What to Wear to a Gala | Dress Codes & Outfit Examples

Gala dinner

Written by Sonia Su

In the world of high-society gatherings and prestigious fundraising events, galas stand out as glamorous affairs where fashion takes center stage. Deciding what to wear to a gala can be a thrilling yet daunting task. What you wear for a gala can be a bit varied than what to wear to a conference or other more common events.

This article serves as your style guide, delving into the intricacies of gala dinner attire to help you make a lasting impression with your sartorial choices. Whether you're a seasoned attendee or a first-time gala-goer, read on to discover the art of dressing for the occasion and unlocking the secrets to gala elegance.

 

A Brief History of Gala Fashion

Gala fashion has a rich history that reflects the evolving tastes and societal norms of different eras. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, lavish masquerade balls were popular in Europe, inspiring elaborate costumes and masks.

Masquerade mask

The 19th century introduced the concept of formal evening wear for both men and women, with ladies donning full-length gowns and men opting for tailcoats and cravats. The early 20th century saw the rise of Art Deco influences, with beaded flapper dresses and tuxedos becoming the gala staples of the Roaring Twenties.

The mid-20th century brought Hollywood glamour to gala fashion, as stars like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly popularized elegant and timeless looks. The 1980s embraced opulence with bold colors, sequins, and exaggerated shoulder pads, while the 1990s and early 2000s favored minimalist styles and sleek silhouettes.

Today, gala fashion is a blend of classic elegance and contemporary trends, with attendees often showcasing their unique personalities through their choice of attire. The history of gala fashion demonstrates how this form of dress has continually evolved, reflecting the ever-changing landscape of style and social gatherings.

 

Is There a Gala Dress Code?

Gala events typically have a dress code, which is usually formal attire. The specific dress code may vary depending on the event's theme or organizers, but it often involves wearing elegant and sophisticated clothing, such as tuxedos for men and evening gowns or formal dresses for women.

Here are some guidelines to consider when deciding what to wear to a gala:

  1. Check the Dress Code: Always start by checking the event invitation or guidelines for any specific dress code requirements. Gala dress codes can vary from black tie to white tie, so understanding the formality level is crucial. Here is our guide to creative black tie.
  2. Opt for Formal Attire: If the dress code is black tie, men should wear a tuxedo with a black bowtie, while women should choose an elegant, full-length gown. For white tie events, men should don a tailcoat, white wing-collared shirt, and a black bowtie, while women should wear a formal ball gown.
    Black tie tuxedo
  3. Choose Elegant Colors: Neutral and classic colors like black, navy, deep red, or metallics are safe choices for gala attire. These colors exude sophistication and timelessness.
  4. Focus on Fit: Ensure that your outfit fits impeccably. Consider having it tailored to achieve a perfect fit, as well-fitted clothing enhances your overall appearance.
  5. Accessorize Thoughtfully: Select accessories that complement your attire. For men, this includes cufflinks, a pocket square, and polished shoes. Women can enhance their look with statement jewelry, a clutch purse, and appropriate shoes.
  6. Hair and Makeup: Women should opt for elegant hairstyles and makeup that suits the formality of the event. Professional makeup artists and hairstylists can help achieve a polished look.
  7. Consider the Venue: Think about the venue and theme of the black tie gala. Sometimes, events have specific themes or cultural elements that you can incorporate into your attire in a tasteful way.
  8. Comfort is Key: While looking glamorous is important, don't sacrifice comfort. You'll likely be on your feet and socializing for an extended period, so choose attire and footwear that you can comfortably wear throughout the event.
  9. Layer Appropriately: For outdoor or cooler-weather galas, bring a formal coat or shawl that complements your outfit. This not only keeps you warm but adds an extra layer of style.
  10. Confidence: Regardless of your attire, wear it with confidence. Confidence is the ultimate accessory that can elevate any outfit.

Remember that the key to gala attire is to strike a balance between adhering to the dress code and expressing your personal style. By following these tips, you can ensure you make a stylish and memorable statement at your next gala event.

