What to Wear: Dreading a Semi Formal Summer Wedding

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I have been invited to an out of town wedding. It’s outdoors, in the Texas heat, on the grass and the invitation advises us to choose our footwear carefully. The attire is semiformal. I’m a pear-shaped thirty-something who is most at home in jeans, tees and skate shoes and I like to hide my midsection the most. My bust line is large and embarrassing. I normally stick to loose fitting garments that swallow me up and my look could best be described as “tomboy” or “please don’t notice me”. To say that this is my worst nightmare is an understatement, but I’m determined to try a dress and even wedges because this is my best friend's wedding. I’d like to spend no more than $100 on the dress and up to $50 on the shoes. Semi-formal is kind of vague to me, and all I know is that it’s just shy of prom and nicer than church clothes. Is there a list of do’s and don’ts for what counts as semiformal?

I usually pare down my Ask Allie requests, but I kept the majority of your email because I think many can relate to your feelings about formalwear (or semi-formalwear) and their figures. Even I, who loves a frock, freaks out when I have to go to an event where I need to dress up and start questioning my figure.

Semiformal is really very open-ended. You’re right, it’s nicer that most church clothes, but not a prom dress. This actually gives you a TON of options, and the ability to purchase a dress that could be worn again.

Before we get to the dress, I want to discuss what goes UNDER the dress. I have a very large bust, and it isn’t firm and perky, but I don't call it embarrassing. But I have before… before getting a professional bra fitting. This isn’t going to Victoria’s Secret or Lane Bryant and having a college kid wrap a tape measure around your sweatshirt. It’s worth it, if you have one nearby, to visit a bra boutique or high-end department store’s lingerie department. It’s not just about size, but the bra brand, the bra shape, and type. When I found The Bra, I no longer found my bust embarrassingly big. In fact, my chest looked smaller and my whole body looked more trim. I get sized every year, and I now know what kinds of bras to get (for me, I like a molded cup because it gives lift and makes me look perky and firm without being bigger). As for the bottom half, if you don’t usually wear control garments now is NOT the time. It’s going to be hot and you will be stressed. However if you ever deal with “chub rub” consider a pair of Skimmies or Undersummers (haven't tried but a friend highly recommends them). Not only will they stop chafing, they will help your dress drape better.

Now, on to the dress. Since you’re not usually a dress gal, I recommend buying something very simple in a fabric and color you can wear again. A solid color dresses up more easily than a print and is easier to wear to multiple events without looking like a one-trick pony. After writing this you got back to me and expressed interest in a printed dress so I added some that I felt were more classic in pattern that could be worn year-round.  Sleeveless or cap sleeves will be comfortable in the Texas heat and also look appropriate in the middle of winter for a dressy event.  I know you mentioned you like covering your arms but arms are the same size whether swathed in fabric or bare; it's going to be hot and there's nothing less stylish or attention-getting than looking uncomfortable. For fabrics, there’s no need to get beading, sequins or satin to be semi-formal. Your shoe, bag, and jewelry choice can take a simple matte jersey church dress and make it cocktail-appropriate.

Semi Formal Plus Size Dresses Under $100

Plus Size Semi Formal Dresses Under $100Below are dresses I found that are under $100, work with a sturdy bra, don’t show off the bust or belly, and flatter a pear shape. Not only that, all of these dresses have free shipping and great return policies so you can try more than one without regret:

