What Are The Four Types Of Business Attire? (With Examples For Men + Women)
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Whether you’re going to an interview or showing up for your first day at a new job, understanding the dress code is essential. The clothes you wear in a professional setting send a message to those around you, and you want to ensure that message is a positive one.
Wearing business attire tells everyone you work with that you’re a serious professional and will help you feel more confident in the workplace. In this article, we’ll cover what constitutes business attire, give examples of its many forms, and discuss when to opt for different levels of formality. Because deciding what to wear to work shouldn’t be a job in itself.
What Is Business Attire?
Business attire is clothing that is appropriate for professional settings. It’s a wide-ranging term that covers everything from business casual to business formal clothes. Every workplace is different, and figuring out your employer’s dress code expectations is crucial for establishing a solid wardrobe for work.
What constitutes appropriate business attire changes depending on your position and your industry. Even companies within the same industry will have different notions of how best to dress for work. Let’s break down the different types of business attire to give you a better idea of your options.
Business Attire: Types, Examples, and When to Wear Each
Business attire is categorized by level of formality. Your position in the company also plays a role in determining how formally to dress. Senior-level executives are more apt to wear more formal clothes than entry-level employees, for example.
A company’s dress code aims to set the tone of the workplace, so management will make decisions that align with organizational priorities. For instance, a business might prefer employees with client-facing roles to wear classier clothing than those whose tasks are entirely internal. Some managers feel that employees who can wear comfier clothes will be happier and more productive.
When you’re going for an interview or starting a new job, you can ask human resources about the company’s dress code to better understand what to wear. Always go a step more formal than requested at first. Then, you can make alterations as you start seeing how everyone around you dresses.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at each type of business attire, starting with the most formal and working our way back to sweatpants (just kidding; those are, unfortunately, still off the table for business attire).
Business Formal Attire
Think Bond; James Bond. Business formal is hyper-traditional and ultra-stylish, without being gaudy or over the top. Think of this as business professional with a few extra bits, bobs, and restrictions.
Business formal examples for women:
When to wear it: Business formal clothing is reserved for, well, formal occasions. Think award ceremonies, corporate events in the evening, galas/benefit dinners, and award ceremonies. When you hear “black tie” or “evening dress,” that’s business formal.
Business Professional Attire
Your traditional business wear. In most portrayals of corporate life in America, you’ll see employees wearing business professional clothing. It’s conservative without being super-stuffy.
Business professional examples for women:
When to wear it: Conservative workplaces will often mandate a business professional look. It fosters an image of reliable professionals whom clients can trust with their business. If you’re going for an interview and don’t know what to wear, business professional clothing is a safe bet.
Smart Casual Attire
Smart casual attire falls somewhere in between business casual and business professional. It opens up a lot more variety in your wardrobe, allowing your personality to shine while maintaining a professional vibe.
Smart casual examples for women:
When to wear it: Smart casual is your go-to if you’re applying for a job at a company that bills its dress code as “casual.” That way, you won’t turn up overdressed, but you’ll still look smart, professional, and like someone who takes their appearance seriously.
It’s also an excellent place to start if you’re starting a new job at a place with a “business casual” dress code because it’s a small step up from that. Additionally, you may find that a company says they require business professional attire, only to find that people actually dress closer to smart casual. It’s a very versatile look that works for a lot of situations.
Business Casual Attire
Casual clothing with an eye toward professionalism, business casual clothes are comfier and allow for more personality to shine through brighter colors and patterns. We’re not quite at jeans and t-shirt level here, but we’re ditching the suit.
Business casual examples for women:
When to wear it: Some companies may allow employees to wear business casual clothes to work. Since this category of business attire is incredibly variable, companies should set up guidelines to ensure everyone is on the same page for what constitutes business casual.
Your company may have a business professional dress code, but business casual clothes should work just fine when you go to an out-of-work get-together. The idea behind business casual is to make sure all employees are comfortable while maintaining a professional appearance.
Finally, we made it to everyone’s favorite – casual attire. Casual attire is wide-ranging, so we can’t cover everything that falls under its umbrella. However, you know what people wear when they’re not dressed up for work or an event – all that is casual attire.
Casual attire examples for women:
When to wear it: Only the most casual businesses or positions with no client interactions will allow for truly casual attire. Other than that, feel free to wear casual clothing to events like corporate picnics or other informal get-togethers – just make sure everyone else is doing the same. Of course, when you’re off the clock, casual wear has no limits. Go ahead, slap on some sweatpants – you deserve it.
Gender-Neutral Business Attire
There are plenty of ways to dress professionally, for all levels of formality, that don’t stick to the gender binary.
For business professional attire, stick to:
And avoid wearing:
For business casual attire, stick to:
And avoid wearing:
Tips for Business Attire
What you wear to work is mainly dependent on the policies of your employer. Above all, follow the company’s guidelines for appropriate workplace attire. However, a few tips hold true no matter which category of business attire you’re required to wear.
The Benefits of Business Attire
People are, by and large, visual creatures. Try as we might, we all make judgments based on appearances. In professional settings, we have certain expectations of how people should present themselves, even if we have a tough time articulating just what exact category of business attire they’re wearing.
By wearing clothing that matches the culture of your workspace, you’re sending a message that you’re on the same team and have a good sense of the priorities of your peers. It’s not really about being super fashionable or updating your wardrobe every six months — it’s just about presenting yourself in the best way possible.
Plus, in a sense, a dress code simplifies our lives. Consider students who went to schools with mandated uniforms. Many hate the lack of individuality, but there is something to be said for removing that particular anxiety (what to wear) from your life.
In the same way, having a good sense of what clothing your company requires makes your wardrobe choices much easier. Not to mention that, unlike the uniformed school student, you still have plenty of flexibility and creativity in your choice of attire, regardless of which category of business attire you’re adhering to.
Choosing what to wear in professional settings can be a headache. Hopefully, this article gave you some insight into how businesses and individuals alike think when they see certain clothing styles. Dressing in appropriate business attire shows your coworkers, managers, and clients that you’re a dedicated professional.
Get going on assembling or categorizing your wardrobe, so you’re ready for any professional situation. You won’t regret it.
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Matthew Zane is the lead editor of Zippia's How To Get A Job Guides. He is a teacher, writer, and world-traveler that wants to help people at every stage of the career life cycle. He completed his masters in American Literature from Trinity College Dublin and BA in English from the University of Connecticut.