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Business attire for women – how to get that dress code right

Business Attire For women

It seems pretty straightforward: at work, you want to appear professional and impress not only by the way you act (aka work and network) but also by your presence: the way you speak and yes – ultimately by the way you dress.

Business attire for men is pretty straightforward, but when it comes to business attire for women, things get a little confusing. There a seemingly millions of options for women to dress right in the workplace and equally many options to get it wrong.

Business attire for men is pretty straightforward, but when it comes to business attire for women, things get a little confusing. There a seemingly millions of options for women to dress right in the workplace and equally many options to get it wrong.

In this post, I will talk about why it is important to dress “right” for work, take you through the main business dress codes for women and – most importantly – point you to the one dress code that is perfect for working moms and will help you to keep it SIMPLE AND COMFORTABLE yet impress your superiors, customers and peers.

Gain trust, respect, and acceptance with the right business attire

One would think that success at work is mostly determined by the way you WORK. However, it is often how you are perceived by other people: your customers, your managers, and your co-workers.

A well-known fact about communication is that the impression you make is only 10% down to WHAT you actually say and 90% up to non-verbal communication: your mimics, your gestures, your intonation, and your appearance.

First impressions count and “looking the part” can help you a huge amount in making the right impression in important situations. Among other things, clothes can play an important role in how professional you seem, how you are perceived and rated by others, and yes, also whether you get that promotion.

The right outfit communicates “professionalism” and respect, which helps you to gain trust. Once you have gained the trust of your customers, superiors, and colleagues, it will make your job and your day-to-day life much easier. This is why it is important to dress right at work: Trust, respect, professionalism, acceptance by peers, customers, and superiors.

Considering your audience will help you look the part

Business attire for womenOK, before we delve in the actual business dress styles, here are some tips and hints in order to determine what to wear for your specific working environment or situation.

Please note, that this guide is written mainly for “office workers” in a corporate working environment. In order to help you find the right style for your specific working environment or situation, here are some factors to consider:

  • Different dress codes for different professions: How formal or casual your business attire is, strongly depends on the profession you are in. For example dress codes in banking, law firms, and business consulting will be a lot more formal than in the creative industry or start-up scene. So first and foremost be aware of which profession and environment you are working in. When you first start a job or you change companies, observe what your peers and superiors are wearing and copy their style.
  • First-time contact: Whenever you meet someone for the first time in business -whether it is your first meeting with a customer or with a prospective new employer – make sure to wear professional business attire. In the first encounter, see what your customer or future employer is wearing and you can adapt your style accordingly for consecutive meetings. Again, consider the industry your customer/employer is in: if it requires a very formal dress code, you should equally follow a very formal dress code. If it industry requires a very relaxed dress code, you should still dress a bit more formal than your customer/future employer.
  • Management or board roles: if you are in a managerial role or you have the opportunity to present to the management team or board of your company, a general guideline isย  to choose a rather formal dress style in these situations. Try to mirror the person that is superior to you in the company hierarchy. It shows respect and oozes professionalism. Even if you are not in a managerial position yet, but would like to be promoted, it is advisable to wear slightly more formal business attire than in your current role. This communicates ambition and might just help to nudge that promotion along a bit.

Maximize your impact at work by knowing your dress codes

business attire for women

So now you have read why it is important to dress right and which role factors such as profession or the role you are talking to play in how to dress for work. In order to determine just what the right outfit is for you, it is useful to know about the most common dress codes and how they translate into the right business attire for women.

When it comes to business attire for women, there are 3 most common dress codes, which will be explained here:

 

