Semi-Formal Wedding Attire 101 for Guests

Find out what semi-formal wedding attire really means and shop our top picks for semi-formal attire for women and men.
tres dean Associate Menswear Editor
Tres Dean
tres dean Associate Menswear Editor
Tres Dean
Associate Menswear Editor
  • Tres writes and edits articles for The Knot, with a specialty in menswear and suiting.
  • He brings over a decade of expertise in the field garnered as a writer, editor, copywriter, and trend specialist.
  • Before joining The Knot he covered menswear for publications including GQ, AskMen, Men’s Health, Sharp Magazine, Highsnobiety, and Spy.
Updated Jun 16, 2023
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Just how formally are you supposed to dress for a semi-formal wedding? Semi-formal wedding attire is an extremely popular choice as far as dress codes go, but it's also one of the more ambiguous ones. The line between casual and semi-formal can seem awfully thin for those attending a wedding for the first time. According to The Knot Real Weddings Study, which surveyed more than 15,200 newlyweds who were married in 2021, 61% of couples opted to have a semi-formal wedding—probably because it's not too fancy or too casual, a sweet spot that ostensibly take the pressure off of the guests to go all-out.

Here's the simplest way to put it: semi-formal, which is sometimes known as "dressy casual," falls in between cocktail attire and black tie optional. While you won't need to show up in an evening gown or tuxedo, it's not the kind of soirée where anything goes, either. Below, we're outlining exactly what semi-formal wedding guest attire means for men and women, including some of the most common questions about this tricky dress code. We've also hand-picked a few looks to inspire your outfit for a semi-formal event just in case you're ready to start shopping.

In this article:

    Semi-Formal Wedding Attire FAQs

    Is semi-formal wedding attire the same as cocktail?

    Semi-formal and cocktail dress codes are relatively similar, but they're not the same. You can think of semi-formal wedding attire as a slightly toned-down, business-esque version of cocktail attire. These two dress codes overlap in the sense that shorter dress hemlines (think midi-length and high-low skirts) and suits—versus tuxedos—are both appropriate. While cocktail attire is all about eye-catching patterns, colors and statement accessories, semi-formal wedding attire is a little more understated. Solid, darker colors and subtle patterns, such as a classic floral print or stripe, are always safe bets for this dress code.

    Can I wear a floor-length dress to a semi-formal wedding?

    Traditionally, formal attire, black tie and white tie are the only wedding dress codes that require floor-length gowns. When it comes to semi-formal wedding attire for females, we'd recommend mid-length or knee-length hemlines instead, which are more on-par for this level of formality. If you do wear a floor-length dress, avoid choosing a style with beading or other fancy embellishments, since those indicate a swankier affair (and you run the risk of being overdressed).

    What shoes do you wear with semi-formal wedding attire?

    Women should wear high heels or pumps—dressy wedges and heeled booties also work. If you're not a heels person, a nice pair of embellished sandals or classic flats are appropriate. Leather brogues, oxfords, loafers and dress shoes are all good footwear choices for men attending a semi-formal wedding. Avoid sneakers (even if they're brand new), flip flops or casual boots.

    Can you wear jeans to a semi-formal wedding?

    Even though semi-formal is interchangeable with "dressy casual," you shouldn't take the phrase too literally. In general, we don't recommend wearing jeans for any type of wedding (even the most casual weddings, unless the couple explicitly allows denim), and especially not for a semi-formal dress code. Opt for dress pants or khakis instead, paired with a blazer or suit jacket and tie.

    Semi-Formal Wedding Attire for Women

    When you're shopping for semi-formal attire for women, you can skip the evening gown and wear a cocktail dress instead. Dressy jumpsuits, rompers and separates are also appropriate semi-formal wedding attire options. Finally, use accessories to your advantage: matching jewelry can elevate something on the casual side, while block heel sandals (versus rhinestone-covered stilettos) can tone down a fancier ensemble. If you're looking to shop around and explore, stores like Anthropologie, Reformation, and Nordstrom are going to have excellent semi-formal options. Here are some shoppable outfit ideas we love when it comes to semi-formal wedding attire for female guests.

    Lulus Take a Glance Tiered Mock Neck Midi Dress

    This tiered navy blue dress is an alternative to your basic LBD. The high neckline, satin finish and midi-length keep it feeling more formal, while ruffled sleeves add just the right amount of festive detail.

    Size Range: XS-XXL

    City Chic Lace Touch Dress

    For semi-formal wedding attire in the fall and winter, we love the idea of rocking a seasonal hue. This burgundy dress is topped with a lace bodice to elevate the basic silhouette.

    Size Range: XXS-XL

    Show Me Your Mumu Eden Midi Dress

    Choose a fitted midi dress to act as your blank slate for shoes and other accessories to complete your look. This classic sleeveless number has a hint of stretch to hug your curves, and it's available in eight different colors (although we love this muted sage hue).

    Size Range: XS-XXL

    Abercrombie & Fitch Slip Midi Dress

    Speaking of midi dresses, this one is perfect for outdoor semi-formal weddings. The blue and white floral print is our favorite but it's available in four different color choices.

