Getting invited to an auction, charity event, or fundraiser doesn’t come around all the time, so attending such an event could very well be the highlight of the year.
However, the idea of choosing what to wear for this type of special occasion can feel a little daunting.
That’s why we’ve gathered expert tips to help you decide what to wear to any gala event.
Here are their insights:
Table of Contents
- White tie event
- Black tie event
- Festive attire event
- Business attire
- Casual attire
- Long formal gown and black tuxedo
- Cocktail dresses
- Clutch bags and pieces of jewelry
- Identify the event’s theme and cause
- Always consider comfort
- Take note of the venue as well
- You should also consider jewelry
- Think about hair and makeup
- Consider your entire look
- Understand the cause and research of previous events
- I would suggest a more classic long gown or ball gown and your finest jewelry
- You can never go wrong with a gown
- For ladies, think long gowns – trains are not necessary. For men, it’s always a tux
- Does the event have a theme?
- Where is it being held?
- No matter what, aim for comfort
- A floral dress is a great go-to that most people already own
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a gala event?
- What should I consider when choosing a gown for a gala?
- What kind of accessories should I wear to a gala?
- Can I wear a short dress to a gala?
- Can I wear a jumpsuit to a gala?
- What if I’m not comfortable wearing a long dress or tuxedo?
- What should I consider when choosing a hairstyle for a gala?
- What kind of makeup should I wear to a gala?
- What should I bring with me to a gala?
Philanthropist | Humanitarian | Activist | Author
As the Fall charity season begins, people often wonder what to wear to different charity galas. As a woman who loves style and fashion and who sits on the Board of the Couture Council of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, I am happy to try to help make this decision easier!
Each year I chair or co-chair at least 8 or 9 events, then attend about another 80 or so events and so appropriate dress is something I am clearly interested in!
However, first and foremost, anyone interested in purchasing a ticket and supporting a charity should know that what they wear comes secondary to the actual purpose of the party.
A good charity will be happy to have your support regardless of what you wear.
That being said there are some basic principles that should be followed based on what type of dress code is specified on a charity invitation.
If an invitation does not specify a dress code, then an individual probably should reach out the Special Events Department of the charity to inquire about dress attire for the event.
Here are some basic guidelines for gala or charity parties based on what is specified on an invitation:
White tie event
Long gown for women and long tuxedo tails for men. (Very few events are a white tie and, as a result, most men may never need to own or rent a tuxedo with tails.)
Black tie event
Long gown or short dressy dress for women and tuxedo for men.
Festive attire event
Long or short dress with a colorful or festive feel for women. Sports jacket and pants (no jeans) for men. Festive attire events generally give patrons a great deal of flexibility in what they wear.
Wear what you would wear to the office — but no jeans or shorts. Men should wear a jacket and tie.
Women should wear a nice casual dress or pantsuit. Men should wear a blazer and sports pants. No jeans or shorts. Ties not necessary for men.
Special note: Dress code rules are becoming more and more blurred. But it is always wise to follow the instructions are given on an invitation. Your presence at an event is the most important thing. Go to have a good time and learn all you can about the work of the charity!
Eric Lee Edmonson
Fashion Blogger, The ELE Code | Style Coach
When it comes to what to wear to a gala, it really depends on what type of gala it is that your attending.
Long formal gown and black tuxedo
There are different types of galas that call for different dress codes. For example, a black-tie gala would normally call a long formal gown for women and a black tuxedo for men.
For women at this type of a Gala, I would say to not show too much skin. I would say only show “one goodie”, for example maybe show a little leg and the rest of your body is covered. Or maybe show your shoulders and have everything else covered. Just keep in mind staying within dress-code.
For a semi-formal or black-tie optional gala, you may be able to get away with wearing a cocktail dress that is not long and play with different patterns and textures more so than a formal gala.
For example, you may be able to get away with wearing a floral cocktail dress which may not be a go at a more formal gala. Women may even be able to wear a 2 piece suit to this type of gala.
So all in all, it really depends on the dress-code set for the gala as to what is appropriate or not. I will say never wear a day bag to any type of gala you go to. Meaning, if you would wear it to the grocery store, don’t wear it to a gala.
Clutch bags and pieces of jewelry
A clutch is pretty standard when it comes to handbags at a Gala. I would also advise always wearing some type of jewelry. Having no jewelry is pretty plain jane and I always say why blend-in when you can stand out! You do not have to wear your whole jewelry collection, however, a statement piece would not hurt.
