What to Wear: When the Dress Code Is Semi-Formal

Anything more constructed than workout clothes may feel semi-formal when you’re in college, but there may come a time and place where semi-formal dress is required. Figuring out what to wear when there’s a dress code may be a challenge. Here are some basic guidelines.

Advice to Count On

  • Semi-formal is more dressed up than you’d wear to work in an office and less fancy than going to a gala. If the event is at night, dressier is better.
  • For those who opt for pants suits and dresses, choose garments made of slightly more lavish climate-appropriate materials, including cashmere or silk.
  • If you like wearing cocktail dresses, the classic little black dress or a dressy maxi skirt and blouse will work (but skip the full-length ball gown).
  • Accessories like high heels and fine jewelry can dress up a traditionally tailored suit.
  • If you like wearing suits or blazers, add a nice button-down dress shirt, dark socks, and dress shoes, and wear with the matching suit pants/skirt or something in a coordinating color.
  • When in doubt about a tie, wear it (and feel free to take it off if yours is the only one in the room).
  • Go with minimalism and traditional tailoring, darker colors, and matching accessories—a black belt with black shoes.
  • Avoid brightly colored socks, sneakers, and t-shirts.
  • Aim for an ensemble that makes you comfortable. If you’re not used to semi-formal clothing, practice wearing your outfit ahead of the event.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask—if the person inviting you has specified semi-formal dress, it’s okay to have a quiet conversation inquiring what semi-formal dress means in this instance.
By Robin Bourjaily
Robin Bourjaily Assistant Director, Exploratory Career Community