Semiformal Attire Guidelines

Two pairs of feet with semi-formal dress

Jason Briscoe / Unsplash

Have you ever received an invitation to a special event that calls for semiformal attire? Are you unsure of what that means? If so, you're not alone.

What Is Semiformal Attire?

Semiformal attire is an outfit that is dressier than what you'd wear to an office but not as dressy as a formal evening gown or tuxedo. If the event is held in the evening (after 6 p.m.), the semiformal guidelines lean more toward the formal than if it were held during the day.

Semiformal attire is typically worn to weddings, holiday parties, and to fine restaurants. Some teen and preteen dances are designated semiformal.

If you receive an invitation that states semiformal as the required or preferred style of dress, you have a wide range of choices. It fits somewhere between casual and formal, so you might need to clarify specifically what is meant if you aren't sure. There's nothing wrong with contacting the host to ask for more specific information. Now would be a great time to offer to give a toast!

Semi-formal attire guidelines

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Feminine Semiformal Wear

There are quite a few options for feminine semiformal attire. This may include dresses, separates, or a pantsuit in a dressy fabric, such as silk, cashmere, or satin.

A dress or dressy suit with a dressy top, with heels, strappy sandals, flats, or dress shoes may also be worn. Sparkling gemstones, pearls, and dressy fashion jewelry are all appropriate. However, be careful not to overdo it, or you'll look more like you're in costume than semiformal wear.

Masculine Semiformal Wear

Masculine semiformal attire could be a conservative dark suit with a dress shirt. A vest that matches the suit is optional. In most cases, a tie should be worn, but in some cases, it isn’t necessary.

If in doubt, wear a tie. You can always take it off later. A belt that matches dress shoes and dark socks are essential. Subtle jewelry is appropriate.

Feminine Semiformal Wear for Teens and Preteens

Age and type of event help to determine what is appropriate for semiformal attire. Some of events that might require feminine semiformal attire might include a bar or bat mitzvah, dance, holiday party, sweet sixteen, or prom.

Semiformal clothes for a middle school dance may include a short dress with sequins at the neckline or all-over glitter. If the dress has a lot of sparkles, wear less shiny jewelry so it doesn't compete. For a dress that isn't shiny, add sparkling rhinestone jewelry for a more festive look.

Someone in high school might choose a more fitted or off-shoulder dress for their special occasion. Before you go shopping, make sure you know what is allowed at the event. Some schools may have a dress code that prohibits plunging necklines, strapless dresses or tops, and high slits at the hem.

Masculine Semiformal Wear for Teens and Preteens

Masculine semiformal looks for teens are similar to what adults would wear to a semiformal event. Start with a nice pair of dress pants, a button-front shirt, a tie, and a jacket. Or you can wear a dark suit. You may even be able to wear a lighter suit to daytime summer events. Complete the ensemble with a pair of dark dress shoes (dressy loafers, oxfords, or lace-up shoes). Always wear socks to a semiformal event.

Semiformal occasions call for good grooming. Make sure you are clean, your hair is combed, and your nails are clean. Tuck in your shirt and make sure your tie hangs at the right level. If you need help, most adults will be happy to give you some assistance with the tie.

Semiformal Weddings

Many weddings call for guests to wear semiformal attire. You want to look your best, but you don't want to upstage the bride, so avoid white or off-white. A cocktail dress is generally your best bet for most semiformal weddings. You may also wear a dressy pantsuit with heels and sparkly jewelry. If in doubt, there is nothing wrong with talking to the bride or someone in the bridal party to prevent committing a faux pas.

If the wedding is outdoors, you may wear a maxi-dress with strappy or embellished sandals that are appropriate for walking on the sand. Heels might get stuck in the grass or sand and make walking difficult, so if you aren't sure, ask someone in the wedding party where the ceremony will take place. Carry a shrug, scarf, or shawl in case a cool breeze blows through.

FAQ
  • What should you not wear to a semiformal event?

    Evening gowns and tuxedos don't fit the semiformal bill. And neither do jeans, generally speaking. Sneakers also aren't usually appropriate for semiformal events.

  • Is semiformal the same as cocktail?

    Some use the terms semiformal and cocktail attire interchangeably. They're both somewhere between formal and casual. However, cocktail attire generally can be slightly fancier than semiformal attire. 

  • What pants are semiformal?

    Dark dress pants are typically a good choice for semiformal attire. You also can go for lighter colors in materials like linen, especially during warmer months.