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The Best Gala Season Style Tips

The Best Gala Season Style Tips

It's Gala Season!

So, you're invited to a gala. Now what?

Cinderella’s fairy godmother didn’t think twice about the perfect dress for her to wear to the ball.

Just leave it to me. What a gown this will be!

But, unless you have a magic wand stashed in your closet, you may find yourself in a quandary about what to wear to that upcoming special event.

What exactly is a gala and why go?

Humans being what they are, the concept of the grand and elaborate celebration goes back pretty much as far as civilization itself. Ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, held grand banquets and celebrations to mark special occasions. All indications are those folks really knew how to throw a party. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Can’t you just see it? Ancient Lady So-and-so has just received a invitation to a grand gala. What to wear? What to wear?

Today’s galas are often for the purpose of fundraising by non-profits, but the perennial question remains: What to wear? What to wear? In this blog post, lookingGLASS is going to give you a quick, anxiety-easing guide on how to put together a show-stopping evening ensemble that will have you looking dazzling and feeling confident that your attire is perfect for the occasion.

Decoding the Dress Code

Decoding the dress code for any more formal event can be tricky business. After all, for a lot of us, a big gala that calls for an elevated awareness of dress protocol might only happen once or twice a year. Although a gala is generally speaking a formal affair, before you head to the mall or hop online, look at the invitation for specific details to guide your dress buying decision.

Common Dress Codes for Galas

The dress code for a gala can vary depending on the type of event and the organization hosting it. Generally, for a gala, you’ll see these common dress codes, from least to most formal:

  1. Cocktail/Semi Formal: Short or long dresses, even a sequin jumpsuit for women will do. Men in suits, tie and bow tie are can be optional.
  2. Black Tie Optional/Formal: No above the knee dresses for women. Midi or floor length gowns. a dark suit or optional tuxedo for men.
  3. Black Tie: Long evening gowns typically in a luxurious fabric like silk, satin or velvet. For men, black tuxedos with black bow tie and a white dress shirt, black dress shoes.
  4. White Tie: The most formal event. Long gowns for women, diamonds and fur. Tuxedos for men. (P.S., these days, white tie tends to be reserved for the most formal evening occasions, such as state dinners and formal balls and galas. Some examples might include, the Nobel Prize banquet in Stockholm and some Mardi Gras balls in New Orleans.)

The Long and Short About Dresses

When choosing a gown, long or short, take into consideration what features you want to highlight. Hourglass figures look show stopping in a mermaid silhouette and smaller busts offer the perfect opportunity for a plunging neckline. No matter what style you choose go for what makes you feel confident and unstoppable. That goes for color too.

We love this spectacular “Zhivago Beloved” formal Gown. The styling of the back of this gown is as gorgeous as the front of this gown. If there was ever perfection in blush, this gown is it! Pair this timeless classic with either gold or silver accessories.

Short Dresses

If you’d rather opt for a short dress for those “black tie optional/formal” events, this below the knee Olea Strapless Sequin Midi-Dress is nothing short of breathtaking. It effortlessly walks the fine line between avant garde style and timeless elegance.

Olea Strapless Sequin Midi-Dress

Formal Footwear

Classic with a sparkle, that’s how we’d describe these stunning heels from the Badgley Mischka collection. Great for any gala!

Rennie Statement Stiletto Heel

Wrap It Up

For the perfect finishing touch, few things make you feel like this is a special occasion than a gorgeous wrap. We can’t say enough good things about this can-you-imagine-any-outfit-not looking even more fabulous with this Bubish Manhattan faux fur. We would almost call this an all-around must have piece. It even looks terrific with jeans and tee shirt. And, it’s not hard to imagine it over stunning evening wear. The cut and style are classic and timeless, so think of this as an investment piece. Perfect for milder winter regions, when days might be warmer but nights get a little chilly.

Manhattan Feather Jacket

Along the same lines, we love this fur faux wrap in frosted beige for a dressier look over an even evening gown. Goddess in the evening and casual super chic by day? Absolutely, when you pair this little honey over t-shirt and jeans with your favorite heels. Golden Age of Hollywood meets contemporary chic.

