Semi-formal Wedding Attire for Men: A Complete Guide
In the world of weddings, interpreting the dress code can be one of the most baffling—and occasionally frustrating—things you face. And little is more ambiguous than the nebulous statement “semi-formal.” Dress codes for events can be even more baffling for men, for once, because the differences and variants in dress are much more subtle than for women. If you’ve recently opened a wedding invitation and found yourself wondering what “semi-formal” even means, the Oliver Wicks team is here to help.
In the top tiers of wedding formality, black tie, cocktail, and fully formal are pretty easy to interpret. It’s when you get to the confusion of semi-formal, etc. that things start to feel muddy. It also doesn’t help that there are several ways that people refer to this particular dress code. You may see “smart-casual” or “dressy casual” mentioned—they mean the same thing. It is typically a way of indicating that the event is either outdoors or in the afternoon, but they still want you to dress well. It is also common at summer weddings with a smart and elegant overall theme.
So, a more relaxed, but still presentable and smart look is key for semi-formal. It will need some tweaking according to the event specifics. The earlier in the day the event is, the more flexibility you have if you want to step away from classic darker tones, such as navy or charcoal. Later, you can stretch it a little closer to formal.
Overall, this is a dress code for which you should think “suit, but not a tuxedo.” And you will want to style your suit in a more relaxed way. You can also use crisp slacks, a dress shirt, and a smart blazer for different options. In our opinion, it’s always better to tip the scales closer to formal than to casual. Don’t make the mistake of letting your guard down with this somewhat gray area of a dress-code.
So, how then, is this different from full formal? At a full formal wedding, you can still wear a more relaxed tuxedo, or a dark and classic formal suit, and be in line with the dress code. At semi-formal, the most formal attire you will choose is a suit and tie, and even then, you will want to relax the overall look of your suit a little, without getting slovenly. As we’ve mentioned, a very crisp pant and blazer combo with an appropriate dress shirt will also work. You can express some individuality and have some visual interest, but don’t go full peacock and upstage the couple!
As far as colors go, at semi-formal you will have the freedom to move away from charcoal and navy, if you wish to, and instead, pick a smart option that is appropriate to the venue, season, and time of day. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is no reason not to wear charcoal or navy, just know that you’re not tied to these colors at semi-formal level.
To help you picture the difference, let’s take a quick look at the dress options open to female attendees. In a full formal wedding, dresses will never venture higher than the knee (tea length) and are usually full length, and if pants are worn, a very sharp pantsuit is the only choice. Heels are kept very low. While true cocktail dress codes are a little different from semi-formal, a cocktail length dress (shorter than the knee) is appropriate at a semi-formal wedding, heels can be higher, and other smart non-dress options will be acceptable.
So, if the overall air is more relaxed, why are semi-formal dress codes for weddings seen as one of the toughest events for men to dress for? It is because of the ambiguity. Especially when attending as a guest, you want to make sure you strike that perfect balance of looking appropriate and well-styled without going over the top and upstaging the bridal party. With such a nebulous definition, heavily dependent on factors like seasons and time of day, that can be a tough call for semi-formal wedding attire.
However, we’re here to help! Now that you understand this dress code a little better, let’s dive deeper into what works, and what doesn’t. Remember, if you are still concerned about your outfit choice by the end of the article, it is always appropriate to ask the happy couple to vet your outfit, or to clarify anything you are worried about over the phone in advance. Above all, don’t let this dress code woo you into thinking you can arrive as-is, or go dressed very casually. It is still a smart and important occasion and needs to be respected.
You can overdo it too, which is why we’ve made a point of mentioning that tuxedos are a no-go at semi-formal (sorry tux lovers!).
Along with season, the time of day will be the single biggest determination of what works and what doesn’t. As with hotter weather, earlier events call for lighter, brighter colors that echo the daytime nature of the event. Of course, white and white-leaning colors, like plain linen and ivory, are off the table unless you’re one of the people at the altar! But breezy, pale colors will fit the ambiance best. You’ve got to think of the photos here - If only yourself and the bride are in white, then you’re third wheeling - That’s not good! At night, as in cooler weather, you can lean into darker colors more confidently.
When in doubt, for a semi-formal wedding, it is hard to go wrong with a gray suit. Wear a pale and relaxed gray for daytime, or lean into pewter or charcoal at night. For semi-formal wedding attire, try to take black off the table completely, unless you have no other choice. Not only does it have a somber vibe that’s not particularly appropriate, but it also may be used for the wedding party. A navy suit is a safe choice for semi-formal, but if you fancy a change from the norm, then why not rock a different dark blue. A 2-piece suit and tie is the best option most of the time.
Men should use a proper dress shirt, even for a semi-formal wedding. Some weddings will allow for a relaxed neck without a tie, but a tie should still be the assumed default, especially for the evening (you can always take it off, if appropriate to do so). Crack out the French cuff and cufflinks if you like, but it’s not mandatory
Unlike with more formal weddings, you can experiment more with shirt color. Provided it is an overall smart match to your suit color, there’s no need to confine yourself to only white. Pale pastels can look great during the day or outdoors, and a soft blue or lavender can even carry into the evening well. Pastel pink for daytime, or a dusty rose or pale gold for the evening, can also work well.