Looking at your best self is the goal for a gala. That at the end of the day is standard across the board for men and women no matter what.
Columnist | Fashion Blogger, Giving In Style | Influencer
As an expert in both the corporate philanthropy and fashion arenas, I have experienced the growing pains of learning and understanding what classifies as outstanding style at the poshest events and galas.
These were hard-learned lessons, which took me making countless mistakes before I began to truly understand what works in the circles of society and what does not.
Identify the event’s theme and cause
First and foremost consider the events’ theme, if there is one, and also the cause or organization that the gala is benefitting.
Take cues from these parameters when selecting your outfit.
For instance, if the event is for the American Heart Association you may consider rocking their traditional color of red or perhaps incorporating some type of avant-garde heart designed pendent or print into your ensemble.
Always consider comfort
Some galas can be an all-night occasion and as such you will want to select each item you wear with comfort in mind. There is nothing more classless then exiting a gala carrying your own shoes or with a garment partially removed because of discomfort.
Take note of the venue as well
You might need to consider a wrap or pho-fur stall if it’s being held in a chilly venue or if the event is outside. The same holds true if the event is a summer affair, where you might feel best in a shorter dress. Think about what type of dress will best suit the season and venue.
This should also be considered where shoes are concerned.
If you are attending a garden party then wedges or wide heeled shoes will be your best options. Perhaps if the event is particularly elegant you may want to consider wearing a bejeweled heel or designer brand of shoe. As they say the devil is in the details.
You should also consider jewelry
Dependent upon how high or low the design of your gown and shoes are, you might consider keeping your jewels to a minimum. Look at whether just earrings might be best or if you should consider a chunky statement necklace or ring.
Sometimes, less is more, especially at events that cost several hundred dollars or more a plate.
Think about hair and makeup
Galas are occasions where people definitely put their best foot forward. Many cities have excellent makeup artists that you can either visit or will even come to you.
Many times if my gown, shoes, jewels, and makeup are all in check, I will intentionally keep my hair low key. A super straight look or perhaps subtle waves will work best. I caution against having your hair done in too severe of an updo as that can come across as too “junior or prom-like.”
Consider your entire look
It is important to look your best, but also that you feel like yourself.
Select items that reinforce your best self and that make you want to smile. Happiness is an inside out job and even with the most glamorous attire, you can only truly shine when you have joy coming from within.
Influencer | Model | Fashion Expert
Understand the cause and research of previous events
Preparing for a Gala is quite an exciting process. From understanding what the cause is for to researching what has been worn before, sourcing and allowing each component to bring the outfit together seamlessly.
You want to make a sophisticated yet powerful stance when you take that first step on to the red carpet that will have the spectators in awe but most importantly you want to embody the highest version of yourself. This is your moment. Shine.
Owner & Designer, House of Sussex
Most galas I’ve attended are either in Hollywood or New York. New York generally is more conservative unless it’s the Met Gala! Especially if Gaga is one of the co-chairs!
I would suggest a more classic long gown or ball gown and your finest jewelry
You can’t go wrong. If in Hollywood then there is the opportunity to be a bit more creative with your dress as most likely there will be people from the entertainment industry, either actors, musicians, producers, etc. and they go all out in an attempt to catch the cameras and get noticed!
To compete one might consider wearing an interesting color like lime green, red or yellow dress which are hot trend colors this year. Bring in some Hollywood glam.
Maybe a gold beaded pantsuit to honor Elton John and take it a step further with a hat from the finest millenary in London, Lock & Co. Hatters who made hats for Jackie O, Charlie Chaplin, and Queen Elizabeth!
Founder, The Blonde Misfit
As a fashion and beauty journalist based in NYC, I get invited to a lot of galas and black-tie events on a weekly basis.
You can never go wrong with a gown
I always think that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. They are easy ways to look elevated while also having a ton of personality!
Depending on the situation, I always opt for color. When you’re networking and meeting people all night long, it’s so easy to forget names. But nobody is going to forget the beautiful woman in the red dress or the handsome man who had a multicolor handkerchief.
Some people wear cocktail dresses to a gala, and that is totally fine! At the end of the day, it should be an elevated version of what you already bring to the table, and a statement necklace or jewelry will also bring it up higher!
For shoes, you should always opt for comfortability. Buy a pair of bendable flats to throw in your purse so you can change when your heels begin to hurt your feet. There is nothing cute about blisters on your feet!
