8 Types of Semi-Formal Attire For Men Explained for 2024

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Weddings. Holiday parties. Dinner for two at Per Se. Awkward post-conference cocktail hours in the Grand Ballroom of some Hyatt in some city. Whoever you are and wherever you live, there’s just no escaping the semi-formal occasion.

But… semi-formal? Super ambiguous, right? What is semi-formal attire for men and how does it differ from formal-formal attire? Look, a lot of this is open to interpretation—how you dress for certain occasions depends on your personal style, what you can successfully pull off, and whether or not you’re willing to conform to societal norms.

Want to rock a Bermuda suit for your cousin’s wedding? Go for it. But for the purposes of today’s chat, we’re going to adopt a more mainstream approach to defining just what a semi-formal dress code for men actually is. Yes, blazers, dress pants, ties, and nice shoes are all involved. But so is a lot of nuance.

So line up those save the dates and don’t stress, my brother in sartorial arms. We’ve got this.

Key Takeaways

The key to nailing semi-formal attire for men is… actually, there is no key. As long as you stay within the lines of what’s considered universally “acceptable,” there’s plenty of room to add pops of color and personal touches.

At a minimum, you’ll need a suit or blazer, plus dress pants, dress shoes, and a dress shirt or two. Suitsupply’s Havana is an approachably priced suit of the go-anywhere, do-anything ilk. And if you need a classic Oxford to wear under it, Charles Tyrwhitt’s are about as versatile as it gets.

man sitting on top of a park bench
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What is semi-formal attire for men?

Full suits, a smart combination of a blazer and trousers, dress shirts, dress shoes, and ties all fall under the wide umbrella of what constitutes semi-formal attire for men. While semi-formal outfits should be thoughtful and elevated, they allow more room for expressing your personal style through accessories and colorful touches than formal attire.

Suitsupply Navy Perennial Havana Suit

Semi-formal suits are the cornerstone of every wedding season, holiday party circuit, and any other occasion that falls somewhere between chinos and black tie. Every man needs a quality, mid-range suit in his arsenal for whenever social duty calls. And good news: Your options are pretty much endless. Mix and match blazers with chinos. Navy up top, khaki below.

Personally, I’ve worn my navy Suitsupply Havana Suit to damn near every type of occasion throughout the years and it’s always looked and felt just right. If you only plan on having one of two go-to suits, stick with versatile colors like navy, black, or dark gray. Not only do they look sharp, but you can easily add in pops of color to show some style and personality.

Charles Tyrwhitt Non-Iron Royal Oxford Shirt

When choosing a semi-formal shirt, your knee-jerk reaction might be to pick the first random button-down you see and call it a day. But think about it. Whether you’re at a wedding, a work function, or on a date, the evening will inevitably progress. Ties and conversation will loosen. Hair will be let down. And eventually, that jacket is going to come off. So let’s not rush this part.

Let’s make sure your semi-formal shirt is comfortable, breathable, and durable. But let’s also make sure it looks great and is ready for prime time when your blazer inevitably takes the bench. You can’t go wrong with a classic like Charles Tyrwhitt’s Oxford, but don’t be afraid to pop on a subtle seersucker shirt or add some color to the mix if the occasion feels right.

Velasca Maester

When it comes to semi-formal footwear, shiny tuxedo shoes need not apply. At your disposal are anything from Oxfords and derbies to loafers and sneakers. Yes, that last one’s more of a pro move and calls for the right season and occasion, but it’s still acceptable if coordinated properly.

But otherwise, your best bet is to go with a versatile, traditional option like a handsome pair of penny loafers from Velasca. They come in several colors, making coordination with the rest of your getup a breeze, and are super comfortable. Loafers and a solid pair of lace-ups should be your first pickups as far as semi-formal shoes, but the sky’s the limit from there.

Myrqvist Oscar Cotton Socks

Another crucial component to your semi-formal look, dress socks should be considered anything but an afterthought. Before getting creative with your picks, make sure you have a solid rotation of comfortable, high-quality socks in the usual-suspects range of neutral colors: black, navy, and gray.

A great place to start is with Myrqvist’s Oscar socks made of the ever-breathable cotton. From there, feel free to mix things up a bit with some colorful patterns or bright, solid colors. Bonus points for matching them with a pocket square or your button-down.

Selfmade Roosevelt II

Rounding out every self-respecting semi-formal dress code for men is a classic pair of sunglasses. Though you’ll never want to wear them indoors on any semi-formal occasion (just… promise me you’ll never do that), wearing sunglasses to certain events is absolutely deemed acceptable.

In fact, outdoor weddings and beachside soirees are all but begging for the right pair of shades. A classic pair of wayfarers or round tortoiseshell sunglasses are always stylish accompaniments to a tailored suit or blazer. As are an understated pair of sun-blockers that play nice with any outfit and occasion.

Mismo M/S Suit Carrier

Of course, not every occasion is going to take place in your neck of the woods. For out-of-town weddings, holiday parties, and other away-game events, you’re going to need a travel bag for toting your semi-formal attire around in style.

For overnight or weekend trips where you won’t be packing much, a handsome suit carrier like a classic cotton and canvas number from Mismo should be all you need. Otherwise, a roomy weekender bag or minimalist rolling carry-on are solid backup options.

