Decoding Business Attire

You may know that there are a few basic levels of clothing in the professional world: casual, business casual, business and formal. But what does each one of those mean? Read on to find out what each of these terms actually includes.

Casual. This is what you wear on a regular day to class, to hangout, and to be comfortable. This type of clothing generally consisting of jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, and so on. Basically, if you would hang out with your friends in it, it’s casual.


Business casual. This gives a lot of people trouble. Like the it sounds, business casual is in between casual wear and business wear.

For men, this usually means khaki pants, a polo or button-down shirt. The more formal side of business casual may include dress pants and a button-down shirt with no tie, or a sport coat with khaki pants. With shoes, air on the side of caution and choose loafers or other nicer shoes – not sneakers or athletic shoes and definitely no sandals or flip flops.

And gentlemen, please go easy on the cologne. Smelling like an entire Abercrombie and Fitch store will be distracting to those you are working with and will draw even more attention to whether or not you are adhering to the dress code.

For ladies, dress pants, khakis, modest skirts and even dressy capris are acceptable. You can also wear modest dresses, but stay away from more casual dresses. A rule of thumb: if you would wear it on a regular summer day or to the beach, it is probably not dressy enough.

Also, by “modest” skirts and dresses, I mean no skinny straps, no higher than 3 inches above the knee and no super tight and/or revealing dresses and skirts!

Dressy shirts, cardigans, blouses, turtlenecks, blazers and jackets are all acceptable business casual wear. Tank tops, tube tops, t-shirts, loud patterns, logos/cartoons and offensive slogans should always be avoided.

For shoes, generally flats or heels (not too high) work best. You can also wear clogs, some boots and in sometimes Sperrys. Do not wear sandals or flip flops! If you are not sure between two pairs of shoes, always go for the dressier option.

In addition, ladies have to be careful about jewelry, makeup and perfume. Depending on your field, you can get away with “louder” jewelry and makeup, but in general, conservative is better. Don’t cake on the makeup, pour perfume or body spray all over yourself and top it off with large clunky jewelry. It’s okay (and encouraged!) for you to accessorize, just don’t go over the top. Experimenting and expressing your individuality can wait until you find out what is acceptable in the organization’s culture you are working for.

Business.  This is what you wear when you really mean business! So, this is usually a few steps up from business casual wear.

For men, business attire refers to suits, sport coats, dress pants, button-down shirts, a tie, and nice dress shoes.

For ladies, blazers, dress pants, dress skirts, modest dresses, blouses, heels, dressy flats, and conservative accessorizing are all included in traditional business wear. Especially for ladies, business casual and business professional can be tricky to navigate, so when in doubt, ask your supervisor of your position about what is appropriate dress code attire.

Formal. Unless you are attending a gala or prom, you usually don’t have to worry about formal wear much in your internships and entry-level positions. But in general, this refers to formal gowns for ladies and tuxedos for men.

Again, usually the two to worry about are business casual and business professional clothing. There can be a fine line between these two, so if you are having trouble walking that line, come in and see a Career Development PCA or director, and we will help you decode your professional wardrobe!

Want more info? Check out more links on the different types of business wear: What is Business Attire?

Lead Apparel: Decoding – Dress Codes 101


2 thoughts on “Decoding Business Attire

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s