Business Attire Guidelines

Posted August 25, 2021

In professional settings you will be expected to wear clothing that is known as business attire. Depending on the type of office you work in, the company culture, and the events for the day such as meetings or interviews you might dress your business attire up or down. Business attire has many levels of formality ranging from casual to formal. In this article we will discuss the types of business attire and which situations they are best suited for at your workplace.

Business Attire Guidelines

Types of Business Attire

Here is an outline of the most common workplace attire choices:

1. Casual

You should avoid wearing casual attire when meeting with clients, leading presentations, or going in for an interview. Casual business attire includes articles of clothing such as t-shirts, jeans, loose fitting shorts, sneakers or open-toed shoes. This type of attire might be worn on Fridays at work or all the time if your company culture is more laid back. It's also appropriate for outings with coworkers outside of work at certain laid back team meetups, not meant for job interviews.

Casual for women

For women casual attire includes T-shirts, casual blouses and comfortable sweaters on top. Casual bottoms include jeans, cropped pants or loose-fitted shorts. Shoes for casual wear might include sneakers, sandals, or low heels.

Casual for men

For men casual attire might include items like T-shirts, casual button-down shirts or sweaters on top. Casual bottoms might include jeans, khaki pants or loose-fitted shorts. Shoes for casual wear might include sneakers, sandals, or loafers.

2. Smart casual

Smart casual is a stylish casual business attire that is great for informal internal meetings. Smart casual is not always appropriate for job interviews unless it is an internal interview or an interview with a company that is notoriously trendy such as a clothing boutique or trendy restaurant. When dressing in smart casual you might include more trendy items of clothing to dress up your casual look and dress down a formal look. Smart casual business attire is appropriate for flexible workplaces and informal settings. It might be appropriate to wear smart casual in an informal interview for a more casual office. That way, you fit in with the informal dress code and maintain a smart, professional look that shows how you care about your appearance amongst peers and clients.

Smart casual for women

Smart casual for women includes blazers, sweaters, blouses, dresses, skirts, dress pants, heels, flats, statement jewelry and scarves.

Smart casual for men

Smart casual for men includes button-down shirts, sports jackets, polos, ties, khakis, dress shoes, stylish boots, clean sneakers and belts.

3. Business casual

If you’re still going into the office your company might claim their dress code is business casual. Business casual is a mix of formal business items and trendy smart casual items dressed either down or up. This business attire is often appropriate for interviews, client meetings and office settings. It should be comfortable but not messy, sharp but not stiff.  Since business casual is neither casual nor formal, it is usually appropriate for job interviews if you’re unsure about the setting or dress code.

Business casual for women

For business casual, avoid jeans and shorts. Women usually go for blazers, fitted sweaters, pencil skirts, trendy blouses, button-down shirts, stretch dress pants, and khakis. For business casual, accessorize with simple jewelry and belts. Shoes might include flats, dressy boots or heels.

Business casual for men

For business casual, men usually wear slacks, khakis, button-downs with the sleeves rolled up or down, fitted polos, or sport coats. Optional jackets and ties can be used to accessorize. Business casual shoes for men include lifestyle sneakers (with leather or canvas), loafers, oxfords or dress boots.

4. Business professional

Business professional attire is the traditional dress code for conservative company settings. Industries like accounting, banking, finance, law and government might require a business professional attire. This type of attire is notably well-fitted, tailored to fit you specifically, and looks dressed up and formal. This might be how you would dress for a big high-stakes presentation or an interview for a formal business meeting in a high level position.

Business professional for women

Business professional attire for women should include items like tidy conservative dresses, skirts or tailored slacks. Tops should include neat button-down shirts or high end blouses with a sharp blazer. Business professional shoes include classic heels lower than three inches, trendy flats or loafers. Women often accessorize this look with minimal jewelry and belts.

Business professional for men

When men dress in business professional attire they wear a dark-colored (gray, black, or navy) suit and tie. The tie is usually simple, avoiding bright colors or crazy patterns. Under the jacket men wear a button-down shirt (preferably light-blue or white.) Pair with a professional shoe like an oxford or leather loafer. Accessories like a traditional analog watch and a belt are acceptable.

5. Business formal

In settings like award ceremonies, professional “black tie” events, and special benefits business formal is appropriate. Business formal attire is also a common attire for weddings, so having a business formal outfit is a good idea for most professionals. The look is tidy, conservative, and sharp, so avoid any casual clothing items. Business formal attire is not recommended for job interviews because you’d be overdressed.

Business formal for women

Business formal attire for women includes dark colored pantsuits, skirt suits or suit dresses. In formal evening events such as benefits or awards ceremonies, a long evening dress may be appropriate. Shoe options for women include formal flats, heels 3 inches or lower, oxfords or loafers if wearing a pantsuit. Minimalist jewelry and formal evening makeup may be appropriate.

Business formal for men

Business formal attire for men is similar to business professional attire—a dark suit and tie. For some events a three piece suit might be appropriate, this includes a matching jacket, vest, and pants. In most business formal settings an ironed black suit is appropriate with a light button-down shirt. Men's shoe options include oxford or loafers with clean lines. If you select a black suit avoid wearing brown or blue shoes, go with black shoes if possible. Accessories include belts, a tie clip, and small minimal cuff links.

6. Gender-neutral professional dress

There are many gender-neutral options for professional dress attire. Dressing gender-neutral clothing items up or down depending on the situation is the way to go if looking for a non-binary outfit. 

For casual attire, jeans, sweaters and t-shirts are good options and it's important to find the look and fit that best suits you. For footwear, choose trendy sneakers or loafers. For more formal business settings, you might choose dark slacks,pantsuits, trousers or ironed chinos. Some formal tops might include sweaters, button-downs or dress shirts with cardigans or blazers. Shoes for more formal settings include loafers, oxfords or stylish lace-up shoes.

Tips for selecting Business Attire:

Consider these next few pointers when selecting your attire for various professional events:

  • Pay attention to what the other employees at your workplace wear on a regular basis. The office may seem to be accepting of casual wear, while the leaders in your department might dress more formally on a daily basis.  If you are at a point in your career where you would like to make upward movement within the company’s hierarchy, consider wearing what the people in leadership positions wear on a daily basis. In other words, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
  • When going to an interview, take a look at the company’s social media profiles and “About Us” pages for clues about their company culture. If a company has a social media presence they probably have pictures of the office or of company events that might give you clues as to how they typically dress. If you’re still nervous about dressing appropriately for your interview, ask your recruiter or another contact you might have from within the company what they recommend you wear in the interview.
  • If you have a business meeting you are preparing for, ask your peers who know the person you are meeting with how the offices operate in terms of business attire. Consider how to best appear respectful and professional in a one on one meeting setting.
  • In any professional or business setting, try to avoid overly busy or large accessories, heels that are four inches or higher, and any items of clothing with profanity, offensive imagery, or vulgar phrases. Try to keep business attire free of stains or wrinkles, and gather enough items to have various combinations of outfits throughout the work week.
  • If you are new to a company, check the dress code for both work and for special events so that you will fit in while looking sharp and on trend. If you are ever unsure of what to wear, don't be afraid to ask what the norm is from a mentor or peer, or ask a few others what they are going to wear. Dressing appropriately at work and work related events can help your reputation as a professional employee that cares about your success within the company.
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