Men’s Guide To Dress Semi Formal

men's guide to dress semi formal

Men’s Guide To Dress Semi Formal

Men’s Semi Formal is the most confusing of all the dress codes. The term is in itself an oxymoron and therefore it is no surprise that people are often left bemused when it comes to dress semi formal. Many people come up under dressed when they receive invitations for semi formal events. If you, too, find this dress code mysterious, here’s a detailed guide to help you arrive not only in the right attire but to stand out in the crowd.

Contrary to the popular belief, semi formal is quite easy to follow. It is not as decorous as white tie or black tie events. Instead, men’s semi formal is a slightly more relaxed dress code.

But wait, it doesn’t mean you can wear a jeans or khaki for a semi formal event. Remember that it is still a dress code and you need to follow the dos and don’ts to pull off your look seamlessly.

What is Semi Formal Attire?

Semi formal lies somewhere in between formal and informal dress code and is often worn to events like dinner parties and weddings. It is still a strict dress code so don’t be fooled by the diminutive phrasing.

A nice dark suit is your best option for an evening event while some stick to lighter option (strollers) during daytime. Not matter what, wearing a jacket is imperative with this dress code. Here are a few examples to begin with:

  • Combine a plain light shirt with your suit
  • Tie is optional; but you should stay away from anything too loud
  • Wear a leather belt and a pair of leather shoes that matches the color of your suit. Combine your shoes with plain and dark colored socks.
  • As far as accessories are concerned, wear a watch and stick to a minimal look.

It is essential to look sophisticated, elegant and neat (like a formal event) in your semi formal attire. Opt for crisp, custom shirts and keep them and your ties on the traditional end of the spectrum. Shoes must be dressy and accessories need to be understated.

If you are still unsure of what to wear and what not leave at home, here are a few rules to follow:

Rule #1: Leave Your Tux at Home

good-guy-how-to-dress-semi-formalDon’t wear a tux for an event that’s daytime semi formal. Tuxedos are for formal events or black tie events and hardly have a place in an event with a more relaxed dress code. Though many think that overdressing is a better choice than under dressing, wearing a tuxedo for a semi formal event, especially if it’s in the daytime, is a social faux pas.

That being said, verify with the host in order to avoid confusion as certain black tie events mention semi formal dress code in the invitation.

Rule #2: A Suit is Your Best Bet

Suit Is Your Best BetOne rule of thumb of semi formal is that you should always wear your jacket. The trick is to keep it simple with a nice bespoke suit that fits your body perfectly. It should hit all the right notes, which means your suit must meet the formal requirements and at the same time be relaxed enough so that you don’t look overdressed.

You need to focus on the details, especially on the color scheme based on the time of the event. For example, opt for a lighter color like a cream or tan suit for daytime events and wear darker colored suits such as a midnight-blue or dark charcoal for evening events. You can explore other color choices too as long as you remain true to the Golden Rule, i.e. lighter color during daytime and darker shades for evening events.

In addition, wear a dress shirt and a tie (optional). You are free to experiment with patterns on your shirts, ties and handkerchiefs as long as they are not too bold. If done rightly, mixing different patterns and adding contrasting and complementing colors can help you add a more personal touch to your attire.

Rule #3: Never Underdress

Never UnderdressThis is, by far, the most fatal mistake many men commit when dressing for semi formal events. They believe that wearing a polo shirt is acceptable for semi formal events. Another idea that has worked its way into common knowledge is that jeans and khaki pants are acceptable for such events. These are definitely not true. Polo shirts, jeans and khaki pants considered acceptable for a semi formal event is nothing but a fallacy.

Another fashion faux pas many men commit is wearing sports coats to a semi formal event. Consider the fact that they are woefully out of place if the event is strictly semi formal. You can, however, wear a sports coat if the event you’re attending is an afternoon outdoor luncheon.

Sports coats essentially fall under the category of business casual or semi casual attire; a suit is therefore a better choice when in doubt. You can alternatively wear a blazer, especially if you are dressing for a daytime outdoor event.

