Tuxedos & Formal Wear

What Is Semi Formal Attire?

By Nicole Haase

It’s a common misconception that as a guy, you’ve got it easy when it comes to wedding wardrobe. On the surface it seems uncomplicated – when in doubt, wear a suit – but there’s a lot of nuance involved. Everywhere you look there’s a different set of rules governing various dress codes and nearly none of them agree.

How to dress for a semi-formal event differs greatly from how to dress for a black-tie event or a white tie formal affair. If an invite specifies that its white tie formal attire or that it’s a black tie optional wedding, the directions are right there in the description. But when an invite dictates more casual wedding attire for guests, the lines are a lot more blurry. Think about how people dress at work. No one seems to be clear on what makes business casual attire and that same uncertainty is what can make figuring out how to dress semi formal so nerve wracking.

Despite the name, a semi formal dress code is still rather dressed up. There’s more room for personal style than when figuring out what to wear to a black tie event, but the same ambiguity that leaves room for personal touches is what can make it so confusing.

Fit Before Function

The most important thing about your outfit is fit. Good, clean lines and stellar tailoring will automatically take your look to the next level no matter what you wear. Clothing isn’t one size fits all. Getting your clothes hemmed, tucked and tailored is a crucial part of looking your best and it’s one of the reasons you never wait until the last minute to decide what to wear to an event like this. Even the nicest on-the-hanger suit will look less-than formal when it doesn’t fit correctly.

Look Good, Feel Good

The second important detail is grooming. You could have the sharpest outfit outside the runway, but if your hair is a mess or your beard is untrimmed, no one’s going to pay any attention to your ensemble. Plan ahead for a haircut, invest in a professional shave and wear sunscreen. People see your face first – make them want to keep looking.

Not Just Suit and Tie

Though the name semi formal is going to lead you to want to loosen up a bit, this dress code is still pretty buttoned up. Men will be in suits or blazers, but the time of the event plays a lot into the ways that you can manipulate the rules.

If it’s a daytime wedding, think leaning more toward lighter colors, especially if you’re going to be outdoors. Tan or grey suits will be popular, but you can also move away from a suit and consider a patterned blazer and a fitted pair of slacks, or go with a nice dark jacket paired with lighter pants. Rolled up sleeves on a blazer can not only lower your temperature, but add a bit of fashion to your look. The blazer and slacks look allow you to play a bit more with color or pattern, personalizing the look and making you stand out from the crowd.

You are not mandated to wear a tie to a semi formal event, but wearing one can be a good fail safe if you’re totally unsure what to wear. You’d rather be overdressed than underdressed and a tie can come off and be tucked in a pocket easily. However, a crisp shirt open at the neck, accented with a bright pocket square and the clean lines of a suit is an absolutely acceptable look.

Semi Formal Doesn’t Mean Less Than Formal

Semi-formal never means jeans, shorts or polo shirts. If a full, buttoned up suit is too stuffy for you, consider a look with a vest. This won’t work for all semi-formal events and you might want to check in with the couple, but there’s no reason a waistcoat and matching trousers can’t be a fancy, semi formal look. However, if you decide to forgo the jacket, the rest of your look has to be impeccable. Accessories like a pocket watch can elevate the look even more.

Tread Lightly

Shoes are another spot that can make or break your look. They’re also a great place to show some personality and accentuate your ensemble. Brogues or loafers can make your look a less buttoned up; while Oxfords tend to be a bit more proper .You can also have fun with a playful (but tasteful) sock.

Take Your Cues From The Groom

In the end, it’s up to the couple who set the dress code to decide if what you’re planning is appropriate. The groom’s ensemble will likely be finalized before the invites even go out, so take your cue from his look to get a better understanding of what the couple is trying to accomplish for their overall aesthetic.

If there’s one rule that you follow, it’s that you should always ask if you’re unsure. Neither member of the engaged couple will be upset with you for checking on what they feel is appropriate.

Bottom Line

Semi formal can be a big question mark of a dress code for most, but the answer lies in simply playing it safer than you think when it comes to dressing up. Leave your tux with tails at home.

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