  1. This pink fit and flare dress from City Chic is likely COMPLETELY out of your comfort zone but hear me out. A color can hide the figure better than all black. When you wear this, people will notice the dress, not your bust or your belly or anything else. The neckline is flattering but high enough to cover all cleavage. The sleeves are that length that works year-round and isn’t too hot for a Texas late summer. Pink is a flattering color on many skintones, giving you a glow and causing people to ask if you just got back from vacation, got a haircut, or maybe lost weight. The best way to hide yourself is to let something else take the spotlight. Let the dress speak for you. Not only that, a dress like this can handle very simple shoes and doesn’t really need jewelry.
  2. Bit more subtle, but just as festive, the Slow Dance Serenades dress from ModCloth is elegant and festive and quite versatile.  It can be worn on its own with nude, pink, or soft metallic shoes, could be glammed up with the addition of a skinny belt in pink or a sparkly or metallic finish, or made wintry with darker shoes and a pashmina wrap.
  3. This dress from London Times is black, which some question for weddings but I have never seen an issue, especially if it’s a wedding not in a house of worship. The embellished yoke at the top makes it dressy enough for the event, the fit and flare style will skim right over your midsection without drawing attention and flatter your curves, and the neckline minimizes your bust and lets you wear a traditional bra.
  4. The scallop neckline of this dress from City Chic is utterly adorable, but high enough that it won’t draw attention to your bustline. Again, the fit and flare style will minimize your midsection and balance your figure. This is a dress that can be dressed up or down and can look chic and tres French with just a simple bracelet or sparkly stud earrings or a red lip, but no need for more than one.
  5. At first glance this dress from Christopher & Banks doesn’t seem semiformal. You can see me wear it here, and none of these looks are dressy. But ponte is an amazing fabric that dresses up and down quite nicely with a switch of accessories. Add a sparkly statement necklace, a clutch, and dressier shoes and you’re wedding-ready. What’s great is this dress can be worn again for everything from church to a baby shower to a funeral to a holiday cocktail party.
  6. This dress from ASOS is made of a slinky fabric that won’t add bulk and move with you on the dancefloor. The open neckline flatters without causing you to have to purchase a new bra or show off your chest. This dress would look great with a little bit of sparkle at the ears or wrist; if you feel bold a skinny belt with sparkle would be a nice touch.
  7. This dress from ModCloth has a very flattering neckline but not too low to show off too much, and a full back to let you wear any bra you choose.  A fit and flare shape and a feminine pale pink floral pattern is perfect for a summer wedding, consider playing up the red in the dress with red shoes, or a red clutch (but not both, that would be a bit much).  Come winter you could wear this dress with black shoes and a black wrap or shrug.
  8. A wrap style dress is so flattering for a pear shape, but the neckline is often too low to feel comfortable for those with large busts. This dress from Le Bos has a higher neckline but the soft chiffon overlay keeps it feminine and romantic. Both colors are lovely and versatile and would only need a bit of sparkle at the ears or wrist with a clutch and dressy shoes to be perfection.

Shop Plus Size Semi Formal Dresses:


Outdoor Wedding-Friendly Shoes Under $60

I'm glad the invite stressed the importance of shoes; nothing will ruin a good time better than wobbling around, sinking into grass, and ruining a favorite pair of footwear.  Wedges are a brilliant choice for such an event, but don't be afraid to consider dressy flat shoes; especially with this being an outdoor event, it won't look wrong to keep your feet low to the ground.  Also it's okay for such a situation to have a shoe that may at first look more office-appropriate; a peeptoe, almond toe, or sandal wedge or flat in patent leather (as long as it's a covered wedge and not cork/wood/straw) can look quite festive.  A few shoes I found under $60 that would be great for a semi formal outdoor wedding:

  1. The BP. ‘Roxie' wedge sandal is adorable, if I had a reason I would buy them in a heartbeat! Great reviews, and a sparkly style that will add a level of festive formality to any ensemble, but also be super cute paired with jeans for a night out.
  2. Don't discount a sandal for such an affair.  A sparkly one will show that you understand the tone of the event but you'll be standing tall on squishy ground.  The ‘Kelisha' from Nina has a slight but wide heel that will keep you stable on grass, comes in three colors, and will be able to be worn again with maxi dresses and jumpsuits.
  3. Payless is a fave for budget-friendly comfortable shoes.  This peeptoe low wedge has a bit of bling on the front which makes it festive; the ivory color isn't too bridal and would look cute with many of the floral dresses featured above.
  4. The ‘Valaria' Wedge sandal from Nine West comes in three patent leather colors and has a very comfortable 1.75″ wedge height; on Amazon you can find some sizes and colors under $60 and no option is over $80.
  5. The ‘Franzea' wedge sandal from Nina is sparkly but not bridal and would look great not just with your semiformal wedding guest look, but even a pair of jeans for a Girls Night Out. Two metallic shades available.
  6. A patent peeptoe wedge is a simple neutral shoe that would let your dressy frock take center stage.  The ‘Hartley' from CL by Chinese Laundry comes in black and nude patent and receive positive reviews.
  7. While kid leather isn't usually considered semiformal, the jeweled details and strappy style of the ‘Kaley' ankle strap wedge from CL by Chinese Laundry makes the grade and would be a secure and comfortable choice for an outdoor wedding.
  8. Another low wedge but with wider of straps for comfort, the ‘Karaveta' wedge from Rampage comes in two subtle metallic shades and is a shoe that can work year-round with dresses of all lengths and even pants and jeans.

Shop Flat and Wedge Semiformal Footwear:


Accessories to Complete the Semi Formal Look

Sometimes all you need is the right accessories to take a simple dress from your closet and make it semiformal.  I can't recommend a signature or statement clutch or evening bag enough; something with a bit of sparkle or a unique pattern even when paired with a printed dress can take your look to the next level and add a festive and formal touch.  A sparkly statement or bib necklace is a great way to elevate a not-so little black dress or other dark-colored frock already hanging in your closet.  A sparkly stud earring – an oversized faux gem has a lot of power without overwhelming your look.  Below I have carousels of some great accessories I have found around the web that are budget-friendly and will take your look to the semiformal level.

