Black tie events are so easy for men aren’t they? A trusty tuxedo is dusted down and maybe a new bow tie is bought. That’s it and they’re ready to go. For women, finding the right sort of evening or cocktail dress can take a little more effort. It’s worth it as black tie events are a great chance to get the glad rags on, dress up and look and feel fabulous.

As we don’t wear evening dresses every day, we can find ourselves well out of our comfort zone. Trying on different shapes, styles and colours is the best way to find out what really works for you. Bear in mind too that when it comes to sizing, evening wear is not like everyday clothes and sizes really vary. It is often normal to go up a couple of dress sizes from your normal size.

Right off a couple of hours and visit a boutique. Boutiques that stock evening-wear all year round are quite sparse but you will find some special occasion boutiques that hold a good range. Department stores will only tend to stock evening-wear in the run up to the party season and bear in mind that you do run the risk of seeing someone else in the same dress as you if you buy something from a department store.

Some special occasion boutiques like Fab Frocks often only stock one dress of a style or they will log the event you ‘re going to and what dress you have bought so they won’t sell the same dress in the same colour to anyone else going to that function.

Don’t be put off going in a special occasion boutique because you think it may be too expensive. Fab Frocks has dresses for around £85, comparable with the high street. If you can’t get to the shop, we also offer a mail order service where you can buy a dress, try it on in the comfort of your own home and have fourteen days to decide if you want to keep it.

Do I wear a long or short dress?

Dress code for evening events normally specify ‘ Black Tie’. This is an indication for both male and female that the dress code is formal and spells it out for the man. For women, it means making a choice between long and short and also trying to figure just how glam they should go. It can be worth checking with other people who are going to the event to find out whether most women are going for long or cocktail. Remember, it is always worse to feel under-dressed than over-dressed. In the words of actress Mae West “it’s better to be looked over than overlooked!”

Is black the best option?

Black dresses look stunning and we all know black makes us look slimmer. You can’t really go wrong with a LBD (little black dress) – look at Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel for inspiration. Black can have real wow factor – a black dress with a beautiful low back or a black dress with a splash of colour can look amazing.

On some people black can be a bit draining on the skin, especially in winter when we’re often at our palest so do experiment with some colour. Everyone can wear red – you just need to know what red. Why not get your colours done to find out more. An expert colour consultant will be able to define what colours are right for you. This can save you a lot of time and money when you go shopping. Check out House of Colour for more details on colour analysis.

If you’re not a fan of bright colours, how about the Ice Maiden look for your event? Cool blues and silvers can look fantastic in winter and of course, a bit of bling or sparkle is always a hit at Christmas time. Check out designers like Pia Michi for gorgeous low-back dresses.

What shape evening dress is best for me?

The style of evening dress or cocktail dress you go for depends on your figure. Evening-wear is designed to complement the female form and if you choose the right dress, it can really flatter your figure. Dynasty is one of the top UK evening wear designers and they do fabulous dresses for women of all shapes and sizes at fantastic prices.

The key is to get the proportions right. If you’re tall, you can carry off pattern and detail at the bottom of the dress. If you’re smaller, this kind of detail could overwhelm your figure so you’re better off going for a streamline design with more delicate detail.

Don’t worry if you’re busty. Good quality evening wear has in-built bust support to help give lift and also allow you to go without a bra if you wish. Many evening dresses that appear to be strapless often come supplied with straps too so these can be attached if you wish.

If you have a bit of a tummy, avoid a clingy style of dress. A lot of evening dresses are softly ruched across the tummy and waist to help hide those bumps and lumps we want to disguise.

For the fuller figure, there are fabulous collections like Dynasty Curve and Personal Choice. These dresses are specifically designed with the size 16 plus lady in mind and offer fantastic, on-trend styling , exciting colours and gorgeous fabrics.

Ball-gowns are another option for a black tie event, though be careful you don’t end up looking like an overgrown prom girl! Ball-gowns are normally A-line and full-skirted. Many have lace-up back detail so allow you to get a really good fit around the bust and nip in the waist. Tiffanys and Ellie Wilde do some grown-up ball-gowns in colours such as midnight blue, black, red, burgundy and dark green.

If you prefer to cover the tops of your arms, some evening wear now also comes with sleeves. It isn’t all strappy anymore so you can hide the top of your arms elegantly. Check out Sonia Pena and Veromia Occasions for some fabulously foxy cocktail dresses with sleeves. Alternatively, a lot of evening and cocktail dresses come with a matching stole or wrap you can use to cover your arms or investing in a bolero jacket can also look stylish with a dress. Faux fur wraps are also an elegant accessory for winter events. Joan Lee Accessories do a choice of faux fur wraps in lots of colours and styles.

What about alterations?

Allow time for your evening dress to be altered. Most evening-wear needs some sort of alteration – normally the length. This is normally an extra cost so build this into your budget. A special occasion boutique will be able to organise a seamstress for you or give you details of qualified seamstresses you can go direct to. Remember to take along your shoes for the fitting and the underwear you plan to wear under your dress as this all affects the alteration.