Semi-Formal Wedding Guest Attire 101

How to dress to impress when the lines are blurred.
Semi-Formal Wedding Attire 101
Photos, left to right: Lulus, Reformation, Banana Republic
tres dean Associate Menswear Editor
by
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 Nov 14, 2023
We have included third party products to help you navigate and enjoy life’s biggest moments. Purchases made through links on this page may earn us a commission.

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 and the line between casual and semi-formal can seem awfully thin for the uninitiated. According to The Knot's Real Weddings Study, which surveyed more than 12,000 newlyweds who were married in 2022, 64% of couples opted to have a semi-formal wedding. Why? It's neither not too fancy nor too casual, a sweet spot that ostensibly takes the pressure off guests off all varieties.

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 a situation 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 solicited expert advice and hand-picked several looks to inspire your choices when you're ready to start shopping.

In this article:

What Is Semi-Formal Wedding Attire?

Semi-formal wedding attire is the murky middle ground between formal and casual. It usually requires some traditionally formal pieces but frees up the ways you can wear them. "There's one thing this dress code is not," notes The Knot's senior fashion editor Naomi Rougeau. "An invitation to slack sartorially." For suiting, dress shirts and ties aren't required, nor are matching suit pieces. You can mix and match suit separates, work a sweater into the outfit (a great option for fall or winter weddings), or leave your tie at home. For those wearing dresses, something in a midi-length is perfect, though you're also welcome to experiment with jumpsuits, rompers, and separates.

Rougeau notes that weather should play a part in how you piece together your semi-formal wedding outfit and that it's an opportunity for self-expression and experimentation. "A beautifully tailored linen suit would be ideal for a summer wedding in Sicily while a snowy locale calls for textured fabrics such as flannels and velvets" she says. "Try to shirk the business world connotations that most suiting conjures up; a semi-formal event is your call to embrace the ambiguity as well as creative flourishes such as a particularly vibrant tie, pocket square, lapel pin, or jewelry that you couldn't necessarily get away with at the office but that will make for a unique look."

Semi-Formal Wedding Attire 101

If you're wondering what to wear to a semi-formal wedding, you've come to the right place. This dress code comes with a million questions, occupying the space between formal and casual. You want to toe that line without crossing it too far in either direction. Here are some of the most common questions about semi-formal wedding attire.

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 recommend mid-length or knee-length hemlines, 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 elaborate embellishments, since those indicate a swankier affair (and you run the risk of being overdressed or upstaging the wedding party).

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

Women should wear high heels or pumps though 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) and stay away from flip-flops and 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 Attire for Women at Weddings

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: 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

Lulus Take a Glance Tiered Mock Neck Midi Dress
Photo: Lulus

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

Vince Camuto Twist Front Long Sleeve Velvet Fit and Flare Dress

Vince Camuto Twist Front Long Sleeve Velvet Fit and Flare Dress
Photo: Nordstrom

In a festive holiday green, this velvet dress from Vince Camuto is semi-formal wedding chic incarnate. It's heavier fabric is a great call during the later months of the year.

Size Range: 0-18

Show Me Your Mumu Fleetwood Maxi Dress

Show Me Your Mumu Fleetwood Maxi Dress
Photo: Show Me Your Mumu

Channel your inner Daisy Jones with Show Me Your Mumu's fab fall semi-formal maxi dress. The print is full of autumnal vintage vibes and the cut can't be beat.

Size Range: XS-3XL

Abercrombie Long-Sleeve Wrap Midi Sweater Dress

Abercrombie Long-Sleeve Wrap Midi Sweater Dress
Photo: Abercrombie

Speaking of midi-length dresses, this one is perfect for fall semi-formal weddings. In classic black, it's a chic neutral look that's ripe for accessorizing with some statement pieces.

Size Range: XXS-XL

Anthropologie Short-Sleeve Square Neck Velvet Midi Dress

Anthropologie Short-Sleeve Square Neck Velvet Midi Dress
Photo: Anthropologie

Gold velvet is a tough look to top for a fall or winter wedding and this velvet midi dress from Anthropologie will ensure you look your best.

Size Range: XXS-XL

Reformation Angeline Knit Dress

Reformation Angeline Knit Dress
Photo: Reformation

Sleek, elegant, and just begging to be paired with a great pair of sandals or boots, the Angeline knit dress from Reformation is a can't-miss semi-formal wedding look.

Size Range: XS-XL

J. Crew Short-Sleeve Maxi Slip Dress

J. Crew Short-Sleeve Maxi Slip Dress
Photo: J. Crew

Coming in a seasonal shade of light beige, J. Crew's maxi slip dress is an elegant take on semi-formal wedding attire.

