What Is Considered Appropriate Business Attire?
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated 21 August 2022 | Published 22 July 2021
Updated 21 August 2022
Published 22 July 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Business attire is the clothing you wear in professional settings. You can decide how to dress depending on the type of office you work in, for an interview or for a meeting. There are varying levels of business attire ranging from "casual" to "business formal", and based on the setting, you can decide which kind of business attire is appropriate. In this article, we describe what is business attire, outline the types of business attire and provide examples of clothing types and the situations they're appropriate for.
What is business attire?
Business attire refers to the garments or collection of outfits that are suitable for wearing to a professional situation, such as the office or workplace. Business attire can also encompass a range of clothing types, and each type may be more appropriate in specific contexts and less appropriate in others. For instance, if people at your workplace dress casually, then turning up in a suit can make you feel uncomfortable and misplaced.
To conform to the company's policies and culture, wearing appropriate clothes can be expected. This can be especially important if your work involves collaborating with external stakeholders or clients. How you dress can reflect on your brand and company.
Related: How To Prepare for an Interview
Types of business attire
These are some common types of business attire:
Casual business attire can be described as less formal business wear. The aim is to give people a professional impression, but you're still relaxed. Whether you emphasise more on the casual or business element of this ensemble can depend on external factors such as your industry, company size, number of employees, culture and the average age of your coworkers. Casual clothing includes T-shirts, jeans and open-toed shoes. You can usually dress in casual clothing if you work in an informal office.
Casual for women
Women can wear items like T-shirts, blouses and sweaters on top. As for bottoms, casual articles of clothing can include jeans, cropped pants or shorts. Sneakers, low heels or sandals can be acceptable footwear.
Casual for men
Men can don items like T-shirts, button-down shirts or sweaters. Bottoms can include jeans, khaki pants or shorts. Casual shoes can comprise sneakers, loafers or sandals.
The smart casual dress code is a combination of refined business attire with casual elements. This means you present yourself professionally in well-fitting clothes, such as button-down collared shirts and a blazer or a jacket. For example, you may not need to put on a tie. Or you can wear sneakers, but select the classic or minimalist brand of sneakers. Smart casual outfits are less formal than business casual attire. Business casual attire applies more within an office, while smart casual is for use in situations outside that.
Smart casual for women
Smart casual for women can include items like blazers, dresses, sweaters, trousers, skirts, blouses, heels, flats, jewellery and scarves.
Smart casual for men
Smart casual for men includes items like sports jackets, ties, khakis, button-down shirts, polos, dress shoes, boots, clean sneakers and belts.
This attire combination looks sufficiently smart for professional settings, but is not as stringent or traditional as that of formal attire. Prepare an outfit that is suitable for an office environment and ensure you appear professional. This can also depend on the industry you are in. For instance, business casual in a technology field may refer to wearing short-sleeved T-shirts with casual trousers. However, if you're working in the fashion industry, business casual can mean dressing in more complex outfits.
Business casual for women
For business casual, women can wear pencil skirts, blouses, button-down shirts, trousers, khakis, blazers and sweaters. They can use accessories such as simple jewellery and belts. Shoes can include flats, loafers, mules, boots or heels.
Business casual for men
For business casual, men can wear trousers, slacks, khakis, button-downs, polos or sport coats. Optional accessories include jackets and ties. Loafers, lifestyle sneakers (with leather or canvas), oxfords or boots are some examples of business casual shoes.
The style of a business professional outfit can be more straightforward because there are clear rules and principles. You aim to look smart and professional yet conservative. You can achieve it by using muted, solid colours, which means avoiding bright colours. The key is in the detail of your ensemble, such as the quality of your suits, fit of the clothing, finishing of your shoes and combining everything in an appealing way. You tend to find such strict dress codes in industries like accounting, banking, government or law.
Business professional for women
When dressing for business professional, women wear neat dresses, skirts or slacks. Business professional tops include tidy button-down shirts or blouses with a blazer. Appropriate shoes for a business professional dress code are classic heels no higher than three inches, loafers or tidy flats. Keep accessories to a minimum.
Business professional for men
Men adhering to the business professional dress code can wear suits and ties of dark colours. The tie can be simple, which means you avoid patterns and flamboyant designs or colours. Men can wear a button-down shirt and belt. Complete the look with a professional, closed-toed shoe like an oxford or loafer.
Business formal can be the highest form of professional attire. This is the most professional or formal clothing you can possibly wear because you are most likely wearing a complete matching business suit, including a jacket and dress pants or dress skirt. Dark colours are expected when you're told to dress in business formal. Wear a business formal outfit to project a professional image of yourself, such as in job interviews, award ceremonies, work presentations or even work in more traditional sectors. Do note that business professional is slightly more relaxed compared to business formal.
Business formal for women
For business formal, women can don a dark pants suit, skirt suit or suit dress. In certain situations, a long evening dress may be appropriate. Pair with formal flats, heels, oxfords or loafers. Minimalist jewellery can be added.
Business formal for men
For business formal, men can wear clothing similar to "business professional"—a dark suit and tie. In this setting, a black suit is appropriate with a light button-down shirt. Wear oxford or loafer shoes with clean lines. Avoid wearing brown shoes if you choose a black suit. Accessorise with belts, a tie clip or small, minimal cuff links.
Gender-neutral professional dress
There are many ways you can dress for the workplace and varying degrees of formality that don't conform to a gender binary. You can dress gender-neutral elements up or down depending on the context for which you're dressing.
For casual dress, jeans, sweaters and shirts are some good choices. For shoes, you can select modern sneakers, sandals or loafers. When it comes to more formal types of dress, you can choose slacks, trousers or neat chinos. Options for tops include sweaters, button-downs or shirts with cardigans. Shoes can include loafers, oxfords or stylish lace-up shoes. Pantsuits can be viable for any formal setting. These can be combined with flat or slightly heeled oxfords or loafers.
Business attire tips
In preparing your business attire for various situations, here's a list of tips to keep in mind:
Dress comfortably. Even if you're following the rules in terms of appropriate dressing, you want to ensure you're wearing clothing you're comfortable in. This doesn't mean sweatpants and flip-flops, but the articles of clothing can be ones you can wear confidently.
Inquire about the dress code. Check with the relevant parties regarding the appropriate dress code if you're unsure.
Understand your workplace culture and appropriate dressing. This may mean observing in your first week at work, and then emulating the way your coworkers and boss dresses. Such rules are sometimes unspoken, and can vary amongst companies, roles and industries.
Start by overdressing. Try to dress more professionally, modestly or formally at the beginning, especially if you're new at the workplace. How you dress can affect how your coworkers or supervisors perceive you, whether that be a good impression or otherwise.
Prepare your clothes in advance. Make sure you clean, iron and tailor your clothes to give you a smart look.
Use accessories that match your ensemble. This can mean carrying a suitable bag or wearing simple socks. Modest and tasteful accessories can enhance your look as well.
Be well-groomed. Besides dressing well, remember to maintain your hair properly. For example, you can tie it up in a neat ponytail or apply some gel for a slicked-back style.
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