“Work” has evolved over the last decade and is moving even more rapidly beyond. Environments and benefits have received a complete overhaul, to include remote desktops and flex time, but the dress code handbook remains steadfast. Some may consider it dusty, others timeless, but that’s an argument for another day.

The art of dressing is important no matter where you’re at in your career. Life changes find professionals at pivotal points of their careers, and your clothing can make an impact larger than what you think. According to the American Psychological Association, first impressions are made within only seven seconds of meeting someone, so your attire can be one of the most important aspects of a great first impression. A fashion faux pas can lead to an unprofessional impression, while a carefully selected professional outfit can give you a competitive advantage.

We’ve found that people are most comfortable wearing what they know. If you’re unemployed, you’re not likely to wear a three piece suit every day so your wardrobe will include more casual options. Higher level executives are likely to wear some version of their everyday suit to any meeting, before or after hours, because again, it’s what they know. Still, where are the lines in the sand? What’s considered too far, and where does the common ground lay? Here are some blanket suggestions when considering your next wardrobe choice for the office.

Business Formal
  • For men, business formal is considered a suit over a dress shirt with a tie and dress shoes. Belt and shoe colors should match. A woman in business formal clothing is considered a suit of skirt or pants with heels. Hosiery should be considered, weather permitting. A darker color palette is accepted and considered most appropriate with minimal distractions.
Business Casual
  • For business casual, men can wear a polo shirt, collared shirt or sweater with khakis or dress pants along with dress shoes. A tie is not required. Women can wear a collared shirt or sweater with dress pants and dress shoes or boots. Conservative dresses and skirts, knee length or longer, are also acceptable.
Smart Casual
  • Smart casual is the most relaxed of the examples and should only be chosen if you are sure that the environment of the company allows it. Examples of acceptable clothing pieces for men include well-tailored jeans, khaki pants, button-down shirts, blazers, or sweaters. Women’s attire includes well-tailored jeans, khaki pants, button-down shirts, and casual blouses. Heels or flats are appropriate.

Outside of specific definitions, there are many trends and opinions. Remember that not all trends are meant for the office, and if you’re questioning a piece of clothing, err on the side of caution and save it for your weekend plans. Strong fragrance can be considered distracting causing adverse reactions to your coworkers. Ladies, the brightest part of your outfit should be your smile, not your cheek bones. Be prepared for the unexpected and consider little things like a sweater or pair of flats when it’s time to ditch the heels.

If you’re still unsure what you’re wearing, invest the time in yourself to research great options for your specific office environment. Google will return over 37 million (seriously, we checked) in .86 seconds so you’ll be on your way to putting your best foot forward in no time!


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