Your Shopping Cart

It appears that your cart is currently empty!

Continue shopping

Semi-formal vs. Formal | How to Choose the Right Clothes

We may earn a small commission from product links. Blog posts at Nimble Made are written to provide value and advice for our readers—any product(s) we recommend are items readers use and love.



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 semi-formal or formal attire.

A semi-formal 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. 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.

Formals, also called Black Tie Affairs, are where men wear tuxedos. Compared to semi-formals, formal attire is much more expensive.

Formal

The Difference Between Formal and Semi-Formal

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 would be appropriate.

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

Formal attire means dressing to the nines. Formal events are typically black-tie affairs 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 semi-formal and 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' 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.

Men's Formal Attire

Men attending a formal event 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.

A men's formal shirt should be buttoned to the top with a tie securely fastened around the collar. Some men prefer to wear bow ties instead of neckties for formal events, which is perfectly acceptable.

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.

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 a buttoned shirt and tie but not necessarily a jacket.

You can wear a collared shirt to a semi-formal event, but it must be tucked into the pants and buttoned up. There are different regular collared 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.

How to Style a Semi-Formal Outfit

When you're in the process of putting together a semi-formal outfit, it is vital to make sure that you wear pieces that come from different sets. For instance, you can wear a dress shirt and tie with 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 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.

Button up shirts: this kind of shirt must be tucked into your pants and have buttons down to the top.

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: 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.

When to Wear Formal and Semi-formal Attire

Formal

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. No jeans, athletic shoes, sneakers, boots, or sandals are allowed because this is considered too casual for a formal event.

Semi-formal

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.

Conclusion

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