How to Dress for Work

Five Methods:Business Formal for MenBusiness Casual for MenBusiness Formal for WomenBusiness Casual for WomenChoosing Accessories

Look the part! In a workplace setting, your wardrobe is a sign of your professionalism and is sometimes used to gauge your level of competence. When your coworkers and customers look at you, they should immediately feel comfortable working with you. Here are a few guidelines for looking sharp yet professional in the workplace.

Part 1
Business Formal for Men

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    Dress business formal if you work with customers in a professional setting, such as a bank or office. Business formal usually means wearing a suit, tie, dress slacks, and dress shoes.
    • Wear clothes that fit. Clothes that are too tight will be too uncomfortable to work in. Clothes that are too loose will look sloppy and unprofessional. Work attire should be snug without being constrictive.
    • Have a tailor take your exact measurements and suggest specific clothing for you. Though you may not actually purchase those items, you will have an accurate grasp of your measurements when you purchase clothing in the future.
    • Notice how your colleagues dress and use it as your standard. Try to dress at the same level as others in your workplace.
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    Wear a white or colored button-up, long-sleeve, collared shirt. Always tuck your shirt into your dress slacks.
    • Pastel shirts are optimal as they are not too bright or dark. Wear either a solid colored shirt or one with subtle stripes.
    • Avoid loud colors such as bright yellow, orange, and certain shades of red.
    • Dress shirts come in various sizes that take into account a man's height and build.[1] If you are more muscular, opt for an athletic size. If you are lanky, try the slim fit size. If you are bulky, buy a broad fit size. Again, the emphasis is on snugness, not standard size alone.
    • If you are uncertain of about the fit of a shirt, ask a tailor what size looks the most professional.
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    Wear a tie that matches your shirt, pants, or both. Be sure that the color you select is conservative, meaning that it is not ostentatious or too attention-grabbing.
    • Ties with simple designs or solid colors are the best choice.
    • Avoid ties that are brightly colored or with overly elaborate designs. This can be distracting and off-putting to some.
    • Do not tie your tie too short. Have the bottom corners of your tie just above the top of your belt.[2] This is the common tie length.
    • Don't worry about using fancy or special knots. Knots generally only affect the length and width of your tie. Any knot will do in a business formal setting.
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    Wear dress slacks with conservative colors. This includes black, grey, or navy blue.[3]
    • Pants cuts typically come in traditional cut, straight leg cut, or slim fit cut. Traditional cut pants are roomier around the thighs, tapering throughout the leg to the hemline. Straight leg pants fit straight through the seat and thighs. Slim cut pants fit closely to the leg throughout.[4] Again, knowing your body type will help you properly choose your pants cut.
    • Wear pants tightly around your waist, above your hips. Do not sag dress pants as this looks very unprofessional.
    • Be sure that your pants are properly hemmed. Pants that touch the floor when you walk are either the wrong size or improperly hemmed. Dress pants that rise past your ankles when you sit are properly hemmed.
    • Do not wear khaki or corduroy pants, as these pants are business casual.
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    Wear a blazer that matches the color of your slacks. Again, opt for conservative colors.
    • Having a tailored suit coat or blazer is preferred, although it is not as necessary as pants and shirts. Having a slightly bulkier or less form-fitting jacket is acceptable.
    • If your sport coat has two buttons, only button the top button. If it has three, only button the middle button. This is not only a function of style, it facilitates movement.[5]
    • Unbutton your jacket when sitting to avoid stressing the buttons, which may pop off if left buttoned. This will also prevent wrinkles to your coat.
    • Some workplaces do not require you to wear a blazer or full suit. If you are uncertain, opt for a two-piece matched suit as this is the safest and most professional-looking choice.
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    Wear dress shoes, either black or cordovan (brown leather). Polish them every few weeks and try to keep them looking shiny.
    • Find dress shoes that are no more than a half-inch longer than your actual feet. Remember that dress shoes are cut differently and that your normal shoe/sneaker size may not be the best fit for dress shoes.
    • To help reduce creases and wrinkles, buy a shoe tree to place in each shoe whenever they are not being worn.[6] Remember to store your shoes in their original box when not in use.
    • Always wear dark dress socks with your dress shoes. Never wear athletic white socks with traditional business attire.

