How to Dress for a White Tie Event (Especially When It’s the Opera)

There’s nothing that strikes more fear – or elation – in a guest’s heart when they read “dress code” on an invitation. I’ve had the opportunity to go to a wide array of events since I’ve started writing. The dress codes always vary. They range from Brooklyn roof tops in knee high socks to the Baccarat Crystal Hotel launch event in designer. There are always still ‘firsts’ however and this past weekend the Lyric Opera provided one.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to go to Lyric performances in the past and they’re always incredible feasts of the senses. Each time I feel like they’ve outdone themselves. Last weekend, the kicked off their new season with a red carpet premiere of Das Rheingold. I jumped at the invitation but froze over some simple words: “Black or white tie.” While I can rock black tie six ways to Sunday (hello, numerous black dresses in my closet), white tie was a mystery.

A Google search of white tie was easy enough – it’s the highest of dress codes. A Google image search of white tie showed off celebrities at premieres or politicians at fancy dinners. Ballgowns and tuxedos with tails bounced around my browser. One of the biggest distinctions between black and white tie was in the details. It meant more voluminous skirts on dresses and vests in menswear. But I still felt unsure – was I really about to go buy a ballgown?

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The answer was no. Even though the invitation said white tie, it referenced both black and white tie. From my previous experiences at the Lyric I knew that there were seldom ballgowns. This event was a season premiere – not just an opera premiere – so I knew the stakes were elevated, but not to this extent.

The devil is always in the details. My previous ventures to the Lyric always included black dresses, but when I went shopping for this season opener I had a different vision in my mind. To elevate my black tie to white tie without needing a ballgown, I followed a few tips.

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  • Opt for a little less skin. White tie means more formal, which normally means more reserved. I found a long-sleeved, high neckline black dress. There was a high leg slit that was only apparent when I walked. It balanced out the dress from looking too matronly while also looking more elevated.
  • Find an embellished dress instead of wearing jewelry. My dress had embellished cuffs on the sleeves that eliminated the need for jewelry. It made for a more streamlined look.
  • Go long! Instead of just grazing the ankles, my dress had a bit of a train. It looks dynamic when you walk and brings you from black to white tie.

I was lucky enough to snag an amazing Vince Camuto number that I paired with strapped Topshop heels for the premiere. I kept it simple with minimal eye makeup with a red lip and a white clutch. It played the line between white and black tie but was effortless enough to blend in anywhere.

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The performance of Das Rheingold was breath-taking. Lyric continues to up its game every time I have the pleasure of attending a performance and this time it was no different. The staging and elaborate scenery was so creative in its creation of the set. It was very imaginative in terms of provided stage elements that made your mind almost fill in the gaps, proving to be a true feast for the senses.

Giants were created on stage by having the actors stand atop two-story wooden frames with massive heads built atop them. While the actors moved and sung about (in full view at human size), you had to fill in the image mentally of what their monstrous size would actually look like. It was delightfully crafty.

It almost seems redundant to express how beautiful the music was or how skilled the actors. Truly there are no amount of words to dictate in black and white the mastery that happened on stage in those two and a half hours. It’s something that must be seen to be believed.

Das Rheingold runs until October 22nd and the Rhein gods as my witness – it’s worth it.

6 thoughts on “How to Dress for a White Tie Event (Especially When It’s the Opera)

    • It’s definitely tempting! Luckily I had been to this venue before, so I knew it wasn’t common.

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