Professional business clothes should show that you are trustworthy and knowledgeable, but they should also show a bit of your personality without going too far. It is important to understand your office’s cultural norms for both business casual and “client-ready” days, as standards differ across states, occupations, and offices.
Office Dress Code
How you should dress in your office is largely dependent on your company’s dress code and the cultural norms of your office. Companies usually issue employee handbooks with formalized dress codes, and that is also a good starting point to understand what is appropriate to wear in your office.
A good tip is to observe the attire of your supervisors and women who are similar in rank to you in your office for a week or two whenever you start a new job. It is important to pay attention to what they wear on days where there might be an important meeting (when you will typically see the most formal attire) and on ordinary days. The best way to figure out how formal your office is is to look at what other people are wearing.
Business formal attire
Think of business formal attire as what you would wear to an interview, when you’re giving an important presentation to the CEO, or when you’re going to court. It’s the most formal attire one can wear to work.
Formal business suits
Business suits are the most basic building block of business formal attire. They have a blazer and either pants or a skirt made of the same fabric as the blazer. It is best to buy suits in a neutral color, like black or dark gray, and in a seasonless fabric like wool. Look for a store that has a wide range of classic, stylish, and well-coordinated suit separates in styles that are appropriate for the most formal work environments, and visit from time to time to find new looks. Get to know the employees so they can help you with fitting and get to know your taste. Also sign up for their newsletter.
Suits should be well-fitting. Pay particular attention to details like:
- Length of the sleeves on the blazer. The sleeves should end at your wrist without going down over your hands.
- How the blazer sits on your shoulders It should fit snugly at the edge of your shoulders without hanging past.
- Length of the skirt and the slit at the back of the skirt, especially when sitting down or walking. The skirt should come at least to the top of your knees.
- Length of the trousers, especially when worn with heels or flats. The trouser cuff should hit at the midway point of either type of shoe and may need to be tailored depending on your height and the height of shoe you typically wear.
- Button closure in the front. Even if you plan to wear the jacket open, you should be able to comfortably fasten any front button. There should not be a lot of extra room when the blazer is buttoned.
There are trends in business suits, similar to the rest of fashion, but the tried-and-true simple, unembellished suit is appropriate for all formal business occasions.
Formal business tops
People sometimes call the buttoned-up shirt the workhorse of a business formal outfit because it comes in so many colors, patterns, and fabrics and can be worn to any business formal event. Business suits can also be worn with pullover shell blouses made of lightweight materials. Ann Taylor has a nice selection of tops that are suitable for work and go well with business suits.
- A cotton blend, rayon, or silk top is often the best option.
- The color or pattern you choose should coordinate with your suit. Conservative tones like black, white, burgundy, hunter green, and navy are good, as are light colors like baby blue, light pink, and white. Avoid neon tones or anything too trendy.
- Any neckline you prefer is fine, that is not too long.
Well-made leather pumps are essential to a professional woman’s wardrobe. They should be comfortable while remaining stylish and work-appropriate. Both flats and heels are appropriate for the workday. In most cases, close-toe styles are preferred for formal business wear. They should be comfortable while remaining stylish and work-appropriate. Both flats and heels are appropriate for the workday. In most cases, close-toe styles are preferred for formal business wear. Hush Puppies has a great line of attractive and comfortable shoes for formal business wardrobes.
- Most people recommend shoes with heels between two and four inches high for comfort and to look professional. Flats can also be appropriate.
- Two pairs of shoes are necessary at a minimum (though chances are you’ll want more than that!). A pair in black leather and a see through patent shoe would be appropriate for most workwear outfits.
- It is also important to maintain the condition of your shoes. Scuffed toes and worn-down heels are no-nos in a professional situation, so be sure to frequently take them to the cobbler or get them cleaned once a season.
Pearls are the ultimate in conservative accessories. In a formal business environment, you will never go wrong with a great set of pearls, be it a pair of earrings or a single-strand necklace. Pearls range dramatically in price points, but cheaper pearls and even fake pearls would be appropriate in the right size.
At work, you need a good leather handbag, whether it’s a designer brand or not, and it needs to be big enough to hold letter-sized papers. For a formal workplace, it’s best to buy a handbag in a neutral color, like black or brown, that does not show stains easily. You can find quality leather handbags at a variety of stores and online retailers.
Business Casual Professional Style
Casual dressing in a business environment is extremely different from a casual outfit that one would wear in non-work settings. Business casual attire is often worn in creative industries and on ‘casual Friday’ days. It is sometimes referred to as smart casual.
