What to Wear to Work: A Guide for all Dress Codes

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Dressing for your day job can feel like a minefield, especially with the lax dress code that most offices now follow. And figuring out what to wear to work – and what's acceptable and what's pushing it a little too far – can be extremely confusing and stressful for some, leaving you wishing that you had a uniform you could throw on for work.

Although there's no cookie-cutter approach to work attire, we've broken down the different styles with suggestions to make your life a little easier in the morning and ensure you're always wearing an HR-approved outfit!

Business Formal

Collage of business formal styles for men and women

If you work in a corporate setting, regularly meeting with clients and executives, you'll be expected to wear formal business clothes, otherwise known as boardroom attire.

For Women

Although a power suit is the norm for most women in the corporate world, you don't necessarily need to stick to a two-piece. Instead, you can opt for a pencil skirt and a smart blouse, an A-line dress, or tailored trousers and a shirt.

Points to remember:

  • Opt for closed shoes
  • Always wear opaque tights to polish off your look
  • Keep accessories to a minimum, choosing dainty jewellery over statement pieces
  • Wear neutral tones of makeup and nail polish
  • Keep your skirt length no shorter than one inch above the knee
  • Select a statement bag that oozes confidence and professionalism

For Men

In a formal environment, a two-piece or three-piece suit is a given, accompanied by a trendy tie and a collared shirt.

Points to remember:

  • Pair your suit with Oxford or brogue shoes in black or brown tones
  • Keep your hair well-groomed, and check with your HR department to see if longer styles are acceptable
  • Make sure your clothes don't have any creases
  • Keep your nails short, clipped and tidy

Professional

Collage of professional styles for men and women

In a professional environment, you'll still meet clients every day but will probably be working in a more creative industry. Office outfits should be kept formal and conservative but can also involve more colours and personality.

For Women

Patterned midi skirts, wide-legged trousers and chiffon blouses are all great options for a stylish, professional outfit. Shift dresses in single colours are also a great choice for an easy outfit idea.

Points to remember:

  • Wear loafer or heeled shoes
  • Always wear opaque tights to polish off your look
  • Choose statement jewellery to jazz up your outfit, but don't mix statement bracelets with necklaces and earrings
  • Wear neutral tones of makeup and nail polish, although a bold lip is also acceptable
  • Keep your skirt length no shorter than one inch above the knee

For Men

For a professional environment, you can ditch the two-piece suit and wear a smart shirt with a tie and a pair of suit trousers, instead. Just make sure that your overall outfit is chic and sleek.

Points to remember:

  • Pair your suit with Oxford or brogue shoes in black or brown tones
  • Choose accessories like watches and cufflinks to match your outfit
  • Wear buttoned-up shirts, but mix it up with different colours and styles

Corporate Casual

Collage of corporate casual styles for men and women

If you like to inject a bit of your personality into every outfit, then this style of dress code is ideal for you. By keeping a professional feel, you can mix up your wardrobe with patterned skirts and trousers, paired with casual tees and chiffon blouses.

For Women

Shorter hemlines, open-toe sandals and cropped trousers are all acceptable options for a laxer environment. And if skirts really aren't your thing, lean toward colourful and breathable trousers.

Points to remember:

  • Wear any type of footwear besides trainers, including open-toe sandals, heels, ankle boots and loafers
  • Choose statement jewellery and accessories to jazz up your outfit
  • Wear any nail polish that you like, as long as your nails are well-groomed
  • Select any hairstyle and match it to your daily outfits

For Men

In a casual corporate environment, you can ditch the shirts and opt for a dressy polo T-shirt, instead. And if suit trousers aren't your thing, you can wear a pair of smart chinos in black, navy or beige.

Points to remember:

  • Pair a casual shirt with a smart cashmere jumper or T-shirt
  • Choose accessories like sports watches and bracelets to inject a bit of personality into your outfit
  • Wear funky socks if they are your thing
  • Pair your outfit with boat shoes for a casual summer look

Casual

Collage of casual styles for men and women

Casual environments give you the freedom to wear pretty much what you want. However, this doesn't mean that you should rock up to work in your yoga gear or joggers. Instead, keep your look smart and polished with these simple rules.

For Women

Casual does not mean 'what you wore to bed last night'! A more appropriate ensemble would involve mixing and matching casual and smart pieces to get an uber-cool look, like a shirt-dress with smart plimsolls or a knee-length skirt with a casual tee.

