If you are someone who is confused by the term ‘semi-formal’, then you probably dread the day you get an invitation to an event with this dress code.
How formal is semi-formal? What if I lean too heavily on the semi part and appear more smart casual? What if I come over dressed?
Don’t panic. Put away your last minute excuse to not attend because you don’t know what to wear. We are here to help.
Semi-formal attire is easy to achieve and can even be fun to style. In fact if you probably already have most of the required pieces already in your closet. Below we have what constitutes a semi-formal attire and how to style for different occasions.
What Is Semi-Formal
As the name suggests, semi-formal is a formal attire, but slightly dressed down. It is dressier than what you would wear to the office but not full coat tails and evening scarfs.
Don’t worry if this still sounds confusing, after reading this article you will be a semi-formal pro.
A semi-formal attire boils down to the rules of formal attire, but more relaxed. However, just because the rules are relaxed doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
Semi-formal is still considered formal so you can’t just show up to an event in your nicest jeans and sweater.
A good rule to follow is to completely avoid sneakers and jeans in general. While you are able to dress up both of these items you will end up looking more smart casual than semi-formal.
Smart casual tends to lean closer to casual, and semi-formal to formal wear. Semi-formal style can also depend on the time of day, the later in the evening the event is, the more formal the attire should be.
Most semi-formal fashion consists of a suit (not a tuxedo) in neutral colors with a tie and dress shoes. In fact you’ve probably accidentally dressed in a semi-formal fashion before since it is a common dress code for weddings and company parties.
How Is It Different To Formal Attire
A formal attire is what you would have to wear to a black tie or white tie event. You will be expected to dress to a high standard. This means the ladies would be in evening gowns and the men in tuxedos.
You either wear a black tuxedo, or a navy one if you are feeling especially daring, but those are your only choices. A bow tie is prefered over a tie and the only place where you can really show your own personality is in your cufflinks.
Accessories are not in line with these set of rules and bright colors are a definite no. A top hat is permitted with formal wear but would be too over the top for semi-formal.
Semi-formal gives you a bit more freedom to show your own personal style. You can wear what you want to wear, rather than have to.
What Clothes Are Considered Semi-Formal
You can’t go wrong with a simple white button up shirt. It is a staple in any man’s wardrobe and is known for its versatility and instantly making any look smart. Perfect for any event, especially a semi-formal one.
But why not add in a personal flair. A semi-formal dress code allows for more color and the best place to do that is with your shirt.
Why not mix it up with a nice pale pink color or even go bold with a pattern like stripes. If you’re going for the patterned look then you may want to ditch the tie to really show off the shirt.
While you do have freedom in what color or pattern your shirt is, remember it is still a more formal event. Don’t show up in a polo shirt under a blazer.
If the event is to be held in winter then you might be able to get away with a nice turtleneck and blazer, check with your host beforehand to see if this will be appropriate though.
While the shirt is where you can express yourself, your pants are where you want to stay safe. Stick with neutral or classic colors (black, gray, navy etc), or match them with your blazer.
You want them to be fitted to the leg, you don’t want your pants to be too large and end up looking sloppy. Tailored pants or chinos and the best choices for a semi-formal event.
Avoid shorts and joggers. It may seem obvious to not wear them at a formal event but you will be surprised at the amount of men that consider shorts to be semi-formal.
Unlike formal events, a tie is completely optional in semi-formal attire. You could go for a classic neutral color like black or you can be adventurous and go for a textured or patterned one.
They are a modern take to make the tie look less corporate and more fun.
A semi-formal event is not the place for the more outlandish patterns however. While novelty ties are fun they are more for house parties and less company parties. Stick with a paisley or even the current fashion trend of mini florals.
Avoid wearing a white tie as they can be seen as too formal. They should be saved for the aptly named white tie events.
You could even show off your style with how you tie your tie. You could go for the classic Windsor or even a half Windsor, or if you’re feeling very bold why not try the elegant Eldredge knot.
Or you could just go for the four-in-hand knot if you’re not in the mood for all the extra steps it may take to tie a simple knot.
A semi-formal alternative to a suit, you could instead wear pants and a blazer. While a blazer is not appropriate for a formal event, it is common to find at a semi-formal event.
Make sure it is well fitted so that you look sharp. You can choose to match it with your pants or not.
If you do go with the blazer choice then go for neutral or classic colors, a semi-formal event is not the place for a bold patterned blazer and may draw unwanted attention.
If your semi-formal event does lean more on the casual side than the formal, you might be able to get away with a sports coat rather than a blazer.
Semi-formal is still formal so that means a good pair of dress shoes are essential. What style you choose could however make or break your outfit. To go for a classic look you could opt for derby shoes or the iconic oxfords.
Or you could give your look an elegant flair with loafers or monk straps. If the dress code is more formal we recommend going with dress shoes that have laces.
Like your pants, your shoes are not the place to experiment. Stick to classic colors like black or brown. Your accessories and shirt should be where your personality comes through.
Remember to wear a dark colored pair of socks to complete the look, avoid ankle socks.
If you are going to an event where there is an after party you may want to consider breaking your shoes in before the event or wearing comfortable insoles.
