Workwear: Office Dress Code For Women

If your employee handbook or HR joining letter or networking event invitation mentions  dress code:  “business casual”, what exactly does that mean??

Suit or Leggings?

Sandals or Block Heels?

Formal Shirt or are Jeans alright?

These might be some questions you might find yourself asking. If you want to fit in and be respected at the workplace, it is important to know what is appropriate and the acceptable business dress code. However, for some ladies it could be difficult to interpret what is acceptable – and what isn’t -and to select the right office wear.

Due to the current 2020 pandemic situation where most of us ladies might be working from home, the term “office wear” could mean anything from a collared blouse to jeans and a top.

So while the office dress code for females are a bit more relaxed and the norms are becoming more open-ended, it does create a certain kind of confusion when we have to schedule meetings/discussions with employees of different levels within the same organisation, or with clients and other stakeholders.  

So read on to know more, especially about western formal wear for ladies.

Business Attire

Business attire refers to the clothing that employees wear, or are expected to wear to work. You may have already noticed that workwear varies depending on your profession, job  title, designation and also your location. For example, if you are an artist, then you would dress differently as compared to a lawyer, also the CEO of a company would dress more formally than an entry-level junior. But it’s important to note, that how you dress also depends on other factors such as the work culture or the events and duties lined up for the day – such as, dressing for an interview, a client meeting, “a casual Friday” or work from home.

Why is Dress Code Important?

The way we dress is not a measure of how good or bad we are as humans, but it can definitely influence other’s perception about our personality & our capabilities. Here are few important reasons why following a dress-code is an important factor to consider:

  • Dressing the part helps in making a good impression on potential clients/employers as your attire is part of your collective professional brand image. So, you don’t want your first impression to be negative just because of your appearance. Well-dressed people are generally more confident and perceived to be well organized. So dressing better does lead to a stronger reputation.
  • Companies, by and large, are conscious about how their employees dress up. Studies show that, dressing better also corresponds to faster promotions in the workplace and that clothing choices does affect someone’s chances of being promoted.
  • But apart from looking better and work appropriate, multiple studies have shown that dressing more professionally can actually lead to more CEO-like qualities. 

Types of Business Attire:

The difference between these five types of business attire may look subtle but they are very important:

1. Business Formal

If you work in finance or law, regularly meet with top executives, or hold a high-level position, you might be expected to be dressed in “business formal” or in a “boardroom attire.” This is the highest level of professional dress code, and colors are conservative & white is usually considered best for formal shirts.

2. Business Professional

Business professional is also known as “traditional business attire.” It is a step down from business formal which means it is more relaxed, but is still neat and conservative. Women can wear brighter colors and different patterns.

3. Business Casual

Business casual is one of the most common dress codes, sometimes also called “executive casual.” Business casual attire is slightly more casual and permits more comfortable cuts and fabrics, but it’s not formal enough. Here you can add your own personality with different color choices for your outfits and accessories. For instance, you can trade the full sleeves for half sleeves, but not sleeveless. So, when confused and nothing is mentioned specifically and you want to dress your formal wear down a bit, go for business casual.

4. Smart Casual

Smart casual will combine elements of business professional and business casual to create a tailored, put together look. Smart casual is more stylish and appropriate for more flexible offices including informal settings & is a great option for networking events.

5. Casual

If you work in a casual office, or if you’re a singer, makeup artist, fitness instructor, graphic designer or so then there wouldn’t be any reason to wear a formal suit. Some business environments, such as a co-working space or a tech company, also encourage an everyday causal dress code, or casuals on certain holidays, casual Fridays or some events.

While wearing something that is practical and appropriate for the type of work you do, try to avoid looking too casual. Ensure that your appearance doesn’t distract or offend anyone. Even when wearing casual your outfit should be neat, fit you well and help you express your individuality and creativity.

Tips for Workwear For Women:

Presentation not only involves your attire but also your appearance, so here are important tips you must know:

Your business attire will convey to all those working with you, for example, your superiors, colleagues, your team members, clients and even those observing you for instance juniors, people in the same premises, support staff, about the level of your professionalism and authority.

Hence it is important to research and understand the industry and office culture when you decide what to wear. Ask yourself – Is it more traditional or modern? What is the average age of their employees and the management structure?

Dressing up, wearing inappropriate, revealing or sloppy clothing can send the wrong kind of message to your co-workers. Many offices expect a particular standard to be followed and so guidelines with respect to dress code are part of the employee handbook.

Here are some tips you must know:

  • Workwear should be of good quality, neatly pressed and should fit well. The darker the clothing, the more formal it is.
  • When in doubt, remember it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. While overdressing means that you can always later roll up your sleeves or take off the blazer, with underdressing, however, there’s no such room. In case there’s an urgent meeting suddenly or an important video conference or suppose you need to head over for a formal dinner there’s nothing that you can do to hide the wrinkled top and ripped jeans and sandals (other than return home to change).
  • If you’re a new employee, ask HR department what employees are expected to wear to work when you receive the job offer.
  • Look at what your boss and other successful employees wear to work. Your observations will tell you about the proper and expected business attire for your workplace.
  • Avoid distracting patterns and colors, as these give an informal look and divert attention. Also, outfits that are too revealing, or suggestive could send wrong signals.
  • The length of your garment, jewellery and tattoos could be a cause of concern by the company HR. While tattoos can be easily hidden, in the end, it depends on you, so you may want to explore organizations that allow such freedom of self-expression. While it is certainly necessary to follow any existing dress codes for professional events, you should also feel comfortable and confident in your clothes.
  • Wherever Casual attire is acceptable please note that while Jeans maybe the norm, but its best to avoid shorts, athleisure, ripped jeans, or sweatshirts.

Read more about benefits of having a good personality in this blog by Pooja Bohra

Read about Minimalism in this blog by Pragya Maheshwari

Items/ Mistakes to Avoid/Non-Business-Attire:

What to wear to work can be quite confusing as many offices, especially start-ups and small to medium-scale businesses, have relaxed norms. Even with a casual dress code, some items of clothing are almost always inappropriate, no matter the workplace.

Here are a few absolute no-nos:

  • Tight or revealing tops/crop-tops/hoodies
  • Tops with logos/quotes/graphics/cartoons
  • Loud colors such as yellow or red
  • Athleisure such as sweatpants, lounge pants, or sports shorts
  • Jeans that are ripped, torn or baggy
  • Skirts that are mini/super short or tight
  • Slippers/ flip-flops/hats/ beachwear
  • Shiny, bright, glittery, overly large or busy accessories

In conclusion, I would like to ask you what type of dress code does your office use? Remember:

“Dress for the job you want to have, not the job you currently hold.”

Hope this information was helpful. To know more about workwear trends 2020 follow me on social media @sabrinanoronhastyling or send an email to