How to Dress for Daytime Semi Formal Events

  • afternoon-semi-formal-dressIf it is a daytime event, stay away from looking too formal. The following are a few options to explore:
  • Combine a pair of dark blue trousers with a light-colored blazer and a solid/colored patterned shirt.
  • Wear black leather shoes and if you want to top it off with a tie, keep it slim.
  • Though you can wear lavender suits, cream, beige or tan suits are better options for daytime events.
  • If keeping the suit and your dress shirt simple, add a dash of texture and color with your tie to make a statement.
  • Add flair to your semi formal attire with pocket squares.

How to Dress for Evening Semi Formal Events

good-guy-swag-semi-formal-eveningThe later the event is, the darker and dressier your suit should be!

This is one of the Golden Rules you must follow when dressing for evening events. Combine the dark suit with a lighter shade shirt. You can even wear cufflinks along with a tie and a pair of laced up dress shoes.


Semi formal is a flexible dress code. As a result, there is enough room for experimenting with your look. Do whatever you like but don’t underdress. If you are caught between two items, it is better to err on the side of the one that’s more formal. Don’t worry about being overdressed; you can always tone down your look by simply removing the tie.

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50 Responses to Men’s Guide To Dress Semi Formal

  1. JJ January 5, 2016 at 9:28 am #

    hey nicola, nice article.
    do you have semi formal dress suggestion for brown skinned asian man?
    i prefer blazer.

    thanks beforehand

    • Sandra October 12, 2017 at 3:39 pm #

      Depends on the time of day/night.

      Wear a tie!

  2. LW May 16, 2016 at 5:32 am #

    By definition, semiformal during the evening is black tie and the day is stroller (which is very rare to find these days) while formal is white tie or morning dress (even more rare). All you have written about is informal attire and leading guys down the wrong path due to your ignorance.

    • Kris Wolfe June 3, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

      Thank you for your response, LW. I didn’t write the article, but it’s commonly accepted that semi formal is just under black tie optional, so please indicate where you got black tie is required. I’d be happy to update the article then.

    • Sandra October 12, 2017 at 3:38 pm #


      You gave people with little knowledge the WRONG information.

      FORMAL attire will be the least worn by the average person (the Royals on the other hand will do it with a lot more frequency). Therefore, SEMI-FORMAL is serious business. A tie (bow or straight) is a MUST.

      Please use an etiquette guide next time and readers, please be careful where you get your information.

      • Kris Wolfe October 13, 2017 at 8:26 pm #

        Sandra, I just can’t find where you are getting your information. I’m happy to update the article with a credible source, but a tie is not a must for everything I’ve read. I’m here in Los Angeles. I usually dress a notch above the event and would wear a tie because it’s my brand and it fits better with my suit jacket (despite it being optional), but I’m usually the only one.

  3. Pat May 28, 2016 at 12:09 am #

    So much of this article is wrong. Like factually wrong. Semi-formal is defined as black tie. Formal is defined as white tie. As LW states, this article is leading guys down the wrong bath as it is giving advice on informal (not even business) dress codes. Brutal.

    • Kris Wolfe June 3, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

      Hello Pat: Thank you for your response, but I’m having a difficult time finding where you are getting this definition. I didn’t write this article, but I’m not finding conflicting information anywhere else. If you can show me where semi-formal is “defined” by black tie, I’d be happy to update the information.

  4. Noel Evasco June 29, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    How if the event starts at 2M and ends 9PM? Should I change attires before dawn? haha.

    • JW August 31, 2017 at 8:56 am #

      Yes, you get changed.

  5. house fly control December 8, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

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  6. Ian Dauson January 26, 2017 at 7:38 am #

    HI can i wear jeans on a semi formal event? thank you for your response.

    • Kris Wolfe January 26, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

      While semi formal is more relaxed than formal, jeans or even khaki pants would still be considered inappropriate.

    • Sandra October 12, 2017 at 3:40 pm #


      You will need a tie.

