What's the Typical Office Dress Code?

Preparing for work on a daily basis often begins by selecting an outfit for the office. Is the goal to make an impression during an important meeting? Or is it an all-hands-on-deck kind of day and you can be a little casual. Whether it’s your first day on the job or you’ve clocked in a few times, the office dress code will definitely impact the decision of what to wear.

The office dress code is usually one of those topics that come up after the first few days on the job. In hindsight, it likely should come up prior to the first day to make sure everyone knows what is expected in regards to attire. Figuring out what’s the typical office dress code will largely depend on the environment and the tone set by management.

Whether the office dress code is strictly traditional or skirts the border of casual, there are a few things to know to make sure your wardrobe fits the workplace culture. Navigating professional attire for some is a no-brainer. However, others can use a few tips and guidelines to help avoid mistakes. An office dress code, as some may think is not to punish anyone, but rather intended to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to what is acceptable to maintain professionalism.

Understanding the Office Dress Code

It’s a good rule of thumb to inquire about your company’s dress code possibly during an interview or soon after accepting an offer of employment. Although you may think it a bit awkward, this is a vital question, especially if your wardrobe will need to be updated to fit the new atmosphere. Be mindful to make a good impression, especially when it comes to what you wear to work each day. You may not like to wear a suit and tie every day of the week, but if the corporate dress code dictates traditional business attire employees will have to conform.

The office dress code usually includes these categories:

  • Business casual
  • Business formal
  • Business professional
  • Smart Casual

Each of the categories incorporates a distinctive style and make the list for the typical office dress code. In addition to designated attire, some companies allow for casual Fridays where employeesFinding a career based on personality can wear slightly more relaxed clothing. The key to that, however, is that the employee’s attire must still be professional with means no flip flops, offensive working on shirts, no shorts, hats or ripped garments.

This may be a good time to take a moment to think about your personal style. Asses what you may not feel comfortable doing every day for the sake of a career with a particular company. Is wearing a business suit too much to ask of you? Are you more comfortable in casual slacks and a pullover sweater? The office dress code in some situations may be too strict for some while, on the other hand, it is too casual. Good advice is to be sure to decide what fits your personality the best. If you will be miserable wearing the requisite tie daily or sport coat and would prefer a casual button-down shirt, then the company may not be a good fit for you.

Business Formal

The standard business formal attire is most often found in a law firm or financial management office setting. This category of traditional attire typically includes conservative dark suits, ties and dress shoes.

Men’s suits will be of darker hues, tailored with a full button up shirt and stylish, but a conservative tie. And on occasion, men may add a matching pocket square to their suit. It’s just one more way to tie the look together for a more business formal appearance. In certain circles wearing a sharply cut suit is a power move.

Women will also need to select a more conservative suit with either a skirt or pants. In general, the jacket of the suit should match the skirt or pants. Women should look to pair their suit with a button-down shirt or other conservative neckline. There should be no revealing or plunging necklines with business formal.

Shoes are also important in the business formal category. A dress shoe in excellent condition should be worn in business formal attire. Men can select a lace-up or leather slip-on with a good heel and sole. Shoes worn by women will generally be a closed-toe or peep-toe pump, with maybe an occasional slingback style. Women should be mindful of the height of heels to conform with business formal. Heels should be of moderate height but not too low to be considered flats or too high as a stiletto. It’s also a good idea for women to consider heel height and the amount of walking required on an average day. This is not an environment where walking around with feet exposed will be a good idea. So give time and effort to the style and height of the heel.

Business Professional

While some of the same rules apply for business professional office dress codes, there are a few differences. One of the main differences is that the style is not as restrictive. As an example, men will still need to be in a jacket and dress slacks but may not have to wear a tie. The top button on their shirt collar can be left open.

Business professional office dress codes for women are also a bit more relaxed, however, the length and cut of dresses or skirts still need to be conservative. Pantsuits are also acceptable and the colors may expand to slightly lighter tones. But the advice here is to air on the side of conservative.

Here suits are not required to be what’s considered matching, or same color jacket and pants or skirt, the style can include a dark jacket with tan or gray pants. Women can add a touch of flair pairing a dress, skirt or slacks with a cardigan for a pop of color. Typically, business professional attire is found in a work environment where employees interact with clients on a regular basis throughout the day.

And shoes still need to be in good condition. Most companies will require dress shoes for the business professional category as well.

Business CasualBusiness Casual

The business casual category is likely the most popular of the office dress codes. While it allows for somewhat relaxed attire, business casual still means suitable for the workplace. So avoid jeans unless on a company allowed day and even then make sure they are dark, in good condition and void of rips in the fabric.

Business casual clothing can include:

  • Slacks
  • Tucked golf or polo shirts
  • Oxford shirt with sleeves rolled up
  • Loafers or flats

When it comes to casual shoes, loafers for men or a flat for women are acceptable. However, both should be in good condition to wear to the office. Just remember to not go too far overboard when it comes to business casual. Regardless of how stylish they may be with your outfit, flip-flops and sneakers are still not acceptable with business casual attire for the most part.

Just because the name includes casual, this is not to be taken too lightly and think anything goes. Always remember you are in an office setting and there will need to be a certain level of decorum when it comes to how employees dress for work. It can be hard for some to get business casual just right. The business casual dress code is embraced by those who need to put their professional foot forward but can do so while wearing more relaxed business attire.