 

White Tie vs. Black Tie Dress Code

A white tie event and a black tie event are two distinct levels of formal dress codes typically reserved for special occasions and formal gatherings. Here's how a white tie and black tie dress code differ:

Black Tie
black bow tie with formal white dress shirt and black suit jacket

  • For Men: Black tie attire is characterized by a black tuxedo jacket with satin or silk lapels, black dress trousers, a white formal dress shirt, and a black bowtie. Men typically wear black patent leather or highly polished black dress shoes.
  • For Women: Women usually wear full-length formal gowns or elegant cocktail dresses, often accompanied by accessories like jewelry and clutch purses.
  • Accessories: For both men and women, accessories are relatively understated, and makeup and hairstyles should be elegant but not overly dramatic.
  • Occasions: Black tie events are less formal than white tie events and are suitable for formal weddings, gala dinners, theater openings, and upscale parties.

White Tie
white tie dress code attire infographic

  • For Men: White tie attire is the most formal dress code. Men wear a black tailcoat with satin lapels, a white wing-collared formal dress shirt, a white bowtie, black dress trousers with a black satin stripe, black patent leather dress shoes, and black dress socks.
  • For Women: Women are expected to wear full-length formal gowns, often with long gloves and elegant accessories like tiaras or other formal jewelry.
  • Accessories: Accessories in white tie events are more elaborate and formal. Women may wear gloves, tiaras, and statement jewelry.
  • Occasions: White tie events are reserved for the most prestigious and formal occasions, such as state dinners, royal events, opera premieres, and very upscale weddings.

In summary, the key difference between black tie and white tie events is the level of formality. Black tie is formal, but white tie is the highest level of formality in terms of dress code, with more specific and elaborate attire requirements for both men and women.

 

What to Wear to a Gala for Men

Gala attire for men typically consists of formal and elegant clothing. The specific formal dress code may vary depending on the event, but here are the components of a typical gala attire for men:

  • Tuxedo: A well-fitted tuxedo is the cornerstone of gala attire. It should consist of a black or midnight blue jacket with satin lapels, black formal trousers, and a matching waistcoat or cummerbund.
  • Dress Shirt: Wear a white or black formal dress shirt with a wingtip or spread collar. It should be neatly pressed and should have either French cuffs (for cufflinks) or standard cuffs.
  • Bowtie: A black, silk, or satin bowtie is the standard choice for gala events. It should be properly tied and well-proportioned.
  • Footwear: Black patent leather or highly polished black formal shoes are essential. They should be well-maintained and free of scuffs.
  • Accessories: Minimalist accessories are key. Consider cufflinks, a black formal pocket square, and a formal dress watch. Avoid flashy or oversized jewelry. Here's our guide on how to fold a pocket square.
    8 types of pocket square folds for gala attire accessory infographic
  • Optional Extras: Depending on the formality of the event, you can add a formal vest or waistcoat, a black silk scarf, and black formal gloves.
  • Grooming: Ensure that your hair is well-groomed, and your nails are clean and trimmed. A clean-shaven face or neatly groomed facial hair is recommended for a polished look.
  • Fragrance: If you choose to wear cologne, apply it sparingly. A subtle and sophisticated scent is preferable.

Remember that the key to gala attire is attention to detail and impeccable tailoring. It's essential that your clothing fits well and is in excellent condition to achieve a truly elegant and formal look for the event.

 

Gala Outfit Ideas for Men

Here are some outfit ideas for men attending a gala fundraiser:

Classic Black Tie

  • A well-tailored black tuxedo with satin lapels.
  • A crisp white formal dress shirt.
  • A black silk bowtie.
  • Black patent leather dress shoes.
  • Black dress socks.
  • Optional: A black waistcoat or cummerbund.

