Your Guide To 7 Workplace Dress Codes

Back Article Dec 2, 2016 By Robin Epley

No matter where you work or what you do, there’s always going to be a dress code. For people who work with their hands, that may mean steel-toed boots and protective eyewear, but for the average office worker, it’s less about safety and more about looking neat, organized and professional.We present seven different types of dress codes that you may run across someday in your career. And remember: When in doubt, ask HR what the dress code policies are!


If you work in an office with a Casual dress code, then lucky you! Be wary though, this is different from streetwear. No flip flops, shorts, tank tops or otherwise revealing or unprofessional looks. Wear clean shoes and neat, unwrinkled clothing. Ask if you can wear jeans before assuming you can. There’s even a little leeway here (usually) with hair color, men’s hair length and nail color, and you might be able to get away with open-toed shoes, depending on your type of business. Even visible tattoos are probably acceptable, but this is usually the only dress code where that’s the case. (In all other situations, assume they need to be covered.)

Business Casual

A step up from Casualwear, Business Casual usually just means you don’t need to wear a suit to work. But don’t confuse it with regular Casualwear. Colors to display your individuality are still OK, but no jeans, no open-toed shoes and usually only natural hair colors are allowed. Try khakis or slacks with a nice button-up blouse or polo shirt. Cardigans and scarves are fine, too.

Trade Shows

Dress codes for trade shows often depend on your industry. Some businesses require matching polos and khakis, while others will require Business Professional or Business Formal, both of which we’ll cover below. Usually, however, a Business Casual dress code is the norm. Printed company shirts with logos or other writing tend to be acceptable, as well. Remember that working at a trade show usually makes for a long day so dress first to impress, but closely behind, dress for comfort — don’t wear your sneakers, but also don’t wear 4-inch heels.

Related: Office Style in the Triple Digits

Smart Casual

Often confused with Business Casual, Smart Casual is yet another step up. Conservative dresses, sweaters or vests, buttoned shirts with collars and maybe the occasional tie to really look smart. Oftentimes a nice belt, jewelry or other accessories are acceptable to enhance a look. Choose primary colors like red or blue, or stick to black, white or grey. If choosing a tie pattern, pick something understated like plaids or stripes.

Business Professional

No khakis here. Nice slacks only, or a matching suit. You can maybe take the jacket off if the shirt underneath is nice. For men: A nice tie is a must, and for women, a nice blouse that doesn’t reveal anything or has a collar or a high neckline. One pair of earrings only for women, but no other piercings or other body modifications should show. Women, you should also consider wearing stockings in a nude or dark color.

Business Formal

An extremely formal version of Business Professional, but not quite at the level of Black Tie. When Business Formal is required, think conservatively. No tight-fitting clothes, but rather ones that fit you well instead. Basically: Break out your best suit. No high heels, and choose dark, conservative colors like blues, greys and blacks. Your suit jacket should never come off, and should match (or at least be in the same color family as) your pants or skirt. And men, don’t forget to wear socks with your shoes, whereas women, you should wear panythose in a dark colors only.

Black Tie/Formal

The least likely of what you’ll be asked to wear at work, but it’s always good to know the differences between Business Formal and regular Formalwear. (And you might someday be invited to an upscale party or event on behalf of the company.) When you think of Formalwear, think of the fanciest party you’ve ever been to, or maybe even a wedding. Tuxedos, floor-length dresses, expensive jewelry, cufflinks and shiny shoes or heels are the order of the day. Remember, when in doubt, ask around and see what other people will be wearing!


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