Everything you need to know on formal vs semi-formal dress code for men

Everything you need to know on formal vs semi-formal dress code for men

Dressing for formal and semi-formal events can be daunting, especially for men with limited experience with such occasions. However, understanding the key elements of formal and semi-formal dress codes is essential to personal style and professionalism. Whether attending a black-tie event or a business-casual function, dressing appropriately demonstrates respect for the occasion and showcases your style. In this guide, we'll explore the do's and don'ts of formal attire and semi-formal dress for men, so you can confidently navigate any dress code and make a lasting impression. Let's get started!

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Frequently asked questions

What's the difference between the formal and semi-formal dress codes for men?

The formal dress code is generally stricter than men's semi-formal wear. For the former, men are expected to wear suits and ties, although this varies from country to country. The semi-formal dress for men provides a degree of personal expression while still requiring suits or blazers as its uniform.

What should I do if I'm unsure what to wear to a formal or semi-formal event?

If you're unsure what to wear to a formal or semi-formal event, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you've dressed appropriately:

  • Clarify the dress code: If the invitation doesn't specify a dress code, try contacting the host or event organiser to ask for guidance.
  • Research typical attire for the type of event: Look up photos or examples of what others have worn to similar events to get a sense of what is expected.
  • Consider the location and time of the event: The location and time can often provide clues about what to wear. For example, a formal event at a beach resort might have a more relaxed dress code than a formal event at a ballroom.
  • Choose classic, timeless pieces: If you're still unsure, it's better to err on the side of caution and choose classic, timeless pieces that are appropriate for both settings..
  • Seek the opinion of a trusted friend or colleague: If you have a friend or colleague who has experience with formal or semi-formal events, they can offer advice and guidance on what to wear.

What is the men's semi-formal dress code?

The semi-formal dress code for men is a step up from the casual look. The attire strives for chic style, imbued with a personalised touch. While some assert that it nestles between formal and informal wear like an elegant intermediary space, nothing could be further from reality! Picture blazers or suits accented by matching trousers, two-piece ensembles (with or without a tie) boasting pocket squares and dress watches. Semi-formal outfits could boast darker hues, such as a navy for nighttime affairs. At the same time, daytime events provide ample opportunity to experiment with lighter colours - though both approaches should ultimately cater to personal tastes! The semi-formal dress code for men grants ample leeway in terms of colour, patterning and style, resulting in a more carefree interpretation of its contemporary counterpart.

How do I dress for a semi-formal event?

There is no one right way to dress, as the context of the event will dictate the appropriate level of formality. If you are attending a work event, bring a suit or blazer you can wear when the situation calls for it. Here are a few do's and don'ts to keep in mind.

Do's & Don'ts of a semi-formal dress code

Regarding semi-formal outfits for men, there are a few key points to remember to ensure you've dressed appropriately for the occasion.

  • Do

    • Opt for a tailored suit with matching trousers in neutral colours, such as navy, grey, or black. This is one of the most basic rules of thumb with semi-formal men's wear.
    • Wear a dress shirt with a collar, such as a button-up or Oxford.
    • Choose dress shoes, such as loafers or Oxfords, in leather or similar material.
    • Accessorise with a belt, socks that match your pants, and a pocket square or tie. Simple add-ons like cufflinks or watches are ideal for the semi-formal dress code.
    • The semi-formal dress is an excellent opportunity to showcase your style while still appearing classy. So, it's perfectly fine to mix things up a little - depending on the type of event.
  • Don't

    • Wear jeans, sneakers, or other casual items.
    • Overdo it with accessories or loud patterns.
    • Neglect to pay attention to fit and grooming.
    • Avoid the need to overdress and over-accessorise with semi-formal men's wear.
    • Don't underdress, either. For instance, avoid wearing a t-shirt under the blazer.

Remember, the goal of semi-formal attire for men is to look polished and well put-together, so take the time to select your outfit and ensure everything is in place. With a little effort, you'll be sure to make a great impression.

Pro tip

Ties are optional, with a semi formal dress for men. When you ditch the tie, it'll help you sport a look that feels relaxed.

When is the men's semi-formal dress code appropriate?

The semi-formal dress code for men is appropriate for occasions like work events or social gatherings. It can also be a good option for men who are uncomfortable in suits and ties. The critical thing to remember is to accessorise appropriately with dress shoes, a tie, and cufflinks.

What semi-formal attire is suited for an evening/night event?

For evening/night events - stick to darker hues. It's vital to consider the nuances of your attire beyond the blazer and dress shirt. For a truly accomplished look, wear appropriate footwear as well - these can make or break any look!