Part 2
Business Casual for Men

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    Dress business casual if you work in a non-professional setting such as in retail, in a restaurant, or in customer service. Business casual should still look professional but does not require you to wear a suit and tie.[7]
    • Be wary of the "casual" in business casual. Foregoing formal clothing does not mean wearing jeans, sneakers, and sweatshirts.
    • Avoid baggy or tight clothing. Business casual clothing should be neat, crisp, and classic rather than trendy.
    • Take a cue from your coworkers and supervisors about how casual you should dress. Remember that although it is a business casual environment, dressing up a bit can show ambition on your part.[8]
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    Wear either a long-sleeved or short-sleeved collared shirt. Polo shirts are also acceptable in most business casual situations.
    • Choosing a white, light blue solid, or conservative-striped shirt is the safest choice.[9]
    • Shirts do not have to be tailored but should not be baggy. Though they can be less form-fitting, you must still look professional.
    • Do not wear shirts with logos or words on the front.
    • All shirts should be neatly pressed and tucked into your pants.
    • Some non-professional jobs have a standard uniform that all coworkers are required to wear. While this typically includes just a uniform shirt, your shirt should still be neatly pressed, reasonably sized, and tucked into pants.
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    Wear neatly pressed khaki, gabardine, or cotton pants. Dress slacks are not required although they can still be paired with business casual shirts.
    • Pants do not have to be tailored but they should not be too tight or too baggy. They do not have to be hemmed but should still avoid touching the ground.
    • Black, brown, navy, and khaki colored pants are preferable. Corduroy pants are also acceptable.
    • Although jeans are sometimes acceptable in certain industries, choose the above options first before choosing jeans. Observe your peers and bosses to see if jeans are truly acceptable in the workplace. If you do wear jeans, choose a dark color over lighter or faded colors.
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    Wear a lighter colored sport coat or a high-quality sweater. Do not wear a black suit coat or blazer as this is too formal.
    • Opt for a navy blazer, a tweed sport coat, a conservative and solid-colored V-neck sweater, a corduroy jacket, or a cardigan.[10]
    • When wearing blazers, it is okay to pick sizes that are not so form-fitting. For dress sweaters and cardigans, however, it is best to select snug sizes.
    • Make sure your V-neck sweatshirt is not too low. You only want it deep enough to expose the collar of your dress shirt.[11]
    • If wearing a uniform shirt, a jacket is often unnecessary. Most workplaces employing a uniform want their company shirt to be clearly seen.
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    Wear dress shoes that are comfortable yet still professional. Wear either leather boat shoes or loafers.[12]
    • Avoid shoes that are too formal, especially if wearing khaki pants and short sleeves. The contrast between qualities will look awkward and confusing.
    • Shoes should still be conservatively colored. Navy, black, and brown are all safe choices.
    • In some situations, wearing sneakers that are specifically labeled "business casual" is also acceptable. These sneakers also tend to be brown or darkly colored.
    • Some non-professional jobs require you to do manual or physical labor (for example, stocking items items in a back room). In this situation, athletic footwear may be the standard. Remember to observe coworkers and ask supervisors first before switching to athletic footwear.

