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Dressing for Success: Deciphering the Dress Code

Company dress codes are rarely written down in the professional world. While it’s common sense not to wear flip-flops and board shorts to the office (unless you would for a surfboard company), the rest is left for you to decipher.

You can mirror what your coworkers wear as a benchmark, which will fall into one of three business dress codes (you should also have a personal dress code).


Corporate dress codes call for suits, ties and pressed shirts. Dockers and polo shirts will not cut it in these type of environments (think investment banking and law firms). The typical uniform is a nice suit with a crisp white dress shirt and a quality tie, preferably made of silk. You don’t have to stick to a white shirt, though. Play around with classic pinstripes and white French cuffs.

49003531hp_me3_fr Bold ties add personality to white shirts. Wide-knot neckties are the “it” men’s accessory right now (in addition to the status watch); they create a sophisticated look that’s polished and confident. Pocket squares have made a comeback—wear one that matches your tie and no one will forget you. 

Diane Gottsman, founder of the Protocol School of Texas, recommends Egyptian cotton solid white dress shirt, shirts in solid, icy, almost white, colors, shirts with stripes on a white background or go for the tone on tone look—you can’t go wrong!

Photo: Emporio Armani

Business Casual

The business casual dress code is the hardest to de-code. It’s almost as if management is testing you to see how well you interpret the dress “code”. And this very well may be the case. Always remember that you’re a professional and so an eye towards professionalism is mandated every morning when you pick out what the wear.

Even if you don’t meet clients face-to-face, wearing pressed, clean and neat clothes shows your colleagues that you are competent and worthy of taking on additional challenges (and getting those well-deserved promotions). Khakis and polo shirts may be acceptable, but make sure they’re up-to-date, made of durable, high-quality materials and ironed. Wrinkled clothes, even in minor cases, sends a message that you’re disheveled and disorganized.

Business Appropriate

Business appropriate is one of those newer terms that breeds even more confusion that the business casual dress code. Understanding the business appropriate dress code requires a thorough understanding of the corporateP6xl349dbs1s13759 culture. A polo shirt and sportcoat may be perfectly acceptable at some companies, while at others, a business appropriate dress code could mandate a suit, but without the tie. It’s all about what is appropriate for your company and industry.

If you’re preparing for an interview or just starting out with a new company and don’t know the dress code, you can make assumptions based on the industry. For financial industries and legal offices, you can count on the dress code being formal. To be sure, call human resources and ask for general guidelines.

Photo: Paul Smith

Gottsman offers these options for choosing a less formal dress shirt:

•    Button down broadcloth
•    Solid pastels
•    Stripes on color background
•    Pinpoint
•    End on end
•    Casual
•    Solid medium colors
•    Plaids
•    Checks

~A. Covington for Belisi Fashions


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  1. Jason Anderson on Apr 2, 2008 9:46:52 AM:

    That was an informative and interesting article on how you are supposed to dress at the workplace. I agree with the idea of solid pastel colored shirts. There is a thin line that divides true professionalism from casualness and sober colored shirts say what you want to say about getting a job done. Belisi Fashions has ties for men and scarves for women in all colors and designs. I kind of like the collection out there. And even the pocket squares you mentioned (they are so exquisite) are found at Belisi.

  1. CSMhacky on Jul 23, 2008 8:51:02 AM:

    Principalfashion.com is an excellent online clothing store providing discounted prices of both men and women designer wear. Thye have the best prices for fashion designer products.

  1. Style Habits on Jul 29, 2008 5:30:33 PM:

    Isn't it odd that business casual (or even sloppy business casual) is becoming the norm for most workplaces?

  1. Joe Buck on Aug 13, 2008 4:26:42 AM:

    What do the ladies think about men in a suit and tie ?

  1. Beth on Oct 9, 2008 6:35:47 PM:

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  1. Lingerie on Jul 7, 2009 4:26:33 AM:

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  1. CorporateApparel Expert on Oct 5, 2009 2:33:10 PM:

    Thanks for the great post on dress codes! I agree, the lines are often fuzzy at best about what is appropriate and what is not.

    You might enjoy my blog- www.corporateapparelblog.com for some more ideas!

    Keep up the awesome content!

  1. Chicago Property Management on Feb 4, 2010 7:53:46 AM:

    I have been going around stores looking for the right & proper attire to wear in the office. Thanks for all these tips. By the way, do you have by any chance some photos of these attires?
    Thank you.

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