Dressing up for a formal occasion can be as daunting as it is exciting – a rare combination indeed, yet one that very much exists. There are 10 essential dress styles for formal occasions you can choose between, which we’ll tell you all about.
Evening dresses range from haute couture with skirt overlays and embellishments to sleek, simple, ready-to-wear styles. Your choice will depend on personal preference, level of comfort, and the occasion. The reason there are so many dress varieties is because there are many types of formal events – red carpet, balls, black-tie dinners, award ceremonies, pageants, galas, weddings, and proms are just some of them. Some styles are suitable only for highly formal ones, while others are more versatile.
An invitation to a formal event raises a lot of questions. Are deep V-necks or strapless dresses acceptable? Do you have to wear a long dress? Is there such a thing as “too” formal? Although the mere prospect of dressing up can induce panic, the formal dress code welcomes a surprisingly large number of options.
If you’re going to a very formal event, a full-length gown or dress will work best. Other than that, almost any cut, shape, or color is suitable. Embellishments like beadwork, rhinestones, or sequins are highly recommended.
Our list begins with the A-line style, which is flattering to every body type. You’d never go wrong in a dress with a sleeveless fitted bodice, V-neck or sweetheart neckline, and A-letter shaped skirt flaring out from beneath the waist. If you are going to a highly formal event, a long, sweeping train wouldn’t be out of place as long as you don’t perceive it as a hassle. Beaded floral appliqués add a nice final touch.
This design is called “column” because it elongates the body and adds the illusion of height. Normally, these dresses are sleeveless with a natural waist. You can opt for a high or low neckline, with or without a slit (but not too high), and embellishments like beaded fringe or rhinestones. Column gowns are a combination of sleek bodices and long, flowy skirts and are most flattering to slender and tall women. They will make a fabulous impression on the red carpet or a gala, especially if paired with the right accessories. This dress style is also a popular MOB / MOG choice.
Mermaid trains are hot this season – a formal wear style with a twist that’s appropriate for the vast majority of special formal occasions, including balls and award ceremonies. Full-bodied women look dazzling in dresses with a plunging V-neck, while tall and slim ladies are advised to choose strapless sleek gowns with prominent mermaid skirts. Your choice of neckline is also influenced by your face shape. Asymmetrical or curved necklines compliment round face shapes, while V-necks are more flattering to oval ones.
If you have pale skin, opt for a darker tone like Bordeaux or rich ruby. Cream-colored or off-white gowns bring a darker complexion out.
When it comes to dresses for a special evening, you’d never go wrong with a fitted off-shoulder trumpet dress with a breathtaking sweetheart neckline – the quintessential definition of elegance. The Dress Warehouse’s latest collections feature off-shoulder designs with ruffled embellishments, sequins and sweeping trains that are perfect for any “suit and tie” event or a grand opening event with a formal dinner. They are best paired with minimal jewelry and sparkly stilettos.
No black tie event could be considered “creative” without a feather gown gracing it. Feather augmentation guarantees that wow factor. Bolder ladies will find sheer fabrics and beads a nice extra touch.
You can wear a feather gown at a ball, reception, gala, prom, wedding, or even an engagement party.
Cocktail dresses tend to be less formal, but we have good news for diehard fans of the LBD or the LWD – sleek, slinky versions of these are a popular choice at official events. Among the elements that “formalize” the cocktail dress are asymmetric details, sheer bodices, hand-sewn embroidery, silver-threaded Chantilly lace, and sparkling rhinestones (but not all of these at once).
This style is the perfect choice for a black-tie dinner. Why? It’s simple, yet regal – high neck translates to high impact. This neckline style is practical if you don’t want to draw attention to your bust. Keep the rest of your outfit uncomplicated with minimal accessories and spaghetti-strap stilettos. Highly formal occasions do not exclude certain funerals, at which a high neck dress would be appropriate.
Ball gowns attract attention like no other formal dress design, in particular to the waist, the narrowest point of the body. They can come in a variety of neckline styles, but strapless and sleeveless is best for a red carpet event. Most ball gowns feature rich details like fine lace and fiery gemstones. Depending on your preference and body type, you can choose a bejeweled bodice or asymmetrical shape.
Fit and flare dresses are ideal for almost every body type, ensuring a woman will feel confident in one regardless of her body shape and size. They exude serenity and work for highly formal occasions like weddings, “special invite” events, meetings with business leaders or important government officials, and more. Typical embellishments for this dress style include 3D flowers, Swarovski crystals, and dramatic trains.
Until recently, these tight, figure-hugging dresses were not considered suitable for formal events. This has changed thanks to additions like sequins, handcrafted embellishments, and ruffles. As you walk into the ballroom in a body con, the lustrous embellishments and awe-inspiring silhouette will turn heads.
When choosing a gown for your next formal event, make sure it is designed with proportion in mind. Sheer tulle, ornate appliqué, and contrast lace contribute to an opulent vibe. Adornments like life-like leaves and flowers will make everyone sit up and take notice. Beaded details and extravagant floral motifs embellish luxury materials for a look that radiates with elegance.
When shopping for your dress, look for structured silhouettes and bodices because your comfort is important, particularly at a formal affair.
Author Bio: Jonah Levine is the Creative Director of TheDressWarehouse.com. TheDressWarehouse.com was launched in 2018 as the go-to online source for amazing prom dresses on sale. With 10 years experience in the industry, Jonah works daily to scour the evening wear markets to find the hottest styles and to negotiate the best prices for special occasion wear on the internet.