Part 3
Business Formal for Women

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    Know that business formal for women means slightly different attire than it does for men. Plan on wearing a skirt suit, or dress suit with a blouse underneath.
    • Wear clothes that fit and that are not revealing. Dressing professionally means avoiding clothes that are provocative and distracting.
    • Clothes should never be too tight or too loose. They should also not be see-through or inappropriately cut (for example, low-top blouses or high-slit skirts).
    • Dress to impress, not to be eye-candy. Business formal is all about sending a positive message about your attitude - your being on the job - as well as your ability.
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    Wear a skirt. Skirts should always be the appropriate length and fit.
    • Be sure that your skirt extends to your knee. Your skirt should fully cover your thighs when you are seated. Longer skirts are also appropriate as long as they are narrow enough to not be billowing but not so narrow that you can't climb stairs comfortably. [13]
    • Skirts should only have center-back slits that extend no higher than the back of your knee.[14] Center-back slits are acceptable because they facilitate walking and stair climbing. Slits designed to increase view of your legs are not appropriate.
    • If you sit in a chair and can see too much thigh when crossing or uncrossing your legs, your skirt is too short [15]
    • If you wear a slip under your skirt be careful it does not show.
    • If you cannot walk comfortably in a skirt, it is either too small or too tight.
    • Darker colors are the safest and most professional-looking choices skirts.
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    Wear a dress. Like a skirt, a dress is best for warmer weather but should still be the appropriate length and fit.
    • Dresses should extend to the knee, similar to skirts. However, wearing long dresses is not advised as this may look too formal, like attending a dinner or award ceremony.[16]
    • Do not wear backless dresses. Do not wear dresses with spaghetti straps or plunging necklines. Sleeveless, short-sleeved, and long-sleeved dresses are all acceptable.
    • Choose neutral and solid colors. This includes black, grey, navy, and brown.
    • Wear a slip under your dress for additional warmth. This will also reduce skin chafing.
    • Wearing a blouse is not necessary if wearing a dress.
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    Wear hosiery with your skirt or dress. Hosiery should be plainly styled with no patterns.
    • Sheer is the best choice as it is the most conservative. Dark hosiery that matches your suit and shoes is also appropriate.
    • Avoid opaque hosiery.
    • Avoid high contrast between your suit color and hosiery color.
    • Wear hosiery in cold weather. This will give you both greater warmth and a noticeable professional vibe.[17]
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    Wear a tailored blouse or shirt underneath your blazer. Opt for a color that coordinates nicely with your suit.
    • Blouses should not be too tight or too low cut. No cleavage should be showing.
    • All blouses should be opaque rather than see-through.
    • The blouse or shirt should be a fine-gauge knit shell sleeveless or a sleeved knit top. A nice alternative to a blouse may be a tailored knit sweater, sweater set, or twinset.[18]
    • The blouse, shirt, or sweater should be made of quality fabric such cotton, silk, or blends. Avoid velvet or shimmery fabrics you would wear to a party.
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    Wear a tailored suit coat as part of your skirt or dress suit. Wearing a separate blazer is also acceptable so long as it matches your bottom wear.
    • Separate blazers should be tailored.
    • Opt for navy, dark gray, brown, or black coloring. Choose a solid or subtle weave pattern, or a plaid that looks solid from across the room.
    • Suits should be made of quality fabrics such as wool, wool blends, high quality blends, or high quality synthetics.
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    Wear either heels or pumps. Shoes should be made of leather, fabric, or micro-fiber.[19]
    • Closed toe heels and pumps are ideal footwear. Do not wear heels that extend beyond 4 inches (10.2 cm).
    • Avoid wearing sandals, chunky heels, flat-soled shoes, stilettos, and platforms.
    • It is important to be able to walk comfortably in your shoes. Hobbling in uncomfortable shoes looks clumsy and unprofessional.
    • For greater effect, coordinate your shoes to match with your purse.

