Breaking Down Dress Codes

While many of us have spent the last year slumming it on the couch in our best pair of sweatpants, as the world reopens, so too must our wardrobes.  As such, we wanted to use this platform to remind folks of the rules when it comes to dressing for your return to the office. Now, before we give you some huge list of do’s and don’ts, it’s important to first decide what type of office dress code you want your business to fall into, which in turn will inform the style rules you should follow.

Type 1: Business Formal

As the name would suggest, this is the most buttoned-up approach to office dress codes. In a business formal environment, men are expected to wear tailored suits and ties, while women will wear a pantsuit or skirt suit equivalent. Under this professional dress code, accessories including footwear, tend to be very conservative with folks opting for clean lines and nothing too flashy or attention grabbing. Think of this as the type of attire you would wear when interviewing for a job. 

Type 2: Business Professional

Coming in just behind business formal, business professional keeps much of the traditional elements of its predecessor but gives employees a bit of room to show off their style with the opportunity to wear brighter colors or add bolder patterns. In these settings, accessories can really elevate a look, so you might see staff with bigger “statement” jewelry, trendier footwear, and other expressions of style.

Type 3: Business Casual

Perhaps the most prevalent work wardrobe in corporate America, business casual sees both men and women ditching the suit in favor of professional, but more casual, clothing. In general, men tend to wear Khakis or other non-jean pants paired with button-downs, while women favor fun skirts, pants, or khakis paired with work-appropriate blouses, jackets, and cardigans. As is the case with business professional, there’s more room to play with accessories, so you’ll see more fun jewelry, potentially bolder colors, and more fashion-forward shoes.

Type 4: Casual

Although “business” no longer factors into the title, there’s still definitely an emphasis on professionalism with this dress type! As is the case with the last category, men will typically pair khakis or other casual slacks with button-downs, although you may see more collared polo shirts or fine knit sweaters. Women, meanwhile, can wear an assortment of business-appropriate dresses or skirts and pants paired with fun and funky blouses and work-appropriate shirts.

Now, the trouble with really the last two dress code types is that they often leave way too much room for interpretation! With that said, telling your employees only what type of dress code you have isn’t generally enough to avoid a fashion faux pas!  Instead, you’ll need to make sure that the dress code written in your employee handbook includes not just the type, but also clear examples of what employees can and can’t wear. It’s also incredibly helpful to have actual pictures to depict what is appropriate versus what won’t pass muster, such as illustrations of appropriate strap widths on women’s dresses or shirts. To further drive the point home, you – as a business owner and thus their fearless leader – should always strive to model work-appropriate attire with your own wardrobe.

And finally, one last word of advice: With different business dress codes, the emphasis is always on employees having a neat and professional appearance. However, how you dictate neat and professional can sometimes infringe on someone’s cultural preferences. In particular, be careful about how you word directions about hairstyles so as to not target any one group and ensure that you enforce dress code rules as appropriate, but certainly across the board, with no one group getting to skirt the rules while others get penalized for non-compliance.