Size Range: 00-24

Eloquii Cross Front Midi Dress

Eloquii Cross Front Midi Dress
Photo: Eloquii

From the dark hue to the texture of the fabric, we love 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 a column skirt and statement sleeves.

Size Range: 14-28

Lulus Alluring Dream Navy Blue Floral Mesh Lace Trumpet Midi Dress

Lulus Alluring Dream Navy Blue Floral Mesh Lace Trumpet Midi Dress
Photo: Lulus

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 and the timeless navy blue color keeps it looking elegant and not too bold.

Size Range: XS-XL

Nordstrom Ruffle Front Gown

Nordstrom Ruffle Front Gown
Photo: Nordstrom

The texture, color, and drape of Nordstrom's ruffle front gown is impeccable. It's a stunner of a wedding look sure to impress at any ceremony, especially when styled with your favorite heels.

Size Range: 0-18

Semi-Formal Attire for Men at Weddings

Unsure how to dress for a semi-formal wedding as a male guest? Relax, there's no need to worry about donning a tux or bow tie. The formula is super simple: a suit with a button-up shirt and dress shoes (though with the right suit, you can also get away with a turtleneck sweater). For daytime events, a blazer and slacks or a lighter suit are 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 such as Brooks Brothers, Men's Wearhouse, and J. Crew are your friends when it comes time to put together these fits. Shop our examples below for maximum efficiency::

Awearness Kenneth Cole Slim-Fit Suit Coat

Awearness Kenneth Cole Slim-Fit Suit Coat
Photo: Men's Wearhouse

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

Ted Baker London Jay Trim Fit Wool Suit

Ted Baker London Jay Trim Fit Wool Suit
Photo: Nordstrom

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.

Size Range: 36S-48L

J. Crew Factory University Blazer

J. Crew Factory University Blazer
Photo: J. Crew

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

Wythe Oxford Cloth Button-Down

Wythe Oxford Cloth Button-Down
Photo: Wythe

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 a coffee run the next morning.

Size Range: XS-XXL

Morjas Penny Loafer Brown Grain

Morjas Penny Loafer Brown Grain
Photo: Morjas

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 its take on the loafer. They're a surefire way to tie together your semi-formal wedding suit.

Size Range: 5.5-13.5

Brooks Brothers Silk BB#2 Rep Striped Tie

Brooks Brothers Silk BB#2 Rep Striped Tie
Photo: Brooks Brothers

Semi-formal dress codes are the point at which you can start getting a little funky with your choice of necktie, especially since the accessory isn't required as a part of the outfit. Start your journey outside of the box with this striped stunner from Brooks Brothers, which would look great with an oxford and suit separates.

Banana Republic Ortiz Tweed Blazer

Banana Republic Ortiz Tweed Blazer
Photo: Banana Republic

A tweed blazer perfectly straddles the line between formal and casual, offering any number of ways to style your wedding fit. Wear this Ortiz blazer from Banana Republic with a cable-knit sweater, a nice dress shirt, or a rumpled oxford. Any of those will help you nail semi-formal wedding attire.

Size Range: 36S-48L

Madewell Roebling Pleated Trousers

Madewell Roebling Pleated Trousers
Photo: Madewell

Madewell's Roebling pleated trouser is flowy semi-formal perfection. It's a great addition to a suit separates arsenal, bringing the best out of a trusty navy or tweed blazer or reliable dress shirt.

Size Range: 28-38

Alex Mill Striped Mill Shirt

Alex Mill Striped Mill Shirt
Photo: Alex Mill

Alex Mill's signature button-down is a versatile piece of semi-formal sartoria. You can style this with a tie, open the collar, and wear it on its own, or layer with a sweater or sweater vest. You'll get as much use out of it at weddings as you do during the workweek.

Size Range: XS-XL

Bonobos Jetsetter Italian Flannel Suit

Bonobos Jetsetter Italian Flannel Suit
Photo: Bonobos

Sometimes you just need a great suit that can be styled for a variety of dress codes and mixed and matched with other suiting pieces when the mood strikes. If you're looking for this sort of jack-of-all-trades suit, Bonobos's Jetsetter is the way to go. It comes in a classic cut that won't go out of style, it's made from quality fabrics, and it's available in a wide variety of colors, fabrics, and patterns–though right now we're really into the brown flannel selection for fall and winter.

Size Range: 36S-46R

Up Next
  • A guest's guide to every type of wedding attire 2023.
    Wedding Guest Dress Codes, Decoded