Whether you’re talking about uniforms, professional attire, or more casual dress codes, choosing your work clothing has always been an important part of success in the workplace.
In recent years, many of the more stringent standards regarding work apparel have become more flexible, with events like “Casual Friday” and “Jean Wednesday” often being generously sprinkled into the mix. Nevertheless, dress codes like business casual and business formal are still commonly used in many offices.
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Why the Way You Dress Matters
How you dress affects your job. There are often strict consequences for violating a company’s code of conduct. At times, dressing in a sloppy or unprofessional way can lead to being fired from your job.
Even if a dress code violation doesn’t end in you losing your job, it can still have very real-world consequences. The way you dress can be an effective tool to reflect your workplace ambitions and can help with both motivation and productivity. It’s common for a person to adopt the characteristics of the clothing that they wear, whether it’s a casual outfit for home attire or a Dolce & Gabbana suit for business meetings.
Consider some of the most common forms of workplace attire when you’re deciding how to dress. We’ve divided them into male and female categories for convenience’s sake, although these are merely suggestions. As with all gender-based concerns, if your employer or a fellow employee is guilty of gender discrimination because of the way you dress, it warrants separate action to address the issue
One of the most common workplace dress codes in the early 21st century is business casual. While still professional in nature, this dress code allows employees to personalize their clothing in a relaxed way that can facilitate day-to-day productivity.
- A button-up, collared shirt is recommended as a foundation, while a clean pullover, sweater, or sports jacket can be worn as well. Colors and basic patterns such as stripes are permissible, although they should generally be modest in nature.
- Dress slacks and chinos or khakis are typical.
- Ties can be worn, although they aren’t required, and should be conservative in appearance — i.e. avoid novelty ties.
- Either professional shoes or loafers are common.
- Wristwatches may be worn.
- Colored blouses and shirts can be worn — stick to muted patterns or solid colors — along with cardigans, jackets, twinsets, and sweaters.
- Skirts and khaki or cotton slacks can be worn. They do not need to be a matching skirt-suit or pantsuit. Professional dresses are also an option.
- Pumps, flats, or loafers should remain closed-toe or tastefully peep-toe in their design.
- Tasteful scarves may be worn, and jewelry can be larger in nature, such as a necklace, watch, or hoop earrings.
Business formal or “boardroom attire” is the most professional form of business attire you may be asked to wear. Business formal tends to conjure images of lawyers, CEOs, and other professionals gathered together for influential, noteworthy business meetings.
- For men, business formal is about wearing a good suit in a neutral color like black or gray.
- Clean, white button-up shirts are a must.
- Accessories like ties and cufflinks are important as well — although they should be muted and respectful in nature.
- Polished, closed-toe professional shoes should be worn.
- A skirt-suit or pantsuit, either of which should be in a clean, neutral color like black or brown.
- Dark-colored tights and white button-up shirts are essential.
- Accessories like earrings can be worn, but they should not be too conspicuous. Simple studs are best.
- Neutral colored, closed-toe heels should also be worn.
Casual attire is an extremely relaxed dress code. It allows employees to wear clothing that is appropriate both in and out of the workplace. It is often divided into the categories of “casual” and “smart casual” with the latter revolving around trendier, more deliberate clothing choices.
- Anything from button-down shirts to polos, t-shirts, and sweaters.
- Slacks and khakis are the best. Jeans are also permissible at times, although you should check beforehand.
- Dress shoes and loafers are still common, although sneakers, boots, and sandals can be worn as well.
- Accessories like ties and watches can be more exciting and colorful, although they should still be respectful in nature.
- T-shirts, blouses, sweaters, blazers, or other nicely fitted but relatively modest tops can be worn.
- Skirts, cropped pants, and slacks are worn, although in more relaxed workplaces jeans and shorts may be acceptable as well.
- Along with common business footwear, sneakers, low heels, and sandals are often permitted.
- Any accessories such as scarves, earrings, and necklaces are typically fine.
Some employers require a uniform. This requirement may be in place to provide greater safety on the job, create team spirit, or advertise the employer. When a uniform is required, it limits your work attire selection, but it also has the benefit of creating a short and simple way to prepare for work each day.
If a uniform is required, it’s still worth knowing what the dress code is for your workplace, as some uniforms allow for leeway regarding the kinds of pants, shoes, or accessories that you can wear in addition.
Which Workplace Style Should You Use?
It’s important to take your time deciding how to dress for work. Your first priority should be inquiring about what the current dress code is for your workplace. Don’t stop there, though.
There is plenty of room for individualization within each of these categories. Make sure you choose items that will show your professionalism, drive, and ambition. Consider how each outfit reflects your personality and whether your outfits fit in with the styles, trends, and culture that your coworkers have adopted.
In addition, with casual attire in particular, remember that even if you work in a dress-casual office, you should consider “dressing up” to at least business casual when attending meetings or interviews with clients and others outside of your workplace.
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