When the Invitation says “Black Tie”; Part Two of How To Network a Black Tie Gala

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Jen Schaeffers (Chief Connector of Networking in Vancouver, the city’s go-to site for cool networking events) article on going solo to a Black Tie Gala is a must-read for anyone attending any networking event.

All the tips are great, but what is most significant about Jen’s article is that she knew to ‘take it up a notch’ as this was easily going to be the event of the season.

I was there as well, with my daughter, (in the photo with Jen) and during the reception Anastasia and I were at one of the high tables that the organizers had placed on the patio. It allowed people to do some al fresco mingling with one of the best photo ops in the world as a backdrop–the stunning Vancouver harbor and mountains.


In the distance I noticed two women chatting and I mentioned to my daughter that I loved the dress that one of the women was wearing. I then commented on her hair– we both loved her hair as well!  This woman stood out – in a very nice way.  Then, she started walking towards us. It was Jen.

We told her about our fashion-stalker comments and how much we loved her dress and hair. She then shared that her gown was a Rent the Runway number.

Why pay two grand when you can rent for $100? Why do you need to buy it, and are you really likely to keep wearing it to events?  You could rent twenty stunning dresses for the retail price of this dress!


Yes, I understand that worrying about what to wear to a black tie event is a ‘first world’ problem. But, it’s highly likely that in your career, you’ll get ‘the black tie invite’.  It may not even be for business; it could be a wedding.  Therefore it’s good to have some guidelines.  If you look your best, and know that you are dressed the part, you feel more confident at these kinds of out-of-the-comfort-zone affairs.  To paraphrase Coco Chanel, “Dress shabbily and they remember the clothes; dress impeccably and they remember the woman, or man.”


Men who arrive at these events in the suit they wore to the office that day make the wrong impression. Men who come in black tie, but without an actual tie—well, that’s just kind of a Simon Cowell move.  A word of warning: even style icons can’t get away with that kind of crazy dressing: David Beckham wore a medal on the wrong side of his lapel at the Kate and William wedding; Russell Crowe went to the Oscars wearing his grandfather’s medal. That is just wrong.


It’s true that in this day and age the rules of black tie are looser than before. For a view of the old days, watch the Mad Men episode when they attend an advertising awards ceremony, and every man was in black tie.

Men, if you say you can’t afford to buy a black tie outfit, there’s wiggle room these days.  It doesn’t have to be cummerbunds and bow ties. Purchase a very dark, dark charcoal (almost black) suit or midnight blue, buy the best white shirt you can afford (save it for these events), buy a plain silk tie (silver is a good color, black is good too) and wear a highly polished shoe.  A traditional black tie ensemble includes a patent shoe, but that may be “a shoe too far” for many.  If you are a dangerous dresser, you might want to check out what Ryan Gosling is wearing.


Women, how do you go from work to a fancy event? Superwomen need to be quick change artists. Gone are the days of getting ready for an event, now it’s reception at 6 pm, dinner at 7.  It is reassuring that gala events in the world of everyday people are not in the Met Ball league, so we can relax.

The cocktail dress is the thing, and Audrey Hepburn’s iconic LBD (Little Black Dress) shows what it takes to dress up this wardrobe standard.   Add big dramatic jewelry and fabulous hair, (cigarette holder not recommended).  Lose the work shoes and giant purse and substitute stunning shoes and an evening bag and you are good to go.  Or, be great to go and do as Jen did, rent something amazing.


You do this because it does matter, because people notice when you don’t make the effort, when you somehow ‘didn’t get the memo’.  Most importantly, dressing properly is a sign of respect for those who have gone to the effort to create a wonderful evening and experience for all.  An ambassador once boasted that, “I’ve never worn a black tie to an event”.  The proper response: “Sorry, that is not something to be proud of, that’s just plain rude.”


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One Response to When the Invitation says “Black Tie”; Part Two of How To Network a Black Tie Gala

  1. Darcy Rezac June 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Excellent advice, Gayle. And, Jen WAS dressed spectacularly! She stood out and so many will remember her for how great she looked as well as her superb conversational skils. Anastasia and you also looked great!….Best advice? Dress up, not down. Certainly one doesn’t want to be remembered for being at a black tie event, without one.

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