What’s Your Office Style? Dress Codes For The Working Woman

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Out of all of the clothing and attire in your closet, the most worn items are those you don on a 9 to 5 basis, 5 days a week – your office wear. As a result, many people find themselves in suits, blouses, blazers, shirts and suit skirts for most of the week. For others, it’s just another pair of jeans for another day at the office.

Office attire can vary significantly from workplace to workplace. Despite dress codes or a general office style in place, it’s quite common for employees to get it oh-so-wrong. People’s perception and understanding of office dress codes can change from person to person. Sure, your employee manual states that your office dress code is “business professional” – but what does that mean? There are 4 typical styles or dress codes usually applicable to corporate offices – which is your office style?

Business formal

This is the highest level of professional dress code and is commonplace for those in high-level positions or those who work in the legal or financial services sector. Business formal essentially means “boardroom attire” – you dress exactly as you would for a boardroom meeting with top tier executives. For females, typical business formal wear includes:

  • A pantsuit or skirt suit in black, navy, or brown, the most conservative colours – skirt length should not sit shorter than just above the knee.
  • Closed-toe heels – like your suits, choose neutral colours like taupe, black, grey or brown.
  • White/cream button-up blouses.
  • Dark blue/black shirts.
  • Tights.
  • Conservative accessories – diamonds and pearls, simple bracelets, nude nail polish.

Super tight blouses and skirts are a big “no-no”, as are sky high heels. Ditch the jacket when out of meetings and ensure blouses, suits and skirts fit well and are crisp and clean. Tailored jackets and pants can help to look and feel a little more fashionable without breaking code. The goal with business formal dress code is to look and feel “polished”, rather than conservative.

Business professional

This term often confuses people who choose to stick with the very formal suits, skirts and shirts attire, as they chance accidentally getting it wrong. It’s true that ‘business professional’ can be as neat and businesslike as ‘business formal’, but there’s more room for injecting personality. This dress code is a little looser in allowing you to embrace colours and patterns.

  • A suit or skirt, top, and jacket in neutral colours black, brown, cream, charcoal or navy. Pin stripes, patterns or other details are acceptable. Suits don’t have to match, just ensure the colours are subdued.
  • Skirts, like ‘business formal’, should still remain no shorter than just above the knee and teamed with dark or nude tights. Hold on the patterned tights!
  • Collared button-up shirts or blouses in solid colours – be reasonable though, stay away from really bright colours. Lime and bright pinks won’t cut it.
  • Closed-toe pumps or heels in neutral colours like black, brown, beige or grey. Heels shouldn’t be higher than 3-4 inches.
  • Jewellery can be a little less conservative than expected for ‘business formal’ – chunkier watches or one statement neck piece are fine, just nothing too gaudy.
  • French polish or neutral coloured nail polish.

Business professional is a little less uniform-like – you’re likely to include some pieces that you would don outside of the office too. If you want to really rock this code, think tapered pants, cropped trousers with a sharp blazer, and high waisted skirts, or sling a belt around the waist for a more fashionable twist on a classic office style.

Business casual

This is one office style that many people can get oh-so-wrong – nobody quite tends to grasp just what ‘business casual’ actually means. Business casual doesn’t mean the same type of clothes you’d wear lounging around at home. At the end of the day, you need to be dressed appropriately to fit right in at meetings, should they arise.

  • Suit pants aren’t a requirement – skirts, slacks, khakis, dark coloured skinny jeans or high waist jeans are quite appropriate. Knee length dresses are also a good fit.
  • Shirts, blouses, knit sweaters and smart long-sleeved tops are all acceptable – just avoid low cut. Ditch the suit jacket for a blazer or cardigan.
  • Comfortable flat shoes and loafers are fine but trainers are a step over the line. Closed toe heels in any colour or fine – just ensure they’re not translucent.
  • Feel free to accessorise with scarves and a more excessive level of jewellery.
  • With business casual, you should be able to transition from a day at the office to an evening dinner or quiet drinks with friends pretty easily.

Casual

If you’re lucky enough that your office operates a casual dress code, just be sure not to overdo it. Casual means comfortable clothing but you still should be appropriately dressed for the work you do. Don’t get too creative or eccentric with your office wear. As a guide, the following suggestions are usually a pretty smart choice:

  • Tops – both short and long sleeved, blouses, shirts, cardigans and knits are all good – just avoid any sports tops or anything too tight, backless, low cut or revealing. Most patterns, colours and shapes are acceptable.
  • Skirts should still be knee length but tights aren’t a necessity. If you do choose to don hosiery, keep it simple – nothing too shimmery or sexy.
  • Cotton trousers or skirts, jeans, khakis or slacks.
  • Loafers, flat and high shoes – open toe and closed toe, tennis shoes but not sneakers or flip flops.
  • Brighter coloured accessories, scarves and nail polish.

Finding your office style

This guide should clear up the difference between the different office dress codes for you, and help you to define your exact ‘office style’. Hopefully we’ve provided you with some inspiration for changing up your office work wear too!