Different types of business attire: a guide with examples
Updated 9 July 2022
Work attire is an important part of day-to-day work life that impacts how others, including clients and colleagues, perceive you. Offices can have different dress codes, usually ranging from casual to formal, depending on the office culture and the field of work. Understanding what to wear while you're at work is important, as many companies have rules in place if someone fails to follow their dress code. In this article, we discuss the importance of business attire, share examples of different clothing types and explore the situations for which they're appropriate.
The importance of the right business attire
The concept of business attire originated over 200 years ago when people began wearing more practical yet still professional clothing. Even today, the clothes you wear to work are important for a number of reasons. Although many companies don't require a formal dress code, it's still a good idea to have a range of business and formal clothing for interviews and important meetings.
Wearing appropriate clothes to work increases your chances of making a good first impression on people. You never know when your employer may ask you to meet with someone from outside the company. The correct attire sends a visual message to clients that you're professional and helps you maintain your employer's good reputation.
Types of business attire
There are multiple types of business dress codes that you may want to prepare for when you enter the workforce for the first time. Here are some of the most common types of work attire, including examples of the clothing types you might choose to wear:
Employers understand that working in formal wear all day long may be uncomfortable, which is why business casual attire is one of the most common types of office dress codes. Casual wear includes informal clothing that you might also choose to wear outside of work. If you work in an informal office that doesn't have a dress code, casual wear may be the right choice.
Casual business attire is also the most common dress code among most back-office roles, which are roles that aren't customer-facing. While you may choose to wear casual clothes while at work, you can still own a small array of formal wear for interviews and meetings. Many clients may also expect you to wear formal wear when you meet with them, so consider avoiding casual wear when working face to face with clients. Here are some examples of business casual attire:
Tops: t-shirts, jumpers, blouses, polo tops, relaxed shirts
Bottoms: jeans, relaxed skirts, slacks, chinos
Shoes: trainers, low heels, loafers and other flats
Accessories: any jewellery, except large or costume jewellery
2. Smart casual
Smart casual is another popular form of work attire and many businesses choose to opt for this dress code. It allows employees to feel comfortable at work while also ensuring that they look more professional than in casual clothing. Most flexible offices choose this attire. When it comes to smart casual clothing, what you wear might depend on your work schedule.
For example, if you're working in the office and aren't meeting with clients, you may choose to wear more casual attire, but if you have an important meeting with a client you may choose to wear more formal clothing. If you have an interview at a company that has a smart casual dress code, consider wearing smart casual attire over a business suit. This can help you to fit in with the company while also maintaining a professional appearance. Consider these examples of smart casual attire:
Tops: lightly-coloured blouses, blazers, shirts with ties, polo shirts, jackets
Bottoms: chinos, loose or pencil skirts, dressy slacks
Shoes: flats or low heels, boots, clean trainers, loafers
Related: Guide to smart casual dress code
3. Business casual
Business casual is a common form of work attire for companies who regularly deal with clients face-to-face or who want to maintain higher standards of professionalism in the workplace. Business casual is the type of outfit you might choose to wear at an interview. While many business staples make up this form of attire, it still encompasses a number of casual elements. If you're unsure about the dress code of a company, business casual is typically the best option. Here are some examples of business casual clothing:
Tops: buttoned shirts with ties, lightly-coloured blouses without patterns, cardigans
Bottoms: pencil skirts, suit trousers, chinos
Shoes: preferably closed-in styles like loafers, low and high heels, brogues, dress flats
Related: What is business casual in the UK?
4. Business professional
Business professional is a type of dress code that the most formal businesses use. Companies that decide to adopt this form of attire, which typically include businesses in banking, law, finance or government, usually have a strict dress code for employees. This dress code ensures that every individual looks professional while they're at work, which is important if they make large financial or legal decisions daily.
Complying with this dress code may require a tailor to ensure the clothes fit the individual properly. When choosing your business professional attire, it's important that you choose suits or pants in darker colours, such as navy blue, grey or black. When it comes to shirts, it's usually best to wear light colours, such as white or light blue. Here are some examples of business professional clothing:
Tops: suits, skirt suits, tidy and pencil dresses, button-down shirts, blouses, blazers
Bottoms: pencil skirts, cotton or wool dress pants
Shoes: formal flats, high heels, brown or black leather oxford or brogue shoes
5. Business formal
Business formal wear is usually appropriate for the most formal occasions, such as award ceremonies, benefits or other important business occasions. This type of attire is similar to 'black tie'. To prepare for an occasion of this type, consider wearing a dark suit with a tie, formal dress or skirt or even a long evening dress in some instances. Wearing formal heels, oxford or loafer shoes is usually the best option for business formal attire.
Tips for wearing business attire to work
Dressing appropriately for different business occasions and to the office can help you position yourself as a professional and reliable employee. Knowing what to wear can also help you maintain your employer's reputation and increase the chances of securing important business projects for clients. Here are a few things to consider if you're deciding what to wear to an interview, a meeting or to the office:
Research the company: If you're getting ready for an interview, research the company to see if they have advice on how to dress at their workplace. If you cannot find any information, consider emailing the hiring manager and asking them what the dress code is directly.
Observe others: If you're new to the role, consider looking at how other employees dress. If you notice that your managers or the people in leadership positions wear more formal clothing, you may want to choose to dress similarly.
Ask for advice: If you're going to your first business meeting, consider asking fellow employees about how they'd dress for the occasion. Use this advice to tailor what you wear.
Choose sustainable options: If a company you're interviewing with has a casual dress code, but you'd prefer wearing something more formal to the interview, consider borrowing a suit or formal pants from a friend. Borrowing clothes is a more sustainable option that also allows you to limit how much you spend.
Iron or steam your clothes: Ironing your clothes can help you look more professional, regardless of which dress code your workplace requires. Consider doing this the night before work, just to make sure you have enough time in the morning for your usual routine and commuting to the office.
Choose an appropriate hairstyle: Some companies may also require that you match your hairstyle to the dress code in the office. For example, if your employer requires a business professional attire, you may refrain from wearing brightly-coloured or extravagant hairstyles and instead, cut your hair according to more formal standards.
Dress comfortably: Regardless of your work attire, it's important to wear comfortable clothes that won't limit your movements. Consider choosing natural and breathable fabrics, such as cotton, linen or wool.
Consider casual Fridays: Some workplaces allow their employees to wear something more casual on Fridays. On those days, consider wearing something more casual that's still consistent with what you're normally wearing to work.
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