Trousers that are bought separately from a suit will become a central piece of your business casual closet. They come in a variety of cuts: curvy ladies might enjoy bootcut trousers such as those in Old Navy’s Mid-Rise Boot Cut Khakis, whereas smaller ladies might prefer the more tapered Mid-Rise Skinny Everyday Khakis.
Depending on how your office works, you might not want to wear pants with colors and patterns.
- For more conservative offices, stick to pants in a solid neutral, like black, navy, or camel.
- For ladies in more creative industries, you might be able to wear pants in jeweled tones and with subtle patterns, though neon colors and loud prints should be avoided.
The best skirt styles for a business casual setting are pencil skirts and a-line skirts. Many local stores carry a nice selection of Worthington and Liz Claiborne pencil skirts, and major stores have a great choice of a-line skirts from known brands.
- It is best to choose a wool-blend or cotton-blend skirt to minimize wrinkling.
- Printed and colored skirts have become increasingly popular in recent years as well.
- A denim skirt would not be appropriate for the office.
In general, blouses appropriate for the workplace have sleeves and are not sheer. Talbots is a great place to shop for work-appropriate blouses. If you would like to make a sleeveless blouse work for the office, wearing a cardigan or blazer over the blouse would be ideal.
There is a huge variety of blouses out there, but the ones universally appropriate for the workplace are:
- Silk or rayon shirts in solid colors
- Bow-tie blouses
- Cowl-neck blouses
Work dresses should not be too tight, too short, or overly revealing in general. Old Navy has a nice selection of affordable business-casual dresses. Many of their styles can be paired with blazers and cardigans for the colder months, as well as for a polished look throughout the year. Dresses worn in warmer months should have sleeves, as sleeveless looks are generally too casual for most workplaces.
Jeans are sometimes appropriate for business casual offices, like on ‘jeans Fridays.’ Before showing up at work in jeans, though, make sure they are acceptable in your office. In general, if jeans are allowed at work, it’s best to stick to a darker wash and jeans that are free from rips and tears. The best styles to wear to the office are bootcut, tapered, and straight cut.
Skinny jeans that are skintight and boyfriend jeans (oversized denim) would not be appropriate for the office.
Statement necklaces and earrings have become increasingly popular in recent years. They add a pop of color and personality to outfits, but should be worn with care so that they do not overly distract or make sounds when you move, such as bells on your earrings.
You can choose a more casual purse style to go with business casual clothes instead of the basic black leather style that goes best with formal professional clothes. Avoid going with anything that is too casual, such as an oversized canvas tote or a particularly blingy style. Other than ‘over the top’ looks like those, you can be creative when it comes to selecting your business casual handbag. Organizer purses are a particularly good option.
Business casual outfits can include a little more personality than more formal attire. For example, opt for a pair of colorful flats (such as the Pirassa Ballet flat) to wear with black pants and a cream shirt, or select a pair of shoes with some studded embellishment. The key is to keep it simple and not delve into ruffles, frills, or glitter—these are too casual and do not give a good impression of your competence.
Purchasing professional attire
Depending on your budget, prices for a full business professional closet can range from $89 to well over $3,000
For ladies on a larger budget, the best places for professional business wear are luxury department stores that offer high-end suiting and work-appropriate attire. These places are usually stand alone stores that give you full services such as measuring, delivery to your door, and all the bells and whistles.
Malls are a good place to find a wide range of clothing; take your time and you will find the clothes that have a good set match. Between $200 and $500 should be more than enough to make you look good.
There are plenty of great options for finding professional clothing on a budget. If you are just starting out and are in need of a cheaper alternative, it is important to take fit and length into consideration, as these cheaper options are typically shorter and tighter than is appropriate for the office. In this situation, spending a little more on tailoring would pay off in the long run.
The Basics of Professional Attire
Professional dress starts with clean, well-fitting clothes and avoiding clothes that aren’t right for the job.
- A suit, no matter how expensive, will always look disheveled and unprofessional if it is unironed or too tight.
- As a rule of thumb, skirts should be no shorter than the tips of your fingers.
- Buttons on your shirt should not gape open when worn.
- Suits and trousers bought off the rack often do not fit perfectly, so tailoring may be needed for a proper fit.
