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Sep, 4 2023

The Complete Guide to Semi-Formal Attire for Men

Man standing in a black tux

As a stylish gentleman, you want to make sure you always wear the right combination. However, this doesn’t mean you need to wear a tuxedo every day. Some events call for a semi-formal outfit, but what is semi-formal attire for men? It’s a trade-off between formal and casual wear characterized by a more relaxed two-piece suit or pants, blazer or jacket, shoes, and a shirt.

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We’ll discuss this dress code in greater detail right here. You’ll learn how to pull off a stunning semi-formal look by selecting the right elements and making sure the garments are fit for the occasion.

Definition of Semi-Formal Attire

Man standing in navy tuxedo jacket and beige pants

Before we give you a detailed guide on how to dress semi-formal, let’s first dive into the differences between different clothing styles.

Formal attire is usually characterized by a tuxedo. Few, if any, variations are allowed here, as you must wear matching shoes, a jacket, and a bow tie to go along with your tuxedo shirt. As the name indicates, formal wear is mandatory in formal events, such as certain weddings, cocktail parties, and charity gatherings.

Then there’s the casual clothing style. According to New York Times, you can wear pretty much anything if you’re a casual dresser. Whether you pick cotton or linen, the only thing that matters is that the garments are comfortable. The combination is designed for non-formal occasions.

A compromise between the two styles comes in the form of semi-formal attire for men. It’s not as strict as formal clothing, but it’s not full-blown casual either. If you take this route, you’ll still need to wear a blazer, shirt, and a two-piece suit or pants. On top of that, many events require you to pair up your outfit with a tie.

Given that semi-formal attire is neither fully formal nor casual, you might be wondering: “Why would I wear this style when the two other options are available?” The answer is simple. As a fashion expert put it: “If I had to bet my life on the most versatile clothing style, it would be semi-formal.”

Indeed, semi-formal garments are superior to formal and casual combinations when it comes to versatility. You can wear them to pretty much any event, from weddings and business meetings to walks in the park and dates. No part of your attire will seem out of place or snobbish.

On the contrary, your attire will take your looks to a whole new level and allow you to add a personal touch to your daily wear.

Semi-Formal vs. Formal Attire

Two tuxedos and their accessories

We’ve hinted at the difference between semi-formal and formal clothing, but we’ll now take a closer look at the most important aspects of both combinations.

On the one hand, your hands are pretty much tied with formal outfits. If you’re attending a black-tie or white-tie gathering, there’s no other way around. You need to wear a formal, three-piece suit to blend in and achieve a stunning visual effect. Although the appearance is fabulous, it can get restrictive at times.

That’s why many people prefer semi-formal styles. Less strict than formal garments, they enable you to express yourself with clothes that reflect your personality. As a result, there’s no need to wear a three-piece suit or tuxedo to events with this dress code. A two-piece combination with a striking shirt and creative accessories will do just fine.

That’s precisely what makes this outfit so flexible. Whether you’re looking for jaw-dropping wedding guest attire for males or clothes for your spouse’s birthday party, you can’t go wrong with semi-formal garments.

Essential Components of Semi-Formal Attire

Man in navy jacket and beige pants looking away

Semi-formal attire lets you channel your inner fashion guru and experiment with various combinations. Still, you need to follow some conventions of this style by choosing appropriate elements. Here are the most common parts of semi-formal outfits:

Blazer or Suit Jacket

If you want to make heads turn with your semi-formal style, a blazer or jacket will be your bread and butter. The two garments are very similar, but there are a few differences that may make you lean in one direction. Primarily, jackets are more formal and have a rounder appearance, especially in the shoulder area.

