frame, had a little pizazz and was easy to accessorize.

Here is the thing, though. I finally figured out what dresses work with my body type and what just do not. You won’t ever find me in a strapless dress- my torso is too long. Short cocktail dresses rarely work on me because they are often way too short. There are parts of my body that I am totally down with, and others that I am not a fan of, and I am learning to play up my faves. As long as a dress fits you and you feel fabulous in it, that is all you need in my book.

Oh, and I wore this dress to two events. There was zero overlap of guests, and no one was the wiser (until I just shared it with a whole lot of people on my blog, but eh, who cares). It was way too long the first time I wore it, and because I procrastinated, I ended up hemming it myself hours before the second event.

This was a little risque, but hey, I loved it and figured if I can’t wear it now, when will I be able to? I’m not getting any younger! The dress is all one piece but styled as a bandeau. There was a LOT of tape involved. And there was a lot of standing with perfect posture, which resulted in sore muscles the next day. What we don’t do to look good…

I styled it two different ways:

Event #1: 150th Anniversary Celebration of American Hotel Register Company (Congrats to the Leahy family on 150 years of being in business!!! Can you believe that when our family started the company, Abe Lincoln was president?)

I added gold accessories and kept it minimal. I added a leather belt with a gold plate embellishment (Akira), gold spike earrings (Etsy), a structural gold cuff (Akira) and wore gold d’orsay pumps (BCBG via DSW). The purse was a second hand gold Linea Pelle Gillian Disco clutch (Fashion Project). Call me crazy, but I matched my lipstick to my ring. The ruby ring was my grandma’s- I remember her wearing it every day! I also added my favorite coat, a vintage cheetah trench from Susan Wagner’s pop up sale.

Photo Credit: Anthony Gardin

Event #2: University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation Fundraiser (They select three amazing doctors each year to fund with a grant to work toward prevention, early detection, and treatment of cancer. Thank you to my friend Beth for having us as her guests!). 

I added a little sparkle with silver. Silver sequin clutch (Akira), Art-Deco 1920’s style earrings from Ross, and silver ankle strap pointed toe heels (White House Black Market). I also added a silver pave necklace of my grandma’s that I wrapped around my wrist twice to make a bracelet. Notice the new length of the dress? Thanks to my mom for showing me how to sew!

Photo Credit: Melissa Song Photography

Black Tie Style Tips:

  • Invest in Fashion Tape. It can fix everything from wayward straps to unraveled hems. I always pop a few pieces in my purse.
  • Blister Block is a must. Chapstick works in a pinch (pun intended). Make sure to apply the Blister Block BEFORE you put shoes on!
  • I just bought clear heel cushions so I don’t walk out of my heels. Genius.
  • I often size down 1/2 size in pumps if they don’t have straps. If you shop in shoe departments like Nordstrom, ask them how certain brands run.
  • The proper length of a full length dress is kissing the tops of your shoes. Any shorter, you just look like you are waiting for a flood. Any longer, you trip.
  • For flawless makeup, use a foundation primer like Smashbox Photo Finish and a setting spray like Urban Decay All Nighter. 
  • IMHO, less is more. I don’t like to pile on the bracelets or heavy necklaces for a black tie event. Simple, elegant, pieces that speak for themselves are more my style. 
  • Ever tried matching your makeup to the style of your dress? Since my dress was pretty minimal, I wanted to keep my eye makeup classy and clean instead of smoky and smudged. I kept the lipstick fairly neutral- I love a fresh-faced look.
  • Here is my first major attempt at winged liquid liner:

Hope you have fun at your next Black Tie event!



  1. March 20, 2015 / 4:07 am

    Vacation! You look amazing, as always! Love this dress on you!

  2. September 12, 2016 / 9:13 pm

    Formal dresses are the important and necessary part of our lives, it gives look beautiful in formal dresses through resume planet to make them able to translate their lives in a more effective way, formal dresses increase confidence in girls, after wearing formal dresses girls can talk with proud, i personally like formal dresses.