What to Wear: to a Fundraiser (for women)

I love spring!

Sure, all the April flowers are nice and I appreciate the warmer weather (which is finally here!); but, what I really love about the spring is the kick-off of fundraiser season.  I already pretty much think that life is a giant game of dress-up, so getting all dolled up for various parties, galas and banquets is right up my alley.  However, I know the inevitable stress that comes with getting dressed for such occasions.  The ante is further upped when you consider that you’ll most likely be rubbing elbows with some of your city’s or industry’s elite.  Of course you want to look the part!

Have no fear!  YCS is here to break down some of the more popular fundraiser styles – black tie/black tie optional, cocktail, banquet/luncheon/reception – and help you understand what will work best.

Black Tie/Black Tie Optional

The only thing more formal than black tie is white tie; however, the rules are so restrictive you can easily google “white tie attire” and find out everything you need to know.  For me, black tie and black tie optional galas are always a gray area.  Especially with that little word, “optional,” thrown in.  Typically, if you’re going to a black-tie affair, you are safe to assume that you should wear a floor-length evening gown (if your black tie event is during the day, we’ve got bigger fish to fry – like why are we having a black tie event during the day?).   The great thing about living in the 21st century is that you aren’t relegated to department stores or a bridal shop to find an amazing evening gowns.  You can shop online, or stores you wouldn’t traditionally think of as having formal wear (i.e. J Crew) and even discount retailers like TJ Maxx and Marshalls carry evening gowns.  My recommendation would be to invest a couple evening gowns for extra special events and then supplement from places like TJ Maxx and Marshalls.  I have been invited to a fair amount of black tie fundraisers and I can’t afford a $300 dress every time.  Black tie optional leaves you with more wiggle room.  You can certainly go the route of a long gown.  But, you can also go with an appropriately short number or even a beautiful pair of evening pants.  For either event, evening sandals, shoes or pumps (the more sparkle the better in my opinion) and an evening clutch or bag (silk, satin and not too big) will do the trick!


If a fundraiser calls for cocktail attire then you definitely have a ton of adorable options to wear.  A little black (or red, or pink, or green, or . . . you get the picture) will always be appropriate.  Shorter dresses (3-5 inches above the knee – depending on your height and build) are options.  But don’t be afraid to rock a cute knee length or even tea length dress.  You also aren’t confined to wearing a dress.  You can certainly wear a skirt and top or even a fantastic pair of tuxedo pants with a great jacket (skip the shirt underneath if you’re feeling really daring!).  Cocktail parties are meant for you to mix, mingle and network, so be sure to wear footwear that a) you can stand in, b) you can walk in (need lessons – come Strut Your Stuff) and c) is comfortable.  At a cocktail party, feel free to take a risk – wear a unique color combo (my yellow cocktail dress with red shoes is one of my fave ensembles) or something you would never get away with normally (like a white dress – which you wouldn’t wear at a wedding) or a funky hair accessory (when my hair was longer I would often bobby pin brooches into my updo or wear pretty flowers).


Last, but not least, might be the most confusing of all fundraisers – those of the banquet, luncheon, or reception variety.   At these events, you can find yourself wearing anything from a business suit, to a skirt and cardigan, to a cute spring-time dress.  As a general rule, dress to match the organization hosting the event.  For example, if it’s a business or industry associate hosting the event then you’re probably fairly safe wearing a skirt or pant suit.  For an afternoon luncheon or reception, your best bet is a great dress or pretty skirt.  If there is a theme (big hat brunch, white linen party) then by all means embrace it (as shown below).  These types of events leave a lot of wiggle room – and that’s OK!  I wish I could tell you what one thing to wear, but, by nature, it just isn’t that easy.  So, reach into your closet and pull out your favorite flowery spring dress, your chicest slacks or your favorite fitted blazer.  Just remember to keep it appropriate and classy.

Below are a few looks I’ve worn to various fundraisers (and one baby shower, but it works for a fundraiser!).  Excuse the overwhelming amount of selfies.  I rarely remember to take photos at the actual events!

Dress: Adrianna Pappel
Dress: Adrianna Pappel
Bag: Nneka Saran
Bag: Nneka Saran
Dress: David's Bridal; Necklace & Earrings: Dress Barn
Dress: David’s Bridal; Necklace & Earrings: Dress Barn


Bracelet: Bauble Bar
Bracelet: Bauble Bar
Shoes: Steve Madden
Shoes: Steve Madden
Rings: Bauble Bar; Clutch: New York & Company
Rings: Bauble Bar; Clutch: New York & Company
Dress: David's Bridal
Dress: David’s Bridal
Dress: David's Bridal
Check out the brooch I pinned in my hair!  Dress: David’s Bridal; Shoes: Elie Tahari
For an afternoon luncheon a simple jacket and top will do the trick.  Jacket: Dress Barn; Shirt: Avenue
For an afternoon luncheon a simple jacket and top will do the trick. Jacket: Dress Barn; Shirt: Avenue
A belted cardigan and brocade skirt are simple and elegant for a banquet or luncheon. Cardigan: New York & Co.; Skirt: Ann Taylor Loft
A belted cardigan and brocade skirt are simple and elegant for a banquet or luncheon.
Cardigan: New York & Co.; Skirt: Ann Taylor Loft
This picture is from a baby shower; however, the dress will work just as easily at an awards banquet or luncheon. Dress: Dress Barn
This picture is from a baby shower; however, the dress will work just as easily at an awards banquet or luncheon.
Dress: Dress Barn
Big hat brunches require big hats (or fascinators)!Fascinator: Touche' Accessories
Dress: Dress Barn
Big hat brunches require big hats (or fascinators)!
Fascinator: Touche’ Accessories
Dress: Dress Barn

Do you all find yourselves in the thick of the fundraising season? What are you wearing?  You know the deal!

Your Chic is Showing,

                    With Love, Erika

6 thoughts on “What to Wear: to a Fundraiser (for women)

  1. Hello! Stopped by your blog after seeing your response on Chasing Joy! (Nice to meet you)!

    I love this blog post on “What to Wear…”

    I’m actually attending a conference this weekend and in search of a “suitable” gown for the banquet and going to sneak away to some of your suggested retailers during my lunch hour!

    Continue the good work!


    1. Hi!!!! This got caught in my filter – so I apologize for the delay in response! I’m so glad you found the post helpful! Let me know what you were able to find! I’m sure it was as lovely as ever!


  2. Greetings from Carolina! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to check out your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the information you present here and can’t wait to
    take a look when I get home. I’m surprised at how fast your blog loaded on my phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .
    . Anyways, good blog!


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