  1. Business Professional for women: this is the classic corporate business dress style and you cannot go wrong with this style. Business professional for women translates into Skirt or pants worn with a blazer, a button-down shirt or classic top, heels, loafers or flats and accessorized with some classic jewelry. Pay attention to high-quality materials and well-tailored cuts. Business professional is a common dress style for professions such as lawyers, bankers or consulting and settings such as board rooms, first-time customer meetings or a business dinner.
  1. Business Casual for women: this dress style is your practical and comfortable every-day style for the office. Business Casual is slightly less formal than business professional, which means that you are slightly more flexible when it comes to the cuts and styles. Business Casual includes classic business pieces such as pantsuits, button-down shirts, skirts, and heels. However, these can be combined with slightly more casual items such as classic high-quality jeans or khakis, high-quality t-shirts or cardigans. Shoes might include heels, mules or boots. Make sure that you always pair more “casual” pieces with formal pieces, for example, jeans with classic business pumps, a button-down shirt and a blazer. When it comes to Business attire for working moms, nothing in my opinion, can beat the business casual dress style. You can dress it up for the boardroom and dress it down for the playground, it is perfect!
  1. Smart Casual for women: In comparison to business casual, smart casual includes less of the classic business style items and cuts and more trendy, yet smart pieces. You can wear dresses, trousers, shirts, t-shirts, sweaters, heels, boots and flats with this dress style. Smart Casual business attire will include all the classic business items, the difference is in the cut and style. Smart Casual moves away from classic business attire to a more individual and distinct style. This dress style might be common in creative professions or start-ups.

To find out more about the business casual and smart casual dress styles, read my article “What is casual dress for work – Top tips to get it right”.

Save time & energy by keeping things simple

As a working mom, you do not have time to worry too much about all the different dress codes, the settings you might find yourself in, and how to combine different items to get the dress code right.

My advice hence is: keep things simple. Make sure you own a few classic business items such as a pantsuit in a dark color, some well-cut button-down shirts, and some smart t-shirts or bodies made from high-quality materials. With different types of shoes, accessories, and jewelry, you can always dress this style up or down, however you please.

Relax, stay comfortable and dress to impress

As you have just read, it is important to dress right in order to gain trust and be perceived as professional and competent. To get your business attire right, always consider the profession you and your client work in and what business situation you might find yourself in during your working day. Then there are 3 main business dress styles to work with: business professional, business casual and smart casual.

The most versatile business dress style in my opinion is business casual and since my goal is to make things easier in your everyday life as a working mom, I highly recommend aligning your business wardrobe to this style with the option to vary it to a business professional or smart casual style for special occasions.

If you have any questions at all or would like to share your experience, make sure to leave me a comment and I will be happy to help you.

Drea

Image copyright: feel image / Matern

6 Comments

  1. Drea, thank you for this wonderful article outlining the importance of dressing properly.  Unfortunately, this is a skill that is lost on some women and (fair or not) affects the way they are perceived in the workplace and other business situations.  When you spoke about how to keep things simple by having a variety of single pieces to mix and match, that really hit a note with me as I never had the money to invest in clothing when I was working.  Since I could only afford a few separates, I was able to switch them up, even more, using sweaters, light jackets and scarves! 

    • Hello Cynthia, I am glad my article struck a chord with you. Business attire for women can be quite expensive, and if you are on a budget, that is certainly a challenge. Your strategy of mixing and matching timeless pieces is golden; I quite like the idea of a simple work wardrobe for women, as it saves time and can still look stylish. And did you know that it can help you with decision making at work? see this post here:  https://mycomfybusinessoutfit….

  2. Hello, this is a very awesome piece and a very detailed one. I’m thrilled I came across this as the information I’m getting from here is outstanding.  As a woman,  I must know how to get the dress code right, which has been an issue for me in the past. It´s amazing to see that you’ve dropped this topic as a post.  I smiled going through this article as my problems have been solved, thank you 

    • Hello Fay, I am glad you have found the information valuable to you and that I could help you out! I find knowing the dress code in your work environment helps you to feel comfortable and confident. This will boost your professionalism and, ultimately, your success. Whereas I wanted to clarify the definitions of dress codes in this article, dress codes’ importance has decreased in the last few years. With the current pandemic forcing us into home office, I predict that this trend will accelerate. If you are interested to see how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect office dress codes, I have an interesting read for you here. Enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Thank you Drea, for this post. I just got a job, I started in the middle of last month. It is for a managerial role but in a casual environment. I was just beginning. to think how exactly do I balance my dress code with this informal environment. Now I have an idea of what to wear. 

    • Hi Juliet, congratulations on your new position; I wish you lots of success! I feel with business casual, you can seldom go wrong, especially in a more relaxed environment. Great if the article helped you to get a better start into your new future. How exciting! All the best, Drea

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