The casual work environment will usually call for even more relaxed attire. In this setting, you may find jeans on a regular basis, still minus any rips with a nice fashion t-shirt or blouse along with footwear of main sneakers or flat sandals. There may also be a flip-flop or two in the mix. This is your hyper laidback place to work; the cool spot. Others in more rigid dress code environments will be envious of their counterparts allowed to dress casually.

A suit and tie will be considered overboard stuffy and slightly out of sync with the casual vibe in place. It also may be worth mentioning that this office dress code may tend to be a bit more tolerant of tattoos and piercings that otherwise would be frowned upon.

Jeans are the mainstay of the casual office dress code. Some may choose fashion jeans while others prefer the worn look. In some cases, when a more polished outfit is needed, dark jeans with a jacket can do the trick. A wardrobe inventory may uncover a few great pieces for a casual work environment while also highlighting a few things to update.

But don’t get too laid back on the casual part. Remember it’s a work environment so things like shorts and tank tops are still off limits.

Company CultureCompany Culture

Office dress codes are set by company culture and expectations. Some people will balk at having to adhere to an office dress code, especially if it’s outside of their natural style. It’s a good idea to know if you’ll be able to adjust to the office dress code of a company you are applying.

Company culture will factor into the office dress code. Even when the dress code is outlined, it’s a good rule of thumb to observe how other staffers are dressed to stay within range. Your understanding of conservative may not match the corporate culture which may cause an overall problem. Yes, employees can be reprimanded for not following the office dress code. So this is not an area you want to make a mistake.

A new employee will need to make sure to understand the company culture and what things to avoid, especially when it involves how to dress for work. The official dress code may stipulate specific colors of suits however there may be some leeway depending on the situation. If making a presentation to shareholders or another important group, it would be advised to follow the dress code to the letter.

If in doubt about something you’d like to wear, keep it in the closet until you have a good understanding of what’s allowed in the office. This will ensure that you are adjusting to the new environment and following the dress code.

Casual Friday Guidelines

Few may realize what we know today as Casual Friday, evolved from the tradition of “Aloha Friday” in Hawaii where workers were encouraged to wear casual Hawaiian print shirts. The idea of the day spread to the mainland and is now what we call casual Friday. Depending on the established dress code, it often means employees can be a bit more casual than their normal attire. So for a business formal dress code, employees may be able to do away with the stiff shirt and suit to wear business professional or even business casual.

Casual Friday is often celebrated by employees who enjoy being able to relax a bit on the last day of the work week as they head to the weekend. Think of it as taking a break from the formality of the week a bit. In some corporate settings, casual Friday may inspire team bonding or just a fun environment like a catered lunch or leaving the office early.

There are several options for the casual Friday flow so make sure your wardrobe is ready to embrace the somewhat relaxed nature of the day in the office.

Here are a few office dress code tips:

  1. Know what the dress code is for your company.
  2. Update items in your wardrobe for the dress code.
  3. When in doubt about attire, refrain from wearing.
  4. Make sure attire and shoes are in good condition.
  5. Avoid wearing clothing that is too casual for the office.
  6. Inquire about other things like tattoos, piercings, hair color and style.

If your workplace dress code is already considered casual, then you have it made. The likelihood of there being anything else more casual to work is slim. So put on a new pair of shoes or something to show off on casual Friday and have fun.

Office Dress Code Tips

New employees should inquire about the office dress code upon accepting an offer. It’s a way to make a good impression at the start and not be too formal if not required or too casual.Business Formal

Other tips include:

  • Observe others – it will indicate what to stay away from within the work environment when reviewing your own wardrobe.
  • Best foot forward – literally put your best foot forward when it comes to shoes. Make sure they are clean, good heels and overall good condition.
  • Stylish attire – this is a bit vague but it means update your wardrobe with up-to-date items. Don’t wear a tie that is two or three decades old or a suit that is not better in considered an antique.
  • Clean – have suits and other garments cleaned regularly either professionally or DIY laundry.
  • Proper fit – make sure attire fits properly, is not too tight or too loose. The proper fit of a garment helps project a professional appearance.
  • Casual update – casual does not mean ill fit, out of date or bad condition comfortable. Casual wear still needs to be acceptable for the office.
  • Budget upgrades – while it may be difficult to go out and purchase an entirely new wardrobe, employees need to budget adding new clothing on a regular basis. This will certainly be helpful if your office attire must be business formal or business professional.

Company culture also plays a subtle role in office dress code. The most important thing employees can do is to adapt their wardrobe to what is required for the office. A word of caution here, do not try to adapt your personal style to the dress code, just realize you will have a standard of attire for work and then after hours or on the weekend you can wear what you like.

Attire to Avoid

While the type of attire to avoid should be obvious, it may be beneficial to mention some key areas of caution. It may seem like something minor but this is where a series of missteps can be a problem and violate the office dress code.

Things to avoid:

  1. Offensive wording on clothing
  2. Attire exposing skin
  3. Clothing that is too tight, suggestive
  4. Flip-flops
  5. Shorts
  6. Ripped clothing

Designing a weekly wardrobe built around what is allowed within the office dress code can seem a bit overwhelming, especially if this is your first professional job after college graduation. You can always ask for both career advice and wardrobe advice. The transition from sneakers, jeans and T-shirts on a daily basis to a tailored dark business suit and dress shoes does not have to be a traumatic experience. Once the office dress code is explained outlining what employees are to wear to work, go home and dive into your closet to discover which pieces you already own. Then make a list of what you will need and plan the budget for shopping to upgrade your work wardrobe.


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