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Dress codes

Q&A: My office is semi-formal. What does that even mean?

Q&A: My office is semi-formal. What does that even mean?

Deciphering dress codes can be a bit dizzying at times, especially when they depend on context. Semi-formal, for example, means what it sounds like—not quite formal—but that idea looks different at the office than it would at a wedding. Not the clearest, right? (Thanks to Thread user Ashton for this question!)

"In the office, semi-formal basically means you're a notch smarter than smart casual," says Thread's Millie Rich. "It's not a full suit and tie, but it's definitely not jeans and trainers. Chinos and brogues are about as low-key as you can go, as long as you always wear them with a blazer."

And what about semi-formal at, say, a wedding? 

"To me, the biggest difference between the two scenarios is colour," Millie explains. "When it's a celebration and not an office environment, you should stick to your smarter clothes—but you can afford to be more playful and experimental with the colours of your shirt or accessories ... I'm thinking a turquoise pocket square, a blush-pink tie, maybe even a pale yellow shirt (obviously not worn together!). At a semi-formal office, on the other hand, you're safest sticking to neutral shades like navy, black, white and grey."

To help you put semi-formal into practice, here are three outfit ideas at different points in the smart-to-casual spectrum.

1. Casual semi-formal

If you're most comfortable in: Jeans, a t-shirt and trainers

Your ideal semi-formal outfit is: "Chinos, a white or blue Oxford shirt and a blazer—you can even go for an unstructured blazer for extra comfort. Wear leather shoes like brogues or loafers."

Why this works: "Based on your casual preferences, I'm guessing you'd love to avoid a tie. Completely get that, and it's doable. Every piece here feels pretty formal, but the absence of a tie helps you feel relaxed. Tuck in your shirt if the vibe feels extra buttoned-up."

2. Medium semi-formal

If you're most comfortable in: Jeans or chinos, a shirt and jumper and minimal trainers or leather shoes

Your ideal semi-formal outfit is: "Formal trousers, a shirt under a fine-gauge jumper, and leather lace-up shoes or Chelsea or brogue boots."

Why this works: "This isn't a huge departure from your usual shirt and jumper—so you won't feel too stiff or stuffy—but every element here is the cream of the crop. The shirt's crisp and white (a formal shirt rather than an Oxford), the jumper's more refined than thicker styles, and the trousers are instantly smartening. Bonus: no tie required."

3. Formal semi-formal

If you're most comfortable in: A suit

Your ideal semi-formal outfit is: "Suit separates: a blazer and formal trousers. This outfit will give you the structure of a suit with a notch less formality—and also earn you some style points. You should wear a tie, but make it patterned or knitted to keep things slightly more casual."

Why this works: "The texture of the knitted tie adds interest and breaks up the monotony of formal attire."

Photographed: Oliver Spencer grey blazer (£349), Mr Start white shirt (£110), Gant green tie (£50), Jigsaw grey trousers (£109)