How to Dress for an Evening Gala

While everyone has heard of a gala, it’s not every day that you actually get to attend one. These coveted formal events are typically held to support a charity event or worthy fundraiser but can also be held to celebrate other special occasions. If you’ve been invited to a gala, after the initial excitement wears off, you might be left overwhelmed trying to figure out what you’re going to wear. Relax – this guide will tell you everything you need to know to find the perfect outfit for the occasion. 

What is a Gala?

Before you think about how to dress for an evening gala, it helps to understand what a gala is and why it’s essential to dress appropriately when you’re invited to one. 

A gala is one of the most formal occasions a person can be invited to in a lifetime. It’s typically held for two reasons: to fundraise for a charitable cause or mark a special occasion. It usually takes place in a ballroom or large event hall with entertainment, food, and refreshments. 

There’s always a dress code for a gala, but it can vary a little bit from white-tie to black-tie, black-tie optional, and semi-formal. If you were fortunate enough to get an invitation to an event like this, you must understand, respect, and abide by the dress code. However, that doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and you shouldn’t have to blow your entire paycheck on an outfit for the night, either. We’ve put together this guide to help you sort out your options, so read on.  

Different Types of Gala Dress Codes 

There are some essential factors to consider for each type of gala dress code. Find the dress code for yours below and keep these points in mind while shopping for the perfect ensemble. 


While we typically think of black-tie as being the most formal of events, white-tie takes the cake. This type of event comes with a strict guest list and a dress code that calls for the most formal attire. If you’re invited to a white-tie gala, stick with full-length ball gowns and accessorize with full-length opera gloves for an elegant finishing touch. 


A black-tie gala event offers a little more creative freedom than white-tie, but whatever you choose, make sure it’s a high-class, elegant ensemble. Look at full-length ball gowns, cocktail dresses, and elegant little black dresses. You can also consider that while black is the preferred color, it’s not absolute. You can play with darker shades if you don’t want to go full-on black. 

Creative Black Tie

A creative black-tie dress code is pretty much exactly how it sounds. Take a black-tie dress code and put a creative twist on it. Branch out from full-length ball gowns and look at dressy evening pantsuits or mini cocktail dresses. Of all the formal dress codes, this one offers the best opportunity for you to express your personality. 

Black-Tie Optional

Much like creative black-tie, a black-tie optional dress code offers you more freedom of choice. Consider a variety of gowns, cocktail dresses, and evening pantsuits to show off your personal style. 


Anyone and everyone can get excited about dressing up for a semi-formal gala event. Pair some elegant, subtle jewelry with anything from a dressy skirt outfit to your favorite little black dress to a short or tea-length dress. A semi-formal dress code offers you the best opportunity to showcase a bold personal style while still looking classy and elegant for the occasion. 

Additional Things to Consider 

Now that you know more about what a gala event is and the different types of dress codes to expect, here are some additional style tips to keep in mind when putting your gala look together.

Be Mindful of Showing too Much Skin

A gala is an event where you could very well run into current co-workers, potential future employers, or organizational partners. Keeping this in mind, it’s crucial to maintain your reputation through your personal style, so be mindful of how much skin you show. While it’s perfectly acceptable to show some skin, balance it out. For example, if your dress has a high slit up the leg, make sure it also has sleeves or covers your chest. Conversely, if you’re wearing a strapless or off-the-shoulder gown, make sure it covers your legs.

Understand Your Body 

Before you start shopping for a gala ensemble, know your size and body type. You’ll want to look and feel fabulous at such a special event, and the best way to do that is to understand what styles suit you best. Finding a dress that accentuates your favorite features instead of highlighting your trouble areas will help you feel attractive, confident, and strong.

Follow the Trends 

While gala dress codes used to mean a regal, floor-length dress, these days, the trends say you have a bit more creative freedom – if you want it. It’s possible to find gala-worthy looks in various styles, from long dresses to short and tea-length dresses. You can even play with matching two-piece ensembles and luxurious jumpsuits.

Pay Attention to Your Shoes, Too 

You might be surprised at how significant an impact a shoe can make on an outfit. Shoes can balance and add dimension to a fabulous dress. At the same time, the wrong shoes can ruin the entire look. Don’t forget to pay attention to the shoes. 

Accessorize Appropriately

When it comes to jewelry and accessories for a gala, less is more. Consider the neckline when choosing a necklace – wear a short necklace or choker with strapless, V-neck, and off-the-shoulder dresses. Long and extravagant necklaces should be reserved for dresses with boat necklines. For other accessories, consider the weather. A shawl or wrap is perfect for keeping you warm when the weather is cooler without detracting from the elegance of your gala ensemble. 

Follow the style tips in the guide above to find your perfect dress and be the belle of the ball at your next gala event.

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