What to Know About Formal Wardrobe

APRIL 29, 2024
Examples of black tie formal wardrobe.
Loot (Apple TV+)

Have you just been booked as a gala attendee or wedding guest and need to put together a formal look? Formal wardrobe can mean many things, here are some tips on where to start so you can craft the perfect look for set.

Know the type of formal look

Before you start putting your look together, the first step is to read your details fully and carefully. Depending on the production, your role, and the scene requirements, your details may include very specific information on the type of formal look production is going for. Then in other cases, there may be more general notes with room for you to craft your outfit with more freedom. In either case, it’s crucial to keep all notes from your details in mind and create looks that fit within the aesthetic of the show. For example, formal wardrobe on Loot will have a different look than formal wear on Only Murders in the Building.

Formal can mean anything from cocktail to white tie. Here’s an overview on the different types of formal wardrobe to help you create your looks:


Cocktail attire allows for more personality than strict formal looks. Cocktail dress can be confused with club or party styles, but generally cocktail attire should be more modest and elegant. Cocktail wardrobe can consist of mid-length dresses, skirts, or dressy pants. You have more room to play with colors and patterns, but they should still fit within the aesthetic of the show and be appropriate for the scene. Tailored suits or semi-formal blazer with dress pants in darker tones are good examples of cocktail clothing, though depending on the scene, bolder colors may be appropriate.


Generally, formal is dressier than cocktail, but less strict than black tie. “Formal” can be used as a general term for a variety of looks, which is why it’s important to read your details fully so you understand what formal means for the scene you’re booked in. Dresses should be floor length, but midi to knee-length may be acceptable depending on the occasion. While a tuxedo works for formal looks, tailored dark suits with white shirts and conservative ties are also appropriate.

Black tie

Black tie is a step up from formal and common in evening wedding, charity gala, and award show scenes. Dresses should be floor length, but there is room for variety in sleeve and neckline styles as long as they match the tone of the event. Dress color and material should be sophisticated, no tropical prints or over-the-top patterns. Tuxedos are required for black tie and are worn with a black bowtie, vest or cummerbund, and patent leather shoes. Depending on the occasion, it may be appropriate to wear a black necktie with a tuxedo, but a bowtie is more traditional.

White tie

White tie is the strictest formal attire and is usually reserved for ultra-fancy events like state dinners or balls. For this look, floor length elegant ball gowns are the standard. You can add jewelry and other accessories, but your look must have an air of sophistication. Tuxedos must have tails and be worn with a white shirt, white vest, and white bowtie. While white gloves were traditionally part of this look, unless you’re booked in a period piece or your details state otherwise, they are optional as part of the modern white tie dress code.

Arrive camera ready

Wardrobe is a key factor in creating your look, but hair and makeup help tie it all together. Your details will also include instructions for your hair or any makeup necessary for the scene. Most of the time, you’ll be asked to come to set camera ready, with your wardrobe on, hair styled, and makeup applied. If you are instructed to bring your formal wardrobe instead of wearing it to set, please make sure it arrives clean, unwrinkled, and hung in a garment bag.

Want to learn more about creating looks for set? Check out our wardrobe guides Business Looks for Background Actors and Why Wardrobe Colors Are Important For Background Actors.

Which type of formal wardrobe are you most confident you can put together?

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By Meghan Dubitsky

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