Understanding what business attire is and how to incorporate it into your day-to-day work might be confusing, especially since the term has dated itself in recent years.
With the workforce adapting to modern time and allowing workers to ditch the stiff suits and ironed skirts for more comfortable styles, it’s important to know where and when it’s necessary to dust off the old suit jacket or slip into something more versatile (and comfortable) like the handy sweater vest often seen strapped on business-types today.
In a recent study on office clothing policies, a whopping 71% of 2,000 participants said being able to wear casual clothing allows them to “feel more accomplished throughout the day” because by being able to wear more comfortable clothing, they think less about how often they are uncomfortable in clothes that wouldn’t support them. Employees are even willing to pass up raises in order to dress down at the office. A third of employees said they’d prefer an informal dress code to an extra $5,000 in their salary, according to a Randstad US survey exploring American employees’ attitudes regarding workplace fashion.
“The nature of work — where, when and how it gets done — has changed dramatically over the past several years, and many of those changes (open offices, remote work) have ultimately contributed to a less formal workplace,” said Randstad US CEO Traci Fiatte in a press release. “It’s great to empower your employees to dress for their day, as well as show their personality, but it is equally important for employers to set some clear guidelines to ensure that everyone feels comfortable.”
What you wear to work can also have an impact on how professionalism is perceived. A study that looked at how male and female dentists and lawyers dressed at work found that people preferred lawyers and dentists who wore professional and formal clothing because people believed they were friendlier and better at their job by how they dressed. Formal clothing also allowed people to feel more forward and trusting to distill personal information to both professionals.
What is business attire?
There are many different forms of business attire today in the office. Traditional business attire or business professional consist of wearing items you’d expect to see in an office. For men, that’s a suit or sport coat, adorned with a crisp dress shirt, slacks, ties, and leather shoes. Traditional business attire for women consists of skirt suits or pantsuits along with blouses or shirts, along with stockings and heeled, toe-closed shoes.
But business attire has changed throughout the years and it’s tricky depending on what you do and where you work, Stitch Fix stylist Layne Cross explained to Ladders.
“The term ‘business attire’ has taken on a broader meaning over the years, and what’s appropriate workwear for one industry might not be for others,” Cross said recently. “It’s important to take the time to do your research about the culture and dress code of your company to establish a rotation of work-appropriate outfits.”
Cross said a classic suit and tie or “A-line” dress and pumps might be more suitable in traditional office environments like law firms and banks, but more companies are encouraging a laid back business casual look, which is considered less formal than traditional business wear but still gives off an impression that you are working in a professional environment.
What is business casual?
Cross said it’s often acceptable to push your workwear boundaries past the boring slacks and button-up combo. For men, she suggests investing in the 5-pocket chino or double cloth button-down and for women, look toward the midi skirt or boyfriend cut blazer.
“These choices allow you to invest in new styles that can refresh your wardrobe at work and beyond while still looking polished and professional,” she said.
Depending on where you work, dress codes can mean many different things. Startups famously were the first to push for a better work-life balance, which included letting employees wear anything from shorts to jeans in the office.
While typical business casual doesn’t include jeans, there are ways to pull it off if you’re trying to avoid chinos. Esquire suggested looking for darker washes because they look more sophisticated than lighter jeans. They also said pair your jeans with good looking shoes (not sneakers) such as loafer or dress shoes, and most importantly, tuck in your collared shirt.
What to wear in the office in 2020
Cross noticed that trends typically on the covers of fashion magazines and plastered on style-first websites are being translated into the office.
She suggested women can incorporate a flowy top in trending prints such as snakeskin or floral, which can be versatile when paired with a dark wash jean that can take you from your desk to dinner in a matter of moments. As for men, classic flannel is making an appearance in the office today, which can be paired with a chukka boot as well as double for your weekend wardrobe.
“No matter how casual the work environment, how you present yourself can communicate a lot,” Cross said. “That’s why it’s always important to wear properly fitting, wrinkle-free outfits to convey dedication to your role and communicate professionalism, which never goes out of style.”
For offices that like to pump the AC during the winter, Cross said women could have a denim jacket or cropped cargo jacket in colors like red or sage green to keep them stylish and warm, while men can reach for a knit blazer or logo-free hoodie that adds a modern look to a casual office.
Classic Blue, which was Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year, could also be mixed and matched well in the office.