The dress code is a crucial part of any wedding. It sets the tone for the event, elevating the aesthetic and creating a delicate harmony among the guests and wedding party members. These days, the semi-formal dress code is one of the most popular options, but what exactly counts as semi-formal wedding attire?
Well, if you’ve ever asked yourself that question, you’re not alone. Plenty of people hesitate and scratch their heads when receiving a semi-formal wedding invite. If you’ve never attended an event like this before, it can be tricky to figure out that fine line that separates a semi-formal event from a formal wedding.
Well, this guide is here to help with that. Below, you’ll find everything about semi-formal wedding attire, including expert stylist tips and advice.
A wedding invitation is more than just a request for you to attend someone’s big day. It’s also a valuable source of information about what to expect and how to dress when that big day comes. So, the first thing to do before picking out any clothes is to read through the invite and learn what you can about the dress code.
Every invite should specify the desired dress code, whether that be a formal dress code, semi-formal, casual, or something different. Sometimes, invites also let you know more specific attire desires of the couple, such as particular colors that match their theme or rules like “no denim.” The invite can also tell you about the season and venue, which can also be used to inform your outfit choice.
So, you open an invite and see “semi-formal” listed as the dress code. What does that mean, exactly? Well, Emily Forrest, director of communications at Zola, sums it up nicely in Today: “It falls at the intersection of casual and formal... It’s a safe option for couples that want their guests to dress up without feeling too stuffy.”
In other words, when interpreting the dress code of semi-formal attire, think of it as a step down from formal but a step up from casual. It’s more flexible and relaxed than tuxedos and floor-length gowns but not quite entering the territory of jeans and other casual clothing.
Figuring out the concept of semi-formal wedding attire for men isn’t always easy. Should you wear a suit? How casual is too casual for a semi-formal celebration? These are just some of the questions that you might find yourself asking in the build-up to the big day. Well, while it might seem tricky at first, once you know the basic, unwritten rules, picking a semi-formal outfit should be easy.
First, it’s essential to understand the basics: tuxedos and similarly fancy, formal suits aren’t the right fit for a semi-formal outfit. However, it’s still very common and even expected for a man to wear a suit or something close to it. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, you’ll be wearing either a suit or a blazer and dress shirt.
Which is best? That’s one of the big eternal debates when it comes to semi-formal, and the truth is that neither option is necessarily better than the other. It all depends on factors like the venue, vibe, wedding theme, and time of year. For more casual, outdoor, summery events, a blazer should be fine. For those more intimate and elegant settings, opt for a suit.
A dress shirt is the go-to item for male semi-formal wedding attire. With a quality shirt, you’ll already be halfway to building your outfit. Top it off with a classy pair of pants and a blazer or suit jacket, and the outfit will almost be complete. But don’t forget about accessories. In general, ties aren’t mandatory for these events, but classy cufflinks and a pocket square can work wonders.
For women, it’s important not to be intimidated or overwhelmed by a semi-formal dress code. There are lots of different ways you can interpret this code and a wide range of outfits from which to choose. Everything from dresses to jumpsuits to blouses and more can all fit the vibe for wedding attire for men.
For a semi-formal event, a cocktail dress is often considered the go-to choice for women. It bridges that gap between casual and formal just perfectly. This kind of dress isn’t overly fancy or formal like a floor-length gown. Neither is it too short and casual. And there are many options to choose from, with various colors, patterns, lacy styles, and other variants to suit the venue, season, and mood.
Many women hesitate between a midi dress and a maxi dress when choosing their semi-formal outfits. More often than not, the midi dress is the way to go. It has a less formal air than a floor-length or maxi gown, so it suits the semi-formal style better. Midi dresses are also versatile enough to wear in various seasons and to various venues.
As noted in The Knot, “Traditionally, formal attire, black tie, and white tie are the only wedding dress codes that require floor-length gowns.” So, in general, maxi or floor-length dresses aren’t typically the right fit for a semi-formal wedding. However, that doesn’t mean you should rule them out entirely. For events at glamorous venues or those with vintage themes, a maxi gown can work well.
Don’t forget to dress up your feet for the big celebration, too. For a semi-formal event, you’ve got much freedom in footwear. The main aim is to try to match your footwear with the rest of your outfit to complement your tops and bottoms, rather than clash with them. And, above all, avoid shoes that are too casual, like sneakers.
Most men will head straight for dress shoes for a semi-formal event. However, they’re not the only choice. The Spruce notes that the likes of oxfords and loafers can also be a fine fit for a semi-formal event, especially if it’s slightly on the more casual side. For rustic or outdoor weddings, for example, loafers will do fine. For the more sophisticated venues, opt for dressy lace-ups.