Regardless of your preference, take the following tips to pick the right blazer or jacket and wear it as effortlessly as Tom Hiddleston:

  • Be sure it’s the right fit – You should feel at home in your blazer or jacket. The shoulder seams must give you enough room to move your arms comfortably. The same goes for the chest area. Furthermore, the sleeves should cover your cuff without reaching your palm.
  • Let your body type dictate the pick – If you’re slender and short, choose a garment that’s slightly oversized to appear bigger. In contrast, if you wish to accentuate your muscular shape, select a slim model that adheres to your contours.
  • Consider your complexion to find the right color – Choosing an appropriate color is all about considering your complexion. If your skin is lighter, go for light blue or other matching tones. Conversely, brown and green are a match made in heaven for darker skin.
  • Use the weather as your guide – The materials are essential when buying a blazer or jacket. Linen and cotton are ideal for spring and summer, as they go easy on your skin and reduce the risk of sweating. On the other hand, you could use wool or other warmer solutions for winter events.
  • Go double-breasted for a slightly more polished appearance – Single-breasted jackets and blazers are a fabulous pick for semi-formal occasions. But if you prefer something a tad more formal without wearing a full-blown tuxedo, double-breasted is the right choice. Your jacket/blazer will take center stage, especially if you wear a garment with four or six buttons (rather than two).

Dress Shirt

No discussion about men’s clothing would be complete without dress shirts. They play a pivotal role in many combinations, including the semi-formal alternative.

Wearing the right shirt is crucial since it can make or break your chances of leaving a lasting impression. So, use these hints as your North Star when choosing your garment:

  • Buy the correct fit – Your body type isn’t the only factor that determines the correct semi-formal dress shirt. You should also consider the effect you wish to achieve. For example, if you want to emphasize your slender figure, go for a slim-fit product. By contrast, oversized shirts are an excellent choice if you want to tuck your garment in more easily and keep it from hanging out of your pants.
  • Go for a suitable material – Linen is highly breathable, making it perfect for warmer climates. It removes moisture to help you stay dry throughout your event. Cotton is another great option due to its breathability and sharp design. Finally, Oxford cloth works brilliantly well as semi-formal wedding attire in cold weather.
  • Don’t forget about the color – If you want to play it safe, versatile dress shirt colors are your best option. The list includes light blue, navy blue, and white. They should match the rest of your attire, regardless of the nuance. Checkered and plaid garments are also convenient. But if you’re a daring gentleman who wishes to experiment, go for floral patterns and vibrant shades, such as deep purple, bright red, and pink.
  • Consider the collar – The collar is another all-important element of your dress shirt. There are many lanes you can take here, but the two main ones are the standard point and spread collar. The former helps elongate your face, making it ideal if you have a rounded head. The latter is a better pick for other face types, and it also accentuates the top portion of the tie.

Dress Pants

Our journey to the crème de la crème of semi-formal attire for men now takes us to dress pants. Your jacket and shirt will probably be the first thing people notice at your event. However, if the pants don’t complement the garments, you risk ruining the aesthetics.

Here’s how to keep this from happening:

  • Get comfortable pants – The visuals are essential, but comfort shouldn’t take a back seat. After all, you’ll spend a few hours at your gathering, so you don’t want to feel your pants to feel too tight. A great way to avoid this is to try your garment sitting down. It’ll tell you whether the thigh region is too small and if you need a longer model. At the same time, don’t go too large because it’s often perceived as casual.
  • Choose the desired length – As previously mentioned, the length is the key factor when buying dress pants for men’s semi-formal attire. Several options are available, but the most popular solution is a slight break (break = how much fabric touches your shoes). It should graze your shoelaces and leave just enough room to showcase your socks. Crop is another widely-used alternative, where the material sits above the ankles.
  • Match or contrast – One of the reasons the semi-formal style is liberal is that you can take multiple paths when picking the color of your pants. You can go for a matching or contrasting nuance, depending on your preferences. For instance, a stunning navy blue blazer and jacket goes brilliantly well with gray pants. But if you want divergence, pair your light gray pants with a black or dark brown jacket.
  • Pay attention to the material – The size determines whether or not your pants will be comfortable. That said, you can maximize comfort by picking an appropriate material. For example, wool is a terrific insulator and will keep you warm during winter. Flannel also boasts exceptional temperature regulation, but it can be pricey. If you’re looking for a solid, budget-friendly solution, stick to polyester.

Dress Shoes

In all likelihood, the jacket, pants, and shirt will be the hero of your attire. But your outfit is incomplete without matching shoes.

