I have been a member of the WBN for almost eight years. I am past Chair of the Businesswoman of the Year, Nominating & Awards Committee and currently act as Secretary on the WBN Executive. My favourite event of the year is the WBN’s Businesswoman of the Year Gala which takes place every year in April.

Given my experience with the WBN and my expertise as a corporate etiquette, protocol and professional image consultant, I was asked to provide some advice with respect to a question asked by many attendees of this event: what is appropriate to wear to the BYA Gala? That is a great question! A ‘gala’ is a formal event and traditionally, the dress code would lean more toward ‘black tie attire’. However, the invitation to the BYA Gala does not stipulate a specific ‘dress code’ for the event, which does leave one’s options quite open to navigate!

Over the years, I have seen a wide variety of attire worn by women at the BYA Gala. An important rule of thumb to keep in mind when the dress code has not been specifically stated, is to remember that the context of the event is important. In this case, it is a ‘women’s business awards’ gala event. You will want to choose an outfit that enhances your professional presence and image. What you choose to wear will also depend on your confidence level, your body type, and the colors that are most flattering to you. It’s usually best to choose an outfit that is more elegant than showy, and isn’t too short or too revealing.

The most common forms of dress I have observed over the years at the BYA Gala have included ‘black tie attire’, ‘cocktail attire’, and ‘business attire.’

Many of the BYA Finalists dress in ‘black tie attire.’ This attire would include a long gown, a dressy cocktail gown (to the knee), or even a glitzy cocktail suit. The majority of women who attend the BYA Gala primarily dress in ‘cocktail attire’ or ‘business attire.’

‘Cocktail attire’ is less formal than ‘black tie attire’, but not too casual. In this context, envision an outfit that is a little more glitzy – but not flashy. It typically includes a cocktail dress, glamorous slacks ensembles and cocktail suits. Hemlines for dresses and skirts are usually at or slightly above the knee. Cocktail dress styles range from strapless to the more conservative ‘little black dress’ (or ‘LBD’). An elegant LBD is quite common to see adorned by many of the BYA Gala attendees.

‘Business attire’ for women includes a pant or skirt suit with a blouse, a business-styled dress with sleeves, or shift-dress with a blazer or cardigan. It connotes something fashionable but not fussy. This is not cocktail dress territory. Think sophisticated, not glitzy. Many women who attend the BYA Gala do come directly from work. However, because this is a business awards gala, I would encourage those who are coming directly from work to think about ways to transition their workday business attire to something a little more glamourous for an evening at the BYA Gala.

One suggestion would be to wear a simple, black dress during your workday with a blazer. For the evening at the BYA Gala, lose the blazer, add a wrap and elegant jewelry like chandelier earrings. This is an easy look to cross over from office to evening. Or consider wearing a knee-length black skirt, blouse and blazer to work. For your transition for the BYA Gala, lose the blazer and pair the skirt with a form-fitted top (note: this does not mean tight and tacky) in the color of your choice. Add accessories like a belt, pearl earrings and necklace, and a wrap. Either of these looks can be finished in less than thirty minutes, without having to go home to do so.

Regardless of what attire you choose to wear to the BYA Gala, remember that 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 squeaky 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. Keep it simple and elegant.

Shoes are vital. High heels are standard and most women prefer medium height heels. Black leather shoes are a safe bet. The most important thing is to ensure your shoes are comfortable.

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.

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 history of 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 courteous and gracious. Circulate and greet others. Acknowledge those that you know by saying, ‘Good evening, it is nice to see you.’ Smile, make direct eye contact with the people you speak with, and always shake hands when you greet and close a conversation.

Most importantly, this is an evening to enjoy and celebrate the amazing and inspirational business women in the 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. Erin provides leadership workshops and coaching to individuals, corporations, professional associations and universities in business etiquette, dining etiquette, international protocol, professional image, networking and presentation skills. She helps her clients outclass their competition and bloom to new levels of personal and professional success. Her programs enable participants to improve their job performance, enhance their business relationships, polish their business interactions, enhance their professional image and increase their bottom line. Erin received her certification as a Corporate Etiquette and International Protocol Consultant from the Protocol School of Washington, and completed her certification training and is an Affiliate of the Conselle Institute of Image Management. Have questions? Please contact Erin at ecrotty@bloomstraconsulting.ca, 613-614-4540 or visit www.bloomstraconsulting.ca.