Dressing the Part: A Guide for Women


August 31, 2018

Written by Tess D’Orsi


In a previous blog post titled “First Impressions”, I mentioned the importance of clothing in making a good first impression; not only is it a form of self expression, but it is also a reflection your professionalism. In this blog post I will elaborate on clothing expectations for women under each attire classification.


When entering a new office or position, it can be a bit confusing deciphering what the accepted code of dress is. You may find yourself asking questions such as “What is the difference between business casual and business professional?” because, let’s be honest, often the lines drawn between casual, business/smart casual, business professional/formal are a bit blurred. For women especially it can be challenging how to approach certain dress codes mandated by the company. Consult these tips that can clarify the boundaries and suppositions around each form of attire:




There are many options for women when it comes to dressing for a casual work environment. This form of dress is closest to what the average person wears on a day to day basis. Though comfort is preferable, it is important to always remain appropriate and professional when dressing for a work space. While workout clothing and lounge wear are inappropriate, jeans (non-ripped, of course) and sweaters or blouses are acceptable. In a casual environment you can substitute cardigans for blazers and flats for heels. When choosing an outfit, remember that modest is always the best route to take.


Business/Smart Casual


Smart casual is very similar to casual, however to add more sophistication to your casual attire aim to wear darker colors. As a general rule, the darker the clothing the more formally it is perceived. Adding a blazer to your casual outfit can also transform your style with elegance. Dresses and skirts are welcome in smart casual environments as well. If you opt to wear a dress or a skirt be aware of the length; one that reaches near the knee is most acceptable. While dressing business casual things to stray away from include jeans, open toe shoes, and shirts that reveal your shoulders. Again, flats are permissible but one otherwise may choose a shoe with a small heel for more formality. While comfort is still a priority in business casual, style and professionalism should take precedent.


Business Professional and Formal


For women, business professional and business formal can be treated the same. In a formal office environment women are expected to wear a matching pant suit, skirt and blazer combo, or dress and blazer (skirts and dresses should again be appropriate length and high cut) . A button-up collared shirt or blouse made of lightweight fabrics is the perfect garment to wear if you elect to wear pants. Clothing should be neat and crisp (no wrinkled articles) to project a formal image. Any sleeves worn should generally be ¾ arm length. Much like business casual attire, the footwear for business professional include both flats and heels with a closed toe. Pearls can also serve as a professional jewelry option to adorn your appearance!


Whether you are dressing down for your office or dressing up or a business event, make sure you are prepared with the appropriate outfit. Have a comprehensive understanding of the dress code before you arrive in an unacceptable outfit. It is better to err on the side of caution and overdress rather than under dress. Remember, your image depends on what you present to the eye, so always put your best foot and outfit forward.