What is Semi-Formal Attire vs. Formal Attire? Choose the Right Clothes in 2023

What is Semi-Formal Attire vs. Formal Attire? Choose the Right Clothes in 2023

Everyone wants to look their best for whatever event they are participating in, but sometimes it can be challenging to decide what to wear. When you're at home or around your friends, casual clothes like jeans and t-shirts are the typical attire. However, if you plan on attending an important formal event, there's no doubt you will opt for formal or semi-formal attire.

What Is Semi Formal Attire?

infographic semi formal dress code for men

Semi-formal attire is a more casual version of a formal event. Semi-formals are parties where men may wear dark dress pants, preferably with a buttoned shirt, tie, and jacket. We have a full guide on semi-formal men's attire here. Women may wear anything from a dress to some nice slacks and a blouse. In some cases, jeans are acceptable as long as they are not ripped or torn (here's a guide on how to cuff jeans).

What Is Formal Attire?

Formals, also called Black Tie Affairs, are where men wear tuxedos or a suit. Compared to semi-formals, formal attire is much more expensive. Interestingly enough, recent studies by Columbia go further into discussing the Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing.

Formal attire

The Difference Between Formal and Semi-Formal Attire

Semi-formal means that the attire is more casual but still considered 'dressy.' You wouldn't wear a tuxedo to a semi-formal event. Instead, something much closer to business casual or business professional would be appropriate.

Casual dress shirts with dress pants would be appropriate for a semi-formal event. Even though this would not be considered formal attire, it would still be suitable for a semi-formal event. A casual tee shirt with jeans is too casual for a semi-formal event.

A casual shirt with dress pants would be appropriate for a semi-formal event. Even though this would not be considered formal attire, it would still be suitable for a semi-formal event. A casual tee shirt with jeans is too casual for a semi-formal event.

Casual attire

Formal attire means dressing to the nines. Formal events are typically black-tie affairs where you would wear black tie wedding attire, and can also include a white tie. The tuxedo would be appropriate for a formal event, but jeans or a casual dress would never be right at a formal event.

Many people are confused as to what the difference is between formal vs semi formal events. It can be challenging to understand the difference between the two dress codes. A good rule of thumb is if your event was promoted as 'black tie optional' or 'white tie,' it should always be considered formal. If it is anything less than this, even though it may still be dressy, it is deemed to be semi-formal.

What is Men's Formal Attire?

Men attending a formal event or a wake should always wear black or dark suits with matching ties. The socks may also match the color of the suit, but it's not mandatory to do so. Sneakers, white tennis shoes, boat shoes, and flip flops can never be appropriate for formal attire. Shoes must always be polished and without scuffs or dirt on them. Men attending formal events should always wear classic dress shoes with leather soles and heels.

(Our favorite slim fit dress shirt collection from Nimble Made)

A men's formal shirt should be buttoned to the top with a tie securely fastened around the collar. This is how long a tie should be. Some men prefer to wear bow ties instead of neckties for formal events, which is perfectly acceptable. Don't know how to tie a bow tie? We've got a separate guide for you.

Men can also wear vests or waistcoats with their suits instead of a full-length dress coat. In this case, the vest should be the same color as the suit and have no other embellishments except for a simple pattern. The vest color should also match the color of a man's tie. Remember to wear a belt with your pants; this is not an option.

A man's formal jacket should have sleeves that reach the wrist and end at the mid-thigh or below. There are also two-button jackets that are acceptable for events that require formal attire. A man can never wear a 3-button suit, but he can wear the other jackets, paired with the correct pants and shoes. A man's suit jacket should not be worn open. Here are a few ways to know whether you should get your suit jacket tailored.

What is Men's Semi-Formal Attire?

As previously mentioned, a semi-formal event is a more casual version of a formal occasion. This means that men attending semi-formal events may wear dress pants with the best buttoned white dress shirt and tie but not necessarily a jacket.

You can wear this white collared shirt to a semi-formal event, but it must be tucked into the pants and buttoned up. There are different regular collared and semi formal shirts, which you can still wear to a semi-formal occasion as long as it's not too casual. A 'polo' style shirt is considered more casual than other collared shirts. If a man chooses to wear a polo shirt, he should still tuck it in his pants and leave the top three buttons open. You can accessorize with cufflinks, neckties, and pocket squares. Here is a guide on how to put on cufflinks.

