Bridge Insights

Addressing the Dress Code: Workplace Attire Definitions and Guidelines

Dec 23, 2019

Clothes. When most of us land a new job, this is the last thing on our mind. Well, except for maybe planning out next Friday’s shopping spree with your newfound spending cash.

In all seriousness, deciding what to wear to a new job can be nerve-racking. Even though an HR manager may have said the company’s dress code policy is “casual” or “business professional”, it’s not always clear what types of clothes fall under these categories.

If you’re looking through your closet questioning if your wardrobe makes the cut, here are a few quick pointers to ensure you are always dressed for success.

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Business Professional

    Business Professional dress code is typically what we think of when we see the stereotypical corporate executive in movies or TV. Traditionally, business professional attire is a more conservative wardrobe, consisting of tailored suits, button-up blouses, blazers and a neutral heel or dress shoe.

    A business professional dress is also the standard for interviews as well. The reason for this is because its conservative and neutral appearance communicate an air of seriousness and professionalism.


Business Professional Attire Includes:


  • Well-tailored suit in a neutral, gray, black or blue color
  • Pressured dress shirt — beware of too bold of colors
  • Professional ties – No novelty ties such cheering on your favorite sports teams or showing off Star Wars fandom
  • Black or brown shoes – NO LOAFERS!
  • Pant or skirt suit of appropriate length paired with dark-colored tights.
  • Neutral-colored closed-toe heels
  • Modest or conservative jewelry: hoop or studded earrings, a simple watch or bracelet, etc.
  • Skirts and dress hemlines should be no more than 2 inches above the knee.
  • Be mindful of the depth of your shirt’s collar – if you must bust out that deep V-neck, keep it as an undershirt.
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Little known Fact:


In addition to business professional, there is another style of dress code known as Business Formal. Business Formal follows a lot of the same rules as business professional, but with an added “wow” factor.

A good example would be an attorney; they may wear business professional attire to the office, but on days where they are in court, they might wear business formal clothes. If your office mandates business formal attire, it can be fun to add some flare with pops of color or silk power ties. If you’re going to give your business formal look some flare, try to keep in mind you’re going to work –not prom.

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Business Casual

    The term business casual is intended to be the dress code halfway between Business Professional attire and Casual attire. Unfortunately, because this term gets overused, it can mean different things to different businesses.
    For this reason, we always recommend asking someone on your HR team to clarify what is and is not acceptable attire for their specific dress code.
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Business Casual Attire may include:


  • Colored or patterned button-up shirt
  • Collared shirts that can be worn with or without a tie
  • Pullovers or sweaters that can be worn over collared shirts
  • Neutral or black dress slacks
  • Khaki dress pants
  • Loafers, comfy closed-toe heels, oxfords, flats or any other comfortable, yet dressy shoes. NO SNEAKERS!
  • Business professional separates – dress skirts or dress pants with a corresponding cardigan or sweater
  • Colored shirts and blouses – Remember: low cut or tight-fitting shirts are still not appropriate.


    The coveted casual dress code where jeans day is every day! Even with a more laidback workplace, it is still a good idea to check with HR to see what their definition of casual attire is. In the business world, casual attire is still a relatively young corporate dress style. A lot of companies allow casual dress under a, “if you abuse it, you lose it” rule. With that said, if you want to keep wearing jeans, it’s in your best interest not to test the limits of what “casual” dress code means.
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Casual Dress Code Examples:


  • Casual pants or slacks
  • Jeans should be straight legged, dark wash, and free of holes.
  • Casual collared tops or polos, sweaters, blouses, and cardigans
  • Athletic shoes and open-toed shoes are usually acceptable – NO SANDALS!
  • Accessories and jewelry: colored watches, scarves, larger earrings, bracelets and necklaces
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Businesses that utilize a uniform policy make selecting what to wear a no-brainer! Although these types of dress codes may cause the fashion mogul in all of us to do some internal screaming, companies that implement a uniform dress code typically do so because fashion takes a back seat to function. In roles where uniforms are used, safety or rapid team member identification is critical to the functions of the role. This is usually found in positions where public interaction is fundamental such as positions in retail, public service, service technician or flight crew.

What defines a business’ specific uniform can range from company-issued apparel to a standardized color pallet.

Never Acceptable

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Even though acceptable work attire can vary by company and role, there are a few things that are never acceptable to wear to work:

  • Dirty or wrinkled clothing
  • Tight-fitting or revealing clothing
  • Too casual, such as yoga pants, overalls, flip flops or shorts
  • T-shirts with inappropriate messages or offensive content
  • Club clothing
  • Crop tops
  • Athletic clothes and athleisurewear
  • Transparent or see through clothing
  • Sunglasses
  • Too much perfume, cologne or aftershave
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Deciding What to Wear

If you’re still not sure if something meets your corporate dress code policy, the best advice we can give is don’t wear it.

Chances are if you have to do some mental gymnastics to justify wearing a pair of shoes or pants, it’s not a good idea to wear them to work.

Don’t be afraid to dress for the next tier up: With the exception of businesses that incorporate a uniform style dress code, there’s nothing that says you can’t kick your attire up a notch! If you work in a casual work environment, but you really want to wear that new sport coat you just bought, go for it!

Ask HR for clarification: If you just bought a new shirt but you’re not sure if it is too casual for your business casual workplace, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.

HR Managers (in some instances, literally) wrote the book on corporate policy. Their job is to clarify and answer questions you have about this exact sort of thing, and more often than not, they will be happy you asked for clarification rather than for forgiveness. Chances are, showing interest in the corporate dress code and policy, demonstrates to employers you’re taking your new job seriously, and are committed to being part of the team.