What is Semi-Formal Attire for Men?

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If you’re not sure what to wear to a semi-formal event, you’re not alone. 

Attire types have always been somewhat nebulous. 

Descriptions like black tie and white tie are fairly obvious, but after that there’s a lot of overlap between the various categories, which makes it hard to tell them apart. 

People dressed in semi-formal attire
[image: Nejron Photo / Shutterstock]

Making matters worse, the world has grown increasingly more casual over the past decade or so, making it harder and harder to understand what, exactly, constitutes a semi-formal look.

To help you navigate the murky waters of men’s dress code norms, in this post I’ll explain exactly what semi-formal means, and what you should wear to your next even.

Then we’ll break down the differences between semi-formal and other common types of men’s attire, and show you how to optimize your overall look if the dress code calls for semi-formal clothing.

Step Up Your Semi-Formal Style:

The Definitive Guide to Semi Formal Attire for Men

First, the Definition: 

What is Semi-Formal Attire for Men?

While the term “semi-formal” might seem confusing, it simply refers to attire that’s dressier than casual wear, but not as formal as black tie. Essentially, semi-formal means wearing a suit, but not a tuxedo, resulting in a perfect balance between dressy and casual. 

Man wearing blue suit
[image: Adeolu Eletu / Unsplash]

“Essentially, semi-formal means wearing a suit, but not a tuxedo”

Semi-formal attire offers a comfortable but sophisticated look (especially if you opt for a stretch suit).

It’s also versatile, and suitable for everything from a daytime event, like a lunch meeting or work event, to social events like a cocktail party or big first date, and even special occasions, like evening weddings. 

Must Wear:
The Semi-Formal Suit 

Man wearing grey suit
[image: Phil Shaw / Unsplash]

In terms of what clothes count as semi-formal attire, the single most foundational piece is the suit. 

Pair it with a crisp white or light-colored dress shirt and some well made dress shoes to complete the look. 

It’s your best option because it can easily be dressed up by adding accessories like a tie, or dressed down by removing your suit jacket altogether. 

In terms of color, a well-tailored, two-piece dark suit in a conservative color like navy, gray, or charcoal is the best choice because they’re versatile, so they can work pretty much anywhere. 

Lighter colors like sky blue, beige and white can also work well in summer, but in a lot of places you can’t get away with wearing a lighter suit year-round, so darker colors are more versatile. 

Optional, But Optimal:
Semi-Formal Accessories 

Man in blue suit adjusting pocket square
[image: Benjamin Rascoe / Unsplash]

Accessories like a pocket square, lapel pins or a streamlined wristwatch add a touch of class that can further help you stand out from the crowd.

Ties were traditionally mandatory for semi-formal events, but as the world has become more casual, they’ve become more optiona.

Nonetheless, I still highly recommend starting with one. 

You can always take it off if you’re the only person wearing one, but if you show up without one when everyone else is knotted up, you’ll both look and feel out of place. 

Semi-Formal vs Formal Attire

[Semi Formal and Formal images: Benjamin Rascoe / Unsplash]

If you want to avoid a fashion faux pas, understanding the difference between semi-formal and formal attire is crucial. 

Here are the main distinctions between the two:

Suits vs Tuxedos 

Side by side picture of man wearing a grey suit and a blue tuxedo

At black-tie events, like really formal dinners or fancy weddings, a tuxedo is the norm. But for semi-formal occasions, a two-piece, single-breasted suit is more appropriate.

The suit can still be in a dark color like black, navy blue or charcoal, but darker hues aren’t mandatory. 

In fact, if the event takes place entirely outdoors or during the daytime, a lighter colored suit is a good option. (And if the temperature is hot, it’s also a good idea to opt for a lightweight fabric, like a linen blend.) 


Black-tie events (obviously) require certain accessories, like a black bow tie, a cummerbund, and patent leather shoes. 

But semi-formal attire calls for less extravagant accessories, such as ties, pocket squares, and genuine leather or even suede dress shoes.

Shirt and Collar Type

Two mannequins with different types of shirt collars
[left image: Logan Weaver / Unsplash; right image: Renee Olmsted / Pixabay]

A tuxedo shirt often features a wing collar, which is the type of collar that has two small “wings” instead of a full piece of fabric that wraps around your entire neck.

Semi-formal shirts, on the other hand, typically have a spread or point collar.

Tuxedo shirts can also sometimes feature a spread or point collar, which can make things a bit confusing.

But wing collars are really only appropriate for wearing with a bow tie, so if your shirt has a wing collar, it’s not appropriate for semi-formal events.

