A Guide To Professional Dress Attire For Work

If you are a career professional, the way you dress can either help you become promoted within your organization or limit your success.  In fact, the way you dress can also be a determining factor for hiring in general and it is a common reason that employees get suspended or fired in the workplace that is on the list of major industries.

It may seem surprising that what you wear could have that much of an impact on your career and income doesn’t it?  But despite the fact that business casual is popular, how you dress should be a positive reflection on both your contribution as an employee as well as the quality of the organization you work for. Remember that first impressions matter, especially in business.

What Is Business Casual Attire?

Your definition of “business casual” may not line up with what your employer feels are reasonable standards for office apparel.   While we all hope that we are judged in the workplace based on our talents, effort and behavior, how we present ourselves visually matters greatly, particularly if your employer feels you are not dressing in a way that best represents your organization. This is true for professionals doing sales and operations planning as well as those working in HR.

The guidelines for business casual vary from one work environment to the next, making it even more precarious for employees to figure out appropriate apparel styles and standards.  In one office, business casual may mean denim jeans, sandals and t-shirts; another office may define it as khaki pants, a white shirt and tie.  But even if you think there is no official dress code, there are several steps you can take to ensure you get it right.

Business Casual vs. Professional Dress

Is there even a difference between the two? In many modern offices, there certainly is. With the recent business casual definition trending more towards casual than business, there are definite differences that you should take note of. If you new employer requires business casual, you are probably safe with a nice dark denim pant and a more structured, professional blouse or shirt. However, if your HR department mentions that the office attire is “professional dress,” it is safe to assume that you are required to dress to impress. Professional dress for women tends to mean modest dresses, pantsuits or longer skirt and blouse combinations. For men, dressing professionally is as simple as making sure to grab your suit jacket on the way out the door. As long as you know the differences between business casual vs professional dress, you are prepared to inquire about the dress code at the office and actually understand what they mean, regardless of whether you work at MLM companies or a local small business.

Dressing For Interviews

Additionally, how you dress for interviews can make or break your opportunity for a new position. The best professional dress attire advice you can get is to dress up rather than down. If you walk into a corporate office in a suit, you will fit in. Professionals who wear suits to interviews at smaller, more relaxed companies might stand out, but they will stand out in a good way. Combine a great wardrobe with quality interpersonal communication skills to ace your next interview.

When In Doubt, Talk To HR

Start by talking to your Human Resource professional or department area.   A human resource manager will be able to direct you to written corporate guidelines on appropriate dress and apparel, and they are the best people to determine whether the clothing you wear is to standard with expectations within your company.   If your HR manager feels you dress in a casual manner, do something about it as soon as possible.   If they are aware of it so too is upper management, and the clothes you wear may be sabotaging your advancement (or even jeopardizing your job security).

If you are still not sure about the norm for your working environment, take some cues from your coworkers.  What are other people wearing at your office?  Are they complimented for it?  Observe what other people may be reprimanded for (i.e., ripped jeans, running shoes) and edit your professional wardrobe to align with your employers expectations.

For more discussion and tips, read “What ‘Business Casual’ Really Means” by Jacquelyn Smith for Business Insider and learn the surprising facts about how personal fashion choices can be significantly career limiting for professionals in all business sectors.

Affordable Tips For Expanding Your Business Wardrobe

Sometimes dressing well or overhauling a professional wardrobe is not in the budget.  It’s important to look at your professional attire as a tool you need to be employed.  Just like a car gets you back and forth to work, so too does an investment in your apparel ensure that you have a great job to go to every week.

Do you separate your professional and casual wardrobe?  If your career and off time clothing are combined, it can make it hard to see what you have that is appropriate to wear to the office.  After a while professional garments can become damaged or worn, and if you do not replace them, you can find your options very limited over time. Like any investment, it takes periodic evaluation and reinvestment to keep your wardrobe in top shape.   Start by creating a separate space for your professional clothing and take an inventory of how many outfits you can create with the pieces you have already in your collection.

The next step is to shop selectively for pieces that offer versatility.  You can get more value from your professional apparel if you purchase items that easily mix and match with other pieces, giving you more options for fresh new looks.  The average business person should have between 8-15 different apparel combinations on rotation in their wardrobe.

In terms of purchasing bespoke tailored suits, many apparel retailers offer a convenient and affordable online shopping option for fitted suits and accessories like shirts, ties and shoes.  What is convenient about ordering fitted suits online is that you can save time and money, while accessing a great selection of designs to match your personal style.  Once you have had your measurements taken for inseam, neck and sleeve length, it is easy to place your own custom orders for suits, shirts and slacks.

What To Nix From Your List

If you think it is only your employer who might be picky about dress code, consider that Target, one of North America’s largest retailers originally published a twenty-page dress code for staff at their Minneapolis head office.

Identify the clothing items that are really not appropriate for office wear by determining where they actually belong. For instance, sleeveless shirts or t-shirts belong at home, or for weekend casual wear and shouldn’t be worn on the job.   Casual shoes like sandals (or flip-flop shoes for women) are a universal no-no in formal office environments; save them for the beach not the cubicle jungle.

Also determine which clothing needs to be retired.  You may have a favorite dress shirt that has become faded after repeat wearing.  Does it look old and faded?  If so, it’s time to relocate that shirt from your professional wardrobe to your casual collection. After all, your wardrobe is an important part of nonverbal communication in workplace.

Ideas For Women

Sometimes it is just easier to have someone tell you exactly what to wear. Female business owners who receive their women business enterprise certifications learn what to wear early on. However, other women typically struggle to establish appropriate wardrobes. There are plenty of business professional attire ideas for women that you can consider. If you need to know what to wear to an interview, business presentation or meeting, consider these options. A neutral, knee-length skirt or pant suit is always a great bet. Neutral colors include black, gray, navy or brown. Collared, button down shirts can also be paired with a knee-length skirt, nude panty-hose and closed toe heels with a height of no more than 2.5 inches. Keep makeup minimal and make sure to hide your tattoos, if you have any. Also keep your hair and jewelry simple. These business casual ideas for women are sure to help you convey a professional appearance that makes your skills and experience the focal point of any interaction, rather than your appearance.

Remember that even on a modest budget you can begin to overhaul your wardrobe slowly and make improvements to the way you present yourself at work.  You may be surprised at the compliments and recognition you receive when you make the effort to dress better, and other job opportunities may present themselves as a result of your commitment to being a team player, and dressing for success.

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