I have been a proud member of the WBN for eight years and am currently a Co-Chair on the BYA Gala Committee. My favourite WBN event every year is the Businesswoman of the Year Awards Gala, which will be taking place  on April 23rd.

The Businesswoman of the Year Awards celebrates the contribution and accomplishments of the many business women in our community. Three finalists are chosen in each category – Professional, Entrepreneur, and Company –  and the recipient in each category is  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 a professional presence and image management consultant, I was asked 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 consideration what will make you feel confident,  authentic,  and is appropriate for the occasion. What you choose should also compliment your body type and figure, as well as your natural colouring  (hair, eyes and skin) along with your makeup.

I’m often asked what the difference is between “black tie optional” 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 are also perfectly acceptable.

So what 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, 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, consider wearing a bright red or hot pink lipstick.

Once you have your attire figured out, be sure to 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 who 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!

Erin Crotty is a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur and the Founder & Director of BloomStra Consulting.  As a certified professional presence expert and image management consultant, national speaker, trainer and coach, Erin leads dynamic, interactive and informative training to individuals, businesses, professional associations and universities. She helps her clients ‘Outclass the Competition’ and transform into world class leaders.  

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