Semi-Formal Wedding Attire for Men

A semi-formal wedding
[image: Jakob Owens / Unsplash]

Back when my dad was a younger man, dressing for weddings was easy, because a wedding automatically meant a black suit (or at least a dark-colored suit), a crisp white dress shirt and some well-shined black shoes.

The good news is that the rise of outdoor and unconventional wedding receptions has made semi-formal wedding attire a lot more popular, presenting style-conscious guys with the perfect opportunity to add some personal expression to their looks. 

But as I alluded to above, the bad news is that it can be hard to understand the main difference between semi-formal attire and other dress code categories, like dressy casual or business attire. 

Here are a few tips that will help you dress not just appropriately, but attractively, at semi-formal weddings.  

Suit Up 

Man wearing green suit
[image: Justin Ortega / Unsplash]

As mentioned, a two-piece suit is the cornerstone of semi-formal wedding attire. 

(A three-piece suit is dapper as hell, but a little bit too formal if the wedding invitation specifically calls for semi-formal.)

Choose a suit in a darker color, like navy or charcoal, for an evening event. If it’s a daytime event or you’re in a warmer climate, a lighter shade of gray or beige can also work. 

Don’t Shirk the Shirt 

Man wearing slim fit dress shirt and tie
[image: Taylor Grote / Unsplash]

Pair your suit with a well-fitting dress shirt. A classic white shirt is unimpeachable, and works well with literally every suit color.  

But if you’re wearing a lighter color suit, then complementary colors in a lighter shade can also work. For instance, a pale blue shirt works great with a beige or light grey suit. 

But by light colors, I don’t mean bright colors. 

Really loud, bold colors like neon pink might help you stand out, but usually not in a good way. 

Tie One On

Man wearing black suit adjusting tie
[image: Ruthson Zimmerman / Unsplash]

As mentioned, a tie is an essential part of semi-formal wedding attire. Your best bet is to stick with solid colors or simple patterns, such as stripes or small polka dots, to maintain an air of sophistication.

And if you get to the wedding only to find that a tie feels out of place (or you need to shed a few layers after working up a sweat on the dance floor), you can always ditch it. 

Dress (Your Shoes) to Impress 

Man wearing black monk strap dress shoes
[image: Benjamin Rascoe / Unsplash]

A dressy suit requires a dressy pair of shoes. 

Pretty much any type of dress shoe will work well, including brogues, Oxfords or (my personal favorite) double monk straps, as long as they’re polished and in good condition.  

But dress shoes don’t have to be uncomfortable. Nowadays you can find plenty of sharp, well made dress shoes with memory foam footbeds, which are just as comfortable as sneakers, but look a lot sharper. 

Optional Accessories 

Basic elements like a pocket square, lapel pin or a good wristwatch are all great options that add a personal touch and help elevate your look. (Cufflinks, on the other hand, are a little too formal.) 

Just remember to keep them simple and tasteful. Remember: you’re going semi formal, not informal.

Semi-Formal vs Cocktail Attire

[Semi Formal image: Benjamin Rascoe / Unsplash; Cocktail Attire image: Indochino]

Cocktail attire is another dress code that can be confusing, especially since women can get away with wearing a cocktail dress to both semi-formal and cocktail events. 

Here a few factors that help delineate between the two:

Suit Style 

Theo James in The White Lotus
The loud suits and shirts Theo James wore in White Lotus are perfect for cocktail attire.
[image: HBO]

While both semi-formal and cocktail attire involve suits, cocktail attire allows for more experimentation with suit colors, fabrics and patterns. 

Remember all the loud patterns and colorful suits that Theo James’s character, Cam, wore on season two of The White Lotus

That kind of thing is perfect for cocktail attire, but a little too loud for semi-formal events.  

Tie Flexibility 

In semi-formal attire, a tie is usually expected (and, again: encouraged). 

But with cocktail attire, there are no hard and fast rules around neckwear. 

You have the option to forgo the tie and opt for an open-collar dress shirt, which might be the better move, depending on the venue and the time of day of the party. 

Level of Sophistication 

Man wearing pink blazer and red polo shirt
Cocktail attire allows you more leeway than Semi-formal when it comes to different colors, textures and patterns
[image: Bonobos]

Though it’s not as rigid or stuffy as proper formal wear, semi-formal attire still leans more towards the conservative side. 

Cocktail attire, on the other hand, provides an opportunity to unleash your inner peacock and showcase the bigger, brighter and bolder side of your personal style. 

