The items you need to build the perfect business professional attire wardrobe

Ladders recently defined what business casual attire is but now the question is, what works for business professional attire for both men and women? “It is critically important to be aware of dress codes, understand what they mean, and follow them,” said Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.” “Employees are obliged to comply with company standards. Oftentimes, that means maintaining a professional appearance in the office, at client sites, and any business functions.”

Here are the basics of what you need to know about business professional attire and a little extra.

Business professional attire for men and women

Think conservative, conservative, conservative. Anyone who works in finance, law or accounting (for the most part) knows the business professional attire look to a T (except they should never wear t-shirts.) For inspiration watch the show Suits.

For women

Business suit

Pencil skirt and blouse with jacket

Tights or pantyhose

Conservative dress

Jewelry should also be minimal meaning pearls, studs or very small delicate dangles.

For shoes no higher than three-inch heels, loafers or simple flats.

For men

Suits in neutral colors such as black, gray, navy and brown. The only acceptable pattern is pinstripes

A shirt should be button-down and in white, light blue and other similar tones.

The tie should also be in a conservative color and no pattern.

Go for a closed-toed shoe like an oxford or loafers.

Other business professional attire items women can have (in certain offices):

Shell blouse

Long Sleeve blouse

Button up shirt


Dress pants


Minimal Necklace

Work bag

Brands for business professional attire

For men: Brooks Brothers, J.Crew, Banana Republic, Stitch Fix

For women: Nordstrom’s, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, J.Crew, MM LaFleur, Express, Stitch Fix, Dagne Dover


Women are often held to a tougher standard when it comes to dressing for work as they are trying to please multiple audiences. A new study explores this concept as researchers from Oklahoma State University found that women often “dress defensively” in order to be judged less harshly by other women they come in contact with regularly.

The study conducted a few experiments. The first used a subject group of 79 women and 63 men and found that people expected women to be more openly aggressive when they wore more scantily clad outfits. The next experiment used 584 female subjects and analyzed their outfit choices for different social events. For the events that were female-dominated, they found that the subjects chose more conservative outfits. And interestingly, the female participants that rated themselves as more attractive dressed the most conservatively at these more female events.

Colors for a business professional attire wardrobe

Colors can be tricky in the workplace. Certain bold colors can really make a statement and help you get ahead at work but you need to be careful in certain offices. If you work in a more creative industry then colors are welcome but for an office with a strict dress code you may want to hold back. But here are some colors to wear in moderation.

Red is a power color, which means it just oozes confidence. It also makes you have more energy, according to a 2011 study.  You will literally be able to react quicker and with more strength which is definitely a win-win for work. Another study found that your motor skills can actually improve with the color red (so definitely wear it for your next workout.)

Many fashion industry insiders have been seen sporting these colors, at New York and London Fashion Weeks (Rebecca Minkoff was a fan), with an emphasis on Flame Scarlet. It is considered to be a part of the whole female empowerment movement we are seeing in fashion right now with puffy sleeves, laid back boxy suits and statement belts. Pantone’s Eiseman told WWD, “Obviously, red always gives a voice to women.” The First Lady of France, Bridgette Macron recently wore the color.

Green is another strong choice. It is already a great color to wear at work as it may just help you get a raise. Psychologist and author Carole Kanchier said of the color green that it “suggests security, abundance, love, growth, luck and balance.” She also noted, “Wear green when you want to see things from a different perspective, need to feel grounded, calm, generous. Don’t wear it when you’re confused, feel stagnant, want to be alone.”

Black is always a good choice though. According to new research, black is the way to go for a job interview. The study surveyed 1,500 British people and 43% chose black as the optimal color for an interview. And for men, it is also the chosen color for a first date. For women, red is the color for the first date because it is associated with love. Wink, wink. But if you want to just have fun during a night out, wear silver (12% said this was the way to go.)

White is also a smart move to make for women (as long as it is not a see-through garment.) When it comes to establishing that you are not culpable, you want to lean towards colors that invoke a sense of purity so white or beige or perhaps a light gray is your friend. Anna Sorokin (the young woman who posed as an heiress all the while swindling individuals and businesses out of hundreds of thousands of dollars) took this to the extreme when she had her day in court by not only wearing white dresses but white baby doll dresses in an attempt to literally make herself appear more childlike.

She followed the same school of thought as pre-comeback Winona Ryder’s court look back in 2002. After being accused of shoplifting $5,560.40 worth of designer clothing and accessories from the Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, Ryder chose Marc Jacobs, amongst other designers, for a collection of the primmest and most proper designs for her days on trial.

Robin Givhan of The Washington Post wrote of the Ryder’s fashion portfolio: “Ryder favored softly flowing skirts – nothing tight or too fitted – and delicate details such as lace and embroidery. Her ensembles announced – loudly and repeatedly – her delicacy, fragility, and innocence.” Some of the pieces she wore were even a few years old which also signaled that Ryder was attempting to be frugal however Givhan noted that the clothing “Over time, however, such emphatic declarations can become off-putting and suspicious.”

Psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman, who was involved with the research in the study, told The Mirror, “An awareness of the cultural and psychological factors at play when it comes to color helps us get to know ourselves better and also gives us a way to communicate.

“Through the clothing and accessories we choose, we can use color to communicate, without words, a range of messages and emotions. For example, if someone dresses in very bright colors, at least on some level they are saying they want to be seen,” he added.


Speaking of color when it comes to makeup. there are a lot of things happening in the workplace. It is a hotbed of judgment. Always go for a more minimal look. According to new research from psychology researchers in Scotland, women get taken less seriously as competent leaders when they wear too much makeup. Previous studies found that makeup on women can make them appear more desirable to other men and more dominant compared to other women. That’s a trait that may help them on a night on the town, but not in the office, the study concluded. “Makeup enhances perceptions of traits that are important for successful female mating competition but not other components of social dominance such as leadership,” the study states.

Makeup’s ability to get women ahead in their careers is limited. A Harvard/Boston University study found that women with makeup were overall judged as more competent than women without makeup, but women with “glamorous” looks were seen as less trustworthy than those with “natural” or “professional” makeup looks.

If you stick to these rules and guidelines your business professional attire will be the envy of all.