Dressing for a semi-formal event can either be a blast or completely confusing. Whether you love to throw on a fancy frock or need some more options, modern guidelines can help. Semi-formal or cocktail attire doesn’t just mean a little black dress. Today you can show your personal style with a range of ensembles from dresses to tuxedo pants. Once you know your options, the most important elements to creating your best semi-formal outfit are dressing for your body, the occasion and the season.


The Basics

Attending a semi-formal or cocktail event used to mean dresses only for ladies. Nowadays sleek separates like dress pants and skirts can also be appropriate semi-formal attire. Stick with something in a luxe fabric, like jacquard, lace or chiffon. Any length dress between mid-thigh and mid-calf is suitable for semi-formal occasions. When opting for a skirt, use the same length guidelines for pencil and A-line silhouettes. Pair a skirt with a fancy chiffon or lace blouse, or fitted cashmere sweater and statement necklace. If you’re more comfortable in pants, try the same blouse or sweater with a slim, ankle-length trouser in a dark color and high heels.

Dress for Your Body

Choosing pieces that balance proportions on your particular figure will fit and flatter from every angle. The fit-and-flare silhouette is a flattering style option for any shape. It is fitted on top with seaming or a belt at the natural waist, and an A-line skirt to create that hourglass look. Try a short cocktail dress in this silhouette or do a fitted blouse on top with an A-line skirt. Balance top-heavy proportions with a high neckline and voluminous skirt or wide-leg pant. A wide boat- or V-neckline on top helps balance pear shapes, so try a classic wrap dress with a sparkling necklace and heels.

Suit the Occasion

Occasions like holiday parties, corporate events and weddings often have a semi-formal dress code. Whether you wear a dress or separates, accessories like jewelry, a clutch handbag and shoes add polish to your look. If you are attending a semi-formal daytime event, choose lighter colors and keep jewelry more minimal. You can still wear those black dress pants, just pair them with a nude pump and pastel chiffon blouse to lighten your look. Flatter a fuller figure with a straight-leg pant and heels to create a long, lean leg line. In lieu of high heels, statement jewelry and a metallic clutch bag dress up your look.

Seasonal Variety

Extreme weather can require some tweaks to your semi-formal attire. Keep cool for outdoor summer events with light yet elegant fabrics like chiffon, organza and lace. Going sleeveless or even strapless is an option, just make sure the neckline is well-fitted if you’re top heavy. A strapless lace peplum top with a knee-length pencil skirt and heels is feminine summer cocktail attire. Stay cozy during winter events with opaque tights under an A-line skirt paired with a fitted cashmere sweater and jeweled necklace. A-lines flatter every body type, from hourglass to pear-shaped. Look sophisticated indoors and out by wearing a tailored wool coat over your semi-formal winter ensemble.