The 4 Types of Business Attire — The Where, When and How to Make Them Work

Whether it’s your first job interview or your twenty-first, knowing what to wear into a given office can be a stressful situation. The business world tends to remain fairly insulated from the many shifts in fashion, but the question remains. By wearing the right attire to an interview or first day of work, you set a good first impression. Combining the right first impression with an outstanding resume and interview makes for the perfect storm as a future employee.

Business Formal

Often called “Boardroom Attire,” business formal is the most straight-laced of the office dress codes. Typically reserved for special events and meetings, business formal is a cut or two above daily office attire.

For Women:

  • Tailored pantsuit or skirt in one, conservative color
  • White, collared shirt
  • Tights
  • Closed toe heels

For Men:

  • Tailored and pressed suit in one, conservative color
  • White button down shirt
  • Conservative colored tie
  • Black or brown wingtips or brogues

Business formal attire centers on a very clean cut, conservative appearance. Any jewelry worn should be conservative and not at all flashy, and shoes ought to stay closed-toed at all times. To nail this style, take time to visit a local tailor. Take the time to compare the cost of a custom-made suit versus buying off the rack and having it tailored to fit you correctly

Business Professional

Business professional is similar to business formal inasmuch as suits are a staple of the dress code, but the former is more feasible to wear on a daily basis. Professionals in the financial or legal industries, as well as higher-ups in most companies will typically be found wearing business professional.

For Women:

  • Pantsuit in conservative colors or patterns
  • Skirt, top and blazer can replace a suit
  • Button down shirt or blouse
  • Closed toed, conservative colored heels or dressy flats

For Men:

  • Pressed pants and sport coat can replace a one or two button suit
  • Professional tie, but colors and patterns can be explored
  • Collared button down shirt
  • Dress shoes such as wingtips, brogues or dressy loafers

Business professional is designed to be an everyday option that gives the very clear impression of a distinguished businessperson. When you wear this type of attire, feel free to explore some with colors and jewelry. Don’t go over the top, but a nice watch or pendant to make a statement is well within the business professional scope. Tailor made is not a necessity for business professional. Sites like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom have a variety of suits for both men and women that are high quality and would fit well right out of the box.

Business Casual

The point of business casual is to allow you as the worker to show your individuality. Business casual tends to strip away the sport jackets while maintaining button down shirts, creating a more comfortable and relaxed environment that remains a step above street wear.

For Women:

  • Colored shirts and blouses, not necessarily button down
  • Sweaters or cardigans as outer layers
  • Skirt or dress pants
  • Comfortable flats and loafers

For Men:

  • Collared button down shirts, colors and patterns show personality
  • Sweaters or casual blazers
  • Relaxed slacks, khakis, nice chinos
  • Close toed shoes, can be oxfords, loafers, etc.

Business casual allows you to showcase your personality in the office without delving into T-shirts and jeans. Explore statement pieces with jewelry, ties and shoes. When it comes to finding outfits, getting the right pants seems to be the hardest part. Brands like Bonobos have great collections of pants and chinos for men that are built for style and comfort. And Betabrand has whole lines of dress pants for women specifically designed with superior comfort and business style in mind.

Casual

The casual dress code seems to be sweeping the technology and marketing industries as of late. The popularity of which comes significantly thanks to companies like Google in Silicon Valley. If business casual adds personality to your wardrobe, casual dress brings a wardrobe to meet your personality. Keep these guidelines in mind to make sure you don’t mistakenly cross the line and go too casual for the office.

For Women:

  • Fitted tops and blouses, all colors and most patterns are well within bounds
  • Casual fabrics like denim and cotton
  • Jeans must be dark wash and well fitted
  • Boots, sneakers, and sandals are acceptable

For Men:

  • Collared shirts and polos
  • Sweaters
  • Jeans and casual chinos
  • Sneakers and boat shoes are acceptable

In a casual work environment, the temptation could be to take casual dress too far. While it’s acceptable in some offices, as a general rule it’s best to stay away from wearing shorts or a T-shirt. With a casual dress code, you should feel free to express yourself a bit more. A good way to show some personality is with your shoes, and you can do that wearing classier boots or keeping it casual with clean-cut sneakers.

Business attire can be confusing. Whether it’s your first day on the job or you’re going in for an interview, it’s hard to know what is acceptable. When in doubt, find someone in the company who you trust and simply ask what is acceptable. Don’t let it be a stumbling block to your success. Learn what to wear and how to wear it so you can make a good first, second and third impression on your future and new coworkers.


Originally published at The Daily MBA.