Manhattan Jacket

Statement Earrings and Evening Bags

If there is anything that can elevate your fashion look from merely great to sublime, it’s accessories. You’ve chosen your gown, you have the perfect wrap to ward off any chill in the air, your shoes are divine, now for earrings. It’s amazing how you can subtly tweak the look or formality of an outfit just with statement earrings. And the gala is the time to dazzle. Take these three examples…

Go for these brilliant, geometric, starburst-design crystal statement earrings from Loren Hope to give some flare to an understated neckline or bodice, or to make a neutral color dress pop.

Starlight Earrings in Crystal

For a subtly elegant look, try these crystal fringe drops, available at Nordstrom.

Crystal Fringe Drop Earrings
Gold angel wings? Don’t be surprised if people approach you with a starstruck look, when you step out in these heavenly Mignonne Gavigan statement earrings!

No gala look would be complete without the perfect evening bag. For a bold statement piece, we love this clutch from Los Angeles-based Cult Gaia that looks like artwork, itself! This piece is for you if you’re looking to lend a little drama to a classic style or neutral color dress.

For an all-around, affordable option, we like this stylish frame clutch, available from Nordstrom in a black, white, or pink woven style.The draping chain hardware and the roomy silhouette lend a fresh look, while providing plenty of room for necessities.

Cece Straw Woven Box Clutch

On-Trend Cocktail Attire

Okay, now for the pièce de résistance. There’s just something about a cocktail dress that is super fun to wear. From understated to flirty, this versatile classic can range from the little black dress to the elaborate. In the 1940s, designers decided there was a need for a dress to cover that transitory space between casual daytime wear and fancy evening attire. Thus, was born the “cocktail party” and—enter Christian Dior—the “cocktail dress.”

When a cocktail dress is called for, you can’t beat this gorgeous dress featuring feathers, a hot trend for 2023.

x REVOLVE Allegra Dress

The Heart of a Gala

We all have causes that are close to our hearts, and for many of us, supporting excellence in education is at the top of the list. You’ll likely find that your local school district has an education foundation that has a gala at least once a year. “Our education foundation gala kicks off my season of formal events and charity fundraisers,” says lookingGLASS founder and CEO Lana Ashby Rowder, who loves any opportunity to combine her passions for fashion and helping people. “But sometimes it can be tough to find meaningful ways to support your schools,” she shares.

An education foundation is a non-profit organization that supports the local school district by raising funds to enhance the educational experience through support for students, teachers and schools. The annual gala is often the primary fundraiser. “It’s fun to get all dressed up and enjoy an evening of great food, music and dancing and, at the same time, help your community,” Lana beams. “What more perfect opportunity to do both than by attending your education foundation’s gala fundraiser?”

If you're a local Austinite and would like to join lookingGLASS in supporting the Eanes Education Foundation you can find out more about the foundation HERE or purchase tickets below.


If you want to learn more about the importance of supporting your local education foundation, CLICK HERE. 

For more information about your local foundation gala, go to your local ISD education foundation website. They’d love to hear from you!

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Gala Takeaways:

  • Evening Gown or Cocktail Dress? The common dress codes for a gala are: black tie, black tie optional and cocktail attire. Check your invitation or contact event organizer.
  • Shoes. Go for heels that are both stylish and comfortable. You may be dancing the night away! (Comfort tip: if your shoes are new, consider stashing a nude band-aid in your clutch.)
  • Earrings. Choose a pair that put the exclamation mark on your look. (And remember the comfort factor.)
  • Bag. Your bag should complement your dress and be roomy enough for the things you don’t want to be without. (Etiquette Tip: Don’t place your handbag on the table. Instead, place it in your lap under your napkin or behind you in the chair under the small of your back.
  • Don’t forget your local education foundation!

Going to a gala?

Need help putting your outfit together?

We can help! Contact us here to get started with a personal stylist!



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