What to Wear to a Semi-Formal Dinner

Model Carmen Kass gets semi-formal at a U.S. embassy dinner honoring Michael Kors.

Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Semi-formal wear is a bit of a conundrum: Yes, it's formal, but only halfway. This doesn't mean you should wear cargo shorts and a mink coat; if you're unsure, think of semi-formal wear as dressier than business attire, but more laid back than fancypants evening wear. Basically, it's that elusive sweet spot right in the middle.

Short Party Dresses

"Seventeen" says a short party dress is a totally safe bet for a semi-formal function. Take note of the word formal, though -- that means you shouldn't show up in a super-mini-dress that's inches shy of exposing all your business. Save your raunchier club wear for the clubs, and opt for a knee-length cocktail dress instead. And remember these three words: little black dress. A LBD is a no-fail semi-formal piece, and every woman should have one.


A semi-formal dinner isn't some frou-frou white tie shindig where you have to show up in an Oscar-worthy ball gown and fur stole -- it's a totally pants-appropriate scenario. Not pants as in your favorite pair of blue jeans but pants-pants, the tailored kind you'd wear to the office or a job interview. To make your slacks look a little dressier, pair them with some formal footwear, like heels, and wear a dressier blouse in satin or a nice cashmere top.

Fun & Fancy Details

Use accessories to dress up your outfit so your look has that semi-formal vibe. That means break out that bling, baby. An outfit you wear to the office can totally take you to a semi-formal dinner once you gussy it up with some pops of jewelry. You can also use jewelry to add a more fun element to a plain little black dress. Throw on that chunky, sparkly beaded rope necklace that's too trendy for church, or add some retro spice with a vintage rhinestone necklace or brooch.

Get Creative

Thankfully, formal dress codes are way more open these days, so you probably won't get shunned for talking a little fashion risk. "People just aren't taking evening dressing so seriously anymore," Jenny Le, manager of L.A.'s Opening Ceremony, tells "Harper's Bazaar." "People are getting more daring and out of the box rather than falling back on that perfect dress and satin clutch." That means it's OK to have some fun. Let your personality shine, and don't get bogged down with attire angst. Throw in a fun element that's totally you, like a bright red pair of shoes or a mock-crocodile bag. It's a dinner, after all -- not jury duty.

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