For women, there are even more footwear options, and you simply need to match the shoe to the occasion. A sandal or flat will be fine for summery outdoor weddings, for instance. A wedge or pair of heels will do nicely for a more intimate evening affair. Try to ensure that whatever footwear you choose goes with your ensemble.
With the main pieces of your outfit selected, most of the hard work is over. However, you might also like to add a few little accessories. In general, for semi-formal events, subtle accessories work best, rather than flashy statement pieces. Here are some examples of options for both male and female guests.
For men, there’s no need to worry about figuring out bow tie instructions like you would with formal attire. Instead, simple and elegant accessories are all you need to look great. A pocket square, for example, can add a pop of color to your jacket or blazer. Some simple cufflinks can also elevate your look, along with a timeless leather belt.
For women, feel free to experiment with your favorite jewelry items. As noted above, there’s no need to go too glamorous or glitzy. Instead, the likes of simple gold hoops or dainty necklaces can enhance your look without going too far. Clutches are also recommended, and shawls might be an option for a winter or outdoor event.
Guests also need to consider the season in which the wedding will be held and the expected weather conditions on the big day. Naturally, the clothes you pick for a daytime wedding in the summer will be very different from your outfit for an evening wedding in winter.
In the summer months, the wedding day will hopefully be sunny and warm. To ensure that you stay cool and comfortable throughout the day, opt for lighter, more breathable fabrics and fewer layers. A lightweight blazer and shirt combo should be fine for men, while women can select midi-length dresses or light jumpsuits for summer weddings.
At a winter wedding, it’s a very different story. Even if you spend most of the day or night inside, there may still be times when you need to step outside. To avoid getting too cold, it’s recommended to layer up and opt for heavier fabrics. You may even want to consider some semi-formal, winter-friendly accessories like scarves and shawls.
As mentioned earlier, it’s always a good idea to consider the wedding venue when picking out your semi-formal outfit. Depending on whether the event is an outdoor wedding or an indoor celebration, you may be able to narrow down your choice of attire.
Outdoor weddings are becoming increasingly popular with many couples, and popular outdoor venues can include beaches, ranches, vineyards, and gardens. Typically, if a wedding is being held outside, you can expect that the weather should be nice. That means a lighter and slightly more casual outfit with more breathable fabrics. Lighter colors, too, tend to suit outdoor events best.
At an indoor venue, it all depends on the nature of the space. If the couple has chosen a grand old banquet hall or historic home, for example, you can expect a relatively formal evening and should choose an appropriate outfit. If the wedding venue is more relaxed – like a cozy B&B, restaurant, or urban loft – you can choose more casual clothing.
The truth is that, despite being quite flexible, semi-formal is a bit of a tricky dress code to understand. This is mainly because the very definition of semi-formal attire really isn’t very clear. Instead, it’s quite a vague, shapeless concept with a lot of different interpretations, and with so much flexibility, people are naturally afraid to make mistakes.
One of the most common mistakes or fears is being either too dressed up or not quite dressed up enough. As pointed out by wedding planner Victoria Holland in Brides, "Sometimes semi-formal can be so hard because guests don’t want to be overdressed, but they don’t want to be underdressed.”
If you share that fear, a simple way to get around it is to opt for a classic, undisputed semi-formal outfit. For men, that would be something like a light suit with a button-down shirt and dress shoes, or a blazer, dress shirt, and dress pants. For ladies, a classy cocktail dress or dressy jumpsuit will always fit the bill.
Consulting with the happy couple or other guests can be a good way to get a feel for what outfits people will be wearing. And you can use that to help you pick out your own attire. Just keep in mind the fact that you shouldn’t be fully formal, nor should you lean too far into casual territory.
If you’re still worried about being either overdressed or underdressed, semi-formal wedding attire etiquette tends to suggest that it’s better to be too formal rather than too casual. Try to avoid anything that falls into the category of casual attire. That includes jeans, as Holland explains: “I can’t tell you how many men think that semi-formal means nice jeans and a button-down. It does not.”
To finish off, here are some essential styling tips that can help you look chic and fit the semi-formal theme without going over the top:
Ultimately, the main thing to understand about semi-formal wedding attire is that it’s more relaxed and flexible than formal dress. It should never get too close to casual-wear, but it gives you many more options than a formal celebration ever would. In some ways, that can make it even trickier to decide what to wear to a semi-formal wedding, but it can make it more enjoyable, too.
For formal events, you can simply seek out suit or tuxedo rentals from Generation Tux. But for a semi-formal occasions, you’ll need to take a little more time, potentially trying on a few items and outfits to find the right one. As long as it looks elegant, fits well, and suits the vibe and venue of the big day, you should be fine.