Wood Words

Mastering the Modern Office Dress Code

Have an unlimited wardrobe budget and a professional stylist?

Who does?!

But frankly, you don’t need either. If you’re headed to an interview or angling for a promotion, you just need some sound advice. Below, we share our Cool Springs employment agency’s best tips for mastering the modern office dress code (without spending a fortune).

Know the code.

The fashion rules for today’s workplace have changed. Nearly every employer now has a written dress code policy, which you should use to determine if the code is formal, professional or casual:

  1. Business formal: The most conservative dress code, this is frequently referred to “boardroom attire.” A formal dress code is tailored and includes pieces like suits, collared dress shirts, hose/tights for women, and polished dress shoes. If your workplace is business formal, wear neutral colors like black, white, grey, khaki and navy.
  2. Business professional: This dress code is a step down from boardroom attire, but still fairly formal. Suits and collared shirts are still important, but there’s typically more flexibility allowed in terms of colors, patterns and injecting a bit of your own personality.
  3. Business casual: This category is very broad, so be sure you know how your employer defines “casual.” Typically, a business casual dress code allows for dress pants, khakis, casual shirts/blouses and other work separates. Stay away from jeans, t-shirts, open-toed shoes and sneakers, however, unless the employer expressly allows them.
  4. Casual: A casual dress code is the most relaxed of the four categories. It often allows employees to wear what they want, within reason. Regardless of what type of casual attire you choose to wear, always select clean, pressed clothing that’s in good condition.

Err on the conservative side.

Whether you’re an interviewee or an established employee, it’s always best to dress a bit more conservatively than the dress code’s minimum requirements. Dressing a notch above what’s expected also shows management that you take your career seriously. And if you ever question if an outfit is appropriate, don’t wear it to the office.

Skip the fragrance and accessories.

You may love cologne or metallic bangle bracelets, but co-workers, managers and interviewers may not share your enthusiasm. The best way to showcase your polish and professionalism is with clean, neat, appropriate attire.

When shopping, think long-term.

Before spending money on work wardrobe items, consider:

  • Is this item trendy or an investment piece? Unless you’re in a highly creative field, save fashion trends for your personal wardrobe. Spend your money on work staples that will stay in style for years and offer high “use value” (i.e., can be worn as part of several different outfits and are appropriate for a variety of work situations).
  • Does the item fit properly? If it doesn’t, it won’t boost your confidence in the interview or on the job. What’s more, ill-fitting clothing is typically uncomfortable – which either means you won’t wear it, or you’ll be unhappy when you do. Finding properly fitting clothes does take more time and effort, but it’s worth it.
  • Is the item high quality? Better quality items will last longer. And, like it or not, people judge you by the quality of clothing you wear. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on designer labels; it just means you need to be smart and proactive. Shop for off-season items at big discounts. Skip the front-of-store displays and head straight for sales racks. Maintain a list of the work wardrobe items you need on your phone, so you can always keep an eye out for deals when you’re shopping.

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