Preparing for an interview? Heading to a conference? As a professional — new or seasoned — you’ll encounter a variety of work and work-related situations that require different kinds of attire. And with so many nuances in professional dress codes, how do you know what type of clothing is called for each? Casual, business casual, formal... what do they all even mean? Here, we’ll break down the concept of business professional attire, a subset you’ll find in more formal work settings.
There are four many types of business attire (of course, there are many nuances and subsets as well): Casual, business casual, business professional and business formal.
Business formal usually calls for a suit or formal dress and is typically the dress code you’d find at a benefit or other important event. Meanwhile, business professional is the type of dress code you might find at a law or finance office. It is a bit less formal. Many people opt to wear it to interviews, too. The articles of clothing that make up the business professional wardrobe typically include:
The best choice is a nice, button-down or plain top that’s not too revealing or low-cut. Your shoulders should be covered, and the top shouldn’t be too form-fitting.
Business professional attire calls for an upscale jacket or blazer, one that complements the blouse with which it is paired. If you’re wearing a long-sleeved, button-down shirt, the sleeve should be just barely visible.
Instead of separates, you can wear a solid dress (minimal, tasteful patterns are fine, too) that hits no higher than your knee. Again, this shouldn’t be too form-fitting, and you should always pair a dress that doesn’t cover your shoulders with a formal jacket or blazer.
Pencil skirts and other neat, conservative skirts can work well with a blouse. Make sure to tuck in your top. As with dresses, your skirts should be no shorter than knee-length.
In today’s business world, slacks certainly fit into a women’s business professional wardrobe. Opt for tailored or well-fitting slacks. Creases provide an elegant touch but are not essential.
Suits are not mandatory, but for a business professional workplace or context that’s a bit more formal, suits with skirts or pants are always a good choice. In fact, you shouldn’t be afraid to wear a suit in any business professional scenario.
Pumps and flats are the safest choice. Avoid excessively high heels, and make sure you’re able to comfortably walk in your shoes. It’s best to keep your toes covered.
Keep both your accessories and cosmetics minimal. In terms of jewelry, classic is a good way to go. Makeup, too, should not be overdone and should look as natural as possible. A briefcase or structured purse can help complete your look.
This jacket is adorable and professional and will work with white or black pants or classic skirts. Buy it at Hope for Flowers.
Who says you can’t wear white after Labor Day? This gorgeous blazer transcends seasons. Buy it at Mango.
This simple yet stylish dress will look elegant at a meeting or a conference. (On a related note, solid black is definitely a color of choice for your business professional wardrobe.) Buy it at Modcloth.
You can never go wrong with a pencil skirt, and the pattern livens this one up. Buy it at Ann Taylor.
Another great black dress, this one has a few frills that take it up a notch and make it perfect for conferences or everyday work. Buy it at Express.
Sophisticated and stylish, this versatile blazer will go with many different outfits. Buy it at Modern Citizen.
This gorgeous jacket manages to look both trendy and professional simultaneously. Pair it with solid black pants to complete the look. Buy it at Nordstrom.
You can’t go wrong with a solid, gray pencil skirt and black blouse. We suggest wearing a jacket with this classic outfit. Buy it at J. Crew.
This fun, tastefully-patterned, belted blazer goes with skirts, pants and dresses alike. Buy it at Bloomingdale’s.
We love the tasteful slits at the bottom of these high-rise pants. Paired with a silk blouse (and perhaps a blazer), they show the world that you’re classy and trendy. Buy it at Aritizia.
This look is trendy and business-appropriate! Buy it at Of/Mercer.
Who doesn’t love a plaid blazer? Wear it with a solid dress or a same-color top and pants. Buy it at Nordstrom.
This dress is a showstopper, but it will also work well at the office. Just make sure to wear a jacket in more formal settings. Buy it at Zara.
We love this fun twist on the classic blazer. Buy it at Zara.
Whether you’re going to a meeting or heading to a typical day at the office, you can’t go wrong with this lively yet professional dress. Complete the outfit with a black or white blazer or jacket. Buy it at Mango.
This satin blouse is available in many gorgeous colors and works well with a black blazer and slacks. Buy it at SHEIN.
Simple, effective, professional — ‘nough said! Buy it at Banana Republic.
Here’s a vibrant, elegant dress that easily transitions from day to night. Buy it at Of/Mercer.
A clever shirtdress that looks like separates — what more do you need? Buy it at Brooks Brothers.
You can wear this structured suit blazer with so many different outfits, but we love the one that’s pictured here! Buy it at Mango.
Add a splash of color to a simple, tailored suit. Buy it at ASOS.
A classic, mix-and-match suit blazer can complement just about any outfit. Buy it at ASOS.
The soft look of this jacket is a lovely twist on the classic blazer. Buy it at Nordstrom.
Want to add a splash of color to your outfit? This satin-effect blouse paired with a blazer and slacks will do the trick. Buy it at Zara.
It looks like a two-piece, but it’s actually one! This dress works well for events, conferences and your office. Buy it at Bloomingdale’s.
Peruse the company website, social media and other materials to help you get a sense of the workplace dress code. It’s best to dress more formally than current employees, but don’t overdo it. For example, if the company has a business casual dress code, opt for business professional, not business formal.
When you’re adjusting to a new workplace, observe the people around you to see how they’re dressing and follow suit.
Generally speaking, solid colors and neutral tones like gray, navy, black, white, khaki, or beige are best. However, a pattern that’s tasteful and not too busy is acceptable, too.
All clothing should be wrinkle-free. Often, Business professional attire requires dry-cleaning.
If you do have casual Fridays or other dress-down days (or if your organization is more casual in general), don’t confuse this with your weekend casual wardrobe. Avoid ripped jeans, tee-shirts, spaghetti straps and bare midriffs.
If you’re not sure how to dress for a specific occasion, just ask someone who knows!