What Is Business Attire?

Definition and Examples of Business Attire

Man in a sweater and dress pants discusses ideas on a whiteboard with other employees
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Business attire refers to the clothing that employees wear to work. Appropriate business attire can vary from company to company and even from job to job.

What Is Business Attire?

Business attire is the wardrobe appropriate for the workplace. Business attire can contain many different types of clothing, each of which may be appropriate in certain circumstances and inappropriate in others. For example, at your place of work, a suit may be appropriate for a job interview but too formal for everyday business.

Employees who want to fit in well at their workplace wear the clothing that is expected and adhere to the company's standard of appropriate business attire.

How Does Business Attire Work?

Business attire is often dictated by a written company dress code, which can explain what is acceptable clothing and what is not. The level of formality of business attire varies depending on the workplace and is usually described in the dress code, if there is one. However, you don’t need an official dress code to understand what constitutes appropriate business attire in your workplace. You can form a good idea of what is appropriate by just looking around you.

Look at what your boss and other successful employees wear to work. Your observations will tell you about the proper and expected business attire for your workplace.

The formality of business attire can range from traditional and formal to smart casual, business casual, or casual.

For example, if you are a graphic designer at a midsize firm, you may be expected to wear casual or business casual attire. A sweater or button-down shirt, dress pants, leather shoes, and watch would be appropriate for a man or woman in that environment.

Your wardrobe pieces for work should be of good quality, clean, and neatly pressed, if necessary.

Types of Business Attire

degrees of business attire
The Balance

How formal your business attire should be may depend on the company as well as your position. It's likely that the president and other company executives will dress more formally than what is required of an entry-level employee.

If you’re a new employee, ask what employees are expected to wear to work when you receive the job offer. Consult your dress code, employee handbook, or human resources department to find out what the requirements are. If you are unsure, it may be better to err on the side of more formal, not less: Choose dress pants over khakis, for example, until you confirm whether jeans are OK.

Business Formal

If the dress code at your workplace is business formal, then the following attire would be appropriate:

Men:

  • Formal suit, tie, and business shirt
  • Upscale sports jacket, dress pants, tie, and business shirt
  • Leather dress shoes
  • Conservative leather accessories such as a briefcase or portfolio
  • Watches and cologne should be subtle

Women:

  • Skirt suit
  • Pantsuit
  • Formal business blouse or top
  • Stockings
  • Closed-toe leather shoes
  • Conservative business accessories such as a briefcase or a leather folder for pads of paper
  • Subtle jewelry, makeup, and perfume

Smart Casual

Smart casual business attire is just a step down from traditional, formal attire.

Men:

  • Sports jacket with a tie, dress pants, and button-down or traditional business shirt or nice turtleneck
  • Dress shoes
  • Accessories as described in traditional business attire

Women:

  • Jacket or dressy sweater
  • Dress pants or skirt
  • Blouse, shirt, top or turtleneck
  • Hose
  • Dress shoes
  • Accessories as described in traditional business attire

Business Casual

Business casual attire is slightly more casual than smart casual and permits more comfortable cuts and fabrics.

Men:

  • Khakis or dress pants
  • Shirts with collars or golf or polo shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Vests
  • Occasionally an informal jacket and tie
  • Attractive leather shoes and accessories

Women:

  • Nice pants or skirt
  • Blouse, top, or sweater
  • Vest
  • Occasionally an informal jacket
  • Attractive leather shoes and accessories

Casual

If you want to dress appropriately in a casual workplace, you may find yourself wearing jeans and other casual wear.

Men:

  • Casual pants
  • Jeans
  • Shirt, with or without collar
  • Sweater
  • Vest
  • Sweatshirt
  • Casual shoes

Women:

  • Casual pants
  • Jeans
  • Casual skirt
  • Blouse, top, or sweater
  • Vest
  • Sweatshirt
  • Casual shoes

Even with a casual business attire dress code, some articles of clothing are almost always inappropriate, no matter the workplace, including ripped or shredded clothing, flip-flops, beachwear, and tops that reveal the midriff.

Benefits of Business Attire

Business attire conveys to your colleagues, bosses, and customers or clients your level of professionalism and dedication. When you keep your focus on your performance and not your fashion sense, you make a good impression and send a message about your priorities at work. Cultivating your image can help you present yourself in the best light, and wearing the appropriate business attire is part of that image.

Your attire has implications for how you are viewed in your workplace—for better or worse. Showing up poorly dressed, wearing clothing that's sloppy, revealing, or otherwise inappropriate, will send the wrong kind of message to your managers and coworkers.

By following these guidelines, you can look professional in your selected business attire at your workplace. Understand the standard that is expected, dress according to these guidelines, and assemble a wardrobe that is attractive and comfortable.

Key Takeaways

  • Business attire is the clothing that is acceptable at work.
  • Business attire can influence the impression of your boss, coworkers, and customers about your capabilities and professionalism.
  • Appropriate business attire can vary from company to company and even from job to job within that company.
  • There are several levels of formality, ranging from casual to business formal.

Article Sources

  1. SHRM. "Managing Employee Dress and Appearance." Accessed June 29, 2020.

  2. Oregon.gov. "What Is Casual Business Attire?" Accessed June 29, 2020.