What is the men's semi-formal dress code for weddings?

At the pinnacle of wedding formality, black tie, cocktail attire and fully formal are easy to distinguish. Yet as one proceeds down a gradient from semi-formal to even more casual alternatives such as smart-casual or dressy casual, this level of distinction becomes murkier.

Semi-formal apparel should be both polished and easygoing yet still convey a sense of sophistication. It demands careful balancing that must adapt to the specifics of an event. For instance, if it's in the morning - as might be expected at a brunch party or business meeting - then you can opt for lighter hues such as blues and greys rather than those classic black tones like navy or charcoal. While black is the most traditional suit colour for men for evening weddings, it's not the only choice to master an impressively elegant look for semi-formal evening wedding affairs. Choosing a charcoal grey, midnight, or navy blue ensemble can be as stylish and appealing as wearing a classic white buttoned-down shirt with matching trousers. In fact, these shadowy hues lend an appearance of distinction in any season that contrasts excellently with classic white dress shoes such as brogues, loafers and oxfords.

While the guidelines for this dress code call for a suiting ensemble, it's advisable that you don't go full-on tuxedo. Instead, we recommend going with an equidistant balance between formal and casual.

Pro tip

Pay attention to fit and grooming when dressing for a wedding. Make sure your suit fits well and is in good condition, and get a haircut and groom yourself well before the wedding. Overall, the goal of semi-formal attire for a wedding is to look polished and put together.

What is the formal dress code for men?

What is acceptable for men's formal attire

The formal dress code for men is the most traditional option and generally consists of a full suit or tuxedo. Accessories, such as neckties and pocket squares, are not typically allowed. The modern formal dress for men stipulates tuxedos, bowties and tailored fits. In saying that, there are ways to add a personal touch and make the tuxedo your own. For instance, this could look like different cuts for jackets with varying types of ties.


What is acceptable for men's formal attire

Let's explore some of the most common elements of the men's formal dress code.

  • Jacket

    Tuxedo jackets should come with clean, sleek lines - ensuring a minimalist look that can withstand time. A tailored black tuxedo, for instance, is a classic that you can wear repeatedly. In saying that, deep midnight blue tuxedos or a velvet dinner jacket - could also serve as a worthy alternative to help add a bit of flair.

  • Trousers

    If the event says formal dress code, ideally, you'll want your tuxedo trousers to match your jacket unless you've opted for a velvet jacket - which pairs best with a black pair of trousers. Always ensure your pants are tailored to help elongate your proportions. In this instance, a slim-fit tuxedo could offer a flattering silhouette and fit for a wide range of body types.

  • Dress shirt

    You can never go wrong with a classic white down-collared shirt in a high-quality fabric. Offering a clean and minimalistic look, a no-frills dress shirt will support your overall ensemble and reduce unnecessary distractions.

  • Bow tie

    You'll need a bow tie if the dress code says black tie. Stick to selecting one that matches your outfit. Bow ties lend a touch of sophistication to any outfit. If you're highly fashion-conscious - you could opt for an oversized bow tie or even consider a different texture like a luxurious velvet.

  • Waistcoat

    A waistcoat is an optional yet stylish addition to the formal dress code. A classic look - traditional black waistcoat makes for an excellent option. On the other hand, a textured fabric could offer a unique and stylish look.

  • Dress shoe

    Leather dress shoes are perfect for a formal black tie event - particularly the Oxford dress shoes. Look dapper and seriously fashionable in our recommendations.


Men's formal attire: Do's & Dont's

  • Don't: Try and improvise. Stick to the classics.
  • Do: Choose a tailored suit that offers an excellent fit. Your trousers should be a manageable length, with a jacket that fits just right.
  • Do: Focus on grooming yourself, including getting a haircut, trimming your nails and grooming any facial hair.
  • Do: Wear dress shoes in black, brown, or burgundy leather.
  • Do: Find a belt that matches the shoes.
  • Do: Choose socks that match the trousers.


Semi-formal or formal: Dress your best no matter the event type

Dressing formally or semi-formally is a great way to show respect, professionalism, and sophistication in any setting. With the proper knowledge and attention to detail, any man can effortlessly pull off a formal or semi-formal look and exude confidence and style. Whether it's a black tie event or a meeting, understanding the nuances of these dress codes will allow you to make a strong impression and always look your best. Embrace the opportunity to elevate your style and make a statement with your wardrobe choices. Our formal vs semi-formal dress for men's wear should help you pick the right decisions for your next event. For more tips and fashion advice, our Fashion Hub has you covered. Browse our massive range of men's wear available at great prices, both online and in-store, at Harris Scarfe.


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