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Decoding business dress codes

Undergraduate | Sep 28, 2017 |

Even with a shift to more casual office cultures and home offices, most business students and professionals will one day encounter a dress code. The question is, do you know what they all mean?

Here, with the help of Rachel Bareish, an assistant store manager of Brooks Brothers at 346 Madison Avenue, is a guide to typical office dress codes.


This dress code will most likely be found in “privately owned small companies, computer/IT companies, and startups,” says Bareish. She adds that one should “always be prepared” by keeping a blazer or sport coat in the office.

  • Men – Bareish suggests a sweater or a sport or dress shirt with or without a tie, trousers, and driving shoes or loafers.
  • Women – Bareish recommends a twinset or cardigan and blouse paired with trousers or a skirt, or a cardigan over a dress.

Business Casual

Bareish notes that this dress code is usually found in “corporate positions that interact with clients or partners, so it is important to present oneself in the best light even if in a more casual way.”

  • Men – She proposes a sport coat or navy blazer with trousers, or a dress shirt or plain sport shirt with a tie under a sweater or cardigan. Loafers or dress shoes are most appropriate.
  • Women – Bareish suggests a blazer or jacket styled with a dress, pants, or skirt, and closed shoes or a slight peep toe.

Business Formal/Business Professional

This dress code will be required at more conservative firms in the financial and accounting industries, for example, notes Bareish. Plus, she adds, “as your career progresses, your wardrobe should progress with it.”

  • Men – A classic navy, navy-stripe, grey, or grey-stripe suit paired with a light-colored dress shirt and tie is your best bet, according to Bareish. Black suits and dark dress shirts should be avoided.
  • Women – Black suits are appropriate for women, says Bareish. She also suggests that when purchasing a pant suit, check to see if a coordinating dress and skirt are available to be worn interchangeably.

As a general tip, Bareish stresses the importance of proper fit regardless of the garment and to dress for the position you want rather than the position you have.

Some sample suit sources that fit a variety of budgets and styles:

  • Banana Republic
  • Century 21
  • H&M
  • Jos. A. Bank
  • Macy’s
  • Zara

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