  7. Carm June 16, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    A sports coat or blazer is key for a good business casual outfit

  8. JW August 31, 2017 at 9:04 am #

    LW and Pat are 100% correct! Of course, as this article testifies, not everyone knows what they are talking about.
    “You can even wear cufflinks along with a tie and a pair of laced up dress shoes.” I think the author meant to say, “you must!” She might as well have said that “you can even dress like a grown up”.
    What is missing here is the number one key piece of advice… ask the host what they expect you to wear.

    • Kris Wolfe October 13, 2017 at 8:27 pm #

      JW, absolutely. When in doubt, ask the host.

  9. Perry September 17, 2018 at 1:08 am #

    Ok people, let me add mud, I mean clarity, to the conversation. First definitions: USA Ultra Formal = European Formal aka White Tie which is a morning coat with bold striped grey trousers and waist coat (i.e. light colored vest for happy or black for sad occasions), or morning suit (less formal when trousers, vest, and pants match). White Tie requires a Top Hat, preferably beaver fur. Think Royal Ascot in Royal Box. White Tie at night is black coat with tails, white tie, waist coat and bib shirt along with tuxedo style pants (2 vs 1 side strip of fashion Nazis). In the ole days, a conductor wore this in front of the symphony. USA Formal = European Semi Formal aka Black Tie which is a Stroller suit before 6 PM and a Tuxedo after 6 PM. A Stroller suit is the same as morning dress except with a short (normally black) jacket (think Winston Churchill). Thank Mr. Stresemann for this exchange of daylight jackets. He noted a Cutaway coat is great for riding horses, but sucks for sitting a desk. Some attorneys and Masons still wear a Stresemann suit. President Ronald Reagan wore morning dress at his first inauguration and a stroller suit for his second. I will not step off into creative, casual, business casual, cocktail attire, etc. because no two people agree on the standards. Google Ask Andy for better info and remember Google is your friend tracing the history and current status of men’s fashion.

  10. Perry September 17, 2018 at 1:57 am #

    OK, let me share what I have in my closet like you care except I somewhat have all the basics covered at minimum costs. First, I have both a dark grey and light grey suit with matching light grey vest. Next I have a black cutaway coat and a black vest. I wear French Cuff shirt (white for sad / bright for happy) and either my dark grey (winter) or light grey (summer) trousers with it. I have a choice of black (sad) vest or light grey (happy). During winter, my tribute to a stroller suit is my dark grey suit with either a black or light grey vest. Loud striped pants are just not me. During summer I match the dark grey jacket with my light grey pants and appropriate vest & tie. I add a somewhat bright long tie for happy and long black tie for sad occasions. Basically, I wear the same outfit for both morning dress or stroller except for the jacket. Black cutaway for white tie and grey suit jacket for black tie. For nighttime, I have a black tuxedo for black tie and a black coat with tails for white tie. I use my stripped tux pants for both white and back tie. White tie requires an expensive bib shirt that matches the white-tie-only white cotton vest. Oh, nighttime white-tie shirt is wing collar (with a small loop in back to hold the bow tie); all the other shirts are turndown collars with cuff links. Many people (who should know better like President Bush) wear white tie wrong. To wear correctly you need braces (suspenders) to hold your pants up to nearly your arm pits so no white vest peeks underneath the half-coat. Anyway, this is what I use to cover whatever comes up. I had all of them tailored to fit well. An inexpensive well-fitting outfit fit looks much better than an expensive sloppy fit. Also, think wool as in 100% wool. Now the challenge is not to put on weight ha ha. Also, I wear suits for business and sports coats with high-end chinos (no double seams), a tie and soft sole dress shoes for business casual–leather soled shoes for business and up. My socks tend to match my pants and shoes match my belt. One last thought. I tend to wear brown for outside and grey for inside events.

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  15. Dennis October 5, 2019 at 2:55 pm #

    Superb information. The definition of Semi-formal is so well justified. Thank you for the great tips shared on how and how not to dress up. Very helpful.

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    Men are harder to please than women when it comes to fashion and clothing. They are very detailed when it comes to dressing up. They are very particular in style especially when it comes to branded clothes

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