What Clothes Are Semi-Formal?

Written by samantha laros
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What Clothes Are Semi-Formal?
The cocktail dress is a common semi-formal garment. (Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)

A party invitation reading "semi-formal attire" can trigger anxiety for the recipient. What, exactly, is semi-formal? Dictionary.com loosely defines the term as "containing some formal elements." There are several garments which have elements of formality, and choosing one or more of these pieces will help you achieve the semi-formal look.

The Coctkail Dress

In the genre of dresses, the cocktail dress hovers the line between casual and formal, making it the appropriate or a semi-formal occasion. It's a step above a cotton sundress and a step below a ball gown or a wedding gown. The fashion glossary composed by NewYorkDress.com defines "cocktail-length" as "just above to just below the knee," listing examples of dresses in all colours, made from a variety of materials, adorned with accents such as feathers, bows and rhinestones.

The Blazer

The blazer is a tool which can help both men and women achieve a semi-formal look. For men, it is a step above a plain dress shirt, and a step below a suit or tuxedo jacket. If the occasion is business related, such as a conference or an interview, a blazer can add formality and professionalism to a woman's outfit. Blazers themselves are versatile garments that run the gamut: some are made with built-in shoulder pads while others display graphics.


If you decide on a pants suit or a skirt and top combination, choose heels rather than flats, as heels have the ability to dress up an outfit, from dresses, to jeans and even tights. They are sought after for their ability to accentuate a woman's legs and backside, add class and sophistication to every type of female outfit, and warrant compliments to the wearer from both sexes.

What Clothes Are Semi-Formal?
High heels add formality to most outfits. (Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Common Semi-Formal Occasions

Occasions to which you should wear the above semi-formal garments include, but are not limited to: exclusive birthday parties and some weddings. The dress code of each event should be clearly stated on the invitation. If not, it's best to ask the host, rather than try to guess the right outfit. And ladies, if time is running out and you are still unsure what to wear, consider the age-old simple black dress. As designer Karl Lagerfeld once said, "One is never overdressed or underdressed with a little black dress."

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