A few days before the event, make sure that you’ve tried your shoes on and had a chance to walk in them. If you need to get them stretched, do that in advance so you can try them on again before the big day. Galas can last for hours on hours, so you want to be as comfortable as possible while you’re on your feet.
For ladies, think long gowns – trains are not necessary. For men, it’s always a tux
Galas are special occasions most often with wealthy patrons attending. There will be a lot of glitz and almost always black or even white tie. This is not the time to throw on any old thing unless any old thing is a well-maintained gown for ladies or modern fit tux for men.
If you are confused about what to wear, do a Google search of the event the year before if possible. You’ll be able to see images of the attendees from the prior year to get a feel for what the dress code will be.
You don’t have to break the bank. Guys can rent tuxes or pick up a well made one at Men’s Warehouse. Ladies, you have tons of options- hit the clearance section in your local department store first, also off-price retailers like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s have great gown sections.
Also, try a thrift shop or vintage boutique to get something one of a kind. Rent the Runway has excellent options as well.
Jessica Mansmith, MNA
Consultant | Nonprofit Management & Development Professional
As a high-level nonprofit fundraiser, I have to plan and attend many galas. Deciding what to wear is half the fun and can be a little stressful, too! Here’s how I decide what to wear:
Does the event have a theme?
I’ve been to galas where a theme —Gatsby or masquerade, for example— set the parameters for attire.
A Hollywood/Dollywood/Bollywood-themed event was one of my favorites, with each floor of the venue decorated accordingly. Guests wore everything from chaps and Stetsons to floor-length gowns and saris. It was campy and so much fun!
Where is it being held?
Certainly, not all organizations have resources to host their benefit in the best venue in town, so taking this into account may be important.
If people feel less inclined to dress formally in an informal setting, playing it safe with a simple cocktail dress or fitted suit will work. Accessories like artistic jewelry pieces and bright pocket squares will smarten and give personality to otherwise traditional choices.
No matter what, aim for comfort
Galas can be long and tedious affairs, or they could turn into ripping parties. Either way, I don’t want to injure my feet with a poor shoe choice or feel weighed down by too much beading.
I prefer to wear long dresses that breathe, so I look for lightweight fabrics and styles that look great with layers or by themselves. I want to easily move, dance, and eat!
Owner & Designer, Cosima
It’s not every day that you get to attend a gala, so, when the occasion arises, you should go all out. It’s important to understand just how formal the typical gala dress code is; long well-tailored evening dresses, chic high-quality heels, a classy clutch, and polished statement jewelry are all musts!
Stylist, Cups of Coco
A floral dress is a great go-to that most people already own
Dress it up by wearing it with a clutch and drop earrings. Want a fairytale look, go for a romantic dress in a lightweight fabric and a soft color– think materials like tulle or lace and colors like blush or teal.
Accompany it with dainty modern jewelry and accessories. Or go for a bold ensemble with an all-out sparkly dress. Leave as is or tone it down a notch by throwing a solid blazer on top or wearing simple strap heels.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a gala event?
A gala event is a grand and elegant social occasion, often with a formal dress code, that typically involves dinner, dancing, and entertainment. It is a celebration of a special occasion, such as a charity, an award ceremony, or a cultural festival, and is often used as a fundraising opportunity. Gala events are typically formal and sophisticated, and guests are expected to dress up in their finest attire.
What should I consider when choosing a gown for a gala?
When choosing a gown for a gala, there are several things to consider to ensure that you look your best:
• Dress code: Make sure to check the dress code for the event and choose a gown that is appropriate for the occasion. For example, if the dress code is black-tie or formal, a long gown is usually required.
• Comfort: Choose a gown that is comfortable to wear, especially if you plan to dance or stand for long periods of time. Consider the fabric and the cut of the gown, and make sure it fits well and doesn’t restrict movement.
• Style: Consider your style and choose a gown that makes you feel confident and beautiful. Think about the neckline, silhouette, and embellishments that suit your body type and preferences.
• Color: Choose a color that complements your skin tone and enhances your overall look. Consider the time of year and the event location when selecting a color.
• Accessories: Think about the accessories you will wear with your gown, such as jewelry, shoes, and a clutch. Choose pieces that complement your gown and add a touch of elegance to your overall look.
What kind of accessories should I wear to a gala?
Accessorizing is key to completing your gala look! Opt for elegant, sparkly jewelry such as diamond stud earrings, a statement necklace, or a cocktail ring.
When it comes to handbags, choose a clutch or a small evening bag that’s big enough to hold your essentials but not too bulky.
