The 10 Best Dresses to Wear to a Gala and Other Formal Events

I have always been that girl to choose a formal function over a night out on the town. I had never understood why folks would rather get sweaty and waste a face of makeup in a poorly lit room than attend a fancy gala event. Lights, red carpet, champagne glasses? Count me in!

A gala dinner is typically a black tie event, meaning the ladies are expected to show up in formal wear just as the men are expected to show up in suits. Think cocktail dresses and formal gowns as far as the gala dress code goes. If there is ever a time to pull out your floor-length gown (apart from your wedding day), this would be the one.

As someone with lots of experience with black-tie events, I am glad to be writing this blog post. I shall be sharing the many different styles of dresses you can wear to a black-tie gala to have you standing out on the red carpet. I would be covering dresses to flatter different body shapes so worry not, I got all of you covered. The dress options would work great for other formal occasions as well so feel free to use this post as your guide for any special occasion.

The good news is, gala dresses do not have to be full-length gowns. Although formal evening gowns are my preferred dress of choice, I recognize that not everyone is comfortable wearing one. I would be sharing different dress lengths to show you how you can look elegant at a charity event or any other formal events you may be attending in the future.

It’s all about styling the right dress with the right shoes + accessories. If you are interested in figuring out what kind of dress you should check out for your next gala attire, then keep reading.

*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through the links, at no cost to you.

Where to shop for gala dresses

Before we jump into the world of glamorous and chic evening wear, I think it’s important for me to share some great websites to shop for these dresses. The following options cover a broad price range and so you should be able to find something within your budget and that goes with your personal style. They are some of my favorite websites to shop for an evening dress and complimenting accessories.

i) Lulus

Lulus has a great selection of dresses to choose from if you’re headed to semi-formal events. Midi dresses, pencil dresses and dresses in solid colors are your best bet when attending cocktail events. THIS midi dress is a perfect blend of sexy yet classy with its sweetheart neckline and off-shoulder details. Add a pair of statement earrings and you’re set to turn heads.

ii) Amazon

Long gowns are always a safe option to go with when you’re unsure of what to wear to a formal event such as a charity ball. If your dress is bodycon in nature, you may want to accentuate your figure with some shapewear or opt for a dress in a darker color. THIS halter maxi dress from Amazon would be appropriate attire for an event with a black tie dress code.

iii) Nordstrom

Nordstrom brings us a smaller collection of formal wear options but the quality is one of the best. If you’re not one to show much skin in your formal dresses but want to stay fashionable, THIS long sleeve tuxedo gown would look very chic. Add a pair of gold earrings and strappy sandals to complete your red carpet look. It’s a great take on an LBD.

iv) Shein

If you’re truly looking to stand out in a long dress at your next charity gala, try going for a sequin dress. Sequins reflect light and so a sequin dress would make you shine even brighter under all the bright lights, making you the bell of the ball. For a more subtle shine, opt for a black sequin dress. Or, you could go bold in THIS split thigh dark green floor-length dress. Don’t forget the high heels in gold or a neutral color.

v) Saks

If you’re fortunate enough to be working with a higher budget, Saks 5th Ave is a great place to shop for designer gowns for your fancy event. A long formal gown would look great on the red carpet as you often see at the MET gala. THIS cut-out chiffon gown would have you looking grown and elegant at your special event. Don’t forget your clutch and simple jewellery.

Now that you have a good idea of where to shop for formal and semi-formal attire, let’s talk about the best dresses to wear to a gala. Take full advantage of a black-tie dress code to put your best fashion foot forward. Whether you’re headed to an awards ceremony, a charity event or a themed party, these dresses should inspire you if you’re searching for ideas on what to wear if you’re honoring your gala invitation.

1) Full-length ball gown

As mentioned earlier, full-length ball gowns are probably your safest bet when choosing a dress to wear to a gala. These are formal dresses reserved for very special occasions and so you want to go big or go home. If you’re concerned about your belly, opt for a ball gown that holds you in at the waist but falls loosely around your hips and stomach. This would take attention away from your stomach and focus more on your accentuated waist. Think Cinderella and Snow White dresses.

Get the look HERE

When it comes to footwear, I always recommend a pair of heels to go with your fancy floor-length ball gowns. Pumps or open-toe heels work nicely. If your feet are going to be hidden under yards of fabric, then you could slip on a pair of ballet flats to discreetly feel comfortable all night long.

2) Little black dress

Short dresses tend to be reserved for semi-formal events such as a cocktail party. They could also be worn to a gala where cocktail attire is accepted. As the little black dress is a classic, it’s a very safe option to go with when dressing for your event. As LBDs tend to come in simpler cuts and designs, it would be a good idea to style yours with some statement jewelry and a pair of high heels in a complimentary color such as gold, white or clear heels.

