Black and White Party Etiquette

People enjoying a formal party
A black and white party is typically an elegant affair. Allan Danahar/Getty Images

There are all types of themes for gatherings and celebrations, one of them being a "black and white" party. It's typically elegant yet understated, with all of the guests dressed in their finest black and white attire.

Question:

I recently received an invitation to a "black and white" evening party, and I'm not sure what that means. I assume I'm expected to wear only black and white, but do I need to wear an evening gown?

Or would black pants and a white top be appropriate?

Answer:

A black and white affair is typically a more formal event, so an evening gown or a formal suit would be in order. Look for other hints on the invitation, such as "tie optional." The biggest clue you've already mentioned is that it's an evening party. Typically parties after dark are more formal than those that begin in the afternoon. If it would give you more peace of mind, contact the host and ask whether it's formal or semi-formal. You're probably not the only person who isn't sure how to dress.

The black and white evening party is a way to have a glamorous event with everyone dressing up in outfits that cast an ethereal glow. No one will clash with anyone, and the guests will put all of their creative energy into style rather than splashes of color.

All of that said, a black and white event might not be formal. If it's for a child or teenager's party, chances are it's not.

Tips for how to dress for a black and white party:

  • Honor the black and white theme by wearing what the invitation states. It would be disrespectful to show up in a purple ensemble, and the host might remove you from the next party's guest list.
  • Don't wear any color other than black or white. This includes handbags, shoes, and jewelry.
  • You should stick to the classic diamond and pearl jewelry that are perfect for a black and white event. If you don't have real pearls and diamonds, you can wear faux jewelry. With the lights down low, most people won't have any idea they're not the real thing, as long as the pieces are not too large.
  • Men should pay close attention to the wording such as "black tie optional," which means that they may wear tuxedos, but it isn't essential. If they don't have the means to purchase or rent a tux, a black suit is appropriate.
  • Women should select attire from the more sophisticated and glamorous materials, such as silk or satin. Cotton and cotton blends are better put aside for a garden party. Beading and rhinestone embellishment provide all the glitter a woman needs, as long as it doesn't overwhelm the dress.
  • Evening gown styling should flatter the woman's best feature. Black and white are both such dramatic colors that they can enhance or overwhelm the person wearing them. Decide what you'd like to emphasize and select a dress that shows it off. For example, if you have beautiful shoulders, you may want to wear a strapless or off-shoulder gown. If your legs are your best feature, raise the neckline and show off some leg with a slid up the side. Keep the look elegant to fit in with the theme of the party.

    Suggestions for the host of a black and white affair:

    • Start the theme by sending black and white invitations.
    • Be very clear in the invitation of your expectations. Many of the old conventions have gotten lost through the generations, so your guests might not understand what "black tie" means. If you want people to show up in formal attire, state it on the invitation.
    • Provide a phone number for questions.
    • If people show up in something other than black or white, be gracious and don't call attention to their lack of understanding. They'll know next time.
    • Keep the decorations simple to enhance the elegant theme of the party.
    • Low lighting is ideal for a black and white event. It casts an ethereal glow that adds a touch of magic to the evening.
    • Use only black and white linens and tableware.
    • Serve white chocolate, dark chocolate, champagne, ginger ale, and other foods and drinks that go along with the black and white theme.
    • Snap photos with an old-school camera using black and white film.