Gala Etiquette: Social Season Tips

Gala Etiquette: Social Season Tips

Last week I was fortunate to attend a lovely gala for the Westlake Chamber of Commerce at the Austin Country Club. I must admit, part of the fun was in the weeks leading up to the gala, when I was asked several questions regarding gala etiquette. Below are a few common questions that come up during the social season:

    1. When is the appropriate time to send invitations for a gala?  Timing is crucial for charity balls, parties, dinners and events, not just galas. This is true whether the organizer is mailing printed invitations or inviting guests via email and telephone. To put timing in perspective, let’s look at social event guidelines in general:


Anniversary party:3-6 weeks
Bar or Bat Mitzvah4 weeks
Bon Voyage partylast moment – 3 weeks
Charity ball/gala6 weeks – 12 weeks
Christmas party4 weeks
Cocktail party1 – 4 weeks
Debutante ball6 weeks – 3 months
Formal dinner3 weeks – 6 months
Graduation party3 weeks
Housewarming party1 – 3 weeks
Informal dinner partyseveral days – 3 weeks
Luncheon Partyseveral days – 2 weeks
Progressive Dinner3 weeks
Teaseveral days – 2 weeks
Thanksgiving dinner2 weeks – 2 months
Very casual partySame day – 2 weeks


If the invitation is sent too late, many times the guest has already made a commitment or has alternative plans. If the host is concerned that the invitation may not be calendared, or may be misplaced, then a “save the date” card may be mailed first, with the invitation to follow during the proper mailing window.

2. How do I dress when the invitation does not specify? What is Creative Black Tie? If the invitation does not specify, rely on the host to guide you. Contact the organizer and inquire as to past history, and ask other guests what they plan to wear. It has been helpful to my clients to take a look at wardrobe and attire considerations from a variety of resources.

Females:Formal, floor length evening gown, best jewels, gloves.
Males:Full evening regalia. (Black tail coat, matching trousers with single satin or braid stripe, white pique’ wing-collar shirt with stiff front, white pique’ waist coat, studs and white bow tie, black patent shoes, black dress socks).
White Tie and White Tie with Decorations is common in Diplomatic Circles. If the guest has received decorations from the military or a foreign government, the decorations may be worn to a public white tie event. It would be inappropriate to wear decorations to a private party, unless the invitation stated “White tie and decorations.”
Females:Formal evening gown or dress,  or dressy cocktail dress.
Males:Black tuxedo jacket, matching trousers, formal (pleated front or pique’) white shirt, black (silk, satin) bow tie, black cummerbund to match tie, optional suspenders, black patent shoes, black dress socks.
Females:Formal evening gown or dress. Short dressy cocktail dress. Dressy separates (St. John).
Males:Black Tie or a dark suit with a white shirt and a conservative tie.
Females:Formal evening gown or dress, dressy cocktail dress, dressy separates, paired with elegant wrap, brooch or themed jewel.
Males:Black Tie paired with a theme or whimsical approach such as Texas Longhorns, or tropical paradise. A black or white shirt is paired with matching bow tie and cummerbund; black patent shoes, black dress socks, and studs.
Females:Short, afternoon dress. Cocktail dress. Long, dressy shirt and top.
Males:Dark, wool business suit (with matching vest if desired) white shirt, conservative tie, leather shoes, dress socks, pocket accent (if desired).

3.       What should I do when arriving at a gala?  Just before arrival, read the invitation again. Refresh your memory and your date’s memory about the honorees, the awards, and the hosts. What are their spouses’ names? Whom do I need to meet, greet, and thank upon arrival and departure? Be sure to check in upon arrival, receive the program and check your coat or wrap. As a guest, be calm and gracious. Circulate and greet others. Remember that the person who does not acknowledge you when they see you, and know you, is behaving inappropriately and immaturely. When you see someone that you know at a social event, it is appropriate to greet them and say “Good evening, it is good to see you.”

4.       What is the appropriate decorum at a gala?  We observe our colleagues and wonder, what will it be like to spend time with that person? What happens when the chips are down? Can I trust her to do the right thing when I step out of the room? That will either be a resounding “yes” or “no.”  Stop, and think about your behavior. If you are making loud catcalls or whistling, it may be time to rethink your approach.

Even at local chamber events, minding your gala manners will save you from embarrassment and help you shine as a true professional.

By |2018-10-11T14:55:20-05:00February 13th, 2012|Gala Etiquette, Social Etiquette|20 Comments


  1. Lana June 10, 2019 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    Do I have to color coordinate my outfit with my husbands for a gala? My dress is mindnight blue, he has a black suit with a red tie.‍♀️

    • Sharon Schweitzer October 18, 2020 at 3:49 pm - Reply

      Dear Ms. Lana,
      When preparing for a gala, it isn’t necessary to color coordinate your gown with your husband’s black tie.
      Wearing a midnight blue dress while your husband sports a black suit sounds like a dynamic duo! Enjoy.

  2. Edz Orilla May 20, 2019 at 1:35 am - Reply

    Can a gala night be done by the beach?

    • Sharon Schweitzer October 18, 2020 at 3:52 pm - Reply

      Dear Mr. Edz Orilla,
      Yes, and it sounds fabulous under the stars with a cool ocean breeze.

