Dress Codes 101: Business Formal

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you purchase through our links. Please read our full disclosure here.

Whether you’re working at your first internship this summer or heading out into the “real world” as a new grad, it’s essential to know and follow the dress code for your workplace. Lucky for you, we’re here to decode some typical types of workwear, from business formal to casual.

Business formal suits

Photos via Macy’s, Express, and Amazon

We’ve already covered what to wear for an interview, and this week’s topic is what to wear for a “business formal” environment.

For conservative fields – like business, law, or accounting – you will typically find that the dress code is business formal (also called business professional). The most important thing you need to know is that business formal = a suit. This means a pair of pants or skirt and a jacket in a matching color and style, which will help you look polished and streamlined.

Other things to remember? Stick to neutral colors, low heels or flats, simple blouses, and understated jewelry. (For more guidelines, see here.)

Now, here are a few business formal outfit ideas:

Outfit #1

Business formal black pant suit

Product Info: Pants, Jacket, Shirt, Flats, Bag, Earrings

For a simple, classic, and formal look, you can’t go wrong with a black suit. Try a pair of black trousers (make sure they aren’t too tight!) and a black blazer, paired with a crisp white button-down. Black flats are a closet staple, and they are a great choice if your job keeps you on your feet all day. The pointed toe on this pair makes them look more professional.

Grab a sleek bowler bag in a neutral color to carry your belongings, and accessorize the look with a pair of delicate pearl earrings.

Outfit #2

Business formal navy skirt suit

Product Info: Skirt, Jacket, Shirt, Bag, Heels, Necklace

If skirts are more your speed, try a matching pencil skirt and blazer – just make sure that your skirt hem is no more than two inches above your knee (and save the mini skirts for when you’re off-duty). Though it’s nice to have one black suit in your closet, you can also mix things up with a navy, gray, brown, or pinstriped suit.

In the same vein, you can’t go wrong with a white blouse, but if you want a little variation, try shirts in other neutral colors, like a light taupe or beige. You can also try switching your black heels for neutral ones (I wouldn’t recommend nude flats, though, or it might look like you’re walking around in bare feet!). Don’t forget to accessorize with a sophisticated leather bag and a simple pendant necklace.

Thoughts?

Are you working in a business formal environment this summer? Do you have a go-to outfit? Which look would you wear? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment!

10 thoughts on “Dress Codes 101: Business Formal”

  1. Also, when wearing dresses or skirts you should wear tights or pantyhose. A coworker of mine made that faux pas once and she got a stern talking to

    Reply
  2. I’m hopefully *fingers crossed* getting an internship this summer at an accounting firm — is there any way to get around wearing a suit? Its summer and its gonna be so hot!! Would a nice skirt and blouse combo work?

    Reply
  3. Melissa – Thanks for your feedback. You’re right, it can be tricky to find black separates that match. When I was putting together the look, I found that it was hard to find a black pantsuit on a budget, so I chose separates that were more affordable. But if someone is working in a very professional environment and can afford the investment, a matching black suit is a great wardrobe addition.

    Reply
  4. I am very surprised by the first suggestion. The biggest no-no is wearing two different black pieces as a suit. Black never matches properly nor is the material from two different stores likely to be similar. When buying a “business formal” suit you should always buy the skirt, pants, and jacket together.

    Reply
  5. You also might get away with wearing a short-sleeved blouse, really high-quality solid colored t-shirt or sleeveless blouse as well. Keep the jacket on when you are around the higher ups or in formal meetings & ditch it when you’re alone in your office/cubicle.

    Don’t forget that offices tend to blast the A/C during the summer, so you may only need to worry about dressing for the weather during your commute!

    Reply
  6. Thanks for the tips everyone!

    Sarah – I would start by wearing a suit for the first week or so, and pay attention to what you see your coworkers wearing. If they are all wearing suits, you should do the same (and if it gets really hot, try to pick pieces that are made from breathable, natural fabrics like cotton and linen). But if they are dressed down a bit–like a blouse and skirt/pants, or a dress–you’re probably safe skipping the suit in hot weather.

    Reply
  7. A business dress is also a great addition to either formal or casual business envrionments. They look best when taylored and in neutral or dark colors. You can dress it up with a blazer or down with a sweater. You can also accessorize with shoes, jewelry, and scarves to switch up the look.

    Reply

Leave a Comment