Dress Codes: What to Wear at Work (and What Not)
Based on a survey, more than half of the workplaces have their own dress codes. Since the workplace nowadays is quite ambiguous with their work attire rules, this article will show you what to wear at work and what not to wear at work, for specific dress codes.
There are typically four kinds of dress codes in the office: business formal, business professional, business casual, and casual. They are discussed in this article, focusing on what men and women can and cannot wear, per kind of dress code. Make sure that you stay with the basics to guarantee that you are always appropriately dressed. This article also underscores the general guidelines you need to keep in mind for dress codes that are a bit more ambiguous.
BUSINESS FORMAL DRESS CODE
If you meet with executives and managers, work in law, or hold a high position in your company, you may be asked to come in business formal or what they also dub as boardroom attire. In terms of professional dressing, this is perhaps the highest level.
- A tailored 1-, 2-, or 3-button suit that is in a neutral and solid colors such as black, navy, or gray – no colorful suits
- Ties and other accessories that are conservative in style and color; stay away from novelty ties like cartoon characters or patterns for sports teams
- White, collared button-up shirts; no tee shirts
- Closed-toe oxfords in black or brown; do not wear loafers
- A well-cut skirt suit or pantsuit in modest and neutral colors, like black, brown, navy, or gray
- White button-ups with a collar
- Closed-toe heels in a neutral color like black, gray, taupe, or brown; do not expose your toes (e.g., sandals)
- Tights, particularly in a dark color
- Conservative earrings – go with diamond studs instead of large hoop earrings
- For skirts, make sure they are no more than two finger widths above your knees
BUSINESS PROFESSIONAL DRESS CODE
Business professional attire is merely one step down from business formal attire. Similar to business formal dressing, it is traditional, conservative, and neat. However, it can be a little more lenient in terms of pattern and color.
Still sometimes referred to as traditional business attire, a business professional dress code means that you have to show a professional appearance each day, showing a little bit of personality through more color choices and accessories.
- 1- or 2-button suit; even though you have to wear suit colors that are still conservative, you can wear some patterns on your suit, such as a conservative checks or stripes
- Lighter-colored and pressed dress pants with a sports jacket
- Modest ties with patterns and colors; still stay away from novelty ties
- High-end accessories like watches in gold, white gold, or silver and cuff links, as needed
- Collared button-up shirts using fairly conservative colors like blue, gray, and burgundy
- Conservatively colored and polished loafers or oxfords in brown or black
- A top, jacket, and skirt or suit in traditional neutral colors like brown, black, or navy
- Collared button-up shirts in solid colors
- Nude or dark hosiery
- Pumps that are closed-toe in brown or black
- Bigger, more obvious jewelry, such as a chunky watch or a statement necklace; should not be too distracting
- Skirts not more than two finger widths above the knees
BUSINESS CASUAL DRESS CODE
One of the more usual dress codes in North America, business casual attire allows employees to inject some personality to their work wear, while still looking professional. For a business casual environment, you can anticipate more accessories and more color.
- Any collared button-up shirts that are colored; conservative patterns in stripes are checks are also acceptable with or without a tie
- Ties in conservative patterns like checks, stripes, or dots, but most colors are acceptable; still no novelty ties
- Sweaters and pullovers on top of a collared shirt; striped, solid, or conservative patterned sweaters (no holiday-themed patterns); jewel-toned and primary colors are suggested
- Dressy slacks like pressed khakis for the summer or black dress pants with or without a sports jacket
- Casual accessories like a watch with a leather band
- Comfortable dress shoes in black or brown, such as loafers and oxfords; avoid sneakers
- Instead of a full suit – business separates, like a skirt with a jacket or cardigan
- Colored blouses and shirts instead of the required collared button downs; pick solid colors, conservative patterns such as checks or strips; do not wear bright patterns nor low-cut tops
- Khakis and slacks
- Bigger jewelry like big cuff-style watches or statement necklaces; does not need to be of the best quality – usage of gemstones or other casual materials are alright; scarves are acceptable
- Comfortable shoes such as flats, loafers, and pumps; still do not wear open-toed shoes; can be in any color, but black, red, brown, gray, and navy are the most suitable
CASUAL DRESS CODE
If you are one of the lucky few to work in a casual setting, there is a thin line between being casual and being too casual or creative in your dressing. Your workmates can make particular judgments concerning your ability based on how you dress. This can extend to your employer as well. If you arrive to work in casual clothing that is pressed, neat, and appropriate, you guarantee that the casual dress code is a boon, not a bane for you.
- Casual slacks and pants; never wear jeans unless expressly indicated by your human resources department – if permitted, wear only straight cut and dark washed jeans
- Crew neck pullovers and sweaters or collared polo shirts; many of the patterns and colors are alright, provided that they do not have a novelty pattern
- Casual accessories like loud colored watches
- Clean shoes; loafers and sneakers are suitable
- Well-fitted blouses and tops, with shirts not being too revealing or tight
- Skirts or slacks in casual fabrics like cotton; if denim is permissible, stick to dark wash; keep away from denim cuts that are too casual like flare jeans or cutoffs
- Knee-length skirts
- Open-toed shoes are allowed but avoid too casual shoes like flip-flops or sneakers
- Casual accessories like scarves; any quality for larger rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces are acceptable
GENERAL GUIDELINES ON WHAT TO WEAR AND WHAT NOT TO WEAR FOR AMBIGUOUS COMPANY DRESS CODES
There are some companies that are very specific with their dress codes, with clear dos and don’ts. However, some companies are a little less plain with what men and women in the workplace can and cannot wear. Nevertheless, if you follow these general guidelines, you will always be on point when you dress for work.
