Finding Semi-Formal Dresses

Cheryl Cirelli
Ralph Lauren Pleated Cocktail Dress
Ralph Lauren Cocktail Dress

Semi-formal dresses are perfect for a variety of occasions - from that special date night to an evening wedding, cocktail party, or other dressy event. Styles vary dramatically within this category, and there's sure to be one that's perfect for your body type, budget, personal taste, and event requirements.

Popular Semi-Formal Styles

Semi-formal dresses are shorter than their more formal evening gown counterparts. Think cocktail numbers, tea length dresses and other styles that graze the knee or are shorter. There is also quite a bit of variation when it comes to sleeve length and silhouette.

Sleeveless Dresses

A sleeveless semi-formal dress is a great choice for almost any event, especially in the spring and summer months. You'll find a wide range of silhouettes without sleeves, one of which will be perfect. If you're not confident about your arms, you may prefer to pair the sleeveless dress with a wrap or light formal sweater or choose a dress with sleeves instead.

Try one of these lovely styles:

  • Ralph Lauren Pleated Cocktail Dress: If you love the classic little black dress, this gorgeously simple design available at Macy's is ideal. The matte jersey bodice has a boat neckline and ends in a pleated waistband and full knee-length taffeta skirt. This elegant dress would be perfect for any semi-formal event. It comes in sizes 2 through 18 and retails for under $160.
  • Bejeweled Pleat Dress: This stunning pleated dress from Ann Taylor is sure to turn heads. It features jewel accents down the pleats and a scoop neckline as well as wide straps. This black dress has a concealed zipper on the side with hook and eye closure. It is priced under $200 and comes in sizes 00 to 18.

Dresses With Long Sleeves

Long sleeves are perfect for chilly winter events, as well as to just to keep your arms covered. Long-sleeved styles can work for any age, although younger women should select shorter hemlines to balance the extra fabric. These dresses look beautiful at events where more coverage is needed, such as very conservative weddings and professional events, but they also work for an evening out on the town.

This pretty design may be perfect for you:

  • Chiffon Sleeve Shift Dress: From Black House White Market, this black crepe dress has chiffon sleeves and soft plissé pleats. It is done in a shorter length and can be dressed up or down depending on your accessories. Other details of this dress include a boat neckline and flattering darts at the bust. It has a hidden back zipper and comes in sizes 00 to 8. This dress is priced around $150.

Strapless Dresses

If you're confident about your arms and shoulders, nothing beats a semi-formal strapless dress when it comes to feeling girly and stylish. To keep the look classy, especially for mature women, choose a hemline that hits at or below the knees or a shape that isn't too fitted.

Try one of these beautiful designs:

  • Embroidered Strapless Dress: This elegant black dress from Ann Taylor features stunning embroidered white lace at the bottom hem. It has a strapless sweetheart neckline with a hidden, inside bustier for support. This dress has a back zipper and comes in sizes 00 to 18. It is priced around $250.
  • Arabelle Long Dress: This long, strapless dress by J. Crew is done in silk chiffon and in colors such as yellow, rose, navy, black, red, peach and charcoal gray. This dress has an A-line silhouette and a sweetheart neckline. It has stylish ruching along the sides and a soft pleated waistband. This dress is priced around $365 and comes in sizes 00 to 20.

One-Shoulder Dresses

An of-the-moment choice for semi-formal dresses is the one-shoulder neckline. This modern style offers plenty of coverage while still being sexy and fun. To wear this style, you should feel confident about your arms, since adding a wrap or sweater could spoil the effect.

Try this pretty option:

  • Metallic Lace One-Shoulder Dress: From J. Crew, this dress is done in a lovely vintage sage silver with metallic threads. It reaches just above the knee, has a fitted bodice and is fully lined. This dress is simple yet classy. It is priced under $300 and comes in sizes 00 to 16.

Experiment to Find Your Perfect Dress

Whether you choose a modest long-sleeved style or a flirty strapless number, there's a great semi-formal dress out there waiting for you to try it on. Experiment with different necklines, fabrics, and lengths to find the perfect dress for you.

Finding Semi-Formal Dresses