Mollie King's sophisticated black lace dress is an ideal choice for a semi-formal event.

Semi-Formal Dress Code Etiquette

by Sara Cantu

The basic rules of thumb for formal attire are quite evident: Dress to impress and steer clear of casual. However, the rules for semi-formal attire are much less obvious. Not quite formal, but not casual by any means, semi-formal attire should be a perfect mix of the two. Cocktail dresses for women and sleek suits for men are the ideal attire for semi-formal events. Additionally, a well-chosen accessory can easily transform semi-formal attire from simple to stunning in a flash.


When in doubt, opt for a little black dress to take you through a semi-formal occasion in sophistication. A short party dress is ideal for a semi-formal event, so choose a flouncy silhouette or chic cocktail dress. While long, formal dresses are not necessary for this type of occasion, a long skirt and dressy blouse would fit the bill nicely. Wearing a dress in a bright color like fuchsia or cobalt is a stylish way to make a statement at a semi-formal event, as is choosing fabrics like lace and silk to add an extra dose of elegance. Dressy separates like a sleek blazer and trousers are a fabulous option for a semi-formal gathering as well.


Men wishing to look stylish and appropriate for semi-formal events need look no further than a simple suit. Whether in a neutral color like navy or a statement-making hue, a suit and tie is a safe bet. If the event is particularly conservative, avoid anything loud that could cause a distraction. However, for school events and other occasions where fun is the name of the game, a stylish vest or tie in a bold color like teal or pink will speak volumes about your impeccable style.


The proper footwear for a semi-formal occasion is similar, if not identical, to that of formal occasions. Men should wear clean, polished dress shoes and dress socks to look appropriate. Women have more options, including embellished heels, simple peep-toe pumps or sleek, high-heeled sandals to choose from when searching for the perfect semi-formal shoe. Footwear that is classy and comfortable is key. Wobbling around in too-high heels is far from a good look to sport for such a special event.


The addition of glamorous accessories is the simplest way to jazz up attire to make it appropriate for a semi-formal gathering. For instance, a plain, black dress, while totally appropriate, can go from drab to fab quickly by pairing it with statement jewelry or an embellished clutch in a vivid hue. A fun, patterned tie is a great option for men to add a dose of personality to their ensemble. Whether it be a bright lipstick or jeweled hair clip on a woman or a pair of bright socks on a man, pairing semi-formal attire with unique add-ons showcases great style -- a necessity for any occasion.

About the Author

Sara Cantu has been writing fashion and lifestyle articles since 2009. As a fashion stylist, writer and blogger, she has been published in “Lady Couture” magazine and “RGV” magazine. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The University of Texas - Pan American.

Photo Credits

  • Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images