Southern Belle in Training

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle Blog || Est. 2012 || Virginia Beach, VA

March 28, 2019

How to do Black Tie on a Budget.

     A couple weekends ago, I had the chance to attend a fun Black Tie charity gala here in Charlottesville! I love any chance to get all dolled up, and the fact that this was for a great local cause in my community made me even happier. I took my blogging friend Alicia as my plus one, which was a lot of fun! Today I'm sharing how I put together this Black Tie look on a tight budget. Guess how much I spent on the whole look? The answer is $0!! (For real!)

Photos by Tom McGovern

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     A few weeks ago, I got a work email about how there were extra seats available at a local Black Tie charity gala at our work table. (The radio company I work for was a media sponsor of the event.) I don't think I've ever responded to a work email so quickly! Dressing up for a good cause? Yes please! The event was the annual Grand Gala, put on by The Center, which is Charlottesville's premiere senior center and community hub for those aged 50+. This year's Grand Gala had a theme that I was so excited about, "Hometown Charlottesville." This event conveniently fell the same weekend as my one year anniversary of moving here, so the Hometown Charlottesville theme seemed even sweeter! 

    The only thing that wasn't sweet? How expensive it can be to attend a Black Tie function. Dresses themselves usually cost a few hundred, not to mention getting your hair done, shoes, other accessories, and additional costs of attending an event! Yikes. All of the long formal gowns that I had were either too small for me now, or looked a little too "sorority formal" for attending a work related Black Tie event. I knew I needed to get something new for this!

    Originally, I found a dress on sale for $70 at Dillard's in Charlotte a few weeks ago. It was bright red, a color that I don't wear often but I thought was pretty for a formal dress. I was so excited about it... until I sent pictures of it to my mom and a few close girlfriends. Everyone mutually agreed that while it was a fun dress, it was inappropriate for a work Black Tie event. It showed a good bit of  cleavage, and it was a high-low dress, and quite short in the front. My mom said it looked more like a dress for the red carpet- which now that I think about it is probably accurate. The only thing is I have no plans to attend a red carpet event anytime soon! 😂

     Knowing that I'd be returning the red dress, I was back at square one. The $70 I had paid for that was about the max that I wanted to pay for a formal dress, and I knew it would be tough to find another in that price point. I considered ordering a gown from this Amazon shop, as most of their dresses got good reviews. But on further analyzing the photos of the dresses, I realized none were quite the look I wanted. I also though about using Rent the Runway- I've actually never done it before! My friend Alicia used RTR for the chic pink dress that she wore. While I think RTR is a great service, I personally would rather save money on renting and save that money towards purchasing a formal dress that I could wear multiple times in the future. (Just my own preference!) So I had ruled out Amazon Prime and RTR... I didn't know what to do! Then it hit me.

     Re-wear or borrow a bridesmaid's dress! 

     I can't believe I didn't think of this initially! I'm in my mid 20s now, and most of my friends at this point have been a bridesmaid at least once, if not multiple times. My first thought was to wear the dress from the wedding I've been in, but that bridesmaid dress was a cocktail dress, not quite Black Tie. I then thought to ask a friend to borrow a long bridesmaid's dress. I feel like most bridesmaids' dresses these days are very elegant and classic, and most today aren't ugly like the ones of decades past. 

     Sure enough, my friend Eden has this lovely dark green bridesmaids' dress from a wedding that she was recently in, and kindly lent it to me! The dress I'm wearing is from Azazie. I looked at their website after wearing this one, and saw how many beautiful styles they have! I'm obviously not getting married anytime soon, but if I do someday I think I definitely might use their dresses for my bridesmaids. They have so many beautiful long styles! 

    The rest of my look was also free for me to put together. I wore the nude pumps I had purchased for the wedding I was in two years ago, carried a gorgeous gold Lilly Pulitzer clutch from Fashion Week last month, and wore jewelry and makeup that I already had. I also did my up-do from this Youtube tutorial, and I was so pleased with how it turned out! 

    I can't recommend borrowing a friend's bridesmaids' dress for a Black Tie event enough, or re-wearing one from your closet if it's Black Tie appropriate! What a great way to get more use out of a nice dress, and it's also free! If you'd rather buy a formal gown so that you can wear it to future events, I'm linking some favorites below: 

     God Bless,

      xoxo Annaliese 


  1. I’m all about rewearing for formal events! I haven’t bought a dress for a wedding since 2016 and don’t plan to anytime soon. Also, I am so impressed with your updo skills!!

  2. These photos are beautiful, Annaliese. This is such a genius idea. I actually have done this before. One of my best friends choose gorgeous long black bridesmaid dresses and I’ve reworn it.

  3. For the military ball I attended in December, I had my dress made through eShakti! It was SO easy (since we don't have any stores in our tiny town that sell formalwear!) and I loved that I could customize it!


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