Business Professional Attire: Dressing for Success at Work

Learn the basics of business dress codes. Features descriptions of Business Casual and Business Formal dress. Also: where to shop for each dress code.

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How to dress professionally: A guide to different business dress codes and exactly what they mean, plus where to shop for business professional, business casual, and campus casual clothing

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….of course these categories apply to my life!”

I definitely think you should post some ideas on how to dress for an interview, a seminar, volunteer work, every day work, professional networking, casual networking

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 are 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!

As a graduate of business school with years of experience, I know a lot about dressing professionally and have tons of tips to get your wardrobe right in a professional setting – without sacrificing style, of course.

Over the next few weeks, we’re 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.

Related reading: 20 Best Professional Outfits for Women (for Every Dress Code)

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.

Business Professional Attire: Where To Shop

Brooks Brothers suit is an example of a business formal outfit for the business professional dress code

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!). This style is also known as “business formal.”

For women, business professional means a business suit or pants suit, or an appropriate dress and jacket. For men, professional dress means a business suit or a blazer, dress pants and a tie.

It is important to follow this business attire rule if you’re working in an office that adheres to it as you do not want to be seen as inappropriate or give off the impression that you don’t take your appearance seriously. Working for a conservative industry means that they have strict standards for what you can and cannot wear, so it’s important that you follow protocol correctly.

1. Loft (women only)

Loft Business Clothing

Product List

The Modern Blazer is a go-to for a polished and professional look. The elbow patches on the blazer add a touch of character. The minimalist midi dress is both stylish and comfortable, a total work staple.

Hoop earrings add a charming finish, while the tote bag is roomy and versatile. Block heels are cute and comfortable for any workplace, making them perfect for long days on your feet. This fantastic outfit combo from Loft will help you achieve an effortlessly chic and flawless look.

2. J.Crew

J.Crew Business Combination

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J.Crew products are workplace classics for a reason — they’re high quality and stand the test of time. The blazer is expertly tailored and timeless, making it a versatile wardrobe staple. Crafted from lightweight chino fabric, it’s perfect for the warmer months or for anyone who runs warm.

The matching chino pants and shorts complete the look, providing both polish and comfort. With straight legs, front pleats, and lightweight stretch, the pants transition seamlessly from work to weekend, ensuring comfort and versatility.

The waistcoat features a flattering V-neckline and button-up design, with J.Crew’s commitment to Better Cotton adding an eco-friendly touch. The accessories, including hinge and cuff bracelets, radiate timeless elegance while featuring lightweight and eco-friendly materials.

Additionally, the belt is sustainably produced with recycled zinc casting. These J.Crew selections combine style, comfort, and sustainability, making them great additions to any fashion-forward wardrobe.

3. Express

Express Business attire

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Express shines in curating unique and fun choices for professional business attire. The Square Toe Ballet Flats, which are classic and trendy this season, elegantly elevate your ensemble. They work well with denim and a bodysuit or a coordinating sundress and sophisticated bag.

The High Waisted Plaid Skinny Pants, a versatile version of Express’s famous Editor pant, combines a waist-enhancing high-rise fit with plush, stretchy twill fabric, ensuring day-long comfort. 

Pair it with the coordinating blazer to create a polished look. The Plaid Double Breasted Cropped Blazer, which features a sophisticated plaid print, adds a touch of flair to your night out, especially when styled with jeans and heels.

4. Ann Taylor (women only)

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Ann Taylor’s selection is the epitome of chic sophistication, perfect for a holiday party where the dress code is business professional. The double-breasted blazer, with its shorter length and impeccable tailoring, is a seasonal must.

Complete the look with pave stud earrings for a touch of sparkle. The geo colorblock crossbody bag wll hold your essentials, and the pave-studded paisley ring adds a modern feel to the look. Ann Taylor ensures you’re impeccably dressed from head to toe, making these picks ideal for business professionals seeking style and sophistication.

5. Nordstrom’s Women’s Suits (women only)

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Indulge in timeless sophistication with Nordstrom’s Women’s Suits, where each piece is elegant. The collection epitomizes modern glamour from a sleek single-button blazer with a seasonless black wide leg trousers for that comfortable fit.

The top presenting an elegant button-up style with elasticized cuffs and a pointed toe and flared heel adds a touch of drama. Elevate your ensemble with an Italian-made plush purse featuring the iconic three-letter logo. Nordstrom’s Women’s Suits redefine luxury with curated pieces that blend sophistication and statement style seamlessly.

