The days of dressing in formal suits and tailored dresses with high heels to the office are over. Fewer and fewer companies require strict, formal dress codes for their employees in order to maintain a more comfortable, casual environment. While this casual dress code creates a sense of ease for employees, figuring out exactly what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace can be a bit more confusing. Here are 5 tips to consider for dressing in the workplace.

1) Look up the company’s dress code

This one may seem obvious, but sometimes the most obvious ideas are the ones we miss the most. Many companies will list their dress code on their website (if they have a dress code). Or you can look at photos throughout their website to gauge how they expect their employees to dress. 

If the company doesn’t have a dress code listed on its site, consider calling the office’s front desk to learn what the dress code is. Regardless of your company’s dress code, you should be well-groomed and neat looking. Your clothes should fit you well, be wrinkle-free, and clean. The key word to knowing how to dress for your specific workplace is appropriateness. Conservative industries like finance or law will have a different dress code than artsy, humanitarian industries like photography, mechanics, or social work. 

If you’re nervous or unsure of your company’s dress code, stay smart and simple with your clothing choices. Tailored pants and a blazer or a simple button-up top are always safe options. Worst case scenario, you go into work a bit overdressed and learn from the people around you over time! Better to slightly over-dress than under-dress and risk making a bad impression. 

2) Take note of how your employer dresses

Business casual coworkers eating lunch with employer
Business casual coworkers eating lunch with employer

When just starting out and figuring out how to dress each day, try taking inspiration from the higher ups. Look at your own boss (or even their boss(es)), and use it as a guide for yourself. After all, they say “dress for the job you want,” right?

3) Dress to keep yourself comfortable and productive

Think about your own schedule. Are you going to be sitting at your desk all day?  Will you be running around meeting with clients? Do you have an important meeting coming up? This can have a huge impact on how you should dress. If you’re going to be sitting at your desk most of the time, it’s important to stay comfortable so you can be as productive as possible. If you have an important meeting with your boss or clients, you should dress up a bit—you can even keep a blazer at work just in case something unexpected comes up. 

Think about how you feel in the clothes you’re wearing. Do you feel good in them? Do you feel confident? Even if you’re dressed in a three-piece suit, people are going to notice if you’re uncomfortable. You want to dress in a way that allows you to carry yourself with the most confidence possible. Dressing down a bit and holding your head up high will make a much stronger impact on the people around you than shrinking down and hiding away in heels and a fitted dress. 

And, while this may be difficult to hear, if a company’s dress code consistently makes you uncomfortable, you can always consider exploring other career options, or a different employer. Always go for the best fit—with clothes and your work environment. While it’s important to impress your coworkers and employer, it’s just as important to be comfortable and be yourself. Join an organization that wants you for your own skills and abilities, not one that will force you into a box.

4) Know the different types of dress codes

Casual dressed coworkers standing outside of office
Casual dressed coworkers standing outside of office

Again, this one may seem obvious, but it’s not something many of us are taught. It can be tricky trying to navigate what to wear when all you’re told is “business casual” and nothing else. Here are the basic rules to the different types of dress codes.

The five main dress codes are: casual, business casual, executive casual, traditional business, and business formal.


Causal work attire is the closest to a non-dress code. It usually consists of t-shirts, fitted blouses, denim (in good condition, no holes), skirts, and sneakers or sandals.

Business Casual:

This is just a step-up from casual dress. It will still provide some comfort and is flexible enough for you to add your own personal touches. Sweaters, skirts, slacks instead of jeans, khakis, dresses or skirts at knee-length or below, and loafers or dress shoes all fit into this category.

Executive Casual:

This bumps up business casual a notch without going into traditional formal wear. Typically this is the look for business owners and senior management. Think of it like the fanciest casual clothing possible. For executive casual dress codes, stick to high-quality fabrics. Blazers and slacks are go-tos. Opt for long-sleeved, well-pressed shirts, high quality pantsuits, low heels, leather loafers, and high quality accessories. 

Traditional Business:

Traditional business is what most of us picture when we think of professional dress in the workplace. It mainly consists of suits. Suits with jackets or blazers, pencil skirts, dress slacks with button-up shirts, high-neckline blouses, neckties, and formal, close-toed shoes. These outfits can incorporate some color, but it’s best to stick to neutrals.

Business Formal:

Last but not least, this dress code is also sometimes referred to as “boardroom formal.” This is the standard for CEOs and many second-level executives. It is an elevated version of traditional business attire. The key to this dress code is simplicity and good fit. Stick to high quality fabrics, minimize accessories, and stick to neutrals. For this look, try high-quality wool or silk suits, pleated trousers, silk blouses, and gold or stainless steel accessories. 

5) Think about how you want to be perceived

Always think about the impression you want to make when you decide what to wear. Do you want to maintain a sense of professionalism or do you want to stay more casual? You can’t always control how others will perceive you, but you can be mindful of how you dress and make an informed decision when you decide what to wear. Dressing in a way that increases your own confidence promotes respect from the people around you. Well-dressed employees have a much higher rate of being promoted than those who underdress. Even in more casual spaces, dressing up can show a higher level of commitment and respect for your work, which always looks good to employers. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that as an employee, you represent your company to the public. Your appearance reflects your business. Dressing professionally, being well-groomed and comfortable all allow you to present a positive image of your organization to other people.

What are your thoughts and tips for dressing in the workplace? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.