Difference between formal wedding & semi-formal wedding

What aspects of a wedding determine the level of formality?

Please explain the differences between “formal” and “semi-formal”.

Rebecca Black, Etiquette By Rebecca

Dear Joanie,

There are levels of formal and semi-formal. Those differences are typically derived from time of day. Evening weddings tend to be more formal. Religion plays a part also. Catholic and Jewish weddings tend to be very formal. Although, civil ceremonies could be casual to very formal.

Formality is first set through the invitation. This is how we convey the formality of the event to our guests. But, for the bride, formality is usually decided upon by the dress. If she wants a long beaded embroidered formal gown with veil and cathedral train, she wants a formal wedding. I would be silly to have a wedding in a park with a bbq for a reception and for the bride to be in a formal gown, huh?

Formality is also set with the wedding site. If the site is formal, the wedding should be also.

So, basically it is set by the gown (your guest wouldn’t know this though), the time of day, and the location. Your guests would only guess the formality by the invitation, time of day, and location.

I decribed a formal gown for the bride. For a daytime formal wedding, grooms would wear cutaway coats, with gray striped slacks and waistcoats. For evenings they could wear the full dress tailcoats with matching slacks and white waistcoats.

Semi-formal is difficult to define. There are levels similar to formal, but it is even more difficult. This is what is most common. For daytime and evening the bride could wear a long dress with a less formal veil and train (for the day, she could choose a shorter dress and no train).

Grooms could wear strollers, the same slacks as for the formal wedding, and waistcoats for the day and tuxedos for the evening.

Best wishes,


Thank you so much for your detailed answer! All these details to consider are a bit overwhelming. Your advice is certainly appreciated.

Rebecca Black, Etiquette By Rebecca

Any time.