Building Your Work Wardrobe
If you are a recent college graduate or someone who wants to build a professional work wardrobe, you should start by buying two suits (one pantsuit and one skirt suit) made of a material that doesn’t change with the seasons, like wool, and three to five shirts that go well with your suits. As you grow into your role or add to your wardrobe budget, accessories and additional trouser, blouse, and dress options can slowly be worked into your closet.
Getting ready for work is not an easy task, especially when you wake up early in the morning and force yourself out of bed. But it’s also important to be well-groomed and know how to dress professionally for men’s business casual. This shows who you are. Your personality accounts for 80% of your success, and technical expertise accounts for 20%.
Also, no matter how talented or skilled you are, if you are not well-dressed, it will be harder for you to make a lasting impression. People don’t prefer to engage with untidy, badly dressed individuals. The problem is that we men feel too lazy to decide on stylish ways to wear work clothes. Here are some quick and easy business casual styles you can incorporate into your daily office wear. Business casual attire for men, just as the name suggests, isn’t as formal as a business suit; it is actually a relaxed style with smart elements that are acceptable in an office setting. Here is how you can dress professionally.
Outerwear: Blazers, sport coats, and sweaters are all important parts of business casual attire. You should have at least four different varieties so that you can build the rest of your wardrobe around them.
Shirt: Button-down shirts are ideal for an office setting. You can wear neutral colors like gray, white, or black. Don’t be afraid to try prints such as stripes and micro-check. They’re slightly more casual than solid colors but look fantastic in the business casual range.
Pants: Chinos, khakis, and corduroy pants are perfect. Dress pants are also acceptable. Go for versatile colors like black, grey, and beige. Your coat does not need to match your trousers in this case.
Footwear: Classic shoes, boots, or loafers made of leather or suede can be worn with your business casual outfits.
Not Appropriate for Business Casual
T-shirt: Long-sleeve polo neck t-shirts are okay as long as your workplace allows for them, but avoid collarless t-shirts as they’re too casual for office attire.
Casual Pants: Jeans are not business casual; cargo pants and athletic wear such as sweat pants and track pants should not be worn.
Sports Shoes: Sneakers, sandals, and flip-flops should not be worn.
Men’s Business Casual Look
Lighter shades like white, sky blue, and pink are perfect for spring and summer. You can wear them with versatile pants like black, navy, and grey; however, lighter colors like khaki, beige, and off-white are perfect for summer.
Moreover, as far as footwear is concerned, it’s better to stick with a classic pair of leather shoes and match them with your belt.
Autumn and Winter Outfit Ideas for Work
Wool pea coats, sportscoats, and business casual sweaters are appropriate for cold weather; they’re not only warm but look dressy. Wear them over darker winter shades like brown, navy, and charcoal, and complete the look with leather or suede Chelsea boots.
Here are seven ways to wear a shirt, a pair of pants, and a coat that work well for business casual.
with a dark blue shirt
Grey Blazer + Blue Shirt + Pant
The color blue symbolizes trust, loyalty, and confidence, which are what most employers seek from their employees. It goes best if paired with
Double-breasted coat + burgundy shirt + pants
Burgundy is a color that represents wealth, power, and ambition, all of which are important for being successful. It looks fantastic paired with
- Navy Blue
Grey sports coat + white shirt + pants
White is the color of purity, peace, and completeness. The white dress shirt is the most classic and versatile shirt you should have in your wardrobe. However, you can style it with any color. To get the most out of it, pair it with
- Olive Green
- Navy Blue
Checkered Blazer + Sky Blue Shirt + Pant
Blue is considered the color of nature, like the sky and ocean. It’s a fresh color. It looks like the best pair with
- Olive Green
Textured Blazer + Black Shirt + Pant
Black symbolizes strength, authority, and aggression. It is a sophisticated color and makes you look bold. You’ve probably heard of the term “shopping term. If it’s not black, then put it back. Pair it with any color you want, and we suggest lighter colors.
- Ivory White
Charcoal Blazer + Pink Shirt + Pant
It’s a myth that men should not wear pink. Pink is the color that represents affection, inner peace, and approachability. It gives your personality a touch of kindness and a love for others, which is vital if you are a leader.
For pants, choose the following colors:
Teal Blazer + Grey Shirt + Pant
Grey is a perfectly balanced color, as all things should be. How to dress professionally in the gray shirt is by pairing it with pants of the following colors:
- black pants
These were some brilliant ways to mix and match your business casual attire. You can also be a little creative with your style while staying within the guidelines mentioned above. Now you’re well aware of how to dress professionally.
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