With wedding season upon us our calendars are filling with celebratory events which begs the question: how do you pack black tie attire for a formal (or semi-formal) affair? David and I love to dress up, and often plan our trips around special occasions whether it’s a destination wedding, fundraising gala, or black tie ball. When Kit wrote to me asking for tips for upcoming formal events I wanted to share what I’ve learned with all of you.
Hi Stacie, I have three trips this year and I’m a serial over-packer so always looking for tips from well traveled friends to learn their tricks. How do you plan/pack formal wear and keep it pristine until the event. Each of the trips is for a formal or semi formal event. Thanks so much! – Kit
WHAT TO WEAR
Crunch Test: For gentlemen the dress code is very straightforward and you likely own or are renting a tuxedo. For the ladies: when picking a dress to travel with, grab the fabric in your hand and make a fist, crushing the material between your fingers and release. The fewer wrinkles you see after this test the better the dress is for travel. Jacquards, velvets, crepe satins, flowy silks, and tulle all travel well, and taffeta, cotton sateen, and architectural embellishments generally don’t. Another thing to consider is silks, tulle, and cotton are generally lightweight while fabrics like velvet will take up more of your luggage weight allowance.
Rolling Carry-ons: If your event is within 48 hours of arriving at your destination I’d recommend packing everything you need for your event in your carry on luggage. Airlines seem to lose luggage when it’s needed most and it will give you peace of mind to know you have everything you need when you land. If you’re taking a long weekend to celebrate a friend’s wedding you don’t need much luggage anyway since even the bulkiest gifts can be sent in advance. I personally prefer to travel with a duffle as they’re better at squeezing into overhead compartments on the plane – except when traveling with black tie. For packing formal attire I recommend hard-sided rolling carry ons to protect your beautiful pieces from being crushed, and ensuring your garment bag can lay flat inside the suitcase. I have had Away’s carry on for over two years and recommend it because they stand behind their lifetime guarantee. You can’t go wrong!
The Right Garment Bag: First of all, a garment bag is a necessity for a tuxedo, and doesn’t hurt for a gown either. Your carry on suitcase may come with one, however I especially love the free garment pages that Brooks Brothers gives you with your purchase. They’re lightweight, a smidge narrower than most, and fold into thirds, then zip all the way around with top handles for carrying on its own. When packing your evening wear, avoiding crushing your garments is key. Lay the item inside the garment bag and only fold arms etc towards the back of the garment (for example, a jacket would take the same shape as if you’re holding your hands behind your back) to prevent heavy creases on front which is most visible and important when you stand with your friends for a photograph. Ideally, you’d hand carry a light garment bag, otherwise gently place the garment bag in the center of your rolling carry (that isn’t over-stuffed) as the last addition before you close the bag.
Shoes: One of the best ways to save space when traveling with black tie is making sure your shoes pull double duty. For men I highly, highly recommend skipping the patent oxfords which can only be worn with black tie, and instead bringing a pair of smoking slippers. My two favorite brands for these are Artemis Design Co, which makes slippers out of vintage Turkish carpets and Stubbs and Wootton which offers velvet slippers with fun embroideries on the toe. Only wear velvet Stubbs with black tie, as their linen, straw, and other materials are too casual. (You can get 20% off all Stubbs orders with code “FriendsofStacie”). Smoking slippers easily pull double duty as they look great with a tux and will dress up any other daytime or casual look, and are comfortable to walk in all day – saving you tons of space in your luggage. PLUS, so many people will ask where your slippers are from, which is a great way to make new friends at a wedding.
Similarly, women’s shoes can and should pull double duty. When traveling I don’t bring over-the-top satin embellished heels for the event, but instead often take advantage of a floor length dress to conceal more versatile heels that can work for a nice dinner or drinks as well. Open-toed heeled sandals or wedges like these or these work with casual or evening looks.
Handbags: Again, this is a moment to consider versatility. A sleek little straw clutch like this one from Kayu will carry through dinner on the beach right up to a black tie affair with the right dress. Similarly, I love this tortoise clutch that J.Mclaughlin gifted me for it’s versatility. It works equally well with a satin gown as it does with a blue and white striped blouse for happy hour with friends!
Jewelry: There are a lot of maxi dresses that can pass for evening attire with the right dramatic jewelry. Statement earrings are my favorite way to up a gown’s game and take up almost no space in your luggage, and two brands I love are Oscar de la Renta and Nicola Bathie.
The moment you check into your destination lodging hang each piece up and examine it. Minimizing the time they spend compressed in a suitcase will help with wrinkles, and many fabrics will relax and de-wrinkle with gravity as they are hung. My favorite trick is to hang the garment in the bathroom while I’m taking a hot shower to steam out the wrinkles. This works well with evening gowns as the weight of the dress helps pull out any creases. (If your dress is silk make sure it isn’t touching anything as it hangs. Condensation/ water on a wall or cabinet can leave a stain/watermark on silk.) If steaming isn’t sufficient and you’re at a hotel ask to borrow a steamer or iron to finish the job!
Scroll down for some of my favorite black tie occasions! xx, SF