    Size Range: XXS-XXL

    Farm Rio x Anthropologie Printed One-Shoulder Ruffle Dress

    This one-shoulder maxi dress Anthropologie has created with Farm Rio is elegant and eye-catching, with a stunning pattern perfect for a semi-formal wedding. Pair it with chic sandals for garden and backyard affairs.

    Size Range: XXS-XL (Plus and Petite Available)

    Reformation Zaid Dress

    With a deep-V neckline and a floral neutral print, Reformation's Zaid dress is incredibly versatile. Pair with a sandal for a summer soiree or dress up with a heel and some statement earrings.

    Size Range: 0-12

    Reformation Twilight Dress Es

    Available in a stunning emerald green hue, this chiffon midi dress keeps you comfortable and looking polished. Adjustable tie straps and a smocked bodice ensure the perfect fit.

    Size Range: 14-24

    J. Crew Gwyneth Slip Dress

    J. Crew's Gwyneth is the sort of slip dress anyone can rock. It's available in five colors and patterns (we're obsessed with the Retro Jade) and a wide array of sizes, including classic, petite, and tall fits.

    Size Range: 00-24

    Eloquii Cross Front Midi Dress

    From the rosy hue to the texture of the fabric, we're loving Eloquii's cross-front mini dress for anyone looking for the perfect outdoor wedding 'fit. It looks equally chic on a ranch or garden estate thanks to its column skirt and statement sleeves.

    Size Range: 14-28

    Lulus Alluring Dream Navy Blue Floral Mesh Lace Trumpet Midi Dress

    Amp up your ensemble with a fitted lace dress. This one has a flared trumpet skirt for extra sass—it's a great pick for an evening wedding at a swanky venue. The timeless navy blue color keeps it looking elegant and not too bold.

    Size Range: XS-XL

    Semi-Formal Wedding Attire for Men

    Don't know how to dress for a semi-formal wedding as a male guest? No need to worry about donning a tux or bow tie. The formula is super simple: a suit with a button-down shirt and dress shoes (though with the right suit to go with it you can get away with a turtleneck sweater). For daytime events a blazer and slacks or a lighter suit is always reliable, but for evening weddings (or if you want to err on the side of caution), we suggest wearing a classic dark suit. Finish your look with a standard necktie—other accessories, like cufflinks, a pocket square or a vest, are completely optional. Classic retailers like Brooks Brothers, Men's Wearhouse, and J. Crew are your friend when it comes time to put together for these fits. Shop our examples below if you're still wondering what to wear to a wedding with a semi-formal dress code.

    Awearness Kenneth Cole Slim Fit Suit

    A classic black suit is always a winner. This one from Kenneth Cole's Awearness line is cut slim and sure to make you look your best.

    Size Range: 36S-60L

    Suitsupply Sand Havana Suit

    Let the season inspire your outfit color palette—lighter suits are a smart pick for warmer weather. We like the modern, slim design of this one, and the linen-silk-wool blend is breathable for sunny days.

    Size Range: Made to Measure

    Ted Baker London Jay Trim Fit Wool Suit

    If black isn't your color, or if you want a slightly more casual look, consider a dark blue option instead. Ted Baker London crushed this one, making the perfect suit for semi-formal weddings and beyond. It has a subtle check print while remaining versatile enough to wear again and again.

    Brooks Brothers Regent Fit Seersucker Double Breasted Suit

    Summer is the perfect time for seersucker and a semi-formal wedding is the perfect time to bust out a seersucker suit. Brooks Brothers has been doing this sort of classic Americana ritz since before your favorite designer was born and they're still the first place you should call for a fit like this.

    Size Range: 38-48

    J. Crew Factory University Blazer

    Those looking to mix suit separates (and channel old-school Ivy style) would do well with a navy blazer with gold buttons. Pair this one from J. Crew with some dressy chinos or grey suit trousers and you'll be looking like a million bucks..

    Size Range: 34-46

    Banana Republic Gavin Linen Double-Breasted Suit

    We've said it before and we'll say it again: if you haven't already added a double-breasted suit to your wardrobe, the time has come. Those looking to wear a slightly unconventional take on one to their next semi-formal wedding should check out the Gavin suit from Banana Republic, which comes with textured buttons and an unstructured look that can be dressed up for the ceremony and paired down for the reception.

    Size Range: 34S-48L

    Wythe Oxford Cloth Button Down

    A button-down oxford shirt perfectly bridges the gap between casual and formal–in other words, the exact zone you should be aiming for at a semi-formal wedding. The folks at Wythe have basically perfected the art of shirting and their classic white oxford will look great with just about any suit you pair it with. You can also throw it on for an impromptu coffee run the next morning.

    Size Range: XS-XXL

    Morjas Penny Loafer Brown Grain

    In terms of the dress code scale of formality, semi-formal is the point at which it's cool to rock a great pair of penny loafers (socks or no socks, your call). Swedish brand Morjas has spent the last few years perfecting their take on the loafer. They're a surefire way to tie together your semi-formal wedding suit.

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