Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Decipher the Dress Code | Business Attire

It's been quite a while since I touched on dress codes.  Last time it was business casual, which is what we wear in my office.  This time, I'll be discussing business attire.

Business attire is generally the most formal day-to-day attire found in most offices (although some law offices adhere to a suits-only policy, which would be much more restricting).  Business attire for men is pretty simple: suit and tie.  Fortunately for women, the formula is much more lax, and can take various forms.

Some basic aspects of business attire for women:
  • Tops: Button-up shirts can be the norm, but other embellished blouses will also work in a business outfit, especially under a suit jacket.  Sleeveless tops may or may not be acceptable in a business office, but even if they are, stick to a wide-strap shell.  A cardigan
  • Pants: Stick to full-length trousers in various colors, fits, and fabrics.  Cropped pants should be reserved for casual Fridays.
  • Skirts and dresses: Pencil-shaped skirts and dresses in structured and tailored fabrics look more professional than flirty A-lines or flowy chiffon.  Keep the length around the knee (give or take an inch or two).  To mix things up, try a colorful graphic print or accessorize with a belt.
  • Blazers: While not required, blazers are an easy way to dress up any outfit for a business environment.  Try a fun pattern or color to pair with classic trousers for a fun variation on suit separates.
  • Suits: Still a staple of a business wardrobe, suits today are more fun than ever.  Add a skirt suit with a ruffled hem and a pants suit with a three-quarter sleeve blazer for a change of pace from the basic black suit.  A dress + jacket suit looks eternally chic.
  • Shoes: Some business offices do insist on closed-toed shoes; peep-toes are about as racy as you'll get here.  Keep the heel moderate (less than 3"), and have some fun with colors, fabrics, and embellishments (can anyone say d'orsay?).
  • Accessories: Chunky jewelry and flirty flowers may not be appropriate here.  Infuse your personality subtly, with a colorful belt, layered necklaces, or an embellished watch.
These general tips often overlap with that of business casual attire, or just general office attire.  Thus, some of my previous outfits would also have been appropriate in a business environment (the business side of the business casual).  Check them out: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Here are some professionally styled business looks that I love:

Trousers + blouse + cardigan = on the more casual side of business attire

Cap-sleeve sheath dress.  Calvin Klein makes the best.

Pencil skirt + top + cardigan.  Note the low heels.

Classic black suit. 

Sheath dress + embellished blazer

Does your office require business attire?  What other tips do you have?


  1. This is a great guide. It is exactly what I have been looking for and it couldn't have come at a better time, as I am starting my 3rd internship in September. I will be featuring this on my blog, Dressed Up Girl.

    If you get a chance check out my blog:

    And tips would be great!

  2. I love that CK dress. I love it so much I ordered one very similar from Ideeli. Sadly it didn't even come close to fitting. Great suggestions!

  3. i would love to know what i should wear for graphic design/artist interviews. entire suits are overkill for us. what do you suggest?

  4. @ Alicia -- Thanks! Will check out your blog. My whole blog is about office-appropriate wear, so I think you're in luck :)

    @ Brittney -- Too bad about the dress! I've been stalking Ideeli waiting for Calvin Klein to come back up again...if it's a good enough deal I'll cheat on the diet for it (every diet needs a little wiggle room :)

    @ Me - Hmm...great question! I hear you that suits are not the best way to express your creativity. Look for a post on that soon!

  5. The irony of your question!

    In my office I was recently told business attire means "no jeans or flip flops." Given what our lack of a dress code allows, you don't what to know what goes on day-to-day there!

    So basically everything you posted would be way, way too formal and nice for most of the women in my office.

    But not for me. I could rock that JCrew outfit - if I could wear that shade of yellow. I don't mind the BR outfit (I'd have to belt on the waist, tho). The CK look is the closest to what I consider traditional business dress. The ruffled jacket looks to fancy for day to day business or even the boardroom.

    Looking forward to the creative profession post! I have been so focused on trying to bridge the gap between what I consider to business casual dress and the 'anything goes' mentality of my office that I have neglected my own personal look. It will be nifty to see what the creatives who actually get paid to be creatives are wearing these days.

  6. @ lorrwill - Sounds like your office is more of a casual to business casual environment. Dressing too nicely is definitely as valid an issue as dressing to casually, so it's good that you're aware of the dynamic you're in. Good luck finding your balance!

  7. You look great! I’m the same – I can’t be bothered to figure out what I’m wearing each morning. I basically have work dresses and a bunch of pencil skirts. I pair the skirts with tops I can wear on the weekends. I hardly have any pants b/c it’s hard for me to find them – but luckily my work is casual so I can wear jeans any day of the week if I wanted to!

  8. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff on your post.crystalapartment |

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  9. Great information! Enjoyed so much on it!


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