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August 7, 2019

Business

What should I wear to work?

Man and woman in business professional dress

Many offices implement dress codes and expectations, especially in industries that are client-facing and where company image is a priority. Being an appropriately dressed employee conveys that you are educated, professional, and have a sense of responsibility.

The business dress code standard has changed dramatically over the years, especially since the millennial generation has entered the workforce. 

Though most offices today would never have a business dress code demanding anyone to always be decked out in a suit or dress (the clients of many businesses today actually find it off-putting when “the suits” show up for a meeting), it's important to be familiar with what the expectations are for daily office wear. It’s also good to be familiar with some attire expectations for job interviews when you are not yet familiar with the company's office culture.

“What to wear to work?”

What companies mean by business attire, business casual, office casual, etc., will depend on each company and the expectations they have for their employees. 

What is business professional dress?

“Business professional” is a familiar term frequently used, but do you know what the expectations are? Do you know how to dress professionally?

Appropriate outfits for a given office/professional situation will become second nature after you’ve been working in a particular office for a while, but it can be confusing when you enter a new career or even just a new job. It's always appropriate to double check with your supervisor or HR office regarding what to wear to work.

What does business professional attire consist of for men?

For men, business professional wear may include a dark, conservative-colored suit (black, blue, grey, etc., preferably tailored) and a clean, neatly-kept hairstyle, but it at least includes:

  • A long-sleeve, collared shirt (white or light blue, traditionally)

  • Lightweight briefcase or portfolio

  • Conservative tie (solid, striped, or simple pattern; bottom of tie should barely cover belt buckle)

  • Dark slacks

  • Dark socks

  • Coordinated dark leather belt with simple, conservative buckle

  • Professional dress shoes

  • Little to no cologne or aftershave

What does business professional attire consist of for women?

Women may wear a business suit with pants or a skirt and clean, neatly-kept hair. A business professional outfit for a female often includes:

  • Solid, dark colors

  • A coordinated blouse or women’s dress shirt

  • Light make-up

  • Pantyhose

  • Moderate, professional shoes

  • Minimal jewelry

  • Little to no perfume

Though every office is different with its own individual culture and expectations for an office dress code, some situations you would likely see it appropriate to wear business professional attire include:

  • A first meeting, job interview, or business presentation

  • The banking/financial industry

  • A legal office

  • A real estate office

What is business casual dress?

Man in business casual dress

More and more offices are going from the more traditional "business professional" attire to what's known as "business casual."

Business casual attire is for offices where business suits aren't expected, but where t-shirts, sandals, and cargo shorts are considered too casual.

So, what is business casual? Here are some guidelines for what is commonly accepted as "business casual":

For men, business casual wear will typically include:

  • A tucked-in polo shirt or collared knit long-sleeved shirt (possibly with a tie), or a sweater

  •  A clean and well-groomed appearance

  • Coordinated leather belt

  • Closed-toe leather shoes

  • Jeans and shorts are not considered acceptable for business casual attire

A business casual outfit for women includes:

  • Dress pants, skirt (at or below knee), or dress (no jeans or shorts)

  • A clean, well-groomed appearance

  • Coordinated blouses, polo shirts, knit shirts, or sweaters

  • Scarves are typically acceptable

  • Closed-toe shoes, with heels < 2.5 inches

What about a casual dress code?

Woman in business casual dress

Even with loosening expectations when it comes to appropriate attire for an office, there are still some “common sense” boundaries that call for good judgment in the absence of specific details. Keep in mind that one office’s “casual” might be another’s “business casual.”

A particularly hot day might prompt management to tell everyone to “dress down,” but you probably don’t want to show up looking like you just came from the beach. As you get to know your company better, you'll get a better feel for what's appropriate in a given situation.  

So, what are common expectations for “casual” in an office?

Options for men and women include:

  • Jeans with a blazer

  • Button-down shirts with khaki pants

  • Dark wash jeans with a nice top

  • A blazer with a nice t-shirt

  • Tailored jeans with a plaid shirt

What should I wear to an interview?

Job interviews can be a bit tricky to dress for, as you don’t want to overdress, but you certainly don’t want to underdress. When you set up the appointment, you can take the opportunity to get a feel for what the dress code is like in the office where you’ll be meeting, and glean what you can about what you should wear to the job interview.

A national CareerBuilder.com survey conducted in 2013 revealed that the best colors recommended to wear to a job interview were blue (23 percent) and black (15 percent).

Many of those hiring and HR professionals questioned consider more conservative colors like black, grey, blue, and brown as those that project a better sense of professionalism.

Brighter colors like purple, green, yellow, and orange are more closely associated with creativity.

Think like an interviewer. What would you think if you were interviewing someone who was wearing the outfit you are considering?

Other insights to glean from the CareerBuilder survey include:

  • Let your interview attire be appropriate for the environment, but be careful not to overdo it or get “too” casual. Regardless of what you wear, you always want to look well-groomed and polished. If you don’t wear a business suit, at least wear a nice, pressed pair of pants or skirt and a blouse or collared shirt and tie.

  • Some color is good, distraction is not. You want to be remembered for your skills and good interaction skills, not because of a crazy-looking tie or blouse. Solids and conservative patterns are always best for interviews.

  • Details. Make sure you look crisp, well-pressed, manicured, and well-groomed. Your shoes should be shined. Your belt, belt buckle, tie, tie clip, socks, hosiery, etc. should all convey a sense of professionalism.

There are many things that can help you get hired, such as hands-on business experience, or a relevant degree—how you dress is only one of them.

Why office dress codes are good.

A business dress code can set the tone for expectations of professionalism in an office, while a lack of one may possibly detract from such expectations.

In addition to helping maintain a professional image for a company, an office dress code lays out clear expectations of what kind of apparel is considered appropriate in the workplace. It also helps foster a sense of uniformity and of being a member of a team for employees.

Having a dress code can be one more way to level the expectations for all employees, which could be beneficial for women in the office. An evolving office culture will set the standard for how staff members are expected to dress, but human resources managers will ultimately decide the dress code for any organization.

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