How to dress and stand out in the age of ‘business casual’

We are lucky to live in a generation where business casual office attire has become the norm. More companies are promoting a relaxed corporate culture — and that includes what you can wear to the office. This results in a flexible and creative atmosphere, allowing employees to focus on the deliverables and not so much the process.

But even though your company may deem business casual as the office dress code, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to follow it. If you do decide to overdress your fellow employees, could it help you or hurt you? It all depends on your company’s unique culture — and your mindset.

Choose clothing that positively affects your mood (and boosts your productivity)

A flexible dress code may make your mornings less hectic, but it is always better to dress to impress for work. By dressing well and putting a genuine effort into your appearance, you are showcasing your personality and character while exuding self-confidence. The way you dress has been proven to affect your mood and productivity — and dressing up can not only boost your confidence but give you the extra mental push you need to accomplish more throughout your day.

Megan Perez, the founder of the online clothing store Etzia, sees her employees as a reflection of their employer. Perez describes herself as a “strong believer in wearing what makes you feel your best,” and encourages everyone, including her employees, to dress in what makes them feel most confident.

“If dressing up in a nice blouse, pencil skirt, and high heels makes you feel like you are ready to tackle your day, more power to you,” she says. “Feeling your best, happy, confident self will reflect strongly in your work.” If you look good, you feel good, and that confidence can be demonstrated in the work you produce and deliver.

Make sure you represent your company’s (and clients’) values

Your outfit is a visual representation of who you are as both an individual and as an employee. It is best to remember that not only are you representing yourself, but you are also representing your company and the clients that you work with.

Lida Lomont, the VP of Account Services at Rauxa, follows this mindset. She applauds employees that “dress well and make Rauxa look better as a whole.” Rauxa, the largest woman-owned marketing agency, follows a business casual dress code but houses a “hip and trendy environment with lots of fashionistas.”

One of Rauxa’s clients is Vans — makers of the iconic slip-on sneaker — so donning a pair of sneakers to work is both acceptable and encouraged. However, as a VP, Lomont still understands the importance of dressing professional regardless of her shoe attire, often pairing her Vans with a fitted blazer or a fashionable dress. She considers getting dressed for work a fun task and appreciates when her peers “express their style and inspire new workwear trends.”

Take business casual to a new level

The great thing about fashion is that it is forever evolving. New workwear trends are appearing every season, so your options are endless when it comes to what is deemed acceptable in the office.

Chances are, the majority of your coworkers will be taking full advantage of the business casual dress code. Use this opportunity to stand out in a crowd full of worn-in denim, basic t-shirts, and boring sweaters! Invest in a well-fitting sheath dress, a fun pair of printed trousers or a classic silk blouse. Something as simple as wearing a comfortable pair of heels and a classic gold watch could upgrade your entire outfit from informal to business professional — and they’re not so flashy that they’ll make you stand out in a bad way.

What you wear during the work day does not determine your competence, but it does influence how others perceive you. You should dress for the job you want, rather than the job you have. Perez, the founder of Etzia, says she would “happily deliver a compliment and round of applause” if her employees appeared more well-dressed than her.

However, don’t forget to take your cues from your boss or CEO. If you’ve never seen them wear a full suit to work, you might get some strange looks if you show up in one tomorrow. It may not directly hurt your chances at a promotion, but it could make you seem out of touch with the company culture.

Be empowered to use your personal style to express your individuality within the office walls and be confident that your coworkers will accept and approve of your unique approach to the company’s defined dress code.

Allie Lochiatto is a fashion blogger who provides great fashion tips for the workplace. She writes for her blog, Allie Wears, and for, an online and offline consignment store that offers a great selection of women’s work clothes.