What Do I Wear to Work? Understanding Office Dress Codes

Dress codes ensure a standard for professionalism in a workplace, help workers focus on work and can say something about your company to visitors. Dress codes are important, but not knowing what to wear when you start in a new company is awkward.

We’re here to clear things up with our ultimate guide to understanding office dress codes.


Casual essentially means there is no specific dress code… with restrictions, of course. You can wear tee shirts, jeans, open-toed shoes, and other articles that are usually not worn in a professional environment. You should still stay away from wearing shorts, revealing shirts, and excessive amounts of makeup or jewelry.

Business Casual

Business casual is a step up from casual office wear and a step down from business professional. There’s no need to wear a tie or suit, but you should still wear a collared shirt or nice blouse with pants (not jeans) or a knee-length skirt. Closed-toe shoes are appropriate, excluding shoes used for exercise.


Business Professional

When in doubt, business professional is the default. Shirts are collared and buttoned, and blouses should be conservative and professional. Slacks should be free from wrinkles and be in office-appropriate colors. Knee-length, simple dresses and skirts are appropriate for business professional. Flats including oxfords, loafers, and small heels 3 inches are ideal.

Business Formal

Business formal is reserved for special occasions and is rarely the standard dress code for every day at the office. For the times you are asked to dress business formal, you can wear a dark suit complete with a tie and dress shoes; or, for the ladies, a non-revealing and simple dress or a skirt suit with heels and minimal jewelry. Note that business formal is different from formal, as long dresses and tuxedos are not typically worn.


There are a few other terms that you may hear less often that the above that bear some explanation.


If your employer says to wear a uniform, they will provide part or all of a particular outfit you’ll work in. This will probably mean more laundry for you, as most companies give their employees only 1 or 2 uniform pieces to alternate between. Some companies may ask you to provide your own parts to a uniform, like a certain color of pants and shoes to accompany a shirt.

Small Business Casual

Small business casual is even more casual than “casual.” Essentially, small businesses, especially start ups, want to be viewed as modern and personable, so small business casual may be their dress code of choice. Take a look around the office when you interview or during your first few days of work to get the feel of the dress code.


Though rarely used, some creative industries recommend their employees also dress “creatively.” Essentially, the employer wants you to dress in a way that expresses your own unique style. Of course, your style choices should still be professional.

“Dress for the Job”/No Preference

If your employer tells you one of the above, it means they don’t really have a dress code and aren’t planning on implementing one. If your job involves manual labor, you should dress for the work you’ll be doing. If not, start by wearing business casual and adjusting to what you see your coworkers wearing.

If you find yourself needing more guidance for the many challenges of the professional world, we offer workshops for professional growth and development. You can learn more about them by clicking the link here.