What Is Semi-Formal Dress for Women?

Updated April 17, 2017

Semi-formal wear for women is a popular dress code at events ranging from business to pleasure. Because the event is neither casual nor formal, it can be challenging to pinpoint precisely what classifies as semi-formal wear. Bear in mind that your overall look should be tasteful and modest, while maintaining your individuality. By following a few rules, you can be certain that you will be neither over nor underdressed.

Types of Events

Weddings, cocktail parties and after-hours business functions tend to have a semi-formal dress code. Often times the dress code is specified at the bottom of an event invitation. If the invite reads, Semi-Formal, After Five or Business Formal, chose your outfit following the semi-formal dress code. If you are unsure of the dress code for the event, ask. It is better to be certain than to show up and be turned away at the door, or worse, stand out for being dressed too casually.

Dress for Success

Women have many options when choosing semi-formal clothing. Choices range from a cocktail dress to a tailored dressy suit. A classic semi-formal favourite is the little black dress. If you choose to wear a pantsuit, be sure it is well tailored so you don’t look sloppy. For dresses and skirts, it is of the utmost importance to know that semi-formal skirt lengths fall between the knee and ankle.

Be sure not to wear a dress that is floor length or above the knee, as this alone will push you into a formal or casual category of dress. Another rule that must be obeyed is to look crisp and clean. Take the time to have your garments dry cleaned or ironed to ensure you look your best.


Medium to high heels are the preferred choice for semi-formal dress. While some flat shoes may be dressy enough to work with the semi-formal outfit, never wear sneakers or flip-flops. Whatever you choose, remember that you will likely be on your feet a lot, so pick footwear that will be comfortable enough to allow you to enjoy the event.

Material Matters

Basic materials that are considered dressy enough for semi-formal attire include wool crepe, satin, silk, cashmere, and velvet. Never show up at a formal event wearing jersey cotton, leather, or denim. No matter how tasteful your clothing, these materials do not work at a semi-formal event.

Finishing Touches

Complete the semi-formal look by accessorising. A tasteful selection of jewellery can enhance your outfit. Likewise, too much jewellery or gaudy accessories can make your outfit appear tasteless. While the event requires your outfit to fit into a certain category, accessories can allow your personality to shine through and showcase your assets.

Bring a small handbag or clutch that compliments your outfit. Pashminas or shawls are also popular as they allow you to cover your shoulders while also providing an extra splash of colour.

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