In cocktail settings, you’re free to experiment with textured or patterned shirts, brightly colored polo shirts, unique accessories, and statement shoes. 

Event Type 

Semi-formal attire is more suitable for the types of events where most guys opt for a dark blue suit, like weddings or work functions.

In contrast, cocktail attire is usually reserved for social gatherings, like dinner parties or networking events, where you can be a bit more adventurous with your ensemble.

Semi-Formal vs Business Casual Attire

[Semi Formal image: Benjamin Rascoe / Unsplash; Business Casual image: Ground Picture / Shutterstock]

Even though they’re used at quite different types of events – when was the last time you went to a business casual wedding? – a lot of people tend to confuse semi-formal attire with business casual attire

To set the record straight, let’s break down the key differences between the two:

Suit Requirement 

This is the easiest way to tell the two styles apart, because with a semi-formal dress code, a suit is mandatory,

But in a business casual setting, you can pair dress pants or chinos with a button-down shirt and a blazer, or even a nice sweater. 

Tie Rules 

Again, with semi-formal attire there’s a pretty hard-and-fast rule, but business casual is much looser. 

Ties are expected in semi-formal attire, whereas in business casual settings they’re entirely optional. 

With that said, in my opinion rocking a tie when you don’t have to is one of the best ways to look more handsome and attractive, so I think it’s definitely worth doing in a business casual setting.

Dress Shirt Variations 

Man wearing business casual shirt
[image: State & Liberty]

In semi-formal attire, dress shirts are usually plain, light-colored, or subtly patterned, all of which tend to look better under a suit. 

Business casual, on the other hand, allows for more freedom in shirt styles and colors, including bold patterns or darker shades, which can make a statement when worn on their own. 


This one’s probably the most confusing, since both semi-formal and business casual attire call for dress shoes. 

But business casual can be more relaxed in terms of style. 

You can easily get away with loafers or dress boots in a business casual setting, whereas semi-formal events require a proper style of dress shoe. 

Semi Formal Attire for Men Images

Speaking as someone who’s written hundreds of blog posts about men’s style, this probably sounds contradictory, but I happen to think the old adage is right: 

A picture is worth a thousand words. 

So to help bring the concept home, below you’ll find a bunch of great semi-formal outfit ideas to inspire your next getup. 

Man wearing white suit
Man wearing black suit
Man wearing blue suit no tie
Man wearing grey pinstripe suit
Man wearing blue suit leaning on bar
Man wearing beige suit
Man wearing blue suit


What is semi formal attire for a man?

As mentioned above, semi formal attire for men is a mix between full-on formal wear, like black bow ties and tuxedos, and a more casual look. It usually consists of a two-piece suit, a tie and dress shoes. 

What is semi formal attire considered?

Style has gotten much more casual nowadays, so semi-formal attire is considered “dressed up” by modern standards. Most people only wear semi-formal attire at events like weddings, nice dinners or other special occasions, so it’s definitely considered dressier than your day-to-day clothes.

Can I wear jeans in semi-formal?

No, jeans are generally not considered appropriate for semi-formal attire. Semi-formal events call for a polished and refined look, which usually means a well-tailored suit with dress pants. Jeans, even if they’re dark and well-fitted, are still considered casual wear, and don’t satisfy semi-formal dress codes. 

What are examples of semi-formal dress code?

Probably the best example of a semi-formal dress code is a navy blue suit with a white dress shirt, a dark burgundy color tie and a pair of sharp brown dress shoes. 

Where to Buy a Semi Formal Outfit for Men

Now that you know (damn-near) everything about how to dress for semi-formal events, the only question left to address is where to shop for the best semi-formal suits, shirts and other outfit staples.

To that end, below are a few of my favorite places to buy suits and other semi-formal clothes that are stylish, well made and affordable.


Indochino suit

State & Liberty

State & Liberty suit


blue suit from Bonobos

More Resources ↓

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About Dave Bowden

Dave Bowden

Founder, Irreverent Gent
Author, Man in Command and Stop Doubting, Start Dating
Writer, Really Wordy Author Bios

Dave Bowden is a style blogger, menswear expert and best-selling author (in Canada—but still!) whose advice on how to look good and live well has been featured in New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Men's Health and more.

When not obsessing over style and self-improvement, he can usually be found spending time with his wonderful wife and two amazing sons, indulging in a hoppy craft beer, or sobbing over the woeful state of Toronto's sports teams.

Check out Dave's Style Story to find out how a chance encounter with his friend's step-dad taught him the value of looking good and living well (don't worry—it's less creepy than it sounds!), or email him at [email protected] if you want to get in touch.