I have been a proud member of the WBN for ten years.  During that time, I have had the pleasure and privilege to sit as a member and Chair of the BYA Nominating & Awards Committee, as the Secretary on the WBN Executive, and as the Co-Chair of the BYA Gala Committee. My favourite WBN event every year is the Businesswoman of the Year Awards Gala, which will be taking place this year on April 21st.

The Businesswoman of the Year Awards Gala celebrates the contribution and accomplishments of the many business women in our community.  Each Fall, the WBN solicits nominations of leading business women in the National Capital Region. Nominations are welcomed in three categories – Entrepreneur, Professional and Company – and are accepted from any individual, business or institution, not solely WBN members.  Nominees are evaluated on their business acumen, leadership skills, notable achievement in their particular area of expertise and community involvement.  Three finalists are chosen in each category and formally announced at a Cocktail Reception in March, with the Recipient in each category being announced at the BYA Gala in April.

The BYA Gala Committee is in full swing preparing for and organizing this prestigious and glamourous event. This year’s event will be taking place at the beautiful Shaw Centre, and in keeping with the glamourous theme, the dress code designated is “black tie optional” or “cocktail attire.”

Given my experience with the WBN and my expertise/certification as professional presence and image management consultant, I was asked to provide information to help decode this dress code and remove any guess-work for BYA Gala attendees.

It is wise to choose an outfit that will enhance your professional presence and image. Take into consider what will make you feel confident, authentic,and is appropriate for the occasion. What you choose to wear should also compliment your body type and figure, as well as your natural colouring (hair, eyes and skin) along with your makeup.

When a dress code specifies “black tie optional”, I’m often asked what the difference is between it and simply “black tie.”

A black-tie event is the epitome of a formal event. Cocktail-length dresses are only allowed if they are extremely dressy and sleek.  A formal, floor-length gown is preferred. As an alternative, a dressy cocktail dress (to the knee) or your best ‘Little Black Dress’ (LBD) paired with fancier jewelry, will elevate the overall look.

A black-tie-optional event is still dressy, but not as strict. In other words, you can wear a formal evening gown, but no one will look at you twice if you choose to wear a cocktail dress. A formal floor-length evening gown, fancier cocktail dress, a tux-style pantsuit, or LBD is also perfectly acceptable.

So what, then, is the difference between “black tie optional” and “cocktail attire”?  A cocktail attire event is also a dressy event that is still meant to be primarily social and enjoyable. Think a little more glitzy – but not flashy. Obviously, a cocktail dress is appropriate, a LBD, as well as a glamorous slacks ensembles and cocktail suits.

Regardless of what attire you choose to wear to the BYA Gala, remember that the “finishing touches” will help you stand out. Whether you wear your hair sleek and simple or prefer a fancy up-do, make sure your hair is clean and perfect. Even if you abhor hair spray, it’s a good idea to give your hair a spritz or two. You want your hairstyle to hold up throughout the night.

Accessories make an outfit come alive and show off your sense of style. You can keep it simple and elegant, or let your inner fashionista come out and go big and chunky.

Shoes are an important accessory as they can make or break an outfit. High heels are standard and most women prefer medium height heels. Black leather or patent leather shoes are a safe bet. However, choosing something colourful can add a creative and striking element to your outfit – especially a LBD.  The most important thing is to ensure your shoes are comfortable and get you through the evening without feeling significant pain.

Do spend some time on your makeup. Take what you normally wear during the day and spice it up a little with subtle stronger elements for the evening. If you decide to wear darker eye shadow for that smokey look, choose a lighter lipstick shade; if you choose to wear more neutral eye shadow colours, consider wearing a bright red or hot pink lipstick to create a dramatic flare.

Once you have your attire figured out, be sure to brief yourself before the BYA Gala and have your “game plan” ready to ensure you make the most out of this amazing event. Before you arrive, review information about the WBN, the BYA, the Finalists that are being honoured that evening, and the emcee. Decide whom you need to meet, greet, and thank upon arrival and departure.  As a guest, be engaged and gracious. Circulate and greet others. Acknowledge those that you know by saying, “Good evening, it is good to see you.” Smile, make direct eye contact with people you speak with, and always shake hands when you greet someone and close a conversation.

Most importantly, this is an evening to enjoy and celebrate the amazing and inspirational business women in our Nation’s Capital. Have fun and let your professional presence and image shine through!

About Erin Crotty and BloomStra Consulting:  After 14 years working as a lawyer and law firm manager, Erin Crotty was ready for a change. Trained through the Protocol School of Washington and the Conselle Institute of Image Management, Erin is now a certified business etiquette, protocol and image management expert who has turned her passion into a thriving business – BloomStra Consulting, based in Ottawa, ON.

Erin helps her clients harness the power of etiquette and image management to build successful relationships in business and reach their professional goals. Her clients learn how to increase their confidence and credibility, distinguish themselves in any business or social situation and, ultimately, ‘Outclass the Competition’.

Are you ready to bloom?  Learn more at www.bloomstraconsulting.ca or contact Erin at ecrotty@bloomstraconsulting.ca or 613–614-4540.