Dress as if you care, even if it is a casual workplace.
No matter what the dress code may be in your office, always dress as if you care – even if it is a casual workplace. Actually, it matters more if you follow a casual dress code. This is because, in the more recent years, with the casual dress code, people have become too complacent with what they wear to the workplace. Just because you can wear casual clothing does not mean you cannot care about the way you look and present yourself. This is just completely wrong.
Dress suitably for your industry, company, and work environment.
Just think about your industry, your company, and your work environment to figure out how to dress at work. Case in point, individuals who work in finance or law typically dress more traditionally than individuals who work for industries that are more creative. In addition, while you cannot go wrong with a beautifully pressed suit, this might be too extreme for a relaxed industry.
You do not need to peruse your company manual to find out what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to wear in your office. The best suggestion that image consultants give is to take a good look at your office and your supervisors and peers. Is your CEO wearing a formal business suit? Does your manager prefer long skirts and straight-cut slacks? Moreover, although your job position does not need you to meet with clients outside of the office, you are still trying to make a good impression on your boss or other potential future supervisors.
Interestingly enough, even though women have more choices on what to wear in the office, they also have more opportunities to make a mistake. A man cannot seem to draw a misstep when they choose to wear a button down shirt with khakis versus a tie and a shirt with slacks. Contrastingly, it seems more glaring when a woman picks a somewhat transparent maxi dress to wear to work. The effects on their reputations are also scarcely comparable.
Know your clothes’ purpose.
Use your clothes for what they are meant for. Do not substitute yoga pants for slacks, for example. This has been the case currently, as many people have been wearing tons of stylish active wear from the fashion market. Wear your office attire to the office; your summer outfit for the beach; your formal gown for a wedding; etc.
Avoid showing too much skin.
If you are a woman, avoid showing too much skin (e.g., cleavage). A neckline that is too low takes attention away from where it should really be. It is just too inappropriate and distracting in a business setting. This is actually a hard and fast rule for women in the workplace.
A study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly indicated that dressing too sexy has psychological impacts on your colleagues. Particularly, women who hold high-level positions wearing attire that is deemed sexy are perceived to be as less competent, no matter what their skill set may be.
In addition, these women were usually passed over for promotions more times than their female peers who were more conservatively dressed. Hence, if you are a woman and would like to move up the corporate ranks, rethink going too sexy with your outfits.
Keep yourself and your attire well groomed.
Even if you are dealing with a dress code that is business casual or casual, you and your clothing should always be well groomed. Keep your hair neat and your nails clean. Make sure that your clothes are not wrinkly and that they are pressed well. Dirty, torn, or fraying clothes are inappropriate. Guarantee that all your seams are finished. Clothing that has terms, images, or words that may appear offensive to other people in the company is improper.
We actually encourage that you wear clothing with your company logo. For the more casual settings, it is actually generally acceptable to wear fashion brand names, university, or sports team logos, and the like.
Understand the importance of fit.
Many people do not know the right fit of their clothes for their bodies – but this is very important. Some have even noted that this is the first rule for buying any kind of clothing.
Many individuals wear clothes that are just too large or improperly tailored. This is a fashion problem that can easily be avoided. We suggest that you buy clothes from department stores or boutiques with tailors situated on site. Alternatively, you can patronize the tailor in your neighborhood. This does not sound very sexy or glamorous, as it hearkens to measurements and numbers, which can be very boring. However, the most exquisite suit will not look good on you when you wear it and it does not fit well.
How will you know if something is a good fit? Well, it should flatter your body and it should draw attention to portions of your body you would like to highlight, like your shoulders, chest, or face. In addition, it should diminish portions of your body that you would rather hide, like a round tummy, for example.
So take some time to know your body and get a tailor for some precise measurements. Learn to reject clothes that do not fit well and cannot be adjusted to your body, even if it is in a style and color that you like.
Know your style.
Speaking of style, make sure you know what your style is. If you are more traditional and modest, go that route. Do not try to be creative and colorful if you are not comfortable with it. Remember, if you feel comfortable in your style, you tend to be more confident and engaging.
Actually, this is very attractive inside and outside of the workplace. Just take a look at high-powered men and women who have carved a fashion niche for themselves, who have signature styles of their own. Simply watch this video of Michelle Obama’s fashion style:
Always present yourself the best way possible.
At the end of the day, always present yourself the best way you possibly can. In the past, people used to put a lot of effort in getting dressed for work – it was already a habit for them. So try to get into that routine and do not just simply wear something at random.
Good intentions are everything, so try to dress well as much as you can, as often as you can. This shows that you respect your employer enough to demonstrate that you want to represent them in a good light all the time.