Dressing as a Professional

How should I dress for work?

When starting a new job, you might be wondering how to dress for your first day because today a wide range of dress codes exist. For one thing, what’s considered appropriate can vary from one occupation to another: CEOs and other executives typically follow a different dress code than customer service operatives. But dress codes can even be different for the same level of employee within a single industry.

For example, an IT intern at Hewlett Packard wears jeans and sneakers every day, whereas an IT intern at Univar Solutions is expected to dress more professionally. This isn’t only true for entry-level employees. The CEO of Facebook dresses casually while the CEO of Chase Bank wears business professional clothing.

Appropriate work attire may even change depending upon the day. Some employers prefer workers to wear business casual Mondays through Thursdays but relax the dress code on Fridays. All of this can be confusing when you’re starting a new job.

So, what should you wear to work?

Usually human resources (HR) or the employee handbook provide a clothing category you’re expected to wear; however, often the category isn’t clearly defined by your HR representative or the handbook. You are usually expected to know the definitions of each category. Common categories include casual or street wear, smart casual, business casual, business professional, and formal business dress.

To clarify how your employer expects you to dress, let’s break down each category by describing the types of clothing within each and the right occasions to wear each.

Casual or Street Wear

Casual clothing is usually worn outside of business settings, like an outdoor picnic or corporate sporting event. This clothing should never be worn for an interview or when meeting with customers. If wearing casual clothing to a work-related event, avoid torn or distressed items, stained clothing, short shorts, tank tops worn without a jacket or cardigan, tube tops or midriff-baring tops, beachwear, and flip flops.

Casual Clothing for Women

  • T shirts, casual button-downs, hoodies or pullovers, and casual sweaters

  • Cropped pants, jeans, or shorts

  • Workout gear or tracksuits

  • Low socks or no socks

  • Sneakers or sandals

Casual Clothing for Men

  • T shirts, casual button-downs, casual sweaters, and pullovers or hoodies

  • Shorts or jeans

  • Workout gear or tracksuits

  • Low socks or no socks

  • Sneakers or sandals

Smarter Casual

Nicer casual attire is worn on casual Fridays and in informal office settings. Unless you’re sure that the office is informal, smart casual should not be worn to interviews or in client meetings. Usually, smart casual clothing mixes elements of both casual and business attire and gives an employee a chance to express their personality by wearing trendier clothing. Avoid stained, torn and distressed clothing or clothing that is too tight and revealing – whether you’re a man or a woman.

Smarter Casual for Women

  • Button-downs and blouses (with or without a collar), and sweaters

  • Cardigans, blazers, and trendy jackets (not hoodies)

  • Skirts, casual pants, and jeans

  • Flats, heels, loafers, nice sandals, boots, and sometimes trendy sneakers

  • Accessories, including scarves and statement jewelry

Smarter Casual for Men

  • Polos, button-downs, shirts (with or without a collar), and sweaters

  • Sport Jackets or vests

  • Casual pants and jeans

  • Casual shoes, loafers, and sometimes trendy sneakers

  • Accessories, including belts and ties