If I had to guess, I would say one of the most common questions I ask people is, “what are you wearing to [insert name of event]?” No one wants to feel awkward and overdressed, but then you definitely don’t want to be underdressed. Where is the happy medium? How do you know? Why is picking your outfit so confusing? Let’s go over the common dress codes:
Business Formal (AKA most formal professional attire)
- Men – tailored suit, white dress shirt, tie
- Women – tailored suit, white button-up with a collar, tights
Business Professional (AKA traditional business)
- Men – suit, solid-colored dress shirt, tie
- Women – pant suit or dress with jacket
Business Casual (AKA not jeans, but not a suit)
- Men – dress pants; button-down shirt, sweater, etc.
- Women – pants, skirt, dress; nice top, sweater, cardigan,. etc
Casual (AKA most anything goes, but use common sense)
- Men – jeans (maybe – see below), khakis, casual shirts with or without collar
- Women – jeans (maybe – see below), casual dress, skirt, and shirt
If You Don’t Know – Ask
Seriously, it really is that simple, and no, it isn’t a dumb question. If you are unsure of the dress code at an event, first day at a new office, etc., don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Better to ask about the attire of an event than to show up in an inappropriate outfit. First impressions DO matter, and appropriate attire contributes to that.
“Casual” is Ambiguous
“Casual” is a tricky dress code because it is so broad and means different things to different companies and industries. (Same goes for business casual.) For example, casual attire at one office could mean khaki pants with a polo or nice shirt. Where I work, casual attire means jeans friendly, and you don’t need to wear a collared shirt. Be cautious when someone tells you casual or business casual. You might want to err on the conservative side if you are headed to your first day at a new job and you haven’t quite determined what casual actually means. And just to be clear: casual dress as you know it in college is NOT the same as casual attire in an office space.
Iron Your Clothes
Guys, iron your shirts – especially for an interview. I know sometimes it’s really tempting to see a shirt hanging in your closet and think you can probably get away with not ironing it, but it is very obvious when you are standing next to someone with a pressed shirt. Ironing is on my “things I hate to do list” (between paying bills and going to the dentist). But it’s necessary. (And if you do like ironing, you probably don’t need to be reminded to press your shirts in the first place. I bet your outfits are always perfectly starched. High five!)
There you have it – the business dress codes explained. Now when you have your next job interview, first day of work, or a professional event, there’s no need to panic about what to wear. You already have a cheat sheet on how to dress for success.
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