IN contrast to formalwear for men, black tie for women is a veritable fiesta of style and fun. The range of fabrics, colours, cuts, shoes, jewellery and makeup make it an opportunity to express yourself and look great at the same time. Of course there are restrictions – you never want to confuse glamour and elegance with putting large amounts of flesh on show and wearing lots of sequins.

But more often than not, people go the other extreme and dress overly conservatively. Kara Iland, of Rous Iland fashion boutique in Mayfair, says: “You don’t have to wear black: in fact, a great way to do colour and make a statement is to wear red. Also, you don’t have to do full length these days – you can wear a cocktail dress and really statement jewellery.”

One-shoulder dresses are particularly modern and elegant and allow you to bear skin without showing cleavage. Rebecca Taylor and Karen Millen do good ones (see for more choice).

If you do like to flaunt your chest, remember, says Iland, that the usual rules apply. “If you’re going to show cleavage, make sure you’re covered up elsewhere. If it’s short, it can’t be tight.” If, after all, you just want to snuggle up in comfortable old black, then jazz up your look with some great costume jewellery. A bold cuff or some fabulous earrings – the bigger and brighter the better – are excellent touches especially if you’re wearing a dark dress. As for how far you can go, a lot of women are now wearing amazingly-cut suits for black tie occasions, too.

Finally, shoes are all-important. For formalwear, you need to have some heel. Open-toe is a good choice if you’re wearing a long skirt, too. These days, heels can be skyscraper without appearing trashy, but don’t wear anything you can’t handle. After all, there’s nothing sophisticated about tottering.