The invitation comes in the mail. It’s for an exciting event, like a wedding, and you enter it into your calendar. Then, as the date gets closer, you look at the invitation that says, “semi-formal attire.” Hopefully, you know what that means. 

Semi-formal attire can be confusing since it can be hard to know how formal and casual your attire can be. Formal wear is straightforward: an evening gown or a tuxedo will do the trick. Casual wear is even easier: just wear whatever you want, for the most part. But what should you wear if you are invited to a semi-formal occasion? 

Semi-Formal Attire Explained

Semi-formal attire means you should be more dressed up than you would work in an office, but less dressed up than an evening gown or tuxedo. While that’s a general explanation, there may be variations depending on the setting or the time of day. If the event is held in the evening, then you might want to wear something closer to formal than casual, for example. Some of the most common reasons for wearing semi-formal attire include weddings, galas, fine-dining establishments, and holiday parties. Some high school dances may also be semi-formal, depending on their theme. 

Semi-Formal For Men

For a semi-formal event, men should wear a dark suit with a dress shirt. That is the standard outfit, but it can be accented with a bold vest and tie. You may not want to wear a tie, which is acceptable if you choose. If you are unsure what is appropriate, then wear a tie just in case. Your belt and dress shoes should match in color, and your socks should be dark, such as black or gray. For men, jewelry is acceptable, but too much can be distracting. Subtle chains and rings will work perfectly. 

Grooming is also an important part of being presentable for a semi-formal occasion. Hair should be properly brushed or combed. Any facial hair should be trimmed and neat, and the shirt should always be tucked in. 

Semi-Formal For Women

When it comes to semi-formal wear, women are fortunate in that there are many options. A dress is often the most appropriate, but it can be of any color or style. Likewise, they can wear pantsuits as long as they are made from higher-end fabrics, like satin or silk. Strappy shoes are a staple of any semi-formal outfit, but you can also go with heels or flats. Some women prefer straight dress shoes as well. This can all be supplemented with more formal fashion jewelry. The only caveat is that you don’t want to look too much like you are dressing up for a formal event, so keep the jewelry understated for the most part. 

Semi-Formal for Teen Boys

Many times, a teenager might be invited to a semi-formal event. For example, a relative might be getting married, or they may be attending a school dance. They can wear similar outfits to adults, but they do not have to be as strict. They can wear different colored jackets and pants, as long as they are of good quality. They must-have dress pants, as well as a button-up shirt. It is generally a good idea to dress in dark shades, but if it is a daytime event, they can wear a lighter shade of suit. As with the adults, their socks should be dark, and they should wear dark loafers or dress shoes. 

Semi-Formal for Teen Girls

When it comes to teen and tween girls, there can be a lot of variation in terms of the appropriateness of an outfit. An older teenager can wear an off-the-shoulder dress for prom or a big dance. However, a tween or younger teenager should wear a more modest dress. All teens and tweens should be aware of what the rules are at a school event in terms of their attire. They may not be able to get away with too low necklines or dresses that are too high. 

Some teens like to wear glittery dresses for their events. This is fine, however, if a teen chooses to have a shiny dress, they should be more subtle with jewelry. If they wear a dark dress or something more muted, then bigger and bolder jewelry can be appropriate. 


Most weddings are considered semi-formal events. The wedding party tends to dress formally, but not the guests. For women, it’s tradition to avoid wearing white or off-white not to take any attention from the bride. A cocktail dress is the perfect choice for most weddings and can suit most environments and times of the day. Women can also wear pantsuits and heels with formal jewelry. 

For outdoor weddings, a woman can wear a dress with sandals or flats that can be worn while walking on bumpier terrain, like sand. There is always a chance that heels can get stuck in soil or between patio stones. You don’t want to have difficulty walking around or even standing when the bride comes down the aisle. If you are worried about the weather, you can have a dressy shawl to wear over bare shoulders. 

Most people don’t want to make a fashion mistake when going to an event. If you are unsure, you should always err on being more formal. However, if you are comfortable, there is nothing wrong with getting in touch with an organizer or the wedding party to ask what is appropriate. Just make sure to do so well ahead of the event. Once you have your perfect semi-formal outfit, you can focus on having fun.


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