How to Attend a Black Tie Event While Backpacking

May 15, 2011

As you can probably guess, we’re travelling with about one tenth of our wardrobes. While not the textbook definition of a minimalist in regular life, Andrea should win some kind of award for the tiny pack she’s travelling around with all year. John has a little more in his arsenal to choose from, but we think it’s safe to say that nothing in our on-the-road collections is worthy of a formal event.

Andrea is travelling with only 15 kg and a daypack for the entire year.

When we heard that our friend and fellow blogger, Andi Perullo’s wedding was happening around the time we’d planned to be in Buenos Aires, we couldn’t pass up the chance to be there. But this was to be a lavish, formal affair at one of the most prestigious hotels in Argentina’s capital city, which can only mean one thing: black tie. Having planned our own wedding for September of last year, we know how important it is for guests to look the part. And who are we kidding? It’s great fun getting dressed up and having such a fun, exciting event to go to when you’re travelling. We rarely know anyone in the places we visit, much less get invited to fabulous, oh-so-special parties like a friend’s wedding.

So how does one doff their vagabond attire and scrub up for such a function?

Step One: Get Haircuts

John tends to let his hair and beard grow when he’s on the road. So he started off with a trip to a men’s salon in Montevideo a few days before we set foot in Buenos Aires. For about US$17 he got his usual buzz cut (number two) and coffees for himself and Andrea while she waited. The delicious chocolate-covered dulce de leche biscuits served with them were a bonus.

Andrea started off with a smart cut before we left in December, has been trimming her own fringe (bangs) for the past five months and felt like it was time to see a stylist as well. After consulting with Andi’s fantastic wedding planner, Julie Watson for some recommendations, she made an appointment at Volver Peluqueros in Palermo for a cut and style. If you’re travelling to Buenos Aires and need help with anything related to your trip, I can highly recommend Julie. She was so helpful to us during our time here.

Step Two: Find Appropriate Attire

We headed to the Etiquet suit shop on Las Heras to get John fitted for a tuxedo. After explaining to Raul that we were going to a very formal evening wedding, he asked us to look at the suits on display in the window and tell him what we were after. Our animated discussion to each other in English went on for awhile before Raul gestured to us to follow him. He was a professional so why not just leave it to him? Within half an hour he measured John, suited him up and sent us on our way with instructions to return on Friday to pick up the ensemble.

The next day Andrea headed off shopping for shoes and a dress. Buenos Aires is huge, with many different shopping districts. Since we were staying in Palermo SoHo, which is full of trendy boutiques, it made sense to start looking there. The first stop was the Alto Palermo Shopping Centre, a large indoor mall between the barrios Palermo and Recoleta. It’s autumn here in Argentina, but the weather has been beautiful and on this particular day it was 23°C. Despite the fact that there was no need for heating in the shops, it felt like summer inside and Andrea could only take one sweat-inducing trip to the fitting room before she fled the mall. After wandering the streets for hours she finally found the perfect dress at Veronica Far (and returned to the mall in the evening for some shoes to match).

We were surprised to find that shopping in Buenos Aires is not cheap. Yes, one can find many outlet stores and good bargains in boutique shops dedicated to up and coming designers (such as those found in Palermo SoHo), but in general clothing wasn’t much less expensive than what we would find in Australia.

Step Three: Enjoy the Party

We wouldn’t dare spoil the wedding coverage that is sure to appear on Andi’s blog, but we can reveal that it was truly a beautiful evening. You could feel the love and excitement in the room and everyone ate wonderful food and danced all night. We also enjoyed meeting so many online friends in person this week. It does take a bit of extra effort to prepare for a formal event while travelling but it was definitely worth it.

Congratulations to Andi and Lucas Ledesma! We felt so honoured to be there to celebrate their special day.

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  • Cathy Sweeney

    You both look fabulous! What fun getting ready for a big, exciting event.

    • Andrea and John

      It was great fun – and a wonderful way to see Buenos Aires. Thanks, Cathy =)

  • Anonymous

    I love the transformation from backpacker to black tie!  You both look fantastic!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Angie =)

  • Anonymous

    I love the transformation from backpacker to black tie!  You both look fantastic!

