You are what you wear. In other words, what you wear projects an image to other people on who you are and how you want to be perceived. Knowing how to dress professionally and be appropriately stylish in the business world is even more important, as the clothes you choose deliver a message to those around you about how you approach work. If you arrive scruffy with unironed shirts or blouses for example, it can portray an attitude of laziness or lack of care.
Commonly, there are two spectrums of professional attire for both male and female counterparts, and they are business formal and business casual. Ladies and gentlemen, be ready to discover the do’s and don’ts to dress smart and get started with professional-ready attire.
Every organisation has a different dress code policy, with certain industries often having a strict style expectation. If you’re in the finance, investment, accounting or law industries, for example, a full matching business suit that includes dress shirts, ties, dress pants or jackets are a day-in, day-out requirement.
In order to establish yourself as a hard-working, motivated employee and upgrade your professional image in a workplace environment, go for the business formal attire approach. To achieve this more formal image, the minimum standard should be clothing that is well-groomed, clean, crisp, wrinkle-free and pressed, with dirty, wrinkly, torn and unmatched clothing remaining excluded.
Do wear button-up collared shirts leaning towards more conservative colours such as white, light blue or beige, as it indicates a sensible, confident, hard-working, professional, reliable and conscientious personality. Avoid wearing bold and bright, shiny colours or patterns in shirts, as it can deliver a flashy appearance, as well as an assertive, dominant, potentially arrogant character that may cause caution among colleagues.
For ties, conservative solid colours or striped patterns are ok, but resist wearing bright colours unless you’re in a profession such as salesmen where you need to exude confidence at a higher degree! Your belt and shoes should be in dark colours in order to match your suit, while your pants should be fitted and comfortable, to an appropriate length.
Alternatively, some men with a stylish side opt to wear a three-piece suit. So, choose a vest in the same shade as the jacket and slacks to help keep the focus on the wearer rather than the attire. Voila! If you dress the part, your colleagues will take you seriously for sure.
Do wear collared blouses or dress-material tops. Keep to white, light blue, ivory, or solid colours and be sure to tuck in unless it falls just below your waistline. Resist wearing tops that are too revealing and skirts that are too short in a business setting as they are considered unprofessional.
Generally, a skirt sitting at or just above the knee is deemed more formal, but a pair of dress pants, pant suits, or a crop pant suit (with pant hem touching mid-calf) are more suitable with less conservative organisations. Nonetheless, if you’re attending an interview, crop pant suits may not be appropriate when making a first impression and it is best to stick with classic attire.
Typically, strappy sandals and extremely high heels raise red flags, but open-toed and court shoes, boots, flats and basic conservative pumps are acceptable; they should match the hemline or be in darker colours such as black, dark blue, brown or maroon because bright red or purple fashion colours may be too bold and garish for the boardroom!
To exude your feminine side, go for a modest, polished head-to-toe dress that sits at knee-length. Ladies can also wear a cardigan or matching jacket to add to the elegance. To complete your outfit, add makeup, perfume and jewellery to finish off a confidence look.
Guidelines for business casual attire varies in different companies, but note that this dress code usually means you can leave your suit behind and keep it for when a formal meeting requires it.
To convey a business casual look, you would want to make an effort in maintaining a professional presence that errs more on the side of conservative than underdressed. By this we mean that casual shouldn’t mean careless, but instead that you are comfortable, more akin to your usual style, but with a smart undertone; as the objective of a company establishing such a dress code is meant to allow employees to work comfortably in the workplace.
That said, the clothes you put on should still be pressed and not creased, torn, or frayed. For those who want to send out quirky and approachable vibes especially those who are in the creative, advertising, fashion or events industries, for instance, you should dress up to look the part.
Do wear a pressed shirt, so no wrinkled tees or shirts with holes, obscene words or graphics on them! Although for any interviews even for a company with a smart casual dress code policy, it is best to stay with a classic and formal outfit for the sake of delivering a good first impression. If in doubt, ring up HR for clarification.
For bottoms, neatly pressed slacks, cotton pants, chinos, or khakis are acceptable. Avoid going in with overly comfortable pants that are along the lines of picnic shorts, sweatpants, joggers or ripped jeans: Save that kind of comfort for the weekend! Finish off with a belt that coordinates with your outfit and a pair of shoes that cover your toes instead of slipping your feet into flip flops or sandals.
Try an ironed sheath dress, blouse, fitted shirts or knits, but nothing too tight, skimpy, or with a low cut because it may send out an inappropriate message to your peers, colleagues and even potential clients.
For bottoms, ladies can switch it up with a skirt or a pair of pants every other day. Whether it is a pencil, maxi, or knee-length skirt, cotton, twill, khaki, corduroy or cropped pants, it is appropriate as long as it is ironed properly. Never wear a mini skirt or picnic shorts to any business setting as no matter your workplace, it’s likely frowned upon.
Do wear a touch of makeup, perfumes and jewellery in a conservative manner to express assertiveness and confidence. To wrap up your smart casual appearance, proper shoes including flats, boots, pumps or wedges, along with a sweater, cardigan or peplum jacket should do your outfit justice.
Dressing up professionally and appropriately at work can go a long way as it is well regarded and respected. If you follow these do’s and don’ts, they will certainly be a stepping stone in preparing you for a successful career, when coupled with the right attitude and work ethic. At the end of the day, you are representing your company. Hence, no matter how you feel, you should always get up, dress up and show up!