Shop Budget Friendly Semiformal Jewelry:


Shop Budget Friendly Semiformal Bags:


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  1. First of all, can I say how much I love Allie’s response to you? I am very top heavy myself (32DDD) and I refuse to be embarrassed. It seems that boobs only come in two sizes: too big or too small. A good bra does do wonders and at nearly 40 I finally was willing to buy them from a real store vs. getting something that “fit” at TJMaxx.
    I also live in Texas. However, I’m in Austin which so laid back that “formal” is wearing closed toed shoes. Normally I don’t mind being overdressed but sometime at weddings you want to be just right. It feels like everyone else got the memo but me. I think it’s always better to go with colorful or floral for a wedding. I do see black worn a lot but often wonder if the bride or her family will be upset if I wear it. And it’s still hot in Texas, so if you wear something too covered or black you’re going to get a lot of “dear, aren’t you hot in that” comments which you don’t want.
    I think a bright dress with cute accessories will make you feel great. Just know that as the bride’s BFF, you will get some attention and I’m sure looking cute will add to that. Even if you are a tomboy, you can’t go wrong with adding a little bling. Also- in Texas (at least Austin), Kendra Scott jewelry is really popular and tends to be something that women all relate to. I’ve had so many conversations with people over my KS earrings. It’s a great ice breaker.

    Have fun, and post pics!

  2. I like the American Living line of dresses from Macy’s, it is a Ralph Lauren diffusion brand. They make ponte knit dresses that are modest but easily dressed up. This purple lacy dress has a small sleeve and goes up to an 18 http://www1.macys.com/shop/product/american-living-floral-lace-cap-sleeve-dress?ID=2387288&CategoryID=67663#fn=sp%3D1%26spc%3D196%26ruleId%3D%26slotId%3D1.

    This A-line Calvin Klein is awesomehttp://www1.macys.com/shop/product/calvin-klein-plus-size-pleated-a-line-dress?ID=492680&CategoryID=5449#fn=sp%3D1%26spc%3D844%26slotId%3D26%26kws%3Dplus%20dresses

  3. Allie gave some great dress suggestions, so I’ll keep mine logistically oriented. If you order from Nordstrom or Lands End it’s so easy to return them to the store without shipping. When I want to build up my wardrobe (or get a specific special occasion dress) I’ll easily order 15 dresses and return 10.

  4. So many good suggestions here! Definitely Jockeys skimmies under the dress and a proper fitting bra. Get thee to a Nordstrom or bra boutique in your area and seek out the oldest, meanest looking salesperson there (preferably with an Eastern European accent). They will heft your bosoms and give you a shape you didn’t know you had. If your wedding is in the Dallas area (or if there will be a lot of people there from Dallas) you can also go big with accessories. Things that would look outlandish anywhere else (a BIG statement necklace, and BIG earrings, and a BIG bracelet) will look totally normal there.

  5. I live in the Deep South and just attended an outdoor wedding. I would emphasize wearing something like Jockey’s Skimmies and pretty but comfortable shoes, even though 75% of the time I was sitting at a table covered by a long table cloth. I wore a black skirt with a pretty green and silver print top and I splurged on Palm Beach sandals in silver with black trim. They are FLAT but with some arch support. I bought mine locally in my usual sandal size, but they are available on qvc.com. My sister who is plus-sized wore print palazzo pants with a pretty solid top with a lace yoke. I don’t know what shoes she wore since I couldn’t see them! Palazzo pants are very popular here now and she looked great. But if you want a dress, I would suggest a print from Lands’ End.

  6. A navy or black A-line dress can be very slimming and pretty. It is very basic but can be dressed up by accessories as much or as little as you like.

  7. One relevant issue here is – do you sew? For someone who is uncomfortable in fit-and-flare dresses, which usually have a defined waist line, a shift or sheath can be a flattering option. Sheath dresses are hard to fit on a pear-shape but if you can do simple alterations and are not more than 2 sizes different top-to-bottom you can sometimes get a sheath in a size that fits your bottom and then take the bodice in to fit. It’s easiest to do with dresses that aren’t lined, which may work out if you find a hot weather friendly linen.

    I wouldn’t fuss about the dress too much. The main thing is to go to the wedding and have a nice time. The bride will be the star, find a dress you can tolerate, put on lipstick and sparkly earrings and enjoy yourself.

  8. As an old Texas gal, I strongly suggest a non-black dress. While the younger set will not think anything of it, the older folks still think of black at a wedding as inappropriate (or white, for that matter). If you choose black or dark grey, liven with colored accessories to make it look festive. Enjoy the wedding!

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