ARMANI EXCHANGE Stretch poly wool blend blazer

Another opportunity to have some fun with your semi-formal style is with a blazer. It’s true that neutral colors like navy, black, and gray are going to be the best play here as well, but wearing a blazer outside the confines of a full suit leaves more room to mix and match.

As long as it’s appropriate for the occasion, don’t be afraid to experiment with colors and materials. Armani Exchange’s poly wool blend blazer, for example, comes in a bold yet subtle shade of blue that looks great next to lighter pants for warm-weather events.

But the semi-formal blazer’s true time to shine is during the holiday season. Tartan. Velvet. Silk. It’s the one time of year when it’s okay to go off the rails a bit in terms of acceptable semi-formal attire for men.

J.Crew Ludlow Slim-fit suit pant

Once you’ve got a blazer or two at your disposal, it’s time to think about what pants you’ll be pairing them with. If you’re going full suit, you’re all set. But depending on the occasion and how expansive your wardrobe is, feel free to have a little fun with the pants.

A pair of pressed white or khaki chinos and a navy blazer make a great team for spring events, especially if they’re outside. During the summer months, consider a crisp, tailored pair of linen pants to keep things stylish and breathable. And come winter, a worsted wool pair of trousers in a neutral color like J. Crew’s Ludlow suit pant will serve you well.

man in a suit sitting on the table
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Semi-Formal Dress Code Based On The Occasion

Semi-formal wedding attire

Semi-formal wedding attire almost always calls for a weather-appropriate suit as opposed to mixing and matching tops and bottoms. For years, I’ve worn Suitsupply’s Havana in navy on the wedding circuit, but my next pickup for such occasions will almost certainly be Southern haberdasher Sid Mashburn’s Kinkaid No. 3 Suit.

It’s the perfect winter-wedding suit that pairs nicely with playful ties, socks, and pocket squares. For outdoor summer weddings, make sure you have a classic pair of sunglasses on hand. And don’t be afraid to go sockless with a pair of loafers depending on the location.

Semi-formal casual attire

As long as the shirt or blazer you’re wearing has been properly curated, semi-formal casual gear can take on several forms. In fact, it’s one of the few categories that leaves some wiggle room to don jeans or a casual pair of chinos.

Appropriate occasions for semi-formal casual attire can include first dates, gallery openings, casual rooftop cocktails, and client happy hours. Dark selvedge jeans with a pressed Oxford and blazer.

Chinos with a pop of color below a crew-neck sweater and jacket. Navy blue dress pants and a white seersucker shirt isn’t a bad place to start. All perfectly acceptable ways to achieve this look.

Semi-formal standard attire

And here we have the broadest stroke in the semi-formal attire for men spectrum: semi-formal standard gear. If you receive an invitation with any combination of those words, feel free to mix, match, and accessorize away.

But since every house needs a foundation, start with the unconstructed, impossibly comfortable 24 blazer 2.0 from L’Estrange and build things out from there. White chinos. Straight-fit khakis. Sneakers. Oxfords. As long as you’re respecting the occasion, almost anything is possible in this category.

How To Choose Your Semi-Formal Attire

Occasion

If there’s only one commandment you adhere to when it comes to semi-formal attire for men, let it be this: Respect the occasion. This category casts a wide net, but never mistake “semi-formal” for “casual” or “relaxed.”

Whether you’re at a wedding or a work function, if it’s a semi-formal affair, you should be wearing a suit and tie, a blazer with a pressed pair of pants, or some other elevated and occasion-appropriate combo.

Season

Close your eyes and picture a fall semi-formal ensemble. Now picture a summer one. Right? They could not be more at odds.

During the warmer months, seek out bright pops of color and breathable fabrics like linen and organic cotton. And when the temps drop, lean into wool, corduroy, and velvet for your blazers and pants.

Style

Formal occasions like black-tie affairs don’t leave much room for creativity. Semi-formal gatherings still have guardrails, minus the outdated, stodgy rules. Regardless of the occasion, semi-formal attire should serve as a green light for you to showcase your personal style while still respecting the occasion and the divide between casual and semi-formal.

man catching keys in midair
sidmashburn / Instagram

Final Verdict 

Blazer. Dress pants. Dress shirt. Nice shoes. Those are the key components of any semi-formal outfit. Outside of that broad description, there’s plenty of room to express yourself and put your stamp on what “semi-formal” means to you.

That said, sometimes all you need is a super versatile suit—like the Havana from Suitsupply—that’s appropriate for all seasons and occasions.

FAQ

    • Semi-formal casual: Yes. Semi-formal standard: No. Put another way, denim is just fine for dates, happy hours, and similar occasions as long as you’re elevating the rest of your outfit accordingly. Otherwise, stick to dress pants, chinos, or a suit.

      • Formal attire is typically more rigid in terms of color, style, and the occasion to which you’d wear it—black- and white-tie immediately come to mind as examples. Semi-formal outfits, while not without their “rules,” allow more room for interpretation.

        • Avoid wearing shorts or jeans to semi-formal events. Keep it classy with a fresh-pressed pair of pants teamed up with a blazer and/or a nice tie with a pop of color.


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