The good news is that there’s plenty of freedom here since you’re not looking for formal clothing. Therefore, you can choose a variety of options:

  • Rely on derbies for a fine line between casual and semi-formal – Derbies are some of the most popular shoes for men’s casual wedding attire. Nonetheless, modern fashion breaks rules all the time, which is why more and more fashion-forward men are wearing derbies as part of their semi-formal look. Their open-laced design lends itself to numerous colors, including brown and black.
  • Wear loafers for the ultimate breathability – If breathability is your priority, look no further than loafers. Featuring a moisture-wicking insole, they keep your feet dry and comfortable. As for the color, an array of solutions is available: black with a navy blue jacket, brown with a gray blazer, and burgundy with a navy blue jacket.
  • Put on chukka boots to stay warm – Not every semi-formal event requires traditional shoes. You have some leeway here, so why not use it to put on your favorite chukka boots for the celebration? In many people’s eyes, they’re superior to conventional footwear due to their ability to keep you warm. A large number of these boots feature a fleece lining to prevent freezing weather from distracting you from your party or meeting. Additionally, they look amazing in numerous colors, like tan and dark brown suede.
  • Turn to Chelsea boots for a lace-free alternative – Chelsea boots are similar to chukka boots, but there is a striking difference. Namely, Chelsea boots are lace-free. This allows you to put them on and take them off more easily, which is particularly helpful when you’re in a hurry. Plus, they tend to be just as warm (if not warmer) than their chukka counterparts.
  • Try brogues for a touch of class – Few footwear products are as flexible as brogues. These shoes can be worn to just about any semi-formal occasion due to their evergreen design. Featuring a sturdy yet comfortable top, they fit your feet like a glove. Moreover, they have convenient holes that allow moisture to evaporate quickly, which helps you maintain them without a hitch.


Finally, it’s time to put a cherry on top of your outfit with some accessories. A wide range of products come to mind here, like ties, watches, socks, belts, and pocket squares. Here’s how to maximize their visual effect:

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  • Ties – The color and pattern should be your main concern when choosing a tie. A solid tie is the safest pick because it’s the most versatile alternative that complements practically anything. Alternatively, you can go for a textured garment that matches your jacket or blazer. Other than that, consider the material. Wool is great for winter, whereas linen and cotton are typically designed for summer.
  • Watches – Again, make sure the color matches the rest of your suit. Gold and silver are the two most common watch colors. The former works well with brown and other earth tones, whereas the latter is ideal for black, navy blue, and gray semi-formal attires. Additionally, don’t go for tiny watches since they’re traditionally worn on formal occasions.
  • Pocket squares – If you wear a tie, why not embellish your suit with a pocket square as well? It’s a minute yet powerful detail that can elevate your appearance. But here’s the catch – it shouldn’t be the same color as your tie. For instance, if the tie is blue, your pocket square should be orange or rust. Likewise, green ties go hand in hand with red, pink, and maroon pocket squares.
  • Belts – You’re preparing for a semi-formal event, but this doesn’t mean you should only think short-term when buying a belt. Instead, invest in a durable product that will last for several years. Leather is the most popular pick. Regarding the color, brown is the most versatile option, followed closely by black.
  • Socks – Unless you’re wearing crop pants, you’ll need to find matching socks for your occasion. A variety of factors are at play here, but none is more important than the length. Make sure your socks are long enough to reach at least the middle of your calves. Otherwise, you risk exposing some skin, which is off-putting. In addition, try to find socks that are made of the same material as the pants for complete visual harmony. Mismatched socks are a no-go.

Dressing for Different Occasions

Three men laughing and walking through a backyard

We’ve gone through a multitude of factors that should help you find a stunning semi-formal outfit. Even though the materials, colors, and fit are paramount, the choice goes beyond those considerations. The time and nature of the event is also vital.

Check out some of the most common conventions associated with various occasions to help you fit in.

Daytime Events

Daytime events might become your favorite. The natural lighting adds a new dimension to your attire, enabling you to stand out among the crowd.

But since this is a semi-formal gathering, you don’t want to risk being too flashy with a tuxedo or other black-tie/white-tie garments. Instead, go for something more subtle. Shades like light navy and light blue are perfect for your jacket and pants. A white shirt complements the outfit with its versatility and everlasting elegance.

When it comes to shoes and accessories, the following hues are generally acceptable:

  • Brown for shoes and belt
  • Silver for watch
  • Light blue for tie and pocket square (don’t forget about contrasting these two)

Evening Events

The above mentioned daytime combinations are flexible, but they’re not fit for every occasion. Nighttime celebrations have a different tone, which should be reflected in your attire.

