7 Semi-Formal Dresses For Under $50

Well bitches, Halloween is behind us, and it’s so cold that we have to wear jackets to frats to avoid hypothermia, but that doesn’t mean your social life is over. Luckily, semi SZN is upon us. Honestly, three years into college I’m still not clear as to why it’s called “semi” when it’s basically the same as formal, but I’m not one to complain about another excuse to dress up, get drunk, and post a cute Instagram. 

I totally get wanting to buy a new dress that your frat star of a date will call “really hot.” However, as someone who feels a compulsive need to buy something new for every event (blame my mother) trust me when I say you don’t need to break the bank on a dress you’ll wear twice, max. Here are eight affordable dresses that are perfect for semi-formal. 

If You’re A Little Basic And Proud

by the way. Kathleen Strappy Mini Dress, $52

If you’re going to pick a basic little black dress, you’ll either look like a freshman or an upperclassman who couldn’t be bothered, but like, in a good way. Black bodycon dresses are super flattering and always serve their purpose. The best part is, if you look really hot no one will notice that you look basic!

This reliable dress comes from the equally dependable Revolve. They have Amazon-Prime-speed shipping and free returns. While Revolve’s items can be a little pricey, you can often find a lot of options that won’t raise a red flag on your parent’s credit card statement if you know how to look (read: use the low-to-high sort setting). 

If You’re Looking for A Not So Basic LBD

Superdown Maia One Shoulder Bodycon Dress, $34

This one is still on the safe side but a little riskier. There’s something about the combo of a cool neckline and cut-outs that make it seem more ~original~ than any black bodycon dress I’ve seen before. This dress comes from my new go-to online shopping site called superdown. The Revolve-owned brand was launched last year and is waaaay cheaper than its parent site, plus, there’s always a promo code available. 

If You’re Into The Girly Vibe

Pretty Little Thing Black Dooby Mesh Ruffle Skater Dress, $45

This adorable lace dress is another play on the LBD that doesn’t feel super basic. The flare-style skater skirt bottom is ideal for looking super hot without wearing a tight-ass dress you can’t comfortably sit down in. This dress will give you an effortlessly chic look with more comfort and breathing room for your lower half. Pretty Little Thing is a great place to look for dresses since they have pretty reasonable prices and great student discounts.

If You Love Being The Center Of Attention

Topshop Holographic Bodycon Dress, $48

The attention-hoe inside of me LOVES a full glitter lewk, and this dress is perfect for it. Trust me—if you do it right, you’ll look f*cking sick. By that, I mean wearing nude heels, leaving the hoops at home, and resisting the urge to put on glitter eye shadow. Less is definitely more when it comes to accessorizing with this dress.

Pro-tip: The right glittery dress can be super versatile. It can double as a great birthday outfit and a disco-ball costume for Halloween/a disco-themed date party. And, of course, New Year’s.

If You Want To Look Hot AF

Missguided Red Slinky One Shoulder Dress, $34

This dress is perfect for Insta, but if you think you’re going to be the only girl who uses the caption “high heels, red dress,” think again, bitch. That said, it’s a great caption, and you should still do it, because the Jonas Brothers are the sh*t. 

I have a dress like this that all of my friends have borrowed at one point or another, and it literally hasn’t looked bad on a single one of them! Honestly, something about a red one-shouldered dress makes people look so good. It’s just science. 

Pro-tip: Wear nude or clear heels with a red dress, they’ll look much better than black.

If You’re Over Dresses

Tobi Cowl Neck Jumpsuit, $47

I know I said this was a list of dresses, but I am honestly such a fan of jumpsuits that I had to include at least one. Let’s face it, dresses aren’t for everyone and jumpsuits are super comfortable, will make your legs look longer, and hide the fact that you haven’t shaved since Halloween! This Tobi jumpsuit gives off such don’t-f*ck-with-me vibes, and I am so here for it. I love Tobi because somehow, they’re always having a sale. 

If You Need A Little Color

Nasty Gal Jewel World Diamante Satin Mini Dress, $21

If you want a totally different look that will make you stand out, bright colors are the way to go. Even with the extra AF rhinestone straps, this hot pink dress somehow still looks pretty classy. If the bright pink is a little too much for you, I get it. Dark purples, blues, and greens are also perfect for a little bit of color that doesn’t, like, scream, “look at me!!” Also, like Tobi, Nasty Gal is always having a sale, so you’re sure to get a good deal on this dress whenever you buy it.

Bonus: If You Want to Splurge

superdown Naomi Mini Dress, $68

I tried keeping all of these dresses under $50, but this one was too good to leave out. TBH, I even thought about not including because I love it so much and don’t want anyone else to have it, but we can consider this my good deed for the week. It’s super on-trend being a snake print mini-dress, and it’s versatile enough to both work for semi and be worn throughout the year casually. This dress has been literally haunting my dreams and I’ll be putting it in my cart the second it goes on sale.

I am super supportive of the irresistible addiction desire to constantly buy new stuff, but it’s also not the end of the world to rewear something. We’re all too narcissistic to notice, especially when everyone is super drunk. Like I said before, my friends and I have a few items that are on constant rotation. It’s like sisterhood of the traveling pants, except if you throw up in it, you have to pay for it to be cleaned. 

Even though your frat star date probably won’t notice that you spent close to $50, I promise that all of these dresses will at least earn you a drunken compliment in the bathroom from the girl in your sorority you’ve never talked to.

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Images: Ksenia Varapaeva / Unsplash; Revolve; superdown (2); Nasty Gal; Tobi; Missguided; Topshop; Pretty Little Thing

Reagan Anthony
Reagan Anthony
Reagan Anthony is aggressively from Cleveland and a junior at Tulane University. Her hobbies include taste testing chicken nuggets, 6 AM workout classes, and reminding people of her peanut allergy. If she isn’t color-coding her notes, she can be found stirring the pot at her favorite frat house. Reagan is spending the semester in London, and (like every other basic girl abroad) will be documenting her adventures on Instagram @thatssooreagan.