Preparing for an interview? Heading to a conference?
As a professional — new or seasoned — you'll encounter various work and work-related situations that require different kinds of attire. And with so many nuances in professional dress codes, how do you know what type of clothing is called for each? Casual, business casual, formal… what do they all even mean?
Here, we'll break down the concept of business professional attire, a subset you'll find in more traditional work settings.
What is business professional attire?
There are four types of business attire (of course, there are many nuances and subsets): Casual, business casual, business professional, and business formal.
Business formal usually calls for a suit or formal dress and is typically the dress code you'd find at a benefit or other important event. Meanwhile, business professional is the type of dress code you might find at a law or finance office, and it is a bit less formal. Many people opt to wear it to interviews, too. The articles of clothing that make up the business professional wardrobe typically include:
The best choice is a nice button-down or plain top that's not too revealing or low-cut. Your shoulders should be covered, and the top shouldn't be too form-fitting.
Jackets or blazers
Business professional attire calls for an upscale jacket or blazer, one that complements the blouse with which it is paired. If you're wearing a long-sleeved, button-down shirt, the sleeve should be just barely visible.
Instead of separates, you can wear a solid dress (minimal, tasteful patterns are fine, too) that hits no higher than your knee. Again, this shouldn't be too form-fitting, and you should always pair a dress that doesn't cover your shoulders with a formal jacket or blazer.
Pencil skirts and other neat, conservative skirts can work well with a blouse. Make sure to tuck in your top. As with dresses, your skirts should be no shorter than knee-length.
In today's business world, slacks certainly fit into a women's business professional wardrobe. Opt for tailored or well-fitting slacks. Creases provide an elegant touch but are not essential.
Suits are not mandatory, but for a business professional workplace or context that's a bit more formal, suits with skirts or pants are always a good choice. In fact, you shouldn't be afraid to wear a suit in any business professional scenario.
Pumps and flats are the safest choices. Avoid excessively high heels, and make sure you're able to walk in your shoes comfortably. It's best to keep your toes covered.
Accessories / cosmetics
Keep both your accessories and cosmetics minimal. In terms of jewelry, classic is an excellent way to go. Makeup, too, should not be overdone and should look as natural as possible. A briefcase or structured purse can help complete your look.
Business professional outfit ideas — and where to buy them
Need some help visualizing business professional attire? Here are 25 outfit ideas.
1. Chic separates.
This jacket is adorable and professional and will work with white or black pants or classic skirts. Buy it at Hope for Flowers.
2. All-white business suit.
Who says you can't wear white after Labor Day? This gorgeous blazer transcends seasons. Buy it at Mango.
3. A timeless dress.
This simple yet stylish dress will look elegant at a meeting or a conference. (On a related note, solid black is definitely a color of choice for your business professional wardrobe.) Buy it at Modcloth.
4. A fun skirt-and-shirt combo.
You can never go wrong with a pencil skirt, and the pattern livens this one up. Buy it at Ann Taylor.
5. A structured business dress.
This is another perfect black dress; it has a few frills that take it up a notch and make it ideal for conferences or everyday work. Buy it at Express.
6. An artistic blazer.
Sophisticated and stylish, this versatile blazer will go with many different outfits. Buy it at Modern Citizen.
7. A patterned jacket.
This gorgeous jacket manages to look both trendy and professional simultaneously. Pair it with solid black pants to complete the look. Buy it at Nordstrom.
8. A classic color combo.
You can't go wrong with a solid, gray pencil skirt and black blouse. We suggest wearing a jacket with this classic outfit. Buy it at J. Crew.
9. A tasteful belted blazer.
This fun, tastefully-patterned, belted blazer goes with skirts, pants, and dresses alike. Buy it at Bloomingdale's.
10. A sleek pant and blouse outfit.
We love the tasteful slits at the bottom of these high-rise pants. Paired with a silk blouse (and perhaps a blazer), they show the world that you're classy and trendy. Buy it at Aritizia.
11. A colorblock frock.
This look is trendy and business-appropriate! Buy it at Of/Mercer.
12. A plaid jacket paired with primary colors.
Who doesn't love a plaid blazer? Wear it with a solid dress or a same-color top and pants. Buy it at Nordstrom.
13. An all-black silhouette.
This dress is a showstopper, but it will also work well at the office. Just make sure to wear a jacket in more formal settings. Buy it at Zara.
14. A baggy take on business professional.
We love this fun twist on the classic blazer. Buy it at Zara.
15. A soft dress with heels.
Whether you're going to a meeting or heading to a typical day at the office, you can't go wrong with this lively yet professional dress. Complete the outfit with a black or white blazer or jacket. Buy it at Mango.
16. A fun neckline with classic business professional pants.
This satin blouse is available in many gorgeous colors and works well with a black blazer and slacks. Buy it at SHEIN.
17. An all-black suit.
Simple, effective, professional — ‘nough said! Buy it at the Banana Republic.
18. A bright-colored dress.
Here's a vibrant, elegant dress that easily transitions from day to night. Buy it at Of/Mercer.
19. A classic look with a pop of color.
A clever shirtdress that looks like separates — what more do you need? Buy it at Brooks Brothers.
20. A trendy take on the pantsuit.
You can wear this structured suit blazer with so many different outfits, but we love the one that's pictured here! Buy it at Mango.
21. A salmon suit.
Add a splash of color to a simple, tailored suit. Buy it at ASOS.
22. A turtleneck paired with a blazer.
A classic, mix-and-match suit blazer can complement just about any outfit. Buy it at ASOS.
23. A new twist on the classic business professional blazer.
The soft look of this jacket is a lovely twist on the classic blazer. Buy it at Nordstrom.
24. A soft-colored blouse.
Want to add a splash of color to your outfit? This satin-effect blouse paired with a blazer and slacks will do the trick. Buy it at Zara.
25. An illusion dress.
It looks like a two-piece, but it's actually one! This dress works well for events, conferences, and your office. Buy it at Bloomingdale's.
Business attire tips
Now, need some help styling? Here are our general business attire tips and tricks.
1. When interviewing, dress more formally than the employees do.
Peruse the company website, social media, and other materials to help you understand the workplace dress code. It's best to dress more formally than current employees, but don't overdo it. For example, if the company has a business casual dress code, opt for business professional, not business formal.
2. Observe your colleagues and associates.
When you're adjusting to a new workplace, observe the people around you to see how they dress and follow suit.
3. Opt for solid colors and neutral tones.
Generally speaking, solid colors and neutral tones like gray, navy, black, white, khaki, or beige are best. However, a pattern that's tasteful and not too busy is acceptable, too.
4. Have an iron on hand.
All clothing should be wrinkle-free. Often, Business professional attire requires dry-cleaning.
5. Remember that office casual is not general casual.
If you do have casual Fridays or other dress-down days (or if your organization is more informal in general), don't confuse this with your weekend everyday wardrobe. Avoid ripped jeans, tee-shirts, spaghetti straps, and bare midriffs.
6. When in doubt, ask.
If you're not sure how to dress for a specific occasion, ask someone who knows!
- Business professional attire is a bit less formal than business formal and is often the clothing you might wear to an interview.
- Tops, blazers, skirts, slacks, dresses, pumps, or flats are often part of this dress code.
- It's a good idea to observe how your colleagues dress to get a sense of attire expectations.
- Dress more formally than employees do when you're interviewing.
This post originally appeared on Fairygodboss and has been republished with permission.