What Is Business Attire? (With Types and Professional Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Business attire, or professional attire, refers to the clothing you wear in professional settings. You might decide how to dress depending on the type of office you work in, for an interview or for a meeting. There are varying levels of professional attire, ranging from casual to business formal. Based on the setting, you can decide which kind of professional attire is appropriate. In this article, we explain what business attire is, discuss its different types, list a few examples of clothing types, and provide a few professional attire tips.

What is business attire?

Business attire is clothing that professionals wear for business or special occasions. This type of attire can help create an image of professionalism and set the tone for events and meetings. For instance, a suit-only event may suggest that something of importance is happening, so it's important that everyone dress accordingly. Some jobs have very specific guidelines for what attire individuals working there can wear to keep a uniform dress code and professional image.

Related: Business Formal Attire vs. Business Casual Attire

Types of professional attire

Here are the most common types of professional attire:

Casual

Casual attire refers to informal clothing that you can wear not only in a business setting but also in many settings outside of work. You can wear casual attire if you work in an informal office where other employees wear things like jeans and t-shirts. Casual attire is typically popular for creative industries, such as media and tech companies.

Casual attire for men often includes t-shirts, sweaters on top and button-down shirts. Bottoms may include shorts, khaki pants or jeans. Casual shoes may include sandals, loafers or sneakers. Casual dress for women may include items like blouses, T-shirts and sweaters on top. Bottoms may include shorts, cropped pants or jeans. Casual shoes may include sandals, low heels or sneakers.

Business casual

Business casual is standard for most workplaces. Although you can find several classic business staples in business casual wear, there are a few casual elements included such as khakis. Business casual is ideal for many interviews, office settings and client meetings. Because it's not very formal and also not very casual, this is often an appropriate way to dress if you're not sure about the setting.

Business casual for women may include sweaters, blazers, khakis, trousers, button-down shirts, blouses and pencil skirts. You can accessorise with simple belts and jewellery. Shoes may include heels, boots, mules, loafers and flats. For men, business casual may include slacks, trousers, button-downs, khakis, sport coats or polos. Ties and jackets are optional, but you can use them as accessories. Business casual shoes for men may include boots, oxfords, loafers and lifestyle sneakers with canvas or leather.

Related: What Is Business Casual Attire? (With Tips)

Smart casual

This is another type of casual attire with a stylish twist. If dressing in smart casual, you can include more trendy pieces of clothing. This type of attire is ideal for a more flexible office, including an informal setting. You can also wear smart casual attire in an interview for a more informal workplace. This way, you fit in with its informal dress code while still keeping a clean, professional look that communicates that you care a lot about your appearance.

Smart casual for men may include items like sports jacks, khakis, ties, polos and button-down shirts. It may also include dress shoes, belts, clean sneakers and boots. For women, smart casual may include items like dresses, blazers, trousers, sweaters, blouses and skirts. It may also include scarves, jewellery, flats and heels.

Related: Guide to Smart Casual Attire for Women (With Tips)

Business professional

Business professional is a traditional form of attire used in companies with strict dress codes or in more conservative settings. You can wear business professional in industries like law, government, finance, banking or accounting. Here are a few tips when dressing business professional:

Business professional for men

When dressing business professional, consider wearing a dark-coloured tie and suit. Make sure the tie is simple, avoiding busy patterns or bright colours. You can also wear a button-down shirt, preferably light-blue or white, and a belt. You can pair it with a professional, closed-toed shoe such as a loafer or oxford.

Related: Choosing Business Attire for Men (With Examples and Tips)

Business professional for women

When dressing business professional, consider wearing slacks, skirts or tiny dresses. Tops may include neat button-down shirts or blouses with a blazer. You can pair them with tidy flats, loafers or classic heels no higher than three inches. You can also accessorise with belts and a few pieces of jewellery.

Business formal

Business formal is reserved for the most formal settings, such as special dinners, award ceremonies or other important evening events. Business formal is similar to black-tie, but is often reserved to maintain professionalism. Here are a few tips when dressing a business formal attire:

Business formal for men

For business formal, you can wear clothing similar to business professional, such as a dark suit and tie. For this setting, a black suit is appropriate with a light button-down shirt. Consider wearing loafer or oxford shoes with clean lines. If you choose a black suit, make sure not to wear brown shoes. You can accessorise with belts, a tie clip or small, minimal cuff links.

Business formal for women

For business formal, you can wear a dark pants suit, suit dress or skirt suit. Sometimes, a long evening dress is appropriate. Shoe options include formal flats, heels, oxfords or loafers. Minimalist jewellery can be appropriate.

Gender-neutral professional dress

There are several ways of dressing for the workplace and different degrees of formality that don't adhere to a gender binary. You can dress gender-neutral elements up or down depending on the situation in which you're dressing. For a casual dress, jeans, sweaters and shirts are all great options. For shoes, you might choose trendy sneakers, sandals or loafers.

For more formal forms of dress, you might choose slacks, trousers or neat chinos. Options for tops include sweaters, button-downs or shirts with cardigans. Shoes might include loafers, oxfords or stylish lace-up shoes. Pantsuits are a great option for any formal setting. You can pair them with flat or slightly heeled oxfords or loafers.

Business cocktail attire

Business cocktail attire is a semi-formal style that combines casual and formal clothing for a relaxed but professional look. This style is ideal for company events such as seminars, parties or other business gatherings that have a follow-up event or segment that's more casual. Here are a few tips when dressing a cocktail attire:

Business cocktail attire for men

Business cocktail attire for men often includes ties, suit jackets, watches, suit pants, oxfords, loafers, belts and button-down shirts. Cocktail attire usually stays on until the senior members of the gathering take off their suit jackets and ties. Pay close attention to the event and the other men in the crowd to find out the best time to dress down for the casual segment.

Business cocktail attire for women

For women, a business cocktail often means a hemline that's just above the knee at the highest, no cleavage, close-toed shoes and nothing flashy like sequins or neon. The cocktail side of it means you can add a few embellishments to your outfit. These include a standout piece of jewellery, a peplum, a nice clutch and lace sleeves.

Professional attire tips

When deciding how to dress for certain situations, there are a few things to consider:

  • Pay close attention to the way others dress: If you work in an office, pay close attention to the way people dress. While the office may be casual, you may notice that people in leadership positions dress slightly more formally.

  • Check the company's About Us page**:* If you're going to an interview, check the company's About Us* page and social media profiles for clues about their culture. They might have pictures or videos about their offices where you can see how employees typically dress.

  • Ask your colleagues: If you're going to a business meeting, ask your colleagues who may know or have met with this same person about how their offices operate and how you can appear respectful and professional during your meeting with them.

  • Pay attention to the dress code, if applicable: You might use different styles of business attire for different settings or occasions. Pay attention to the dress code, if applicable, or look at other people's style of dress or ask around if needed.

  • Keep accessories to a minimum: While accessories can provide a pleasing aesthetic addition to your outfit, make sure to use them smartly so that each one compliments your attire in an organised and neat fashion.

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