We recently got this request in from a reader…
Hi. I have a question about semi-formal attire I was hoping you and/or your readers could answer. I have been invited to attend a law firm event (cocktails and dinner) in early April and the invitation says attire is semi-formal. I was hoping for your thoughts on what is and is not semi-formal and maybe two or three suggestions for dresses that would fit the bill. I am still in law school, so I’m looking for something I could wear to more than one occasion. I’m hoping to keep the price to around $100. Thanks!
Semi-formal: the bane of everyone’s existence. It isn’t formal, it isn’t cocktail, and no one knows what to wear. So… where does that leave you?
Our advice here is to go on the conservative side of cocktail. Your goal is Jackie Kennedy, not Marilyn Monroe (or, ahem, Romy and Michele). As general rules, shiny fabrics and anything bedazzled are out; we would also not recommend strapless (unless worn with a bolero jacket or shrug). Sleeveless dresses are harder to avoid, but you can make them more demure by wearing a wrap. On the flip side, you don’t want to be too boring — a plain cotton or wool fabric will be too casual for the event. If you’re looking for something to wear for more than one occasion, black is your friend. Furthermore, we have no problem keeping the dress itself on the cheaper side — you may even be able to borrow something from a friend at the firm. But you may want to consider splurging on accessories — shoes, clutch, a beaded wrap, a sparkly brooch, a cocktail ring, et cetera.
The below are just some suggestions of what we’d wear… in reality, with your budget, we’d recommend hitting Filene’s, Loehman’s, and outlet malls (particularly if there’s an Ann Taylor outlet near you — we used to live near one and got numerous cocktail dresses for great prices). Readers, please weigh in, particularly if you have a recent sighting of an inexpensive but appropriate semi-formal dress!
|We like that this one has sleeves and is knee-length, but is still fancy. (Although it’s pictured in champagne, it comes in black as well.) We’d wear it with a sparkly brooch and a nice clutch, as well as some fancy shoes. It’s marked to $137 at Bloomingdales (we think only the petites are left). Sutton Studio Exclusive Petites’ Stretch Satin Pleated Shawl Collar Dress|
|This dress breaks a few of our rules — there’s beading, it’s sleeveless — but the neckline is so high and the fabric so fluid that we think it would work also. We’d wear it with a wrap, though, to make it a bit more demure. Price-wise, you can’t go wrong: it’s marked to $88 from $298 at MaxStudio.com. |
GRECIAN EMPIRE DRESS
|We’re less than thrilled about this one, but it will do the job: it’s tasteful and within your price range. Nothing sheer or shiny; high neckline; nothing too “out there” fashionwise. And, it’s on ridiculous sale if you’re a lucky size 8: $415 down to $76.49 at Bluefly (price may be good for today only). Chetta B Black Satin V-neck Short Dress|
Update 2013: readers, do check out Rent the Runway — with same day delivery in NYC it can be a great solution.