here are a lot of different industries and professional careers out there, which means there are a lot of different work environments out there. Each work environment and career path is unique in many ways, one of which being dress codes that are enforced.

Regardless of the dress code of your work environment, you will want to look and dress the part, whatever part that may be in your office. This will help you feel the part, and what better way to get motivated for work than feeling like your best, most confident self? We’re dressing for success here -- your outfit could be just the inspiration you need to conquer your to-do list.

The saying “dress for success” is actually backed by science. Studies have proven that business attire conveys authority in a professional. Professional dress instills a sense of confidence and self-worth, which will radiate to other people and only help you perform better and form stronger professional relationships in the workplace!

Professionals in all industries should be prepared for any work environment they may encounter and whatever dress code the company throws at them. Familiarize yourself with these common professional looks!

Some of these styles may be out of your comfort zone, but don’t worry -- there are ways to make your outfits more “you” and incorporate your own personal style. When the time comes, you’ll already have some outfit ideas in mind or know exactly which pieces you need to pick up.

Business Formal  

business men and women in business formal attire have a meeting
Business formal attire is often worn by lawyers, CEOs, or other high level executives. Image courtesy of Money Crashers.

Business formal is also sometimes referred to as “boardroom attire.” It is what company executives or those in high-level positions might wear. Business formal attire is all about the neutral colors. That means ties, pantsuits, suits with skirts, and shoes should all be black, gray, navy, or brown. Your business formal attire may consist of a few high-quality investment pieces.

But what should you purchase? Business formal might seem like uncharted territory for many professionals, especially if you are just starting out or have just accepted a new, high-level position. Key pieces include:

For women:

  • Pantsuit
  • Suit with skirt
  • White button-down collared shirt
  • Closed toe heels or flats
  • Tights
  • Muted, minimalist accessories

For men:

  • Tailored one-, two-, or three-button suit
  • White button-down collared shirt
  • Tie
  • Closed toe shoes, such as oxfords
  • Minimal accessories such as belts or tie clips

Business formal attire also applies to any evening events like award ceremonies, company dinners, or benefits. Typically, the key pieces mentioned above will be appropriate, except on rare “black tie” occasions when evening gowns or tuxedos are required.

Business Professional

a business man in a business professional suit reads the newspaper
More colors and patterns can be introduced into a business professional wardrobe. Image courtesy of Insider.

Business professional is similar to business formal, and a lot of those key investment pieces will be great additions to your business professional attire, too. However, business professional attire leaves a little more room to show your personality in your look -- spice it up with some pops of color or a flashy accessory here and there.

Belts, watches, and jewelry are accessories you can incorporate to introduce some more fun to your office outfits. A blazer from your typical pantsuit can bring a more casual look or a simple yet professional dress to the next level, making it perfect for the business professional work environment. A blazer is a classic piece that every business professional should own -- you can dress it up or down.

Although a few high-end investment pieces might make sense for business formal -- and those pieces could work in other environments, too -- you don’t have to break the bank to fit the business professional profile. These days, there are online and brick and mortar stores for just about every dress code, and even every individual piece of clothing you might be shopping for!

Business Casual

examples of business casual attire that you can buy at Target
Target has so many options for fun yet professional business casual attire. Image courtesy of College Fashion.

Business casual is probably the most common dress code among professionals these days. In a business casual work environment, you can expect to see a lot more branching out in terms of styles and colors. Sweaters over button-downs, cardigans, colored blouses, dressy slacks, khakis, statement jewelry, and watches are more than acceptable.

Clothing and shoes can be a little more relaxed in a business casual environment. Women can wear flats and loafers, or any other comfortable closed toe shoes -- maybe some ankle boots. Men can also wear more comfortable loafers or canvas sneakers. Have some fun with your business casual style! Target and J. Crew are two of many affordable options for shopping business casual looks!

If you are looking to cultivate a whole new business casual wardrobe on budget -- since some of these professional pieces are expensive -- you can always try Poshmark. Poshmark is a high-end secondhand clothing app and website. You’ll encounter some of the most popular, well-known brands around, for a much lower price than when purchasing them brand new -- and often, you’ll find them with the tags still on. Like we said, you don’t have to break the bank to dress professionally!

Smart Casual

a group of employees dressed in colorful, smart casual attire
Bright colors and eccentric patterns define the smart casual dress code. Image courtesy of The Balance Careers.

The smart casual dress code is described as “eclectic but classy.” Personal style is very much encouraged to take the forefront in your look, which really helps employees feel more comfortable with themselves, confident sharing their ideas, and a sense of belonging in the workplace.

Casual tops with dress pants, bright sweaters, dresses, and dress shirts with no ties are common and very much encouraged. The smart casual style is a professional, well put together look, yet embraces personal style and comfort.


a man wears jeans to work as a part of his business casual attire
Jeans are usually considered acceptable in casual work environments.

Many companies in the creative industry employ a casual dress code. However, many companies with more formal dress codes may enjoy casual Fridays -- this dress code can apply on those days, even if your company typically requires a business professional look. Take note, and mark it on your calendar!

Just like with any of these styles, it will take some time to get used to the dress code. In this case that includes gauging just how casual your company’s definition of “casual” is. Some key pieces that are appropriate for a casual work environment include:

  • Dark-wash jeans (no ripped, frayed, or low-rise jeans)
  • Casual button-down shirts (no tie necessary)
  • Nice, solid color t-shirts
  • Informal blouses
a business casual group of employees dressed in jeans and casual tops
Dark-wash jeans with informal yet presentable tops are perfect for the casual workplace. Image courtesy of The Balance Careers.

The only time you’ll want to avoid casual attire entirely is in any interview setting, even if the company appears to embrace a more relaxed dress code. It’s definitely better to be overdressed and look as professional as you can manage rather than assuming a casual outfit would be acceptable. Let them inform you of the dress code or ask about it after you’ve secured the job. They say dress for the job you want, right?

Work From Home

a woman sets up her laptop and gets comfortable to work from home
Working from home means dressing comfortably, yet still stylish and presentable! Image courtesy of Today.

With new, intuitive technology constantly developing, more people than ever are working from home full-time or at least more often than usual. Online platforms make it easy to get work done and connect with coworkers from the comfort of your own home. However, you still want to look presentable, even if you’re only meeting virtually. Working from home brings certain luxuries, but also certain challenges, one of the biggest ones being what to wear when working from home.

Although getting dressed up for work in the morning can be a motivator, getting you inspired for the day ahead, many people who work from home love that they can save time and feel relaxed in their comfiest clothes.

Private stylist Leesa Evans totally agrees with this notion, as she told Today, “On days when you do not need to interface visually with clients or coworkers, I think wearing your favorite sweats can feel incredibly relaxing and put you in the perfect serene mood to dive in and get a ton of work done with maybe a bit of extra time to meditate or do yoga somewhere in your day.”  

a woman works from home in a sweater and jeans
Even when you’re working from home, throwing on a nice sweater can turn your whole day around! Image courtesy of Today.

However, some days, you may be meeting with people virtually and want to look more professional -- or maybe you just need an extra motivator to accomplish everything on your to-do list! We already know how confident dressing professionally can make us feel, so if you’re feeling uninspired, your most stylish professional outfit almost guarantees a productive work day.

The best advice we can give here is that when you feel put together, you’re likely to accomplish more, regardless of your work environment. Even if you don’t need to make a physical appearance on Zoom or Google Hangouts, it can’t hurt to throw on a nice sweater or casual blouse with your comfy pants. No matter what your job is, embracing the company’s dress code and dressing professionally guarantees you a successful day of work!

Header image courtesy of The Balance Careers.

May 5, 2021