My hubby and I had the once in a lifetime (well, our lifetime) chance to attend an Oscar party up in LA. I was super excited to go but I didn’t want to go into debt trying to be red carpet ready. But I think I figured how to do black tie on a budget and I want to share all my tricks! Through my hubby’s work, we got to attend a real-life, legit Oscar party. As in the Academy Awards. Like, celebrities, security and high fashion. I was super excited to go but also totally freaked out at having to dress for a black-tie event.
I’ve never had to go to an event this formal before, let alone one where people employ stylists to dress them in the finest designer attire. I also didn’t want to spend much money on this.
But I think I totally managed to pull it off.
How to do Black Tie on a Budget
The only things I knew about Elton John’s Academy Awards Viewing Party are from what I’ve read in InStyle. The stars are always fabulously dressed and coiffed and jeweled and it looks so glamorous. And while I knew that I wanted to dress formal, I also felt like I could take some chances since the party is hosted by Elton John. This took a little bit of the pressure off for me.
Play dress up
Try to give yourself as much time as possible to decide what you are going to do with your attire. This is helpful for a few reasons. No one does well under pressure. If you are pressed for time and forced to find the “perfect” dress, your experience is going to suck. I wasn’t sure if I would buy a dress, rent one or borrow one but I knew that I needed to start looking immediately.
Buy: Many major shopping websites (including Target) sell formal dresses on their sites. Start with the stores where you know you can find inexpensive clothing and see if anything works. I found a dress option at my local H&M for around $25. Don’t overlook sites like SheIn for really inexpensive dresses but be sure to allow yourself plenty of time since those are shipped straight from China and can take a while. Don’t forget to think about vintage! Vintage stores can be overpriced if they are in a trendy area but I was lucky to find a shop that had a sale on their merchandise. I found several vintage options that were totally my style. The red dress that I ended up going with cost $16!! Take that fabulous celebrity stylists! (A note on vintage: Don’t forget to add in the cost of potential alterations – I took the sleeves up a bit ($18) and got it dry cleaned so I didn’t smell vintage ($12).
Borrow: There are two ways to borrow dresses. Find a friend, who is a similar size, with a similar style to yours. I borrowed several dresses and shoes from a friend and ended up with several options that I could have gone with. I also considered using Rent the Runway. The site lets you rent formal dresses or jumpsuits (with prices starting around $70). There were a bunch on the site that could have worked. Ultimately I stopped looking when I found that vintage red dress! I didn’t get a full head to toe shot of my final outfit but the shoes above are what I wore. By borrowing shoes from my friend I was able to wear really nice shoes that I didn’t have to purchase. I borrowed my friend’s vintage jewelry as well. My own jewelry didn’t provide a big enough “wow” factor so using her’s let me feel put together without spending anything more.Keep your hair simple…
Depending on how much time you have to prep, you may need to get some fresh color done. I didn’t want to spend the money or take the time to do it so I used John Frieda Go Blonder In Shower Lightening Treatment ($9.99). It was fairly subtle but it did add a little brightness to my hair which it needed.
Since I pretty much only know how to wear my hair straight, I decided to get my hair done for the party. I scheduled my appointment at Drybar well in advance and made sure to give myself plenty of time for the appointment, dressing time and for travel to Los Angeles. I usually do a messy curl at Drybar but decided to ask them to pull it half up so it was a little bit different. Drybar takes about half an hour and cost $40 plus tip. If you go with an updo, it is a little bit more expensive. I find updo’s to be a little fussy so I decided to keep it more my style so I didn’t fiddle with it all night. Of course, if you have a friend who is great at hair, you can ask them for a favor! What’s up with your face?
I’m even worst at doing my makeup than I am at doing my hair so I knew I wanted someone to do it for me. I made an appointment at Blushington (the Drybar of makeup) and did a “red carpet ready” look ($80). It cost a little bit more than their usual makeup application ($55) but I was SO happy with it. I totally knew that NO ONE at the party would be looking at me with all the gorgeous celebrities around (like Heidi Klum, Hilary Swank, Sarah Hyland) but I still wanted to at least blend in and not look like I didn’t belong. I realize there aren’t a ton of Blushington locations so if you don’t have one by you, I would just go to your favorite makeup counter at the department store and see what you can book. I think they suggest you buy a few products in lieu of payment. Places like Ulta also have people who can do makeup application. I had it done there once and was not happy with it which is why I didn’t consider it this time. But it has everything to do with the makeup artist so it probably would have been fine. I decided to skip fake lashes because the last time someone put them on me I looked like a drag queen. And not a pretty one…I know it sounds funny, but I really tried to minimize the things that could go wrong throughout the night. I didn’t want a false eyelash poking me in the eye or constantly be fiddling with something.
Although most formal dresses tend to be floor length, you may want to do a little fake tan. I use Jergen’s Natural Glow ($10.99) . It takes a few days for the color to develop so make sure to plan ahead!
A friend of mine mentioned this tip to me and I think it’s so smart! Skip the full spa manicure and pedicure and just ask for a polish change! At my local nail spot, it costs $8 + tip to get your finger nails painted. It’s a steal!
Black tie on a budget is doable!
We could have kept costs WAY down if my husband didn’t need to rent a tuxedo. Our most formal occasion, by far, was our wedding but it was by the beach and he wore a suit. Costs of tuxedos vary but I would advise that you have a conversation, before your husband goes to choose one, about expectations. I don’t know why, but I was not aware that they rented out designer tuxedos…(duh, it’s just like Rent the Runway but for men). While my husband did look amazing in his Vera Wang suit…I’m certain we could have cut costs here…
The important thing is that we both felt great. While I wouldn’t exactly say I felt like I belonged, I certainly didn’t feel like I stood out in a bad way. Well, until I decided to take off the cute heels and put on some ballet shoes. I got some side-eyes. But guess what. MY FEET DIDN’T HURT AND YOUR’S WERE KILLING YOU! Side-eye THAT.I didn’t ask anyone for photos at the event. While many were super nice to those who asked, I just didn’t want to impede on their fun. But it sure was fun to people watch! This was the only sneaky photo we took. That’s Lea Michele at the table behind ours. Her table was insane! Not only was Lea Michele there, but First Lady, Melly Grant (from Scandal – you know I’m obsessed, don’t you?) and her boyfriend who is on The Mindy Show, plus Kelly Rowlands and Lala Anthony! I have never ever been among so many celebrities before. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so glad we got to go! After attending, I’m also really glad that I didn’t spend even more money on my outfit. While the celebrities looked amazing (and probably didn’t have to buy their outfits), there were tons of people who looked like they spent a whole lot of money to be uncomfortable. And then Elton John played…What?! The coolest! It was super fun to get dressed up and head in to the heart of Hollywood. But I couldn’t wait to get home and get my pajamas on! Black Tie on a budget doesn’t have to be hard! It just takes a little planning and some helpful friends!
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