  • Dalene

    You guys clean up nice!  :)

    • Andrea and John

      Haha – thanks, Dalene! =) We try

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    Aww.. you guys look great! I love that dress, Andrea! 

    • Annie

      Haha did not mean to just post almost the exact same comment! Funny! 😉

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Christy! I loved having a good excuse to buy it =)

  • Annie

     You two look fab! Love that dress Andrea!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Annie! =)

  • The Travel Chica

    Looking good!  Now what are you going to do with the dress and shoes? 

    • Andrea and John

      Sneak them into John’s pack, haha =)

  • Jade

     YOu guys look great!! I can’t imagine searching for a dress last minute- I seem to never find anything, but I love your dress!

    • Andrea and John

      I don’t like to do last-minute shopping either but luckily it worked out this time! Thanks so much (but wait til you see Andi’s) =)

  • Jan Ross

    Are you going to carry that lovely dress around in your backpack for the rest of the trip???

    • Andrea and John

      When we get to Europe I might consider sending it to John’s parents house but I’m way too nervous to ship it from here. Our last adventure at the post office wasn’t much fun…

  • yTravelBlog

    Stunning backpackers!! Love the outfits. Would so loved to have been at that wedding. Can’t wait to read about it and see the pictures

    • Andrea and John

      It was so beautiful – wait ’til you see how gorgeous Andi looks =)

  • Ayngelina

     Wow you two clean up nice :) So nice to finally get a chance to meet you in person

    • Andrea and John

      Really nice to meet you too, Ayngelina! Enjoy the rest of your time in Buenos Aires =)

  • Juno Kim

     Lovely!!! 😀 

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Juno =)

  • Anonymous

    Great job putting this together on the fly!  I can’t imagine preparing for a formal event after weeks on the road. 

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks! =) It was actually nice to pamper ourselves a bit. And a fantastic excuse to do so!

  • Megan

    You guys look awesome! I got kicked out of a fancy hotel in Hong Kong last year (my sister and I wanted to have high tea but they didn’t like my flip flops. There was a scene. I may have used bad words) – it can be hard to come up with something remotely dressy while you’re backpacking but wow – you guys did really well!

    • Andrea and John

      It is really difficult! We had to hire and buy things, which we would never have done if not for a wedding. Sometimes I miss being in Australia and the US where things are really casual. Though we have had issues with being refused entry because John’s shirt, while nice, did not have a collar.

  • Andi Perullo

    You 2 are SUCH a gorgeous couple!!!  Thank you X 100 for coming to our special day.  Much love and I hope we can see each other again SOON.

    • Andrea and John

      Thank you for having us, lovely! We had a blast and yes, really hope we can see you and Lucas again soon…since we’re all moving around all the time shouldn’t be too difficult, right?? xx

  • Nicole

    How fun to get to dress formal while living out of backpacks! You two looked great! :) 

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Nicole! It was fun =)

  • Jeremy Branham

    Love the photos!  You two look great – almost as lovely as the couple themselves! :)  And congrats to @AndiPerullo as well!

    • Andrea and John

      That’s a huge compliment, Jeremy – thanks so much =)

  • Randy Kalp

    You guys looked fantastic. After being on the road wearing the same clothes, I bet it felt pretty good to get dressed up.

    • Andrea and John

      SO good, Randy =) Thanks so much!

  • Scott – Quirky Travel Guy

    Cool! I think in such a situation, I would be stuck hitting up thrift stores… if there are any around.

    • Andrea and John

      That’s a great idea – I’m sure that there are. We suspect that we could have had one made or possibly bought one for cheaper than the hire cost but were short on time.

  • Krista

    Ohh, you guys look fantastic!!! So glad you were able to be there for Andi’s wedding. I know it must’ve meant so much to her. :-)

    • Andrea and John

      Aww, thanks Krista =) It certainly meant a lot to us!

