Be Smart, Dress For The Part: An Intro To Workplace Dress Codes


Starting at a new job always raises a lot of questions – one of the most questions being: “what on earth do I wear?”

Nobody wants to be that person who arrives overdressed on their first day – or even worse, underdressed. Most of the time, the Human Resources manager will let you know the dress code in advance – but it can be hard to know which outfits in your closet fall under the target category.

What is the difference between business casual, and business formal? What is too casual for work? Don’t worry – we have the answers to your fashion woes below!


Step aside, Casual Fridays.

The casual dress code is getting more and more popular today. It’s most prevalent in smaller companies, often with a younger demographic. You don’t necessarily have to be decked out in a suit in order to be considered a working professional.

If your workplace has a casual dress code, the outfits already sitting in your closet will most likely suffice.But while casual can mean comfort, there are still standards and restrictions for what you can and can’t wear in this category.

Pants or jeans without holes work well, as well as most shirts that cover the shoulders (no tanktops!). Be sure you have a few go-to pieces: relaxed button up-shirts or blouses are great choices.

There is a lot of freedom with casual dress codes, but make sure you are aware of the rules that are still outlined and don’t push it.

Business Casual

This dress code is probably the most confusing to understand. How on earth do you combine business and casual, and how do you make sure you are not overdressed or underdressed?

Business casual usually means that they want a more laidback environment, but they still want everyone to look professional and put together.

For bottoms, khakis, corduroy, or dress pants are usually what fall into business casual. Button-up collared shirts can be worn without a tie, and golf shirts are usually allowed in the warmer months. For sweaters, make sure they fall under a cardigan category as oppose to casual.

The best part of business casual is there are probably a lot of clothes you currently own that you can dress up to be work appropriate. A top that you may usually wear with jeans may look at lot dressier when worn with dress pants, and a nice sweater.

What to avoid:

Don’t get too comfortable – steer clear of sweatpants, sweatshirts, and running shoes.
Avoid shirts that have inappropriate logos – small logos are fine, but make sure that any graphics on your clothing are not overwhelming.
Revealing clothing – low cut tops, shorts, and mini-skirts all fall under the fashion “faux-pas” category.
Keep your shoulders covered – no tank tops or spaghetti straps. When in doubt, cover up with a sweater or jacket
Think about your shoes – stay clear from flip flops or other open toe shoes.


Formal is the most strict dress code and each workplace will enforce a different set of rules.

When it comes to a formal or professional dress code, think about what you would have worn for the interview. This is often the case for an office environment that deals heavily with clients – it’s very important to maintain a professional image at all times.

Some workplaces require you to wear a full suit, where other workplaces may say that dress pants or skirts and a collared dress shirt with tie are acceptable. A button-up collared shirt is always a safe bet.

The most important thing before your first day of work is to just ask your human resources manager what the dress code is. Some workplaces may have different guidelines for different dress code, so it’s better to err on the side of caution. And when in doubt, it’s always safer to dress a little more formal – as you begin to work in the new workplace you will begin to get a better sense from what everyone else is wearing!

Have you had a fashion blunder at work? Share your story below!