What to Wear to a Black-Tie Event If You Have No Clue Where to Start

Most of us love a good party, but receiving an invite for a black-tie event can be as daunting as it is exciting. Obviously, the idea of dressing up and buying some new additions for your wardrobe is welcome. But no one wants to be the person who over- or under-dresses. We all know black tie means formal, but it also leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Especially if you've never done black tie before.

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Getty Images PICTURED: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen at the Met Gala 2015

As wedding season approaches, we thought we'd clear up once and for all what the dos and don'ts really are—so we called on Browns Fashion buyer Octavia Bradford. She thumbs through the most amazing high-end formalwear every day as a part of her job, so she knows better than anyone how to put together a black-tie look. Scroll below for her five tips on nailing a black-tie dress code.

1. Follow your host's lead

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Rex Features

The term "black tie" originates from the literal description of a male dress code of a dinner jacket and a black tie. So technically, there are no specifics for what women should wear, and rightly so. In order to scope out the vibe, Octavia suggests you "assess the location, and think about the host and wider guest list. How are your fellow partygoers going to interpret the dress-code? Are they a handbags-at-dawn kind of crew? This kind of intel is going to help you when you come to think about your interpretation of the black-tie directive. If your host is making a big effort, you need to make one too."

2. If you only invest in one thing, make it amazing heels

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Getty Images PICTURED: Beyoncé wearing gold heels

Investing in a whole new outfit obviously isn't necessary. But if you've got a tried-and-tested look that you want to reinvent with one purchase, then Octavia says it's all about statement heels. "My advice to anyone looking to elevate their outfit in one swift move is to treat yourself to a pair of devastatingly beautiful shoes that excite you and base your outfit around them. The boldest statements are often made in the details."

So fun, and the heel isn't so high you'll worry about falling over. 

3. Remember, dresses are optional

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Rex Features

"The idea that black tie means a dress is a common notion among partygoers, but this is an oversight," says Octavia. "Jumpsuits and separates can work just as well as tried-and-tested ball gowns with the added bonus that you'll likely get tonnes of wear out of these pieces well beyond the black-tie event circuit."

Octavia's ideal black-tie outfit? "I love the idea of wearing a pair of high-waisted wide-leg trousers with a fabulous velvet kimono jacket. It's a look that is slightly unexpected and a little undone but also rooted in sophistication and elegance."

4. Don't be afraid of colour

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Rex Features

Just as black tie doesn't have to equal a dress, nor does it dictate wearing black. "Colour and print work too. Don't be afraid to go bold," says Octavia. Though if you're trepidant about pulling off a bold shade, then Octavia suggests, "Let your bright dress have its moment in the spotlight—the accessories are there to support and elevate it, so it's wise to think along simpler lines."

Kitri is a reliable high-street brand we love to look to for black-tie pieces. 

5. Don't forget about outerwear

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Rex Features

You've got to make an arrival, so don't forget about your coat. Don't see it as a winter warmer—embrace it as part of your outfit. "Evening cover-ups are one of the most underrated pieces in a woman's wardrobe, but like a superhero's cape, they can have transformational powers," says Octavia.

"Don't be afraid to consider an outerwear option that makes a statement. There's no need to visit the cloakroom when you're wearing a coat from Gucci or a jacquard robe from Attico, for example."

Because you can't go wrong with a bit of Gucci. 

Now you won't ever feel that you're underdressed. 

This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated by Elinor Block.