Deciphering the dress code can be hard. Especially, if you are new to office culture (or certain types of retail, sales, any customer service field really). Unless your job requires a uniform it can be difficult to understand just what is casual, business casual, or professional attire, and that’s before you throw office culture, dress down Friday’s or anything else into the mix.
There are so many important aspects of creating your office style, and trust me we will get into them, but one of the most important things is to understand what is and is not appropriate for your work. Here is my handy key for breaking down what exactly your dress code means.
First and foremost read the dress code you are given and ask HR or your boss if you aren’t sure about something. That is the absolute best way to avoid a costly mistake when picking out your office wardrobe.
We’ll start at the bottom of the dress code food chain.
Casual clothing is not yoga pants and work out tops. It’s most likely not graphic tees and ripped jeans, and I doubt very much that flip flops are appropriate either. Now, of course there are exceptions but for the most part stick to these simple rules for picking out your work clothes.
1) No logos, no edgy graphics in fact try to stay away from plain t-shirts and stick with fitted ones. Don’t get me wrong here. My favorite t-shirts to wear are one that says Zombies eat Fresh with a zombie face and the subway logo and an old college t-shirt that promotes drinking and bailing on class. The point is just don’t wear them to work.
2) Ripped, acid splashes, paint covered etc jeans. I don’t care if you wear leggings under them or they are “so in style” they aren’t going to go down well with your boss.
3) Pass on the shorts and mini dresses. They are probably adorable but they’re not appropriate for most work places. When planning your work outfits apply the same basic rule to clothes as you did in high school. If your arms are by your side your bottoms should go past your fingertips. If you are dying to wear that super cute mini or skirt then just add a pair of leggings.
This is more or less the standard of dress codes. Most non-formal offices, retailers, and customer service environments favor this dress code. To me, business casual has the most flexibility but it can also be the hardest line to walk. Be aware of the standards of your individual environment and take your cues from your managers and coworkers.
1) No jeans, unless otherwise specified in your dress code. Many offices find colored jeans acceptable but many more do not. Check with a manager or HR before rocking your colored skinnies at work. Instead, stick with a pant -they don’t have to be traditional black work pant- khaki, grey, navy, and patterned pants are all good choices. You can also experiment with fit. I love the skinny or tailored looks.
2) Go for blouses, this where you can express a lot of your personal style. Whether you favor button ups and sweaters or flowing and patterned tops, this is your chance to show your stripes so to speak. Simple and t-shirts or long sleeve shirts that fit are fine as well. Avoid t-shirts with collars instead go for a sweet-heart or v-neck. It’s also best practice to dress a t-shirt up with a fashion scarf or statement necklace for a more put together look. Also try to pair that look with a skirt or non-Jean pant as jeans might make the outfit too casual.
3) Throw in skirts and dresses. If your comfortable with it, try to wear a dress or skirt at least once a week. Not only will this extend your time between laundry days by expanding your wardrobe options but for some reason people always assume you put more effort in when you wear a dress or skirt. So you can get away with doing minimal jewelry, hair, and makeup on those days. Personally, I go for a dress and leggings every time I over sleep, because I can just throw them in toss my hair in a pony and jump in my car. No additional work required.
This is the fancy pants of dress codes. Well, I guess formal is still higher but who has a black tie dress code? No one. While you might be able to get away with that outfit your wore to the bar last Thursday in a Business Casual dress code it absolutely won’t fly in a professional attire environment. Men get out your ties and suit coats, ladies make sure you own a couple of pairs of stockings.
1) Jeans= NO. You probably aren’t even allowed to wear them on dress down Friday. I suggest you check with your manger to make sure khaki is okay. If you’re not sure how sober or stylish the environment is stick to black, navy, grey, and tan dress pants until you feel more comfortable. Then bring in a few colors or prints. You can still rock tailored or straight leg pants just make sure that the fabric, color and cut are considered appropriate. Try to stick to cotton twill, wool, or linen dress slacks. Nylon can be acceptable with fancier tops but they wrinkle easy and must be ironed before wear. The most important thing is that they need to fit you.
2) Blouses, Blouses, Blouses. Your tops need to be clean cut, ironed and fit you well. If your planning on wearing that cotton v-neck it better be paired with a high waisted knee length skirt, statement jewelry, and a good cardigan, or better yet a blazer. Cardigans, blazers, jackets are also good to have. Keep your outfits looking pulled together and classy with accessories.
3) Heels are your best friend; if you can’t wear heels go with flats. If you have a medical reason and need special shoes, stick with black or navy and if possible stick with a slip on instead of a lace up and talk with your HR manager to see what types of accommodations can be made. The wrong shoes can bring that carefully planned outfit from professional to not professional pretty quickly. Shoes can be expensive but try to keep them in good repair, don’t wear chewed or broken heels, or shoes with bad scuffs or peeling fabric. As a general rule heels should be 4 inches or less and have at least one of the following criteria: standard color (navy, black, grey, and tan), are a standard pump or heeled boot, or have 3 or less straps. If it falls out of that criteria just use good judgment. Flats should look grown up, try to stick away from crazy colors or patterns that might be seen as childish.
Wow! We’ve covered a lot, but remember these are just basic rules. Everything has exceptions so use your judgment.