More specifically, wear darker shades if you’re going to an evening event. Dark navy blue and black are two of the most well-accepted solutions for jackets, blazers, and trousers. They’re incredibly versatile, allowing you to experiment with a myriad of accessories:

  • Black or brown shoes
  • Silver, black, or navy blue watch
  • Navy blue or black tie
  • Deep purple or black pocket square
  • Black or brown belt

Weddings or Evening Parties

If you’re getting ready for someone’s wedding, you’ll need to be super careful. Black is rarely an option here since the groom will most likely wear an all-black combination. So, turn to other colors to avoid taking their spotlight.

You can take a similar approach here to evening party dress codes. But besides navy blue, try other nuances as well. A gray suit is a flexible option that works great with many shirts, pants, shoes, and accessories.

As for shirts, several solutions are worth considering. White is generally appropriate for daytime celebrations, which is why you should look into a few alternatives:

  • Lavender
  • Blue
  • Dusty rose
  • Pale gold
  • Burgundy

Again, don’t forget that this is a wedding, and you don’t want to draw too much attention to yourself. Hence, don’t go overboard with accessories. A standard black tie, textured pocket square, and silver or navy blue watch should do the trick. Top it off with a brown belt and brown shoes for a streamlined semi-formal outfit.

Work Events

Your workplace has a dress code, but it’s not 100% formal. You can let your imagination run wild to a certain degree and experiment with different colors.

The key thing to remember here is that your jacket/blazer and trousers shouldn’t be the same color. Otherwise, you’ll stray dangerously close to all-formal attire. Just make sure to select matching shades:

  • Gray jacket/blazer and black or white pants
  • Navy blue jacket/blazer and black, white, or gray pants
  • Blue jacket/blazer and khaki or gray pants
  • Black jacket/blazer and gray or navy blue pants
  • Beige jacket/blazer and olive, gray, white, or navy blue pants
  • Brown jacket/blazer and khaki, gray, or white pants

In terms of shoes and accessories, keep it simple. No flashy details, embellishments, and textures are welcome because a work event is different from a wedding or party. Follow this dress code, and you’ll strike a balance between professionalism and stylishness.

Tips and Tricks

Man fixing his navy jacket sleeve

Now that you know what semi-formal means, here are a few tips concerning fit, patterns, accessories, and shoes to make your combination more impactful.

Importance of Fit

When shopping for your jacket or blazer, pants, and shirt, the fit is one of the most significant considerations. If you can find an outfit that feels like it’s custom-made for you, you’ll feel much more comfortable. There will be no mobility issues and the risk of tears associated with tight clothing.

In general, there are three types of fit:

  • Classic – Slightly baggy with lots of room for thighs, shoulders, and waist
  • Skinny – Adheres closely to your body
  • Slim – Middle ground between classic and skinny

Experimenting With Patterns

Checks, plaids, and other textures are captivating, but only if incorporated moderately. In particular, you shouldn’t have patterns in more than two elements of your attire. Patterned pants and a pocket square are good pattern combinations.

Accessory Etiquette

Accessories are, well, accessories. They’re meant to complement your suit rather than take center stage. You can use them to add a personal touch but don’t overdo it. Polka dots on your socks, tie, AND pocket square would be too much.

Footwear Care and Selection

Some shoes are expensive, so you want them to last as long as possible. Here are a few tips on how to keep them looking great and extend their lifespan:

  • Hand-wash your footwear.
  • Use leather polish on leather shoes.
  • Store them in a dry, cool area.
  • Apply wax according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Shield suede models with suede protectors.

A Stunning Outfit Is at Your Fingertips

A man standing in a navy tuxedo and maroon tie

There’s no denying the value of semi-formal attire for men. It’s flexible and fit for pretty much any occasion. And since you know how to select your outfit, all that remains is to choose the right provider.

That’s where Generation Tux comes in. Head to our website, and you’ll find a curated assortment of semi-formal clothing you’ll wear confidently to your event. You can also rent a tuxedo from us if your event is more formal. Either way, we’ll give you a garment that reflects your personality and takes your elegance to new heights.

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