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IN CASE the ever-diminishing presence of tuxedos and bow-ties on the Oscars red carpet didn’t alert you, the rules for formalwear have very much shifted in the last decade or so. Instead, the semi-formal dress code has taken over, changing the way not only celebrities dress for the world’s most illustrious events, but the way us mere mortals do too for weddings, parties and even black tie events.

But with semi-formal dressing coming to encompass so many modes of dress the rules of what constitutes the style, and how to toe the line between semi-formal and simply smart casual dressing, are blurry. Wonderful. So we thought we’d put together an everything you need to know guide on nailing the semi-formal dress code every time—so you don’t end up looking like 007 at the bucks night (unless, that’s the vibe, right?)

What is the semi-formal dress code?

The semi-formal dress code is essentially described in the name: a form of dress one-step down from formal dress codes like black and white tie, but a step up from what would genuinely be considered smart casual. Elevated classics, one could say. This means incorporating some elements of formal dressing like tailoring, button-up shirts and smart shoes, but styled in a relaxed—sometimes, adventurous—way for a low-key affair. Basically, mix-and-match high and low.

How to wear the semi-formal dress code to a wedding

Let’s face it: weddings are the epicentre of semi-formal dress, especially with more reception services taking place in wineries, rustic farmhouses, private dining rooms and other non-traditional venues.

Nonetheless, a foolproof way to smash the semi formal wedding look is to simply dress down your extra schmick suit with say, a more casual open-neck shirt—polo shirts and camp collar shirts are prime examples—or swap your traditional lace-ups for a pair of loafers or sophisticated sneakers (your ASICS have no place here). Semi-formal dress codes also give you license to have fun with your tailoring, so feel free to pair a traditional suit jacket with more casual chinos (beige, navy or khaki?) or customise your basics range with jackets and pants made from relaxed materials like linen and cotton.

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Pair tailoring with a casual jacket

Frank Ocean certifiably hit the brief with his iconic Prada hooded bomber jacket and black tie at the Met Gala in 2019—and it’s pretty easy to replicate. All you have to do is pair a more casual jacket with a slick look underneath, whether it be a bomber, a harrington or a chore coat … and that’s that. You’d be surprised at how well this works as long as the jacket looks tailored. But, perhaps leave your Kathmandu windcheater for a legitimate wet weather event.

Pair a smart jacket with relaxed shirting

We’ve already touched on this, but ditching the tie and embracing more casual shirting is a fail-safe way to take any formal look down a peg for those laidback shindigs. However, it pays to make sure the shirt underneath stands out—a knitted polo or camp collar shirt certainly fits the bill. That being said, an ultra-crisp Oxford shirt or a smart T-shirt effortlessly offer that Cannes or Venice Film Festival suave.

Steer away from formal fabrics

This is an easy rule to follow, especially with so many men playing it safe and sticking to traditional wool suits. Blazers and pants made from more relaxed, breezy materials like linen and cotton instantly take the stuffiness out of an outfit and lend itself for a more chilled vibe—perfect for summer gatherings and the kind of warm-weather weddings we so often attend Down Under.

Relaxed footwear

They say shoes maketh the man, and this counts doubly so when it comes to skirting the boundaries of formal footwear. The semi-formal dress code leaves far more options when it comes to shoes, meaning you have license to pair a suit with boots, loafers, or even sneakers (provided they’re squeaky clean, of course).


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