Points to remember:

  • Wear jeans in dark colours only – and avoid any rips or tears
  • Opt for a plain T-shirt, rather than one with a slogan
  • Keep eyeshadows and bright makeup to a minimum
  • Avoid sheer or see-through wardrobe items
  • If you're going to wear trainers, make sure there is a smart element to your outfit (like a blazer)

For Men

For men, a casual environment gives a lot of freedom to outfit ideas. Indeed, they can combine their favourite T-shirts into their daily outfits by pairing them with some smart-looking chinos.

Points to remember:

  • Wear jeans in dark colours only – and choose straight-cut jeans over boot cuts
  • Opt for slogan-free T-shirts or polos
  • Make sure your entire outfit is clean and pressed
  • Wear boots, dark trainers or boat shoes

Creative

Collage of creative styles for men and women

Fashion brands and media agencies tend to have a creative environment where employees have the freedom to express their personality through their clothes. If you work in a more artistic setting like this, you can throw on your favourite vintage pieces paired with Converse trainers or even experiment with logo T-shirts or hoodies.

For Women

While you're free to wear what you want, avoid casual leggings and joggers. Instead, keep your outfit presentable with a mix of cool prints, light denim and bright colours.

Points to remember:

  • Ripped jeans are acceptable, as long as the rip doesn't expose your entire leg
  • Timberland boots are adequate, but leave the Ugg boots at home
  • For the summer months, wear sandals but avoid flip-flops
  • Avoid revealing wardrobe items

For Men

Although you might feel like rocking up to work in your tracksuit bottoms, it's best to save them for the weekend. Instead, wear something edgy like worn denim jeans with your favourite knitted jumper and a pair of Vans. Heck, why not even throw a beanie or snapback into the mix?

Points to remember:

  • Wear cargo pants instead of material shorts
  • Opt pocket or logo tees
  • Make sure your entire outfit is clean and pressed
  • Keep your hair neat and tidy

Top Tips

  • Dress respectably: Even if you have a super cool and casual boss, it's important to dress respectfully in the office. So, ladies, this means not letting your lingerie show through your clothes or wearing any provocative clothing. For the gents, this means making sure your clothes are ironed, and your beard is trimmed.
  • Choose the right fit: Make sure your clothes fit properly. Your colleagues can easily get distracted by a short tie or a tight blouse. Likewise, if you're swimming in your workwear, you'll like you don't really look after yourself.
  • Complement your look with the right hairstyle: You might have nailed your outfit, but having the hairstyle to match is just as important – both for men and women.
  • Make an effort: Are you guilty of waking up and throwing on the most available clothes, before rushing out the door to catch the 8:05am train? If so, wake up a little earlier and put some effort into getting ready for work; you'll feel a lot more put-together and professional by doing so!
  • Choose your outfit the night before: This top tip is a total game-changer. By preparing your outfit the night before, you can save time faffing around in the morning, searching for something to wear when you're half asleep. And don't forget to check the weather to prepare accordingly!

Dressing for success is extremely important in the workplace – in fact, Nicole Williams, a career expert at LinkedIn, says that 'the problem with appearance is that it translates to performance… Even if your boss doesn t think that they're thinking any less of you, they will subconsciously think it'. In other words, to impress all the right people in all the right places, you should spend a little more time perfecting your outfit.

Do you struggle with your work outfit ideas? Let us know what your go-to work outfit is in the comments section below.

 

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 12 April 2018.

 

Image credits

1. Business formal collage (left to right): trendingofashion.com via Pinterest, Season Outfit Fashion via Pinterest, @the_classiqueaffair via Instagram, Oxford Mens Fashion via Pinterest
2. Professional collage (left to right): Outfital via Pinterest, Fashioneal.com via Pinterest, Asos.com via Pinterest, Male Fashion Trends via Pinterest
3. Corporate casual collage (left to right): SOCIETY19 via Pinterest, Lifestyle Sspace via Pinterest, tilependant via Pinterest, luxeusleben via Pinterest
4. Casual collage (left to right): Vattire.com via Pinterest, Lifestyle Sspace via Pinterest, Upoutfit.com via Pinterest, glamisse.com via Pinterest
5. Creative collage (left to right): Outfital via Pinterest, fenzyme.com via Pinterest, Hayley Winter via Pinterest, Urban Wear Outfits via Pinterest