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How to Dress Professionally: Business Dress Code Basics


Guide to business casual, business professional attire, and what to wear to work

Here’s another great reader question that definitely deserved its own article series!

“I live in NYC (where fashion is on every block) and it’s so hard to be stylish and look professional. Example: My internship holds professional networking events and casual networking events. I went to both and at both I wore pants, dress shirt, sweater vest or skirt, dress shirt, blazer. However, at the casual networking event another intern looked fantastic in a black and white print cap sleeve dress, opaque tights, and patent leather mary jane heels. She accessorized with a black cardigan and diamond earrings. It was perfect for a casual networking event.

I def. think you should post some ideas on how to dress for an interview, a seminar, volunteer work, every day work, professional networking, casual networking…of course these categories apply to my life!”

The “What To Wear To Work” Question

Dressing for a job, an interview, an internship, a networking event, etc. is a source of anxiety for everyone at some point in their career.  Each company and event is different, so it can be nerve-racking not knowing what the proper dress code is, what you can and can’t wear, etc.  You want to make the best impression, of course, and your clothes say a lot about you and who you are!

There’s also the question of what season it is, what city you’re working in, whether you walk to work or not, and whether you’ll be sitting or standing most of the time, among other concerns! That’s a lot to think about, so it’s no wonder so many people feel frustrated with this kind of thing!

I’m currently in business school and it seems like they give us tips on this every other day.  Also, I’m a junior so all my friends are having these problems right now!  Suffice to say that I know a lot about this stuff and have tons of tips to get your wardrobe right in a professional setting – without sacrificing style, of course.

Over the next few days, I’m going to be posting articles about all the different professional events you might need to dress for, so you’ll know what to wear in any business situation!  There will be outfit examples and budget-friendly options as well.  Sound good?

To start off, I’m going to go over career-wear basics.  When your boss tells you that a certain dress code will be mandatory at tonight’s networking event, do you know what she means?  Check the handy guide below for all the info you need.

Types of Business Attire

There are 3 main types of “business dress” that you need to understand before we get into dressing for specific events.  These are probably terms you’ve heard before, but after reading this, you should have a good understanding of what clothes work for what dress code.  The three types of dress codes are: Professional Dress, Business Casual and Campus Casual.

1. Professional Dress

Business professional attire is the most conservative type of business wear.  It’s what you’ll be expected to wear in the office if you work in accounting, finance, or other conservative industries (or if you just have a really conservative boss!)  For women, this means a business suit or pants suit, or dress and jacket.  For men, professional dress means a business suit or a blazer, dress pants and a tie. 

Where to shop for professional dress clothing: Brooks Brothers, Ann Taylor (women only), Men’s Wearhouse (men only), and Nordstrom’s Women’s Suits (women only).

2. Business Casual

Business casual attire is a more relaxed version of “Professional Dress”, but it doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be “casual”!  This is likely going to be your office dress code if you work in a semi-conservative workplace, but some interviews and events may also call for business casual.  Basically, business casual is a shirt with a collar and/or a sweater, khakis or dress pants, and nice shoes for women. Women can also sometimes wear a moderate-length dress or skirt (read: knee-length or longer!).  For men, business casual is a polo shirt or shirt with a collar and/or sweater, khakis or dress pants and dress shoes. No tie is required.

Where to shop for business casual clothing: Banana Republic (look in the “Work” sections), Eddie Bauer (look in the “business casual” section).

3. Campus Casual

Campus casual is what you probably won’t be wearing to work.  This is the technical term for what you’re probably wearing every day – jeans, tee shirts, flip flops, sneakers.  You may be asked to wear campus casual to some very informal on-campus interviews and career days, and some casual networking events.  In general, you probably want to stay away from this in the workplace and err towards more conservative stuff.

More Articles About Dressing Professionally

Now that you know the basics of what to wear in the corporate world, check back tomorrow for some specifics.  Over the next week, I’ll be posting more articles I’ve written about what to wear in many different business settings – from interviews to internships, fashion industry jobs to networking events.  Stay tuned.

