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Perhaps one of the most popular dress codes for weddings is semi-formal attire, but searching for a dress that fits this ambiguous label can be hard to pin down. Is a sundress too casual? Is a satiny midi too dressy for a beach wedding? What hemline is appropriate? And with all these questions running through your mind, it can be a bit overwhelming to find the right look. The good thing is that, while there are many interpretations of this dress code, it is probably the easiest style to shop for; and popular online retailers like Shopbop and Revolve have pages upon pages of semi-formal dresses to peruse.
A spring or summer wedding is a great opportunity to play with brighter colors and fun patterns. You may also choose to pair your warm-weather look with heeled sandals or even a flat shoe if it’s outdoors. For winter or fall nuptials, go ahead and break out the jewel tones dresses in lush fabrics like velvet.
Shopping for multiple dresses to wear to different weddings can get expensive, but luckily there are tons of budget-friendly options out there. Consider this stylish and under-$100 tiered midi dress from Lulu’s.
Deep wine colors are always a favorite when it comes to fall weddings, and they can easily transition from day to night. This chic Amy Lynn gown has a fresh asymmetrical neckline for a unique fall guest look.
If you’re looking for an edgier semi-formal ensemble, we recommend this moody and fashion-forward slip dress from AllSaints. The asymmetrical hemline allows you to have some fun with your shoes, so try out a funky platform or studded heel.
Low-back dresses have the right balance of elegance and sexy. This particular open-back midi features a tropical print that works well for a destination wedding.
What to Look For in Semi-Formal Guest Attire?
When it comes to semi-formal affairs, the most important thing to keep in mind is the setting and time of day. As we mentioned before, semi-formal can have many different interpretations, so considering these specifics can help you determine what dress is appropriate for the wedding you’re attending. For example, opt for brighter colors and fun patterns during the day. For evening nuptials, cocktail dresses and polished jumpsuits are both appropriate options. Essentially, you will want to look elevated but not in a ballgown.
Material is also something to look for in semi-formal attire. Satin fabrics, lightweight chiffon, or viscose are good choices for a semi-formal dress. However, more cottony materials may be too casual for the occasion, while overly embellished fabrics will likely be too dressy.
Where can I shop for a semi-formal dress?
You can find a wide selection of semi-formal dresses at department stores such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, or Macy’s. In addition, brands like Reformation and Lulu’s are also great options for this dress code.
How should I style my semi-formal look?
Accessories play an important role in semi-formal attire because they can completely transform a look. If you’re worried that your ensemble may be too casual, add a statement clutch and heels. On the other hand, if you're hoping to dress down your look, you may want to opt for flats or chic sandals, depending on the time of day and the location of the wedding.
Is there a difference between cocktail and semi-formal attire?
Semi-formal and cocktail have been known to be interchangeable, but in some cases, cocktail attire is a small step above semi-formal. While semi-formal can include elevated sundresses, this may not be appropriate for a cocktail dress code. If you are genuinely stuck on whether your dress is suitable, consult with the hosts to see what they recommend.
Contributing writer Melony Forcier is a recent graduate starting her career path in beauty and fashion journalism. Before graduating, she interned with both Boston Magazine and Foundation PR. Additionally, she served as a fashion editor for Boston University's lifestyle magazine, The Buzz.