What Is Semi-Formal Wedding Attire?

a bride with three wedding guests

Photo by Margherita Calati

There are some things couples are silently praying their wedding guests will get right. Arguably the biggest is sticking to the dress code. Even if the invitation has a clear dress code printed right on it, deciding what to wear to a wedding can get complicated. For example, what does semi-formal attire really mean?

What Is Semi-Formal Attire?

Semi-formal dress codes call for a more relaxed look than what’s required at a formal black-tie event. It's a way of telling guests to put on something nice without requiring them to purchase an expensive gown or rent a tux.

To walk you through this semi-ambiguous dress code (widely deemed the most confusing of all), we tapped industry experts Kaila Rudolph and Ariel Gutowicz to share their insights. Read on for a breakdown of semi-formal wedding attire.  

Meet the Expert

  • Kaila Rudolph is the former director of merchandising and product development at Brideside, a concierge service that offered brides and bridesmaids a personalized shopping experience, which has now closed.
  • Ariel Gutowicz is a brand stylist for BHLDN, a retailer that is part of Anthropologie and specializes in wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, bridal accessories, and wedding décor.

Semi-Formal Wedding Attire for Men and Women

Floor-length gowns are beyond what the semi-formal dress code requires. Women following this directive might opt for a cocktail dress or a polished set. Semi-formal also translates to shorter hemlines, bold prints, or elevated separates like a festive top paired with tailored dress pants.

"Like all wedding rules, fashion has also shifted," says Rudolph, former director of merchandising at Brideside. "A killer jumpsuit or tailored pantsuit with refined accessories can have the same impact as a cocktail dress or even a long, flowy gown. Flirty details like ruffles, sleeves, slits, or high-low hemlines also work."

If a semi-formal event is set to take place outside, chic flats are acceptable. "You can you go more relaxed with a fun sandal, but not the dingy ones you wore all last summer," Rudolph advises.

Semi Formal Wedding Attire

Michela Buttignol/Brides

When it comes to beauty, skip the Cinderella-style up-do. "Finish the look with simple yet styled hair and fun accessories," adds Gutowicz, a brand stylist for BHLDN. 

This is not the time for tuxedos. Instead, focus on matching a suit jacket or a blazer to dress pants. When choosing the color, keep seasonality in mind. "Winter months call for darker fabrications, while lighter hues are perfectly acceptable for summertime soirees," Gutowicz suggests. "A sleek dress shirt and jacket will do the trick."

As for shoes and accessories, feel free to wear a tie when in doubt—there's always the option to take it off later. "Don’t get too creative with footwear," Gutowicz cautions. "Play it safe with a classic leather dress shoe."

Semi-Formal Wedding Attire Etiquette

A semi-formal dress code isn’t an invitation to be totally casual. "Focus on the level of refinement versus the type of clothing," Rudolph suggests. A wedding, no matter the dress code, is still a special event that deserves an out-of-the-ordinary outfit.

Rudolph also points out that the wedding venue can offer clues on how to interpret the dress code. "A grand ballroom sets a different tone than a modern, industrial loft or garden party," she says. Do your research beforehand, and if all else fails, don't be afraid to reach out to the host for clarification.

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