Get the look HERE

If your event is taking place during the cold months, you could easily add a pair of black tights for some extra warmth. You could also add a shawl to your look to keep it stylish yet warm in the cold weather. You can read up some more about styling an LBD on my post: 10 shoes to wear with a black cocktail dress.

3) Sequin dress

Sequins equate to standing out and so only go for this option if you’re not one to shy away from the spotlight. A long sequin gown would but the most attention-grabbing. If you’re headed to a New Year’s Eve party, a shorter sequin dress would be the perfect choice. This would give you the freedom to dance the night away without feeling restricted.

Get the look HERE

If your sequin dress features multiple colors, a pair of heels in neutral colors (black, nude) are great choices. If your sequin dress is in a solid color, then feel free to experiment with different colors of heels. A small purse and simple accessories are the best way to complete your entire look.

4) Midi dress

Midi dresses are a good option to go with when you’re unsure about how long your dress needs to be for a black or white tie event. Do note that white tie events are seen as more formal and so I would recommend going for a longer dress if that is the type of event you have been invited to.

Get the look HERE

Make your midi dress more memorable by going for one with a sweetheart bustline. If your problem area is your arms, you could opt for a dress with long sleeves. If you’re on the shorter side, keep your hemline no longer than your knees to avoid appearing even shorter. There’s always a solution regardless of your body type.

5) Off-shoulder dress

If you’re looking to turn up the sexy factor just a little with your gala dress, choose an off-shoulder dress. This option still has some sleeves but exposes the shoulders and décolletage. It’s an elegant way to make your formal gala look more trendy and fun.

Get the look HERE

If you’re going with an off-the-shoulder dress, I suggest you choose a longer one (midi length or longer) to keep your outfit more formal. Complete your look with a pair of stiletto heels and a cute clutch. Don’t forget to wear your hair up – we need that neckline to be on full display!

6) Bodycon dress

I know a lot of people shy away from bodycon dresses because they feel like their body isn’t ‘perfect enough’ to pull one off but that is far from the truth. You can go for a bodycon dress the next time you’re headed to a gala night regardless of your body shape. The key is to choose a dress in a dark color and perhaps one with a bold print.

Get the look HERE

Moreover, you may want to invest in some good shapewear if you really feel like you need some additional help. There’s no shame in wearing a pair of Spanx underneath your tight-fitting dress. For some more tips on pulling off a bodycon dress irrespective of your size and body shape, check out my post: How to wear a bodycon dress without a flat stomach.

7) Strapless dress

When it comes to styling a strapless for a gala, think old Hollywood; think Marilyn Monroe. You may want to grab a shawl, shrug or bolero jacket. These items would keep your look dressy and formal while adhering to the dress code. Of course you can always go completely bold and not add any sort of shoulder cover. Complete your look with a pair of heels and an up-do to show off your shoulders.

Get the look HERE

8) A suit

I know the title of this post says dresses however, it’s not only men who get to wear a business suit to a gala. If you feel like ditching dresses altogether, this is a great time to show off your masculine side. A dark suit is more appropriate for formal events, just be sure to pair it with the right dress shirt. A white shirt is your best bet as it goes with all colors of suits.

THIS pant suit has some feminine touches such as a cropped jacket, which would give you the male pantsuit vibe with a slight feminine flair.

9) One shoulder dress

Going back to the feminine side of things, we have the one-shoulder dress. This gives you slightly more coverage than an off-shoulder or strapless dress When it comes to accessorizing a one shoulder dress, I suggest you avoid a necklace as it can create an awkward neckline. If you must wear one, go for a small and simple necklace. Earrings are your best accessory.

Get the look HERE

10) Dress in a bold color

A gala is a great time to pull out all the stops. If you have a big dress in a bold color you’ve never been able to wear anywhere, now is the perfect time to whip it out of your closet. This is your chance to have your Rihanna MET red carpet moment, seize it!

Get the look HERE

I hope you have gotten loads of outfit inspiration for your next gala look. The type of gala you are attending would also help you determine your choice of dress; for example, I would not wear a mini dress to a charity ball but you could get away with it at a friend’s cocktail party.

The most important thing is to wear what you’re comfortable in and whichever dress accentuates your shape best.

Looking for ideas for what to wear to a gala? Check out my post: 17+ Outfits to Wear to a Gala.

You should check out my post: The top 7 shoes to wear with a gold sequin dress for some more evening gown inspiration.

I also have a post: 6 shoes to wear with a cocktail dress if you need help deciding on your footwear.

For inspiration on what to wear to a formal event, check out my post: 7 outfit ideas to wear to a formal event.

Until the next post,