Posted on on April 21, 2008 / Filed Under: Fashion Tips / Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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64 Responses to “How to Dress Professionally: Business Dress Code Basics”

  1. 1
    February 25th, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    My daughter is a school teacher. She is also studing for her doctate. She must be very talented because they have published several of her papers and invited her to speak to classes. However, she is very over weight and could care less about her appearance. I bought her a whole new warerobe and she was so excited. When she wears her clothes she just throws them on and lets them hang anyway. She won’t style her hair and cares less about how to fix it.

    My question is… Is there any kind of school i could send her to that would teach her how to dress, walk, fix her hair and so forth. I could pay them and get them to say she won the course or make over school whatever.

    Do you have any suggestions. When I try to talk to her it hurts her feelings so I don’t do it often.

  2. 2
    April 15th, 2009 at 4:23 am

    I’m going to attend a party with “Night of Profession” as theme night by 19 May 2009.
    Appreciate you could enlight me with fresh ideas on new and interesting dress to wear instead of those secretaries fashion…


  3. 3
    November 3rd, 2009 at 3:34 pm


    I’m a huge fan of black or gray jeans paired with a blazer and conservative heels. It’s professional but doesn’t compromise your style or ignore the fact you’re under 50 years old!

    My favorite type of outfit :)

    Check out my blog for more,

  4. 4
    February 8th, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Fashion at a discount price. Hand made quality mens and womens suits and shirts at THAILAND PRICES?

  5. 5
    February 28th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Hey jaquie:
    the only solution to your problem is send a message to the show “What Not to Wear” on TLC
    They will teach her how to do evrything. Haven’t you watched the show?
    I think this will answer your prayers and will change your daughter’s life in a very positive way. :]

  6. 6
    February 28th, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    What NOT TO Wear:

  7. 7
    May 13th, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Hey jaquie:
    the only solution to your problem is send a message to the show “What Not to Wear” on TLC
    They will teach her how to do evrything. Haven’t you watched the show?
    I think this will answer your prayers and will change your daughter’s life in a very positive way. :]

  8. 8
    May 18th, 2010 at 6:11 am

    pls keep me informed.

  9. 9
    August 5th, 2010 at 4:23 am

    You have provided some great tips here. It is not difficult to dress professionally for business – choices are generally limited – suits, shirts and ties for men and skirt suits, dress suits and pant suits for the ladies. The main ingredient I feel is to have the color choices that reflect you and also a fit that accentuates the good and hide the bad parts of a persons body.

  10. 10
    October 19th, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    What are your suggestions to wear on an interview for an Esthetician position at a Dermatology Office? I am meeting with the doctor himself and am clueless as what to wear.

  11. 11
    August 10th, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Tks for sharing…

  12. 12
    March 7th, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    I think that all people should dress according to Professional dress code to work, no matter where they work. As it shows that the person respects their co-workers as well as himself.

  13. 13
    May 10th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I was just called immediately for a part time position for a telemarketing company located close to my home. I was very interested at first until I got the followup email from them. It stated that for my interview, I was to dress “Business Professional”. For $9.00 an hour plus a small commission?? Are they really serious? My pay would be going for all the “Dress up” clothes that I purchased, not towards household expenses. Are the still lost in the Eighties? Can’t believe it. No wonder they called so quickly, I was still answering their 120 questions online that they asked me to fill out. Ugh!

  14. 14
    June 5th, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Do you have any pictures of mens clothing like the ladies outfits for $100 in business casual?

  15. 15
    June 21st, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    I love the dress it is so formal!

  16. 16
    July 5th, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Appreciating the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you provide.
    It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed information. Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  17. 17
    February 14th, 2013 at 4:02 am

    what should best recent internationally business dress for muslim women

  18. 18
    March 4th, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    I think that women over 35 should wear that business dress code.

  19. 19
    January 19th, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    the colors grey & navy are essential

  20. 20
    March 13th, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    That is a tough one!! I think a cute, not-too-serious blazer usually does the trick. I once bought one from H&M for pretty cheap but don’t remember exactly how much. It has been sooo useful and is cute on casual days with black skinny jeans, too. :) Great ideas!

  21. 21
    May 5th, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Very good post! We are linking to this great content on our site.
    Keep up the great writing.

  22. 22
    December 6th, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Thanks for any other fantastic post. Where else
    may just anybody get that kind of information in such a perfect manner of
    writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am at the
    search for such info.

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