Part 4
Business Casual for Women

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    Learn how business casual differs from business formal for women. Unlike men, your business casual attire will often look similar to your business formal attire.
    • Clothes should still fit properly. Although you do not need to wear a tailored suit, you should still avoid baggy or tight clothing.
    • Remember, casual does not mean less professional. Low-top blouses and high-slit skirts are still inappropriate.
    • If you are unsure of what qualifies as business casual, wearing business formal skirts and dresses is acceptable.
    • Casual wear typically differs the most from formal wear when it comes to shoes.
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    Wear casual skirts that are not too tight. Navy, black, gray, brown, and khaki are acceptable colors.
    • Skirts should at least reach the knees when standing. For skirts that fall just below the knee, a slit just above the knee is acceptable.
    • A very long skirt should not be slit to above the knee. Slits in the center-back of a skirt are acceptable as long as they do not extend higher than the back of the knee.[20]
    • Hosiery is not essential but is recommended if your skirt is knee length. Remember that although hose is not required, it always looks more professional.
    • If your job requires you to do physical or manual labor, wearing dress pants is the more sensible choice.
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    Wear a blouse or sweater. Tailored shirts, blouses, tailored knit sweaters, and sweater sets are all safe business casual choices.
    • The fit should not be tight and no cleavage should be showing.
    • Choose a color that complements your skirt. Unlike formal wear, you are free to inject some color and variety into your ensemble. Bright colors are acceptable.
    • Cotton, silk, and blends are appropriate fabrics. Avoid wearing velvet or shimmery fabric that you would wear to a party.
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    Wear heels, pumps, or high-quality flats. Shoes should be made of leather, fabric, or micro-fiber.
    • Closed-toed shoes are the best conservative choices.
    • Shoes should be black, navy, brown, tan, or taupe. White and pastels are not business appropriate.
    • Sandals which are not too dressy and not too casual may be appropriate. Flat-soled shoes are also business casual.
    • Thin straps, spike heels, chunky heels, and platforms are not business appropriate.
    • Some non-professional jobs may require physical work or a lot of walking. In this situation, wearing athletic footwear may be acceptable. Remember to observe coworkers or consult with supervisors before wearing sneakers.

Part 5
Choosing Accessories

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    Have restraint when choosing accessories and customizing your male look. It's normal to want to show off a nice watch or tie you have recently bought, but be judicial in what you wear to work.
    • Wear a conservative watch. Even if you can afford an expensive, shiny gold watch with diamonds in it, at work is not the right place to display it.
    • Wear a black or brown leather belt with a standard sized buckle. Large or customized belt buckles should not be worn in business settings.
    • If you have facial hair, be sure that you are well groomed every day. Wear your hair in conservative styles (no mohawks!).
    • Remove any piercings you may have. Earrings are generally viewed as inappropriate, especially in conservative industries.[21]
    • Use either a briefcase or business bag to carry your items in. You do not have to spend obscene amounts of money for a proper carrying case. Just make sure your bag looks like it belongs in a professional setting (no backpacks!).
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    Try not to be too trendy or showy when customizing your female look. Remember that you are not at a fashion show, you are at your place of work.
    • Do not wear copious amounts of make-up. For a polished look, wearing some make-up is better than wearing none, but wearing too much make-up looks trashy and unprofessional.
    • If you choose to wear jewelry, be sure that it is conservative and tasteful (No anklets or choker necklaces!)[22]
    • Opt for studs instead of long, dangling earrings. Avoid wearing earrings that are especially bright or colorful. Only wear piercings in earlobes rather than in higher parts of the ear or on other parts of your body.
    • Use a business like tote-bag to carry documents and other items. If you also carry a purse, keep it small and simple so as to avoid carrying two large bags. If necessary, you can put your purse in your tote bag.
    • Wear your hair in a reasonable fashion. If you have really long hair, be sure to put it in a bun or ponytail so that it does not look messy. Avoid dying your hair extreme colors or styling it in overly elaborate ways as this will look distracting and unprofessional.
    • Keep your fingernails at a reasonable length. Avoid using false nails, especially ones that are excessively long. Paint your nails a consistent color that matches your outfit. Do not paint them unusual colors or paint alternate colors on each nail.[23]
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    Remember to present yourself in a professional manner. You do not want to draw unnecessary attention to yourself.
    • Remove piercings that are not in your ears. Cover up any tattoos you may have as these can quickly become distractions and can sometimes offend customers or coworkers.
    • Not wearing cologne or perfume is the safest choice. If you do decide to wear cologne or perfume, be cautious when applying it. Too potent a scent can not only become a distraction, but an annoyance.
    • Scarves, hats, and other optional clothing should be conservative and high quality. Do not wear clothing that is brightly colored or that you knitted yourself.


  • If you still feel uncertain about how you are dressed, don't be afraid to ask a supervisor or manager if your attire is business appropriate.
  • Remember that attire will depend largely on the context. If you work in a business casual environment but are attending a work related event/function, you may have to dress more formally than you normally would.
  • Know that some professional settings allow business casual attire. For example, teachers are not always required to wear a suit and tie, yet they are skilled professionals who constantly interact with students and faculty.
  • Always button all the buttons on your shirt to look professional.

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