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

Semiformal Wear

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

  • Dress: 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.
  • Suit: A conservative dark suit with a dress shirt are a great option, especially for an evening 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. A lighter colored suit could be acceptable for a daytime event.
  • Jumpsuit: A dressy jumpsuit can be appropriate for semiformal as well as long as it's the right cut and material. It should be long enough to cover your legs and ideally made of a nicer fabric, such as silk, satin, crepe, or chiffon. A wide leg will look more formal than a tapered one.

Semiformal Accessories

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.

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 semiformal attire might include a bar or bat mitzvah, dance, holiday party, sweet sixteen, or prom.

  • Short, fun dresses: 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.
  • Fitted or unique dresses: 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.
  • Dress pants, tie and jacket, or suit: 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.

Remember that semiformal occasions call for good grooming. Make sure you are clean, your hair is combed or styled, and your nails are clean. Tuck in a button-down 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. If in doubt, there is nothing wrong with talking to the bride or someone in the bridal party to prevent committing a faux pas or wearing the same exact shade as the wedding party.

  • Cocktail dress: A cocktail dress is generally your best bet for most semiformal weddings. Any length of dress is acceptable, though a longer hem will definitely be easy to dance in. A longer dress that is shin or ankle length with a sleek leg slit can be a stylish compromise.
  • Dressy pantsuit or jumpsuit: You may also wear a dressy pantsuit with nice shoes, such as loafers or heels, and attractive jewelry.
  • Maxi dress: 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.
  • Classic or creative suit: Semiformal attire allows you to have a little fun with a suit. You can choose a classic suit in blue or black, or show off your style a little bit with a unique yet sophisticated blazer paired with pants. Ties are optional for semiformal attire, so try a patterned pocket square or vest for a fun pop of style.
  • What should you not wear to a semiformal event?

    Clothing like evening gowns, tuxedos, jeans, and sneakers aren't appropriate for semiformal events. Instead, opt for something you feel rides the line between casual and formal.

  • Is semiformal the same as cocktail?

    Cocktail attire tends to be slightly dressier than semiformal attire. Still, you can usually wear a cocktail dress to a wedding.

  • 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.