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Do you know your dress codes? You’re probably familiar with the most common ones, like casual, business formal, and black tie. But what about the vague, ambiguous category of “semi-formal”? Although you usually won’t encounter it in your day-to-day, semi-formal events happen much more than you think – and you should be prepared for them.
Every Aussie should have a semi-formal ensemble in their wardrobe, just in case a fancy dinner, cocktail party, or wedding comes up. If you’ve ever had a difficult time dressing up for a dressy event, then this is the guide for you – read on for everything you need to know about semi-formal dresses.
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What Is Semi-Formal?
The semi-formal dress code confuses most people because it isn’t strictly defined. It’s definitely dressier compared to smart casual, but it’s more laid-back than formal. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
For men, semi-formal usually entails a suit (tie optional), slacks and a sport coat, or a dress shirt and slacks without a jacket. For women, it’s usually a knee-length dress, but you can also wear a jumpsuit, pantsuit, or a blouse and a skirt.
There are other factors to consider as well, such as the material of your clothes. Most of the time, long dresses fall into the “formal” category. But if it’s a light fabric or fun pattern, it might fall into semi-formal territory. In fact, many modern formal dresses can be styled either way, depending on your accessories, shoes, and hair and makeup.
If you’re still not sure what to wear to your next event, simply clarify with the host. Most event organisers would be more than glad to give you advice on what outfits are appropriate.
What Events Can You Wear A Semi-Formal Dress To?
Events that require semi-formal attire will usually specify it on the invitation, but that isn’t always the case. Here are some occasions where semi-formal dresses would be appropriate:
- Most weddings, especially day, beach, or outdoor ceremonies
- Funerals and memorials
- Dinner and cocktail parties
- Races and other similar sporting events
- School formals, dances, and proms
- Award ceremonies and theatrical shows
- Office get-togethers
- Holiday parties
The Top 11 Semi-Formal Dresses In Australia
Amara Milano Tank Dress
Shop: The Iconic
Price: $AUD 299
You can take this simple red dress from day to night by switching into a pair of killer heels. And it provides the perfect blank canvass for your accessories!
Annabelle Lace Dress
Shop: Miss Runway
Price: $AUD 119
Miss Runway has a lot of cheap yet good-quality dresses for all special occasions. This dainty white lace dress is great for day weddings, dinner parties, and a romantic dinner with your SO.
Jessica Two-Piece Dress
Shop: Noodz Boutique
Price: $AUD 139
This black peplum two-piece adds subtle dimension to your silhouette while also showing off your natural curves.
Draped Cocktail Frill Dress
Shop: David Jones
Price: $AUD 295
This trendy dusty rose dress from Shona Joy does double duty – you can wear it to both formal and semi-formal events with the right accessories.
Capri Maxi Dress
Price: $AUD 89.95
Floral patterns and polyester fabric like the one on the Capri Maxi Dress are usually too casual for formal dresses, but it’s absolutely perfect for semi-formal attire.
Sheath/Column Lace Off-The-Shoulder Dress
Shop: Formal Dress Australia
Price: $ADU 139
This off-the-shoulder dress is made-to-order, and it comes in dozens of colours. It’s also plus size-inclusive, available up to a 26W.
Shop: White Fox
Price: $AUD 99.95
We just can’t get enough of the subtle lace detail on the Khaleesi Midi Dress. We’re partial to the wine colour, but it’s also available in other shades.
Celine Lace Set
Shop: Style Struck
Price: $AUD 139
Two-piece dresses have never looked this elegant. The Celine Lace Set is available in multiple colours up to a size 12.
Cape-Style Wrap Midi Dress
Shop: Pretty Little Thing
Price: $AUD 58
Pretty Little Thing is an online treasure trove of gorgeous dresses. Just check out this long-sleeved dress that looks great for work and a night out on the town.
Midi Strappy Cami Dress
Price: $AUD 110
This ASOS dress is a classy take on the short, sequined party dress trend.
Shop: White Runway
Price: $AUD 449
Look fabulous, opulent, and fashion-forward in this asymmetrical Bonita Dress from White Runway, also available in white.
Even though semi-formal events don’t happen every day, it’s always useful to have a dressy outfit ready when you need it. These stores will help you find the perfect semi-formal dress (or two) to add to your wardrobe, so you’re always prepared for fancy occasions.
When it comes to shopping for semi-formal dresses, you want to make sure you look your best, but you don’t want to upstage the bride. And vague dress codes can make selecting an outfit even more difficult. Luckily, there’s no need to freak out. If you’ve received a wedding invite that has the words ‘semi-formal attire’ in calligraphy across the bottom, this resourceful guide will break down exactly what that means.
‘Semi-formal’ refers to ensembles that are more relaxed than black-tie requirements. “I approach semi-formal dressing knowing that it should still have a formal element,” celebrity stylist Lindsey Dupuis tells SELF. In addition to adhering to the bride and groom’s request, you’ll want to pay close attention to what time the wedding is scheduled. “If it’s during the day, lean towards lighter colors,” adds Dupuis, who has dressed Sharon Stone, Nikki Reed, and Brittany Snow. “And if the event is in the evening, opt for darker tones.” Here are five more rules to help guide your semi-formal outfit selection.
1. Try to avoid going too long or too short. “Miniskirts and floor-length gowns are off limits,” says Dupuis. Shopping for semi-formal dresses is all about finding that happy medium. “If you fancy wearing a maxi dress, just make sure the fabric isn’t too dressy,” the fashion expert says. Remember: You want to feel dressed up, but this isn’t the time to whip out that ballroom gown you’ve been saving.
2. And you shouldn’t even think about wearing white. Unless you were specifically instructed to show up in an ivory hue, don’t do it. Dupuis says, “It’s all about the bride, and it is her time to shine bright in white.” It’s also a good idea to find out what color the bridesmaids will be wearing, so you won’t be mistaken for a member of the wedding party.
3. If you have more than one semi-formal ceremony on your calendar this season, don’t be afraid to repeat a look. Even the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton does it. “I always suggest switching up the way you wear your accessories or adding a fun new layer,” says Dupuis. You’d be surprised how adding a silk scarf or substituting stilettos for wedges can drastically transform a dress.
4. Don’t overdo it with accessories. Dupuis shared the number one styling rule that she never breaks: over-accessorizing. “If you sport a statement necklace, keep your other jewelry (including hair accessories) simple,” she says. “Let the statement piece speak for itself.”
5. And instead of running from store to store, you can turn to online shopping to finalize your purchase. “It’s so easy to get lost online, so have a vision for what you want before starting your search,” says Dupuis. The cocktail dresses and elevated separates sections are great places to begin your search. If you’re still feeling uneasy, Dupuis summed things up by saying, “When in doubt you can always count on an LBD (little black dress)!”
Shop some of our favorite semi-formal looks perfect for wedding season.