  3. Michelle May 5, 2019 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    When I am with my husband he is always walking in front of me and he just expects me to follow him. I feel like I am always chasing him in formal attire. Is this good manners on his part? I need some advice because I don’t like it.

    • Sharon Schweitzer October 18, 2020 at 3:53 pm - Reply

      Dear Ms. Michelle,
      Different cultures have different expectations. We are all raised with unique cultural conditioning and it runs deep.
      I was raised in Japan where the custom is for men to walk in front of women because it is polite; similar to the polite U.S. custom
      where men walk on the street-side of the sidewalk and women walk closer to the building. Both customs originated to protect women from dangers.
      I don’t know if your husband is Japanese, or Asian, but if so- this may explain this practice. If not, I encourage you to open a dialogue with him.
      Does he realize he does this? Ask him about it and explain your position.

  4. prace na zlecenie December 31, 2018 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Gratulacje dla autora. Interesujący artykuł, a to w dzisiejszych czasach rzadkość!

    • Sharon Schweitzer October 18, 2020 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      Dziękuję za komplementy dotyczące mojego autorstwa. Czy mogę zapytać, jak znalazłeś mój blog?

  5. Carol November 29, 2018 at 8:25 am - Reply

    Hi there, can I wear full length white dress for a Gala? My husband is wearing tuxedo. Thanks in advance

    • Sharon Schweitzer October 18, 2020 at 3:57 pm - Reply

      Dear Ms. Carol,
      Please know that the invitation sets the tone for the gala so read it very closely when determining what to wear. Conduct research online and find
      photos from previous year’s gala photos on social media or society pages. If these resources don’t provide sufficient insight for determining if a
      full length white dress is appropriate, ask your husband if it’s possible to speak to, text, call or email the organizer or event planner.
      Depending on the organizational culture, style of the full length white dress, and other factors, the dress may be perfectly appropriate.
      It’s best to err on the side of safety to avoid appearing like you’re being presented at a debutante ball.

  6. Beth September 18, 2018 at 11:03 pm - Reply

    Is it ok to wear a white formal dress with color on it to a gala? At the end of September? The theme is illumination.

    • Sharon Schweitzer October 18, 2020 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      Dear Ms. Beth,
      Historically, there was a wardrobe for every season and a dress code for every occasion. The holiday to mark the end of wearing summer resort wear, including white was Labor Day.
      Thank goodness the “no white after Labor Day” days are done. The fashion police won’t throw cuffs on you for wearing white. Feel free to wear white, winter white – it’s a great way to look modern.

  7. Lisa Denise August 4, 2018 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    We will be attending a black and white gala for someone’s retirement. How formal should we dress and must we wear both colors?

    • Sharon Schweitzer October 18, 2020 at 4:03 pm - Reply

      Dear Ms. Lisa Denise,
      May I ask if you know the background on the naming of the gala? Does the invitation specifically state “black and white?”
      If you are unsure of the formality level, please contact the host or hostess. Wearing one color, or either color to the gala would be fabulous.
      Enjoy your evening.

  8. Mimi March 26, 2018 at 9:28 am - Reply

    Is it okay for my husband to wear a bow tie and vest to match my evening gown for a black tie optional gala? Or is that just for high school proms? 🙂

    • Sharon Schweitzer March 26, 2018 at 2:25 pm - Reply

      Hello Mimi,
      Wearing a cumberbund and tie to match the lady’s dress is highly favored in some parts of the U.S. At many weddings, the wedding party wear matching ties and cumberbunds to coordinate with the wedding colors. Your husband is not required to wear matching cumberbund for the gala; however in some regions of the country this may be the custom. You may wish to look at social media images from last year’s event for an idea of how colors were coordinated. I hope this is insightful.

  9. CinderellaJones September 21, 2017 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    Question: I am wondering if it’s appropriate for an unmarried woman to attend a gala alone. I’m considering it but wonder if I may feel uncomfortable being the solo person in a roomful of couples. yet the event is for a good cause…and I’ve always dreamed of going to a ball type of event. Please advise.

    • Sharon Schweitzer September 26, 2017 at 9:19 am - Reply

      It is okay to go to a gala alone, with group of friends or colleagues who share an intrest in the crowd. Everyone in attendance is there to connect and be connected with. Whether you go alone or with someone come prepared with an ice breaker, and ask the host or hostess to make introductions.

      • Tam November 5, 2018 at 10:22 am - Reply

        What should I wear at a New Year’s Eve Gala dinner while travelling on a family holiday party staying at a hotel that hold a NYE Gala dinner? Did not specify what type of Gala dinner. Because I’m travelling I don’t want to pack a bulky formal wear.

        • Sharon Schweitzer October 18, 2020 at 3:58 pm - Reply

          Dear Tam,
          Thanks for your inquiry. I encourage you to consider the culture of the family celebrating, the host hotel and the city.
          If this is a new family, conduct some research to determine their expectations. Check the hotel’s website for NYE gala dress code.
          Many clothiers now offer elegant travel options for evening galas. Select something special that you will enjoy wearing and add some sparkle with costume jewelry (to avoid theft while traveling.)

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