Updated: May 27
Working from home has allowed us to work in our comfiest pyjamas, but at some point we will be back in the office and here's how to look great when you do.
Learning your company’s dress code can help you understand what to wear to work and to your company’s events. Business attire has certainly evolved over time - while business professional was once commonplace across nearly all industries, business casual has become a common option in many modern offices. Both dress styles have their benefits, and we’ll provide a breakdown in this post.
Understanding the Basics
In our previous posts, we have covered why dressing well can help you earn that promotion, be more successful, and gain charisma.
In short, business attire is the proper workplace wardrobe. Business attire can contain many different types of clothing, each of which may be appropriate in certain circumstances and inappropriate in others. For example, in some offices, a suit may be appropriate for a job interview, but too formal for everyday activities.
Employees who want to fit in well at their workplace wear the clothing that is expected and adhere to the company's standard of appropriate business attire.
How Does Business Attire Work?
Business attire can sometimes be dictated by a written company dress code, which can explain what is acceptable to wear and what is not. The level of formality of business attire varies depending on the workplace and is usually described in the dress code, if there is one. However, you don’t need an official dress code to figure out what is appropriate in your office - you can gather that from observing what others around you are wearing. And for many of you, it has probably been quite some time since you’ve had to even set foot in the office, so just think back to those pre-COVID days.
Look at what your boss and other successful employees wear (or have worn) to work. Your observations will tell you about the proper and expected business attire for your particular office.
For example, if you are a graphic designer at a midsize firm, you may be expected to wear casual or business casual attire. A sweater or button-down shirt, dress pants, leather shoes, and a watch would do the trick for a man or woman in that environment.
Tactics for Dressing Properly in Any Situation
The goal of business casual dress is to be comfortable around the office without appearing messy or disheveled. For proponents of the style, it represents the best blend of work and personality.
Business casual dress will commonly involve a shift dress or button-down shirt with no tie. You can wear a sweater or blazer over the button-down. Slacks are acceptable as pants and skirts should be knee length. Simple but clean loafers or dress shoes are best, and flats or heels are both acceptable. And remember, when the dress code is business casual, it's not appropriate to wear your favorite old t-shirt, ripped jeans, and grubby sneakers. Keep “business” in business casual, and leave those clothes that might be a little too comfortable in your dresser.
That said, when possible, avoid choosing an outfit that makes you uncomfortable. Think Goldilocks - not too stiff, but not too loose. You want to look sharp, but with enough comfort to move and feel good. If possible, spend a few hours walking, sitting, and standing, in the clothes you’ll wear.
Quality, Not Quantity
Whether you're wearing business or business casual attire, remember that quality is more meaningful than quantity.
One classic bracelet or ring, for example, will come across much better than an armful of bangles or rings on every finger - no need to go overboard. In the same vein, if you’re looking for bags, choose a high quality leather portfolio over a gaudy, colorful bag.
At the end of the day, appearances do matter. Potential, and current, employers may think less of you if you don't dress appropriately for the company. It's always important to make a great impression, whether you’re interviewing for a new gig or hoping for a promotion.
Breaking Down the Benefits of Casual vs. Professional
In order to excel in your workplace and find success, it is important to understand the reason behind the dress code. Some offices are more formal, and others more casual; whatever the dress code may be, the motivation behind it is likely to foster collaboration and provide opportunities for growth. And to become a leader within your organization, it is helpful to remember why a dress code has been implemented in order to properly conform to or change the rules as necessary.
If you’re working in an office with a business casual dress code, this can have several benefits. The most common reasons for business casual attire are:
Comfort leads to more effective employees - Simply put, business casual clothes are more comfortable to wear than business professional clothes. And when a person is in comfortable clothes, they can be more relaxed throughout the day, and many managers believe their employees can accomplish more work in a relaxed state. When people are not thinking about feeling uncomfortable, they’ll be able to devote more attention to work.
Relaxed setting raises company morale - A more relaxed setting makes people feel at ease while they work, which can have a positive impact on employee morale. High morale results in more productivity, and more collaboration, and more overall excitement and happiness, so everybody wins.
Freedom of expression lets employees show their true selves - The more flexible nature of business casual allows employees to express themselves and get a bit creative with their outfits. This can help build camaraderie among coworkers and teammates, whose personalities shine through the clothes that they wear.
Casual clothes reduce employee wardrobe costs - Maintaining a full business professional wardrobe can be rather expensive. Having a suit or dress for every day of the week, coupled with dry-cleaning costs, results in employees need to allocate a hefty budget to maintain their attire. Meanwhile, business casual clothes are often less expensive and machine washable, helping people save money and time.
Clients feel more welcomed - If your company welcomes outside clients to the office, business casual can often feel less intimidating. This will ideally help the client feel at ease and increase the chances of closing a sale.
Meanwhile, these are some benefits business professional dress codes have to offer:
It creates workforce unity - Many businesses want to operate as a collective whole, without having people standing out from the crowd. In these situations, a business professional dress code is the way to go, helping to maintain uniformity with less room for creativity. The idea here is to make it easier to view the company as a cohesive team rather than a collection of individuals.
Some clients will demand it - Although some clients may prefer a casual setting, others will want to walk into your office and see a professional floor with everyone wearing suitably professional outfits. Enforcing a business professional dress code can make a great impression when those clients arrive.
No dress code uncertainty - The more liberal an office dress code is, the harder it can be for employees to know what to wear. With a business professional dress code, it becomes much easier to know what to wear, which can save employees the hassle of having to decide what to wear in the morning.
Uniformity can create a level playing field - While many employees may enjoy the creative freedom of a business casual dress code, this can also raise pressure to impress with your outfit to make yourself stand out. However, since one of the goals of business professional attire is to foster uniformity, there is no pressure to have to get too creative.
The Bottom Line
Familiarity with business attire is essential for success. And as we slowly but surely make our way back from Zoom conferences and into our offices, it is more important than ever to familiarize (or refamiliarize) yourself with these concepts. In the next post, we’ll continue our breakdown so that you can make a great impression.
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