  • Claire

    How fun!! I had been reading about her plans for the big day-sounds like it was awesome! It’s always nice to get dressed up and enjoy a fine evening out anytime-not just on the road either. I think it’s probably  more appreciated when living out of a  backpack though!  

    • Andrea and John

      It was awesome! Have you seen the photos?? So beautiful…we definitely appreciated the opportunity =)

  • Lenche

    You are both absolutely gorgeous, sounds like you had a fabulous time, what fun dressing up during your travels xxxx

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Lenche! It was a beautiful svadba – and so much fun to be a guest rather than a bride this time, haha 😉 xo

  • Anonymous

    You guys look great! I’m headed to California for my sister’s wedding so I had to “clean” up after my trip to Ireland with a much needed haircut. Great tips!

    • Andrea and John

      Ahhh – a California wedding will be so beautiful, what a nice setting. Haircuts are tough on the road…it’s been a language barrier issue for me as I only know a few words related to haircuts. But it turned out ok! Enjoy the wedding =)

  • Akila

     Y’all look gorgeous!  We’re so used to looking like scrubs that something like this would have completely shaken up our usual attire.  :) So glad you got to go to Andi’s wedding.

    • Andrea and John

      Aw, thanks so much, Akila. We’re heading to Bolivia and Peru next so probably back to scrubdom, but it was fun while it lasted =)

  • Kyle

     You both looked amazing. I would’ve never guessed you were backpackers 😛

    Also…that photo in the corridor of the hotel = not allowed! I’m too scared to post any of the photos I snuck in though! You’re brave.

    • Andrea and John

      Really!? Had no idea? Why??
      (is it because of JC?) hehe =)

  • Charu

    Love this post! You guys clean up good! 

    • Andrea and John

      You are so sweet! Thank you =)

  • Sherry

    Forgot to comment on this days ago – cause I did want to say that you both look absolutely fabulous!  I love your daypack, Andrea.  I wish I can find something like that for me. Wonderful you got to go to the wedding in Buenos Aires, no less.

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Sherry! That’s not my daypack, though…it’s my main everything pack. It’s Berghaus. The new Deuter day packs are looking pretty sweet. We’ve been looking for one here but apparently you can only get them in Chile.


    Great transformation and backpacker makeover! Bravo! Just curious– did it hurt to have to roll all those up and shove it all those cool digs back into your backpack so you could carry through the rest of the trip? Or did you just mail those clothes home?

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much =) It did hurt, haha! Poor wrinkled gown…we plan to send them back at some point but didn’t want to chance it from SA…and it is really expensive to ship things from here. Maybe when we get to Europe we’ll do a shipment… ~Andrea.

  • Dan and Casey

    15 kg and a day pack for a whole year!!! nicely done

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks =) Everything is pretty much squashed in and I wear the same clothes over and over again, but I’d rather not carry more weight!

  • Erin in Costa Rica

    Backpacker makeover – love it! :)

    • Andrea and John

      Haha – thanks, Erin =) We needed it!

  • Abigail Van Gelder

    I would like to feature this post on my blog tomorrow, as our “Post of the Week”.  Very lovely.


    • Andrea and John

      Thanks so much, Abigail – that would be wonderful! Really appreciate the compliment =)

  • Catherine_mary

    Just popped over from Roving Van Gelders as they recommend your blog for this amusing post – how to get dressed up for formal event while backpacking.  You ‘cleaned up’ good!!!!  Bet you don’t get many comments from dogs lol!!!

    Enjoy your travels
    Hector the Scottish Terrier from Derby, UK.

    • Andrea and John

      Haha – thank you very much! We love dogs =) Dog comments are the best!

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  • whoseyourmaddie

    Bravo on the little pack for one year!! I don’t know if I could do it!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks! You wouldn’t believe it if you saw my closet =) Definitely something I’m sure I’ll look back on and be proud of someday!

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  • Green Global Travel

    This is such a great story! I could never imagine going to a black tie event while backpacking. The two just don’t go together for me but you guys did it! Awesome article. -Dana

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