With so many interpretations on professional dress codes these days, figuring out how to dress for business can be frustrating and confusing. Yet, your professional success depends on having the right wardrobe to match your industry, occasion, and goals.
After all, your self-presentation is the first indicator peers and clients have about your professionalism and work capabilities. So, let?s take a closer look to help you figure out which of the four business looks is most appropriate for you.
1. Traditional Business Attire
Are you a lawyer, accountant, broker, banker, or finance manager? As a general rule, if you personally influence a client?s money in any way, you?ll want to stick to the tailored look of traditional business attire. This is the highest dress code in the business world, and it symbolizes authenticity, success, authority, and efficiency to onlookers.
Traditional business attire means dress slacks, collared and buttoned dress shirts, dress jackets, ties, belts, and Oxford shoes for the gentlemen. Ladies will want to stick with dress slacks, skirts, dresses, blouses, and jackets. Some fast and hard rules include:
- Shoes should always be leather or dress material, cleaned and polished, and closed-toe.
- Shirts must be tucked.
- If it has loops, it needs a belt.
- Skirt length shouldn?t be above the knee.
- Dress blouses shouldn?t dip lower than the collar bone.
- No frayed, wrinkled, or discolored clothing.
- Everything should be the appropriate fit – not too baggy nor tight.
2. Business Casual
Those in high-tech positions, marketing, sales, educators, and so forth should go for the comfy professionalism of a business casual look.
The problem has been in the word ?casual? being confused with anything goes. It doesn?t. If you?d wear it to the gym, a backyard barbecue, to the movies, or any other causal activity, then it?s not business causal suitable.
The idea here is to take a formal business outfit and dress it down to make it suitable for long and strenuous workdays that may involve more than just merely sitting behind a desk. It?s NOT an attempt to dress-up a causal outfit.
So, you might drop the tie, belt, and heavy jacket. You might go for a more comfortable loafer or flat shoe. You might trade the full sleeve in for a less stuffy quarter or half sleeve. But, you still keep the traditional ?business? in the look with conservative clothing that keeps to neat, polished, and clean lines.
3. Causal Wear
Are you in the music, entertainment, fashion, sports, creative design, or other cutting-edge industry? If so, causal wear may be acceptable in your professional wardrobe.
Causal wear is first about context. For example, if you?re a fitness instructor, then it wouldn?t be very logical to don a four-piece suit to train clients. There are also business environments, such as the hipster Google and Facebook offices, that encourage an everyday causal dress code to promote individuality and creativity. Then, you have some businesses using tactics like causal Fridays as workplace incentives.
The takeaway here is to make practical choices if your dress code allows casual wear. Ensure your own comfort doesn?t distract or offend others and is still neat and properly-fitting.
4. Casual Relaxed
This is the dress code most students, vacationers, and homemakers go by, but it?s also entering the business world with more companies hiring remote employees and sending employees off for work-vacays, trade shows, retreats, and other activities outside of working hours or office confines.
There?s a great deal of freedom of expression here, and casual relax is highly adaptable to include pretty much any activity.
That said, it?s important to remember that your clothing choices are still reflecting your professional image at even the most lax level of dress of code. In other words, choosing a string bikini or Speedo for the retreat swim party may make you stand out in a very non-professional way.
No matter what the setting or time, if it?s professionally-related, then it?s best to keep self-respect and modesty in mind with any outfit choice.
What?s Your Professional Look?
Now that you know the minimum expected of your wardrobe, are you dressing the part? If not, you should strongly consider getting your wardrobe in gear if you want to be taken seriously as a professional and stand out against peers looking for the same promotions and opportunities.
In fact, you shouldn?t just do the bare minimum if you seek professional success. Dressing up, not down, demonstrates that you take your role seriously and have ambition to always strive for bigger and better. Remember, your clothing choices speak loudly on your behalf to tell onlookers who you are and what you?re doing long before you ever say a word.
Overdressing for success means you can always adapt. If it?s stuffy, take off the jacket and roll up a sleeve to address down and dirty work tasks.
Underdressing, however, leaves you no such room. If an opportunity arises where you need to look your best in that very moment, there?s absolutely nothing you can do to hide the hole-ridden jeans and wrinkled shirt you decided to throw on that morning.
Bottom line on dressing for success? Whether it?s winning over hearts or a specific job, dress for the job you want to have, not the job you currently hold.
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