From Business Formal to Casual: Understanding Women's Workplace Dress Codes

From Business Formal to Casual: Understanding Women's Workplace Dress Codes

Hey girl, I know that figuring out the different types of  dress codes for work can be boring.  So, here I’ll provide you with a quick snapshot of what they are and a few tips and examples on what pieces should be worn within each.  But, before we get into that let me share a few tips that I’ve found useful:

  • Invest in a few high-quality clothing pieces that can be mixed and matched with items you currently have, allowing you to create various outfits.
  • Seek shoes that you feel comfortable in.
  • Keep your clothes clean and ironed.
  • Look for accessories that showcase your personal style and compliment the outfits.
  • If the dress code is business casual or smart casual incorporating color and patterns is okay, but just be mindful not to overdo it
  • As you shop for business clothing, avoid revealing pieces.  

Business Formal is the most conservative and usually seen in high-level positions such as lawyers, finance and bankers.  In order to achieve business formal items you’ll need to invest in full matching suits in dark colors such as black, navy, or dark gray. When you’re looking for tops they should be collared blouses in neutral colors.  Pair this with closed-toe heels or flats and simple accessories like pearls.  

Business professional is less conservative than business formal but it’s still “formal”.  The colors that are appropriate here are black, gray, navy and neutral. The main difference here is that knee-length skirts and dresses are acceptable, and can be interchanged with blazers.  Similar to business formal accessories are simple and you can wear closed toe-heels or flats.  

Business casual attire is a mix between professional and a more relaxed style, but know that this dress code is versatile and can vary depending on the employer’s interpretation of it.  Here you have more items that you can play with like slacks, khakis, skirts, blouses, tops, sweaters, blazers, cardigans, dresses and jeans.  In reference to jeans, know that some employees only allow you to wear jeans on Friday.  As you think about colors and patterns that can be used you have more flexibility here, but I would avoid neon, very bright colors and wild patterns.  When you think about the accessories you want to incorporate with your outfit you have so much flexibility here, and remember that playing with accessories is a great way to change an outfit.  When you think about shoes you can wear closed toe-heels, flats, and loafers.

Smart casual attire is between business casual and casual attire.  Here you can incorporate items from business casual as well as fitted pants, wide-leg pants, tapered pants, maxi, midi and wrap dresses.  Within smart casual attire you can really showcase your personality and your fashion style by adding colors and patterns, but try to avoid bright or flashy ones.  Similar to business casual attire accessories can be flashier and you can wear closed toe-heels, flats and loafers.  

Casual attire is used in an extremely relaxed work environment where feeling comfortable is prioritized.  Even though your clothing can be more relaxed, it still needs to be in good condition, attractive, and appropriate for work.  Jeans are very common here, but stay away from jeans with holes.  Appropriate t-shirts, regular tops, sneakers, flats and bolder accessories are all acceptable. 

The above provides you with a snapshot of the four dress codes.  It’s important that you understand and adhere to the dress code of the company that you’re working at.  Once you understand the dress code that you need to adhere to, choose clothing that is well-fitted and in good condition. You don’t need to break the bank when you start to build your work wardrobe, go ahead and invest in items that fit the professional attire you're seeking, and incorporate those with items that you currently have.  

Dressing the part is key, but also your confidence and how you carry yourself is extremely important. Know that when you feel good about what you’re wearing it shows and you carry yourself differently.  No matter which dress code you need to adhere to make sure you feel good in it and when possible showcase your personal style, and don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you!

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