Semi-Formal Attire Guidelines

Woman at a semi-formal cocktail party
Dress appropriately when attending a semi-formal event. Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Have you ever received an invitation to a special event that calls for semi-formal attire? Are you unsure of what that means? Don't let the wording intimidate you. It's basically 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 6:00 PM), the semi-formal guidelines lean more toward the formal than if it were during the day.

Semi-formal attire is typically worn to weddings, holiday parties, and to fine restaurants. Some teen and preteen dances are designated semi-formal.

If you receive an invitation that states semi-formal 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.

Semi-Formal for Women

Women have a wide range of choices with semi-formal attire. This may include 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, or dressy flats may also be worn. Sparkling gemstones, pearls, and dressy fashion jewelry are all appropriate.

Semi-Formal for Men

Men should wear a conservative dark suit with a dress shirt to a semi-formal event. 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.

Semi-Formal for Teen Girls

The teenage girl's age and type of event helps to determine what is appropriate for semi-formal attire. Some of the events a girl might need to dress in semi-formal attire might include a dance, holiday party, sweet sixteen party, or prom.

A girl going to a middle school dance may wear a short dress with sequins at the neckline or all-over glitter. If the dress has a lot of sparkle, 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.

A girl in high school might choose a more fitted or off-shoulder dress for her 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.

Semi-Formal for Teen Boys

Teen boys should wear something similar to what men would wear to a semi-formal 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 semi-formal event.

Semi-formal 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.

Semi-Formal Weddings

Most weddings call for guests to wear semi-formal 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 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 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.