Guide to Semi-Formal

I think we’ve all received an invitation that included a dress code and we honestly didn’t know what it meant. The rules for these seem so fluid, but at times they really aren’t, which makes the whole issue more stressful. Some are easy – the ultra formal white tie and formal black tie  have pretty clear rules – but the more common ones are generally more confusing.

This post is inspired by an event I’ve been planning for work that is “semi-formal,” which in my area could mean really anything. The western US is, generally speaking, a pretty casual place, so I did some research.

Searching for semi-formal menswear is basically like typing “clothes” into google. And all of the more specific rules I did find varied from site to site, so here is my synthesis of what you should wear to a semi-formal event.

Evening Events (after 6 pm)

evening semi formal

Do not wear a tux – that is black tie or formal – but you should wear a dark jacket. I would also lean toward dark slacks or a full suit. A tie is probably advisable, although it can be colorful or patterned. Shirts can also maybe be colored, but I would avoid anything too wild.

Be sure to take into account the type of event. Weddings should probably be more formal, whereas cocktail parties allow for a little more play.

Day Events (before 6 pm)

day semi formal

Day events have the same basic rules, although suits do not need to be dark. In fact, it is probably more appropriate to go with khaki/tan or grey (even navy is better than black for a day event). By their nature, day events tend to be a little more casual, so you could forgo the tie or play with colors, but again read the event.

An outdoor wedding is going to be more casual than an indoor, especially during the day. A garden party is usually more casual than a cocktail party (unless the former is with the queen).

In more casual places, like my hometown, you could probably really tone it down and no one would bat an eye, but here I defer to Oscar Wilde’s immortal words “You can never be overdressed or over-educated.”

Oscar Wilde on fashion

And if you are going to trust any author about fashion, let it be Mr. Wilde.

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