Black shirt looks are difficult to carry off, and black is not the best choice for weddings. However, there is one exception here. A black shirt, if properly paired with a thoroughly appropriate lighter suit—possibly pewter or burgundy—could work for an evening event if you carry it with confidence and don’t add too many distracting details. But handle this with care. It's also a dress code where a smart pattern or subtle pinstripe could look good, as long as the overall ensemble isn’t fussy.
A smart suit separates look is also thoroughly appropriate for semi-formal wedding attire. You will need to pair your pants with a smart blazer in a classic color, don’t expect to come in a shirt and pants alone. And we are certain that we don’t need to tell you that jeans are off the table! Instead, look at some smart and well-pressed chinos in a light neutral, like tan, khaki, or gray. It is essential that both the pants and blazer are immaculately tailored and of high quality to keep the overall look dapper and neat.
When in doubt, stick to classic dress shoes, even for semi-formal. It is still a wedding, and you want to look smart. If you are confident in dressing well, you can step down a little to something like smart suede or leather loafers, or a dress boot instead, but pay careful attention to the rest of your outfit. As with jeans, sneakers or combat boots are a big no-no!
As part of the overall vibe of semi-formal is the allowance of personal style instead of a wedding “uniform,” this can also be a great occasion to break out fancier leather shoes that would typically be off the table. A smart pair of Double Monks, for example, could be the finishing touch you need to make your outfit shine. However, remember the rule about upstaging, and choose the rest of your outfit carefully.
If you are sticking to a plain shirt, a smartly patterned tie can be a fun way to relax your overall look and stay playful when it comes to semi-formal wedding attire. If you feel like adding a nice accent to your look, then feel free to add on a pocket square. At semi-formal, you can be more playful, which is perfect if you want to try out a pocket square fold that perhaps wouldn’t be ideal at the office. A bow tie can be pulled off at a semi-formal wedding, but it’s not overly common, so you may bring a little more attention to yourself then you’d planned for. .
Whether you need a belt or not will depend on your pants - If beltloops are present, you need one. . Match it to your shoe color. You can add some personality with cufflinks, jewelry, and a high-end watch, but keep them sleek and classy rather than ostentatious.
Hopefully, you now have some solid basics to inspire your semi-formal wedding attire. However, we can often learn as much from the “don'ts” as the “dos”, so let’s look at a few style choices that you don’t want to make at a semi-formal wedding!
- Don’t Skip Tailoring: A relaxed look is not a sloppy one! Make sure you have the fit that suits you, and keep everything well-tailored and looking snappy. Remember, a suit that fits well, feels great, too.
- Don’t Go Full Casual: If the happy couple wanted you to come as you are, they would say so! You are celebrating a major milestone with them—even “smart” daily wear is not appropriate. No jeans, joggers, polo shirts, sneakers, and so on.
- Be Bold, But Don’t Dress Overly Bold: You have the opportunity to show some personality, but don’t be the peacock who’s dressed fancier than the bride!
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask: When in doubt, it is perfectly good etiquette to ask the happy couple for feedback. If you’re shy, you can always reach out to the Oliver Wicks team (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions, too!
Disclaimer - Listen to the couple over Oliver Wicks, even if it goes against our views - It’s their wedding, not ours!
As modern weddings change and expand, it is becoming more common for the groom, as well as his guests, to opt for a semi-formal look. And there’s nothing wrong with that! For many new venues—from the beach to the wild outdoors—a full formal tux would look over the top, especially if the guests are more relaxed. However, it is very normal for the groom and wedding party to be “one step above” the guests in dress, so everyone can clearly identify who the key attendees are.
While a groom at his own semi-formal wedding will likely skip the traditional “penguin suit” look, a suit combo that fits the theme, wedding colors, and the vibe of the destination is a typical semi-formal wedding attire look. Even if you are a naturally shy person, remember that this is a massive milestone you are sharing with your partner and your guests, so you should stand out from the crowd a little. Hold your head high and own that look!
Oliver Wicks has over a decade of experience crafting the perfect custom made-to-measure suits for happy grooms of all ages, shapes, and confidence levels, so let us help you make the most out of this treasured memory. If you want “real numbers”, we’ve successfully tailored tens of thousands of suits - We’ve been around the block, and there’s not much that we haven’t seen or heard before… in the world of suits at least!
While semi-formal wedding attire can be tricky to fathom, we hope that this easy guide has left you feeling a lot more secure about what’s expected of you, whether you are the groom or the guest. If you’d like to stay in the loop with what’s happening in the world of high-end suiting, feel free to join our newsletter—it’s linked at the bottom of every page of our website—and get all the tips, tricks, and how-tos you need, delivered conveniently to your inbox. With your look nailed down, you can enjoy the day and be confident that you look smart and perfect for the occasion.