What Is Business Professional Attire? A Guide to How to Dress for Work

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In more and more workplaces, employees are dressing down. The shift to remote and hybrid work has only accelerated this trend, so you’re increasingly likely to see khakis, sweaters, twinsets, polo shirts and even jeans at more businesses than ever.

Not everywhere, though. What if you’re going to work in an office that has a “business professional attire” dress code? What does that mean?

To help you out, we’ve put together a guide with tips on what to wear — and especially what not to wear — when working for a business with a stricter dress code.

This way, if you see the phrase “business professional attire” in an employee handbook or in a job posting on ZipRecruiter or a similar job board, you’ll know what to do.

What is Business Professional Attire?

In a world where casual Fridays are starting to become casual workweeks in lots of workplaces, business professional attire is more traditional and conservative.

It’s a stricter dress code, meant to reflect a more conservative business culture. You’re more likely to encounter this in industries like accounting, banking, engineering, finance, government or law.

Business professional attire typically means suits, ties, dress pants, long sleeved shirt and dress shoes for men. For women, a business professional wardrobe can include a tailored skirt-and-blazer combo, pantsuit, or knee-length professional dress.

Business professional clothes should definitely be well-fitted, and they may even be tailored specifically for you.

Differences from Other Dress Codes

Business professional attire is more formal than business casual attire, which includes comfortable but work-appropriate clothing.

For men, business casual attire typically means khakis, a button-down shirt, a belt and non-athletic shoes — and no tie. For women, business casual attire typically includes knee-length dresses and skirts, or a simple blouse-and-pant combination, as well as closed-toed shoes.

However, business professional attire is less conservative than business formal attire, which tends to be reserved for the most formal occasions. Think award ceremonies, charity benefits, black-tie dinners and the like.

For men, business formal attire means a dark suit, long-sleeved button-down shirt, tie, dress socks, dress shoes like Oxfords, and maybe even cufflinks. No bright colors.

For women, business formal attire includes a dark pants suit, skirt suit or suit dress. Sometimes a long evening dress is appropriate. Business formal shoes can be heels or formal flats.

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Business Professional Attire: What to Wear for Women

Business professional attire is all about making a good first impression.

Here’s a list of appropriate business professional attire for women:

  • Business suit
  • Professional dress, at or below the knee
  • Oxford-style blouse made of heavier fabric and not low-cut
  • Tailored skirt-and-blazer combo
  • Closed-toed shoes with low or moderate heels
  • Tan or light hosiery
  • Non-distracting jewelry
  • Light makeup
  • Manicured nails

If you’re not sure what to wear, you should feel free to ask. Check with your manager or with human resources.

Business Professional Attire: What to Wear for Men

The key here is to avoid khakis or a polo shirt. Here’s a list of appropriate business professional attire for men:

  • A suit with a solid color — black, gray or navy blue — or maybe pinstripes
  • Dress pants with a sport coat
  • Button down shirt — white, cream or light pastel colors
  • Simple, conservative tie — not too flashy
  • Dark socks
  • Dress shoes
  • Neat hairstyle
  • Trimmed nails

What Not to Wear

Remember, a strict dress code is meant to reflect your business’s culture and your company’s values.

You have to resist the temptation to dress more casually. Business casual dress codes are becoming more and more common in today’s workplace, with surveys showing that at least half of all U.S. employers allow business casual attire on an everyday basis.

Here’s a list of clothing you should not wear for a business professional dress code:

  • Khakis, chinos or jeans
  • A polo shirt
  • Sweaters or cardigans
  • Hoodies
  • Sportswear
  • T-shirts or tank tops
  • Short skirts, tight dresses or low-cut tops
  • Cargo pants or shorts
  • Backless tops, crop tops or strapless tops
  • Sundresses
  • Leggings
  • Clothing with rips or holes
  • Anything with neon colors
  • Jewelry that’s too flashy or distracting
  • Athletic socks
  • Sandals or flip-flops
  • Open-toed shoes
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What to Wear for an Interview

When it comes to job interviews, we’ve got a little extra advice.

First, you’ve got to land an interview in the first place. Your best bet to do that is to explore a massive, popular online job board like ZipRecruiter, which is free to use for job seekers. You can search for job posts based on factors like desired salary, location or various keywords.

You can post a profile on the site that potential employers can see. You can post your resume, references, social network handles or a profile picture, among other things. If a company likes your profile, they can invite you to apply for their job. And if you’re interested, you can apply with a click.

An online jobs marketplace like this is the most efficient way to launch a job search.

Next, what’s your interview outfit? Interview attire is crucial.

How you look in the job interview is almost as important as your qualifications. Planning an outfit can be a delicate balancing act and yet another source of stress for some people.

You want to look sharp — but not pretentious or underdressed.

Consider industry trends when choosing your outfit. Interviewing at a business firm? Put on a suit. But that might be overkill for other industries.

Computer science or advertising fields might be more casual. The important part is not to guess. Check out the job listing, or call ahead and ask. Check with a receptionist or with HR.

Once you’ve decided what to wear, set it out before you go to bed — pressed and wrinkle-free. It will save you the hassle in the morning.

And yes, this even matters for a video interview.

In general, it’s better to dress up for an interview than to dress down.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He works from home and owns exactly one suit.