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Business Professional vs. Business Casual

In today’s world of “business professional” and “business casual” attire, it can be tricky to know the appropriate way to dress for an interview, for work at a conservative company such as a financial institution, or for a place where things are a little more laid back. What makes it even trickier is that what is considered “business professional” at one company, such as non-profit or a software organization, might be considered “business casual” at an accounting firm.

So what is a person to do?!

Here are a few tips: 

  • For interviews, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Even if employees at an organization dress fairly casually, YOU are the one looking for a job and the one being compared against other candidates, so you should always wear professional attire.
  • When you are offered a position, prior to your first day it is completely appropriate to ask your soon-to-be supervisor about the written or unwritten company dress code.
  • If the verbal or written dress code is vague, it is better to err on the side of caution and overdress for your first week, paying attention to those around you to learn company norms and expectations.  Keep in mind that dress code is something that many supervisors find stressful to enforce.  So, if you notice a wide range of attire at the work site, it is best to go with the more conservative look.
Dress examples on Pinterest

The examples on the Pinterest boards below reflect this difference in standards between organizations, and you'll see a great deal of overlap.*

Casual Days  

  • If you are at an organization that has limited "business casual" days, the key to remember is that "business casual" is typically one step below "business professional".
  • So if "business professional" means a suit for both men and women at one organization, then "business casual" may be dress pants or skirts without the jacket or tie (for men). If "business professional" means nice pants/skirts (but not suits) at another location, then "business casual" could be khakis and a polo or a casual skirt.
  • The key? Be aware, ASK, and err on the side of caution.

*Regardless of business professional or business casual, women should always avoid showing cleavage and mid-drifts, as well as avoid clothing that is too tight or too short. Both men and women should always choose clothing that covers tattoos, and jewelry should be kept to a minimum (no earrings on men!).

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