Business Casual Attire: Where To Shop

Business Casual Attire

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.

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.

Although it is business “casual,” it is important that you look more business-appropriate than casual. Many people confuse business casual as just casual dressing but it still means dressing like you are going to an office. Business casual is not as buttoned-up or formal as professional dress but not as casual as campus casual.

6. Banana Republic

Banana Republic

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Discover the perfect blend of style, quality, and versatility at Banana Republic, a brand that’s really upped their fashion game in recent seasons. Their business casual attire transitions from the office to after-work gatherings. Attention to detail and commitment to craftsmanship ensures timeless pieces that stand the test of time. 

With diverse sizing options and an inclusive approach to fashion, Banana Republic is your go-to destination for fashion and quality in your professional wardrobe.

7. New York & Company (women only)

 New York & Company Business attire

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The Round Neck Bodysuit boasts a classic design with a round neck, short sleeves, and a fitted silhouette. It serves as the ideal foundation for a polished and put-together look.

Combine it with the Long Sleeve Notch Lapel Striped Blazer, a versatile piece that effortlessly transitions from business meetings to casual gatherings. Complete the ensemble with the Side Snap Ponte Pencil Skirt, a wardrobe essential that exudes elegance and confidence.

Suitable for both casual and formal occasions, this pencil skirt complements the bodysuit and blazer perfectly. The exquisite side snap detail adds a refined touch, making it a timeless addition to your wardrobe.

8. H&M (look in the “workwear” section)

H&M (look in the “workwear” section)

Product List

Elevate your style on a budget with H&M’s curated selections that offer workplace staples at an affordable price. The oversized, single-breasted blazer is a versatile statement piece featuring notched lapels, dropped shoulders, and decorative buttons for a chic touch. The ankle-length boots in soft leather with pointed toes and a covered heel add a hint of edgy sophistication to any look. 

Pieces like a fitted top, a short skirt in textured fabric, and a rib-knit mini skirt provide a range of options for casual or dressed-up occasions. Complete your ensemble with the faux leather shopper tote boasting two handles and a zipper compartment, combining practicality with style. H&M’s collection marries trendiness with accessibility, making these pieces the perfect picks for a fashionable and budget-conscious wardrobe.

9. TJ Maxx

TJX business attire

Every working woman on a budget needs to check out TJ Maxx, where style meets practicality. For instance, this 2-pc Melange Blazer and Skirt Suit Set effortlessly blends sophistication with functionality. The jacket features a lapel collar, three-quarter sleeves, and a button-front closure, paired with a 25-inch-long skirt with a back zip and hook closure. 

With meticulous detailing, including 2 front jacket pockets, this suit set is perfect for professional or formal occasions. You’ll also find tons more workplace fashion options — including designer deals for less — if you shop at your local TJ Maxx store.

10. Marshall’s

Marshall’s Business attire

Much like their sister company TJ Maxx, Marshall’s is an amazing place to find workwear on a budget. For example, this tie front wrap jacket and long-length trousers combo is perfect for wearing together or separately in all your business-casual outfits.

With features like faux front pockets and a tie waist, the jacket brings charm and versatility to your wardrobe. The long length trousers, boasting a high-rise waist and stretchable fabric, combine sophistication with comfort. Again, check your local store for an even better selection of workwear pieces at deep discounts.

11. Macy’s

Macy’s business combination

Another classic workwear shopping destination, Macy’s is a great place to find elegant and versatile pieces. Today’s spotlight is on the Le Suit Crepe Two-Button Blazer & Pants set above, which is a high-quality set that will add versatility and comfort to your wardrobe.

Available in both Regular and Petite sizes, this ensemble is perfect for adding an unexpected color and texture to your workplace fashion arsenal.

Looking for fashion advice and recommendations for casual wear? Explore these trendy clothing stores for teens!

Hopefully, these tips teach you about the business dress code basics. For those of you who are a bit more advanced and already knew the business dress code basics, what are your favorite ways to dress professionally?

Now that you know the basics of what to wear in the corporate world, it’s time to talk specifics. See the following articles for more details:

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2008; it was completely updated and revamped in 2023 with new photos and information.

14 thoughts on “Business Professional Attire: Dressing for Success at Work”

  1. I”m having a problem. Most professional pants have clasps on the inside and for some reason, those types of pants don’t work for me.

    Are there any other good professional pants, cause otherwise I’m stuck with black jeans.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. :]

  4. 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…


  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Merilyne-

    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,


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