Sophisticated Navy

Charcoal Elegance

Modern Twist

  • A slim-fit tuxedo or suit in a contemporary color like deep burgundy or forest green.
  • A white or black dress shirt with a modern collar.
  • A matching or contrasting silk bowtie.
  • Stylish black or matching leather dress shoes.
  • Patterned dress socks to add a touch of personality.

White Tie Elegance

  • A black tailcoat with satin lapels.
  • A crisp white wing-collared formal dress shirt.
  • A white bowtie.
  • Black formal trousers with a black satin stripe.
  • Black patent leather dress shoes.
  • Black dress socks.

Remember to ensure your outfit is well-fitted and in excellent condition. Pay attention to details like cufflinks, a pocket square, and a well-maintained hairstyle.

The key is to strike the right balance between adhering to the event's formality and expressing your personal style within those boundaries.

 

What Should a Woman Wear to a Gala

A woman should wear an elegant and formal gown to a gala. Here are some guidelines for choosing the perfect gala attire:

  • Dress Style: Opt for a full-length gown that exudes sophistication and elegance. Choose a silhouette and style that flatters your body type and complements the formality of the event. Strapless, halter-neck, one-shoulder, and sleeveless gowns are popular choices.
  • Color: Classic and timeless colors like black, navy, deep red, emerald green, and metallic shades are excellent choices for gala gowns. However, you can also consider the event's theme or venue and choose colors accordingly.
  • Fabric: Luxurious and high-quality fabrics like silk, satin, chiffon, lace, or velvet are ideal for gala gowns. These materials drape beautifully and add a touch of opulence to your look.
  • Neckline: Gala gowns often feature elegant necklines, such as V-neck, sweetheart, boat neck, or off-the-shoulder styles. Choose a neckline that complements your figure and personal style.
  • Accessories: Enhance your look with tasteful accessories, such as statement jewelry, a clutch purse, and elegant heels. Consider wearing gloves or a shawl for added glamour, especially at more formal events.
  • Hairstyle and Makeup: Opt for a hairstyle and makeup that suit the formality of the event. Updos, sleek buns, or loose waves are popular choices. Ensure your makeup is polished and long-lasting.
  • Fit: Ensure your gown is well-fitted and tailored to your body, as a perfectly fitting dress enhances your overall appearance.
  • Undergarments: Invest in the right undergarments to ensure a smooth and flattering silhouette. Consider shape wear if needed.
  • Comfortable Shoes: You'll likely be on your feet and walking around during the event, so choose comfortable yet stylish shoes that complement your gown's length.
  • Confidence: Wear your chosen attire with confidence. Your confidence is the ultimate accessory that can make you stand out at a gala.

 

Bottom Line

Deciding what to wear to a gala is a delicate art, where timeless elegance meets personal style. The choices you make, from the color of your gown to the accessories you adorn, are a reflection of not just fashion but also the respect and consideration you hold for the event and its attendees.

By following the guidelines and embracing your unique flair within the confines of formality, you can confidently step into the world of gala fashion, leaving a lasting impression and contributing to the grandeur of these prestigious gatherings.

As you prepare for your next gala, remember that your attire is not merely fabric and thread; it's a statement, an expression, and an integral part of the unforgettable memories you'll create.

 

Frequently Asked Questions about What to Wear to a Gala

What is the dress code for a gala?

The dress code for a gala event typically requires formal attire, such as a tuxedo for men and an elegant gown for women. The specific requirements may vary based on the event's formality level, but gala attire is generally characterized by its sophistication and adherence to traditional formal wear standards.

What should a woman wear to a gala night?

A woman should wear an elegant evening gown or a formal cocktail dress to a gala night, complemented by appropriate accessories and stylish footwear.

What can you wear to a gala event?

To a gala event, you should wear formal attire, such as a tuxedo or suit for men and an elegant gown or formal dress for women, along with appropriate accessories and footwear.

What color is best to wear to a gala?

Neutral and classic colors such as black, navy, deep red, or elegant shades of white are typically considered the best choices to wear to a gala, as they convey sophistication and timeless elegance.