Semi formal wear is a fairly vague term used to describe wardrobe etiquette that lies somewhere between formal and cocktail dress. Semi formal wear should be dressier and, in many cases, more conservative than cocktail attire, which tends to imply nighttime wear with some sex appeal. Semi formal wear is appropriate for a variety of special events, and variations depend on the season, time of day and nature of the occasion.
Semi Formal Occasions
A wide variety of occasions will request that you attend in semi formal attire. These may be more serious, conservative occasions like a funeral or memorial, a bar mitzvah or other religious ritual, graduations or a dinner in honor of a celebrated person, either personally or professionally related. Other semi formal occasions include school dances at the high school or post-secondary school level, weddings, fancy dinners or attending the theater or the ballet. These events tend to take place at night and focus more on having fun. As such, your semi formal wear may be less modest.
Semi Formal Wear for Women
For a daytime semi formal event in the spring or summer, a woman could wear a pretty summer dress, made of a light fabric like silk, chiffon or organza. Choose bright or pastel colors, or possibly a floral pattern to celebrate the season. A daytime semi formal dress should hover around the knee or extend to the ankle. Strapless is acceptable, but bring a cardigan or shawl if the event is taking place in a religious center. For a winter daytime event or a funeral, opt for darker, richer colors and more modest fabrics like wool or jersey. Nylons are recommended for any length of dress. Separates can also be worn but be careful, as it is difficult to make a suit look formal enough on a woman. You never want to look like you can just walk into work in your semi formal attire. For a nighttime event in any season, you may choose a shorter dress with more embellishment, such as beading or sequins. Longer evening gowns are also appropriate, though keep them sleek as large ball gowns will look out of place.
Semi Formal Accessories for Women
For semi formal events, women should always wear heels, or at least a dressy sandal. Heels should range anywhere from two to five inches. Bring an evening bag or clutch to the event. Hats are appropriate for daytime occasions, especially those that take place in a religious center. Jewelry should be worn tastefully and this is the time to bring out your best. Evening gloves are generally too formal but may be worn for some events, like a semi formal school dance.
Semi Formal Wear for Men
For a daytime event, men should wear dress pants and a collared shirt with dress shoes like oxfords or loafers. They may, however, choose not to wear a jacket or tie, or opt for a sports coat instead. Daytime semi formal suits can also be worn in lighter colors, like beige, but linen suits are too casual for semi formal occasions. For night, men should wear a jacket and tie, though for occasions like dances or weddings, it is acceptable to remove these items as the event progresses.
What Not to Wear
There are some definite fashion "don'ts" for semi formal occasions. Never wear shorts, pedal pushers, mini skirts, flip flops, winter or rain boots, sneakers, jeans, sportswear, baseball caps or other items associated with casual wear. If you are ever in doubt that your outfit is too casual, it probably is. It is always better to overdress for a semi formal occasion than to underdress. If you can't decide what to wear, women can't go wrong with a little black dress and men can always go for a simple black suit.
Andrea Whyte has worked as an academic and commercial writer since 2005. She has contributed to the "Canadian Film Encyclopedia" and written informative articles as a copywriter for a major Internet-marketing firm. Whyte holds a Master of Arts in cinema studies from the University of Toronto.