There is nothing worse than dancing in brand new shoes you aren’t used to yet.
When it comes to semi-formal attire, accessories are the main place you can show off your personal style. Just try to make the pieces work with the look.
For example a belt should match the shoes, all metal you wear should be the same color (choose between gold or silver don’t mix), and any watch you wear should preferably be neutral to act as an extension of the look.
The pocket square is an often looked over accessory that can add a lot to a look. They are a quick way to add a pop of color and can be folded in a multitude of beautiful ways to really show off your personality.
Most people match their pocket square to their tie to create a cohesive look.
Men’s fashion has taken huge strides over the past years so why not show off a modern flair with some jewelry. A few rings can really add class to a look, once again just be sure to match your metals.
Of course you could always go for a suit. You won’t have to go through the process of trying to pair the right blazer with your pants, the decision has been made for you.
Remember the color of your suit should depend on the time of day. Light color suits are ideal for day events, whereas evening events are more formal and require a darker suit.
Try to avoid black as it can come across as too formal, instead a dark gray or navy would be appropriate.
Semi-formal events are also a great place to try out different suit cuts. You won’t get the same judgment at a semi-formal event in a uniquely cut suit as you would at a black-tie event.
While not strictly clothing, if you show up to a semi-formal event with a mis-shapen beard and bed head then all the effort you put into your outfit will be ruined.
Make sure you are freshly shaven and have styled your hair. Trimming your nails and putting on some cologne won’t go amiss either.
What To Wear To Different Semi-Formal Occasions
Cocktail parties are the pinnacle of the semi-formal look. In fact you may even see semi-formal attire be mistakenly called cocktail attire. In reality, cocktail attire is just slightly more formal than semi-formal.
Like semi-formal you can still wear pants and a jacket instead of a suit, you can go with a tie or without, and you can dress it up with accessories.
But with cocktail attire you will need to avoid the chinos and loafers. Try to stick with tailored pants and oxfords.
If an event has ‘cocktail attire’ as the dress code you should aim to be overdressed rather than underdressed.
As it is a daytime event then light colors are recommended, why not try out a cream or tan suit. A nice pair of brown shoes will complement any neutral tones on your outfit.
You should consider the venue with daytime events, if a large portion of it is outside then a stylish pair of sunglasses might be a smart choice.
These sorts of events usually aren’t too flashy, so keep most of your accessories at home, a few will do. If you still want to add some flair then a printed shirt will do the job.
You may feel that these words mean completely different things, but you are able to pull off a relaxed semi-formal look, it is just a bit tougher to balance.
We recommend going for chinos and a blazer rather than a suit. You can mix colors and go for a different colored blazer to your chinos but make sure they don’t clash. We suggest keeping the chinos to a neutral color and going bolder on the blazer.
Ties aren’t needed for relaxed semi-formal events. In fact it’s better if you don’t as having a button up shirt with the top buttons undone is the epitome of relaxed.
Some people may be open to jeans at their relaxed semi-formal event, if this is the case then a pair of slim fitting dark jeans should be chosen rather than light wash.
While it is not so much of an event as a cocktail party or a wedding, some high-end restaurants do follow a semi-formal dress code. It is also a good way to show off to your date that you know how to dress up for them.
You want to look polished yet comfortable in front of your date. We recommend darker colors as they’re flattering. Don’t be afraid to show off your fun side with a bit of color, either in your shirt or tie.
It is however better if you don’t wear a tuxedo as you might be confused with the waiting staff if it is a really high-end restaurant.
Most weddings will call for semi-formal attire. While it may seem simple to just put on a suit and tie, there are a lot of things to consider when styling for these events.
The first thing to look into is the time the wedding will take place. If it is an evening wedding then you need to choose darker colors.
The venue and time of year should also be considered. If it takes place outside in the middle of summer then aim for lightweight fabrics to avoid looking uncomfortable and sweaty.
We do not recommend wearing bright colors or patterns, you want to blend in with everyone else. A wedding is a special day for the groom and you don’t want to overshadow them.
Especially avoid wearing an all white suit, not only is it considered in bad taste for the lady guests to wear white but also the men.
The couple may request certain looks and you as a guest will need to adhere to them. For example, if it is a beach wedding they may ask for linen suits to get that perfect tropical vibe they want for their wedding.
Or they may have a color theme in which case you will need to follow that.
The easiest way to get semi-formal attire is to start with a formal look and either take out, or replace a couple items.
One of the joys of semi-formal is that it gives you the freedom to stand out with a pop of color or throw in some unexpected accessories.
As you can tell by all the different style options for semi-formal attire, there is no set standard for semi-formal dress. What works at one event might not work for another so you have to make an educated choice on what works best for the event.
You will also need to consider what works best for you, you want to feel comfortable and confident at any event you go to.
If you’re still not too sure about what to wear, then ask the host of the event. They could clear up any doubts you have and will appreciate you trying to get it right.
If you have no way to contact the host or simply forgot to, then the safest bet is to over dress rather than under dress. If you feel like you are dressed too formal when you get to the event, then you could slip off your tie or unbutton your suit jacket.