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Sep, 27 2023

What Does Semi-Formal Wedding Attire Mean?

A man in a black suit and tie looking away

The purpose of wedding attire is to create a look for a very special occasion. With that in mind, when choosing your outfit, you may think you need to be as formal as possible. However, that’s not always the case.

Some events call for semi-formal wedding attire. Men who follow this dress code, which is more relaxed, typically wear a suit, dress shirt, tie, and matching dress shoes. Tuxedos are usually too formal for this occasion.

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To prepare properly for a semi-formal wedding, you need to understand the elements included in your outfit. That’s precisely what this article will help you with. Read on for a detailed overview of the semi-formal wedding dress code.

Understanding Semi-Formal Attire

A zoomed in picture of a man adjusting his tie

Before we delve deeper into the features of a semi-formal outfit for men, let’s first explain what this term means and where it comes from.

Semi-formal attire is a trade-off between formal and casual. It’s less formal than black-tie dress codes but slightly more formal than casual clothing. As such, it lets you express your personal style despite being relatively formal.

You may already have the ideal garments in mind, such as the modern Ted Baker or Canali suits showcased in this Vogue guide. While today’s semi-formal look is more popular than ever, the trend didn’t emerge yesterday.

Instead, it dates back to the 1800s. Edward VII (Edward, Prince of Wales, at the time) wasn’t overly pleased with his dinner attire, which featured the iconic swallowtail coat. The appearance was fine, but he preferred more comfortable garments. Accordingly, he commissioned Henry Poole & Co. to create an outfit that was more comfortable yet just as stunning as the original garment.

The rest is history. The adept tailors at Henry Poole & Co. came up with a jacket that blended elegance and comfort, which remains the staple of semi-formal attire.

A logical question now arises: “How exactly is semi-formal different from formal and casual?” The easiest way to answer it is to go through the basic elements of each dress code.

  • Formal – A tuxedo (with black bow tie, white shirt, and black shoes) or a three-piece black suit (matching trousers, jacket, and vest)
  • Casual – No clothing piece is mandatory; characterized by colorful trousers or jeans, matching shirt, and different types of shoes; jacket or blazer not required
  • Semi-formal – Two-piece suit (matching pants and jacket or blazer) and dress shirt or separate suit; tie or bow tie and matching shoes required in both cases

Semi-Formal Wedding Attire for Men

A man wearing a navy suit and black tie

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of semi-formal men’s wedding guest attire, let’s see how you can pull off a fabulous look at the wedding. To do so, you need to make sure all the elements complement one another.

Key Components

Here are the most important components of semi-formal cocktail attire. Male guests, take note:

Dress Shirt

Like with any other celebration, you should start preparing for a semi-formal wedding at least a few weeks ahead of time. Why? You’ll avoid the last-minute rush of trying to find the ideal garments and one of the elements that require special attention is the dress shirt.

Many gentlemen mistake casual shirts for dress shirts, but there are many differences between the two. Primarily, dress shirts are longer than their casual counterparts because you’re supposed to tuck them into your pants.

If you’re still not sure how to tell one from the other, take a look at this Jake Gyllenhaal pink suit/white shirt combo. It’s a stunning shirt that goes well below his waistline, which you can tell by the fact that it’s tucked in.

The length is critical, but don’t go too long. The shirt should sit snugly against your shoulders and reach just under your palms. This way, you’ll be able to move freely in your garment and maintain a classy appearance.

As for the material, cotton is the go-to option for most shirts. Since the wedding will last for several hours, you need something breathable, soft, and comfortable. Cotton checks all the boxes. Linen is another solid pick, especially during summer.

Blazer or Suit Jacket

Dress shirts are essential, but having a robust blazer or jacket might be even more important. It’s the main element that sets semi-formal attire apart from casual wear. Although the choice can be difficult, use your preferences and desired appearance as your guide.

If you prefer a slightly more formal appearance, opt for a jacket. If you enjoy a relatively laid-back (but not casual) style, you can’t go wrong with a blazer.

When choosing a jacket or blazer, one of your primary considerations should be the fit. Keep the following tips in mind to ensure the garment fits you like a glove:

  • The shoulder seams should be just past your shoulder bones.
  • The jacket or blazer should stretch past the waist and end where your leg connects to your hips.
  • The garment should cover your entire back.

In terms of the material, a variety of options should work just fine. Cotton and linen lead the way in men’s semi-formal wedding fashion due to their versatility and affordability. Wool is another terrific pick because it’s durable, breathable, and easier to maintain since it’s less prone to wrinkling.

Dress Shoes

Next up, shoes. If you were looking for casual wedding attire for men, you could pull off just about any footwear, including sneakers. But you’re preparing for a semi-formal celebration, which is why sneakers are out of the question.

You’ll need to choose dress shoes instead. These are more formal than standard footwear, but there’s some leeway in your choice. For instance, you can consider loafers, Oxfords, and brogues for the celebration. Here’s what each product brings to the table:

  • Oxfords – Classic evergreen style that looks amazing in brown
  • Brogues – Slightly less formal than Oxfords but more versatile
  • Loafers – Durable, breathable, and super-warm

Tie or Bow Tie

Few topics are contentious as that of ties vs. bow ties for a semi-formal wedding. The main reason is that people have different interpretations of what semi-formal means. Thankfully, there’s a simple way to end the confusion. All you need to do is take a look at your invitation.