And don’t forget about your shoes! A pair of strappy heels or embellished pumps will elevate your outfit and help you make a lasting impression.
Can I wear a short dress to a gala?
It depends on the dress code for the gala event. Generally, a gala is a formal occasion and calls for floor-length gowns. If the dress code is black-tie or formal, a short dress may not be appropriate. However, if the dress code is black-tie optional or semi-formal, a short cocktail dress can be acceptable.
In any case, if you choose to wear a short dress to a gala event, ensure it still looks elegant and sophisticated. Opt for a high-quality fabric, such as silk or satin, and choose a style that flatters your body shape. Avoid wearing a short dress that is too casual or revealing.
Can I wear a jumpsuit to a gala?
It depends on the dress code for the gala event. A jumpsuit can be a stylish and chic alternative to a gown but may not always be appropriate for a formal gala event. If the dress code is black-tie or formal, a jumpsuit may not be acceptable.
However, if the dress code is black-tie optional or semi-formal, a jumpsuit can be an acceptable choice as long as it is elegant and sophisticated. Choose a jumpsuit that is made from high-quality fabric, such as silk or satin, and opt for a style that is flattering and appropriate for the formality of the event.
What if I’m not comfortable wearing a long dress or tuxedo?
If you’re uncomfortable wearing a long dress or tuxedo, that’s perfectly fine! If a traditional gala outfit doesn’t feel like your style, consider opting for a more modern or eclectic look that still aligns with the dress code and formality of the event.
Here are some alternative options that can still be stylish and appropriate for a gala event:
• Suit or separates: If you’re not comfortable in a tuxedo, consider wearing a dark suit or separates in a formal fabric, such as wool or silk. Pair it with a dress shirt, tie, and dress shoes for a sophisticated look.
• Knee-length dress: If you’re uncomfortable in a long gown, consider wearing a knee-length dress in a formal fabric, such as silk or satin. Pair it with heels and elegant jewelry for a chic look.
• Dressy jumpsuit: A dressy jumpsuit can be a stylish alternative to a long gown or cocktail dress. Choose a jumpsuit in a formal fabric and style, such as a wide-leg or palazzo style, and pair it with heels and statement jewelry.
What should I consider when choosing a hairstyle for a gala?
When choosing a hairstyle for a gala event, there are several factors to consider:
• Dress style: If your dress has a high neckline, consider wearing your hair up to show off your neck and shoulders. If your dress has a plunging neckline, consider wearing your hair down to balance the look.
• Face shape: If you have a round face, consider wearing your hair up to elongate your face. If you have an oval face, you can wear your hair up or down, as most hairstyles will suit you.
• Hair type: If you have fine hair, consider wearing it up to create volume. If you have curly hair, consider wearing it down to show off your curls.
• Accessories: Consider wearing hair accessories, such as a hair comb, barrette, or hairpin, to add some sparkle to your look.
• Comfort: Make sure to choose a comfortable and practical hairstyle, especially if the gala event involves dancing. Consider the length of your hair and the weather conditions when selecting your hairstyle.
What kind of makeup should I wear to a gala?
When it comes to makeup for a gala event, the goal is to enhance your natural beauty and create a sophisticated, elegant look. Here are a few tips for choosing the right makeup:
• Keep it simple: Opt for a natural, understated makeup look that is appropriate for the formality of the gala event. Avoid heavy or dramatic makeup that may look out of place.
•Choose neutral colors: Stick to neutral colors, such as beige, taupe, and pink, for your eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick. Avoid bright or bold colors that may detract from the elegance of the occasion.
• Go for a smokey eye: If you want to add some drama to your look, consider a subtle smokey eye. Choose a neutral color, such as brown or gray, and apply it to the outer corner of your eye for a sultry, sophisticated look.
• Enhance your lips: Choose a neutral or berry-toned lipstick to enhance your lips. Opt for a matte or creamy finish for a sophisticated look.
• Add some sparkle: If you want to add some sparkle to your look, consider using a highlighter on your cheekbones, brow bones, and Cupid’s bow.
• Consider your skin type: Make sure to choose the makeup that is appropriate for your skin type, whether you have oily, dry, or combination skin. Consider using a primer to ensure your makeup stays in place throughout the evening.
What should I bring with me to a gala?
Be sure to bring the essentials, such as your cell phone, wallet, and a compact. If you’re wearing a strapless or backless dress, consider bringing a wrap or shawl to keep you warm. And don’t forget to bring a pair of comfortable shoes to change into after the event!
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