They say a picture speaks a thousand words. This is especially true when it comes to your workplace. The picture your wardrobe choices paint—with your clothes, shoes, handbags, and jackets—can send subtle yet powerful signals to your boss, your coworkers, and your clients, on your personality and work ethic. This is the reason it is important to armor yourself with the right business attire for women. In this blog, we help you understand the ins and outs of this sophisticated science.
Female Business Standard Attire
It all begins with the fundamental question: What is appropriate business attire for women? This can often be a gray area as it varies across cultures, countries, companies, and even your rank in the corporate world. For instance, it may be considered fitting for a small-business owner, like a florist, to wear a comfortable sundress within the confines of her shop
However, this same attire can be considered casual enough to be “impertinent,” in a corporate meeting with a top client or a potential investor. In this section, we cover prudent yet polished clothing choices for women, so you convey a powerful image that captures the three mighty S’s—sharp, skilled and stylish. Perfect!
The business suit involves coupling a formal jacket with a sleek pair of dress pants or a business skirt. As many women have discovered, there is little that can go wrong when you wear a suit. In fact, this is the most versatile piece of clothing a woman can introduce to her work wardrobe. First, the formal jacket protects you from being underdressed for almost any occasion.
Second, if you find yourself over-dressed or bothered by the hot weather, you can remove the jacket and still appear business casual. Besides this, you can always highlight your unique personality with your choice of shirt. Finally, remember to keep your overall style classy yet simple, and your color choices stylish yet neutral.
The word “formal” is sure to have given us away, as this includes all collared shirts, the occasional V-neck vests (when paired with a jacket), and the turtleneck top or sweater for winter. Here, a shirt with sleeves is preferred over a sleeveless one. Frills need to be minimized although you can dress them up with some stylish lace and texture. We also encourage you to avoid low necklines, halter necks, and anything that can inadvertently expose cleavage.
Finally, remember to keep with the business color palette for all your clothing choices—dark, neutral and soft tones that span across beiges, blacks, browns, grays, and navy blues.
Here, we mean full-length trousers that are fitted and hence look more formal. This automatically eliminates jeans, capris, three-quarter pants, and yoga pants as part of business attire for women. Though some companies may allow formal capris at work, many do not, and you should confirm the company’s dress code before wearing them into the office.
You can play with the style, as dress pants come with different fits like boot-cut, cigarette-style, and straight-leg. Plaid, checks and stripes are always good choices for texture and pattern. Finally, make sure you get the length right, so they fit perfectly with your shoes.
Many of the rules that apply to business pants also apply to business skirts. This means that their length is critical—at least knee-length or below. Color is also important. If you choose one with a slit, make sure it ends below your knee. Finally, choose a skirt that is not too tight, as you also want to be comfortable all day at work.
Here, do not let the word “conservative” throw you off this choice of business attire for women. A business dress is merely a well-fitted dress appropriate for the boardroom (and not a club or a ballroom). To keep it simple, follow the rules that apply to both formal shirts and business skirts. This automatically excludes frilly apparitions and anything that is too revealing for work.
A practical yet classy handbag is a must-have for every woman. Here, it is considered chic to match your bag with your shoes. Closed shoes are better than open-toed sandals as they appear more formal and hence appropriate as business attire for women. Be mindful of the size of your heels, as a stylish woman also needs to be an efficient woman, with the ability to run around at work, comfortably, all day. Finally, keep your jewelry subtle so they do not inadvertently outshine your brilliant work ethic.
Types of Business Attire for Women
Now you know the clothes you can wear to work, you may still be confused with the level of formality allowed at your workplace. Here, business attire for women is typically classified by four types:
- Business formal
- Business professional
- Business casual
- Small-business casual
Business formal is power dressing for work. This is where you bring out the suits, the odd tie if you please, dress shoes, and scarves or other formal accessories. Business professional is at a lower degree of formality, so you can get away without a formal jacket. Depending on your company, you may also get away with open-toed dress sandals. However, you may still need to wear a collared shirt.
Business casual is a clear signal from your employer you can safely avoid a suit. This type of business attire for women also allows you to wear well-fitted khaki pants and polo shirts. Finally, small-business casual depends on the employer. Here, it is always safe to avoid T-shirts and sneakers. Jeans may be allowed in settings where the dress code is small-business casual, but confirm this before wearing them to work.
When to Dress in Business Attire
The simple answer to this question is: Always, especially when you are anywhere near your boss, a co-worker or a client. Here are a few more hints to get this right.
At Your Daily Workplace
As we covered in this blog, business attire for women is still a versatile space, as it can cover anything from small-business casual, to proper business formal. To be safe, check with your employer on the dress code allowed for weekdays and Fridays or weekends.
At an Interview
Unless you are interviewing with an eccentric artist, it is safe to groom yourself in business formal attire. Yes, this includes a suit, a formal shirt, and comfortable yet closed dress shoes. Again, remember that you can always remove the jacket once you are done with the interview.
At a Client Meeting or Conference
This can be tricky, as you want to portray a competent, professional image without intimidating your client. It is best to check with your employer for their suggestions. If you are self-employed, you can stick to the safe zone with business professional.
At an After-Work Event
An after-work event is not necessarily a party unless it is explicitly said to be so. It is best to avoid revealing tops, short skirts, stiletto heels (especially uncomfortable ones), and audacious accessories. Understated need not be under-dressed, especially in the corporate world. As one international watch brand rightly captured it: “Elegance is an attitude.” Indeed!
Female Business Wardrobe Basics
With the material covered so far, you will charm your workplace with your elegant choice of business attire for women. Here are three final tips to ace this corporate dressing game.
Tip 1: Dress for Your Job
This puts your comfort at work ahead of any other rule. For instance, if you are an architect and need to visit one of your sites, you are better off wearing dress pants than a skirt. If you are in public relations and need to look people in the eye but are also of short stature, you may be allowed the luxury of high-heeled (yet comfortable) dress shoes. Always dress comfortably for your job. Like you, it is special and worth it!
Tip 2: Dress for the Weather
Imagine wearing a stuffy plaid shirt on a hot summer day. You will be uncomfortable all day, and a person who is sweating and fidgeting with their wardrobe will not look professional. Cooler weather may require you to carry a jacket at all times even if your workplace only demands small-business casual—make sure your jacket is versatile, stylish, and professional.
Tip 3: Dress for Success
Here, your confidence is the ultimate key to choosing the right business attire for women at work. If you feel pretentious wearing a jacket, perhaps you can get away with a tailored dress-shirt and pants. If checks and stripes make you feel dowdy at work, expand your color palette without disturbing your coworkers. If you dress to enhance your confidence without allowing your perceived image to interfere with your work ethic, you should be safe. When in doubt, you can always check with a trusted co-worker or even your boss.
There are simple rules that make up appropriate business attire for women. Keep it simple, clean and stylish. Avoid extremes, especially with cut, colors, and texture. If possible, buy tailored clothes that suit your body type. Finally, dress so you feel empowered at all times. As the incredible Coco Chanel succinctly captured it: “Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably, and they remember the woman.” True story!