Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Decipher the dress code | Business Casual

Before I start a new job, I always ask for a copy of the employee policies, generally to scope out what is expected of me and how much vacation I'll get, but also to get a sense of the dress code.  I almost always wear a suit on my first day of work (unless I get the vibe it'd be weird if I did), but what about after that?  Does the office observe Casual Friday?

My office these days notes "business casual" as its suggested attire for Mondays through Thursday, but with an admonition that employees should wear "appropriate attire for the business that they are engaged in for the day and the departments/program in which they work."  A few big no-nos are also noted: "At no time, shall an employee wear ripped or torn clothing or rubber flip flops."  Simple enough, right?

But my work is generally sitting at a desk on my computer, with random last-minute off-site photo shoots or meetings with other departments thrown in.  It's hard to say what the appropriate attire would be for doing that kind of business all day, so I just defer to the business casual, which in itself can present sort of a conundrum.

Business. Casual.  Business dress is generally more stuffy; casual dress more laid back.  When you mix the two together, some wonderful things can happen.  I happen to be a fan of business casual dress--it gives me a chance to dress up each day and do my thing as a worker bee.  It delineates my work day from my personal time, where you'd never find me wearing slacks or blazers.

One of the great things about business casual is that it is basically a game of mix and match.  Tops + bottoms + shoes. Yup.  Just like any other outfit.  With small considerations for color and fit/proportion, you'll at least be in compliance with the dress code.  Hey, we all have to start somewhere.

A few notes on business casual:
  • Depending on the workplace, denim can be worked into the business casual wardrobe.  Even when expressly allowed, business casual jeans should be of a darker wash, trouser cut, and without decoration -- save those jeans with the rhinestones on the back for the weekend.
  • Sleeveless should be done carefully.  The straps of the top should be thick enough to fully hide any underpinnings.
  • Some business casual workplaces prohibit open-toed shoes, but if yours allows it, go with something tasteful.  A heeled thong sandal = not a good idea.  Peep-toed pumps = perfection.

I'll be dissecting other common dress codes here in future posts.  For the time being I'll leave you with some inspiring business casual looks.

Check out the Gap outfit here and the Banana Republic outfit here.

The New Professional wants to know: What is your office dress code and your formula?


  1. I work at home on a variety of things, some of which require me to attend meetings from time to time. I also write a website called Look Lovely and a lot of people in my town know that. So I try to look presentable at all times.
    I always do my make up even if I think I will stay at home all day.
    If I wear jeans, I wear fairly smart shoes and top (to try to balance the jeans).
    Whenever I am going out to lunch I try to look stylish, planning an outfit with a dash of colour so that it will be eye catching.

    This is an interesting blog - will be reading more from you I hope.

  2. I like that you set some dress code rules for working from home...I definitely find that when I'm trying to get work done on weekends or non-work hours, getting dressed up even a little bit (like putting on makeup) just changes your attitude. I'm also a huge fan of color. Glad you like the blog!

  3. oh please please do a post about work appropriate shoes. some ladies think that as long as they have heels that aren't jellies or flipflops they're office appropriate. but strappy espadrilles should never show up in a corporate office!

  4. I think dressing up even though you work at home can be a really great idea. It makes you feel like you're at work, which you are! Staying in your pj's or sweats all day keeps you in a certain frame of mind. But changing into something more presentable might put you in a more serious mood.

  5. Too bad, right? I think they can work in more casual offices in the summer (or else I'm guilty!), but yeah...will definitely do a shoe post one of these days!

  6. Hey, I just happened on your blog today.. I am always at a loss trying to find the right work clothes. We don't really have a dress code at work, which means no suits but most women dress presentably. Some wear jeans but like you said, business appropriate. More pictures of your entire ensemble would give me a better idea when I shop

  7. Hi Mag! Thanks for reading. I hope I can give you some good ideas!


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