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If black tie is optional, you can wear a bow tie. Otherwise, a bow tie would be too formal for the occasion. As a result, a tie is a much safer option. Most other gentlemen will wear it, allowing you to fit in.

When selecting your tie, dimensions are crucial. While a short tie that reaches just under your rib cage is creative, it doesn’t belong at weddings. So, don’t take a gamble. Put on a tie that extends to your waistline, which is about 57 inches for most people.

Colors and Patterns

Notice how we didn’t say anything about colors and patterns in the previous sections? Don’t be alarmed because we’re about to delve deep into all the nuances and textures you can experiment with at a semi-formal wedding.

And we’ve saved the colors for last since, as our fellow men’s fashion aficionado put it, “When buying a car, you don’t choose the transmission or suspension randomly. Both are key factors. The same rule applies to outfit colors. You need to take your time when mixing and matching colors to achieve the ultimate visual symphony.”

Given the colossal significance of colors, getting this part right is essential. The safest option is black. It’s highly versatile and works fantastic with other shades, such as white and brown. Navy blue is the runner-up, which is also flexible and lends itself to colorful combinations.

Here are a few outfits you can consider for your celebration:

  • Black jacket and trousers with white shirt, black tie (black and white pocket square optional), black Oxford shoes, and black belt
  • Navy blue jacket or blazer and pants with black shirt, navy blue tie, brown Oxford shoes, and brown belt
  • Olive jacket and pants with white shirt, olive tie, brown loafers, and brown belt
  • Gray jacket and trousers with light blue shirt, gray tie, brown loafers, and brown belt

Seasonal Variations

Semi-formal allows you to lean toward more casual or more formal styles. But other than your preferences, you should also base your decision on the season of the wedding. In particular, does the event take place in the summer or winter?

Summer Semi-Formal Wedding Attire

Summer weddings are all about vibrancy and cheerfulness. You want your outfit to reflect the surroundings. Therefore, opt for lighter fabrics, like linen, silk, and cotton.

Colors should also be lighter:

  • Light gray
  • Cool brown
  • Muted beige
  • Light blue

Winter Semi-Formal Wedding Attire

If it’s a winter wedding, your semi-formal attire should feature heavier fabrics. Wool is the most common option due to its temperature-regulating properties.

Moreover, don’t forget to pick darker hues:

  • Black
  • Navy blue
  • Olive
  • Dark gray

Outdoor vs. Indoor Weddings

In addition to the season, the venue plays a pivotal role too. More specifically, is the wedding set outdoors or indoors:

  • Outdoor semi-formal wedding attire – Pants and blazer, linen dress shirt, and Oxford shoes
  • Indoor semi-formal wedding attire – Pants and jacket, cotton or wool dress shirt, and Oxford shoes or loafers

How Time of Day Affects Semi-Formal Wedding Attire

Three men in suits walking away from a mansion

We continue our rundown of the factors that affect your fashion choice with time of day. As you’re about to find out, daytime weddings have a different dress code from evening celebrations.

Daytime Weddings

Daytime events are typically on the less formal side of semi-formal. The atmosphere is more relaxed, enabling you to experiment with a variety of colors. As a result, you can freely go for a separate blazer and pants, brogues, and other relatively casual elements.

Also, light colors are a staple of daytime gatherings. From yellow and pale pink to light gray and light blue, they help you follow the theme of the wedding.

Evening Weddings

In contrast, evening weddings are slightly more formal. You generally want a black or Navy blue two-piece suit along with black or brown Oxford shoes.

Tips and Common Questions Answered

A stack of button up shirts and a suit as you would see in a store

If you’re like most other gentlemen, you’re probably asking the following questions when preparing for your semi-formal wedding:

  • Do I need a tuxedo for a semi-formal wedding? No. In fact, tuxedos are often too formal for semi-formal weddings.
  • How does semi-formal differ for wedding guests and wedding party members? Wedding party members often wear more formal outfits and garments (e.g., bow ties and two-piece suits), whereas guests have more freedom to choose their attire.
  • Can I wear a Polo shirt or does it need to be a dress shirt? Some Polo shirts might be suitable for semi-formal weddings, but it’s best to stick to dress shirts.

Balancing Formal and Informal

Here are a few suggestions on how to strike a balance between formality and informality at the event:

  • Pair up a two-piece suit with brogues or loafers.
  • Wear a blazer with a bow tie.
  • Put on a plaid tie and polka-dot pocket square.

While we’re discussing formality, bear in mind that this factor doesn’t depend on the time of day only. It also has to do with regional and cultural considerations. Some communities lean formal, whereas others tend to be more casual. Take this into account when buying your attire.

Decoding Other Related Dress Codes

A man in a plaid gray suit in front of detailed doors

We’ve outlined the ins and outs of semi-formal, but there are two similar styles: cocktail and business casual. Let’s take a look at the features of each one:

  • Semi-formal – Lets you choose from two-piece and separate suits
  • Semi-formal cocktail attire for males – Two-piece suits often mandatory
  • Business casual – No need for a jacket or blazer

Let Your Inner Gentleman Shine in Full Glory

A man in a blue suit with a cream colored tie

Understanding the norms of semi-formal wedding attire is pivotal. It shows you respect the bride’s and groom’s wishes while allowing you to feel relaxed.

When choosing your outfit, don’t be afraid to incorporate a personal touch into the established norms. Generation Tux can help you do that. Get in touch with us for first-class men’s tuxedo rentals and add a unique twist to your style.

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