How to Style Semi-Formal Attire

When you're in the process of putting together a semi-formal attire, it is vital to make sure that you wear pieces that come from different sets. For instance, you can wear a dress shirts with a tie, a blazer, and jeans. A polo shirt under a blazer is also appropriate with dress pants or jeans. Other popular choices are button-up shirts under cardigans, vests over dress shirts, and blazers. You can also wear khaki shorts with polo and short-sleeved button-up shirts.

The essential rule about clothing for semi-formal occasions is that you look neat and pulled together. You can wear whatever you want as long as it fits well and does not appear to be a costume, a formal outfit, or a themed party attire. The outfit must always include classic pieces to look stylish and timeless rather than trendy and dated.

Semi-Formal Shirts

Dress shirt: a dress shirt is any button-up shirt, not button down, that has sleeves and usually has a collar. It does not matter if it is white, black, or colored, as long as it matches the rest of your semi-formal outfit. This is our favorite blue dress shirt for semi formal attire from Nimble Made:


Button up shirts: this kind of shirt can be a dark dress shirt and must be tucked into your pants.

Cell phone shirt: this is a dress shirt that also happens to have a pocket for your cell phone. You can wear this kind of shirt with slacks, khakis or jeans.

Polo shirts are popular choices when it comes to semi-formal attire. Polo shirts look best under a blazer since they already have short sleeves and collars. You can also choose to wear this type of shirt without a jacket or cardigan if you want something looser and more casual.

Semi-Formal Pants

Dress pants: these are also known as slacks or dress trousers. They come in many colors, patterns, and styles, including skinny leg pants, wide-leg pants, and boot cuts. Wearing a belt is necessary when you're wearing dress pants.

Chinos: chinos are khaki pants that look very similar to dress pants. They are appropriate to wear to semi-formal events as long as they are not too casual.

Khakis: semi-formal attire khaki pants include cotton twill pants that come in many colors and styles but can be worn to any semi-formal event so long as they are not ripped or wrinkled.

Jeans: although jeans are casual pants, you can wear them to semi-formal events as long as they fit well and look classy. Men who wish to wear jeans to a semi-formal event need to choose a dark wash that is not too light or distressed. Jeans can have holes in them but should never have any rips or tears.


Semi Formal Attire for Weddings

Weddings are events where attire is of the most importance. Semi-formal attire at weddings can also be interpreted in different ways. No one wants to be in the spotlight for misinterpreting the dress code, especially when the spotlight is reserved for the grooms and brides. For men, semi formal outfits can consist of a crisp white dress shirts and pressed navy pants with tie and jacket optional. Another semi formal attire option can be a dark colored dress shirt with dark pants and tan shoes. Most wedding receptions are held in the late afternoon or evening so having a jacket can come in handy. If the wedding dress code is unclear, ask the host to see what they may have in mind. If no dress code is provided, you can default to semi formal attire as its better to be overdressed than underdressed.


When to Wear Formal and Semi-formal Attire

Formal Attire

Most formal events are black-tie affairs. As such, everyone must wear a tuxedo or at least a dark suit with a bowtie or necktie. (Here's how a suit jacket should fit.) No jeans, athletic shoes, sneakers, boots, or sandals are allowed because this is considered too casual for a formal event. We have a separate guide on men's casual wedding attire.

Semi-formal Attire

Semi-formal attire is appropriate when you're attending a job interview, wedding, charity event, or black-tie event that starts in the early evening and lasts for only three hours. If it is after 6:00 pm and before 10:00 pm, then chances are it is a semi-formal event unless stated otherwise.

If you're looking for something slightly more casual like a business casual dress code or smart casual dress code, try these guides on how to wear a sweater over dress shirt and all-white outfit ideas.

Conclusion About Semi Formal Vs Formal Attire

With these simple guidelines, you will be able to put together the perfect outfit for a semi-formal event.

Do you want to see some options? Check out the best slim fit dress shirts guide.

Remember to choose classic pieces that you can wear time and time again. Combine this with your style, and you will be able to create memorable outfits that will turn heads everywhere.

Formal attire

FAQs About Formal Vs Semi Formal Attire

What is semi-formal dress code?

Semi-formal dress code is attire that is more casual than formal but still considered “'dressy.' A casual collared shirt or blouse with nicer pants or skirt would be appropriate for a semi-formal event. Even though this would not be considered formal attire, it would still be suitable for a semi-formal event. 

What is considered semi-formal attire for a man?

Semi-formal attire for a man can include a button up shirt with collar and slacks or dark pants. Men can bring a jacket and tie as optional accessories to wear. Here's a guide on wearing ties to job interview events. Semi-formal attire can include accessories like cufflinks, neckties, and pocket squares.

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