Business Attire for Professional Success

Professional success depends on many things, such as education, expertise, previous career steps, and attitude. But before you even have the chance to showcase all these, you must pass the first impression test.  The interlocutor will glance at you briefly and make a small but relevant mental note about you. If that note is negative, you must work ten times harder to prove your merits. Therefore, before any professional or business meeting, consider your business attire. Dressing professionally not only influences how others perceive you, but it can also boost your own confidence and performance, helping you to present yourself more effectively in professional settings.

What Is Business Attire?

Business attire refers to clothing you wear in a professional environment, such as a job interview, business meeting, professional event, or at the office. How you present yourself matters whether you are looking for your first job, have just started a small business, or are searching for investors for your next big project. For instance, a lawyer might wear a tailored suit, while a graphic designer might opt for a more creative, yet professional, ensemble.

The concept of business attire is not a recent development. People had respected dress codes at work or in professional settings since the XIXth century when the middle class became apparent due to industrialization and urbanization and needed a unique professional identity. Although things are much more relaxed nowadays, with the advent of casual Fridays and remote work, there are still rules to follow to make a good impression right from the door.

How and Why Does Business Attire Work?

Business professional attire is a visual cue that conveys a few characteristics in a second. As one image is worth a thousand words (in the words of Goethe), once your interlocutor makes an impression based on your clothing, it is challenging to change it using words. Your business attire is a key part of your personal brand, and it can influence how others perceive your professionalism, competence, and even your personality. By dressing appropriately for each professional situation, you can ensure that your attire is always working in your favor.

Clothing speaks for you, letting people know how invested you are in current events (e.g., how much you want the job, how successful your small business is, etc.) and how creative, hardworking, and honest you are. They also influence your body language and confidence and reveal your background and skills. In today's work environment, business attire lets your colleagues know how much they can trust you or how close you'll be. They reveal hobbies, interests, and personality, showing your open-mindedness and adaptability. To ensure your business attire always looks professional, it's important to follow the care instructions on the labels of your clothing, and to regularly clean and iron your clothes.

However,  it's important to note that business professional attire should respect the dress code and show a professional attitude rather than focus entirely on personality traits. Balance is critical. While it's important to express your personality through your attire, it's equally important to maintain a professional image. So, read along to find the types of business attire for men and women that fit each situation, and learn how to strike the right balance.

Types of Business Attire for Men and Women

Although you are encouraged to create your vestimentary style and be authentic to yourself, it helps to know the main types of business attire and when they are appropriate. We sorted them from formal to casual to give you an idea of where to start.

Business Formal

If you are invited to a business dinner party with a formal dress code, formal business apparel is the best attire. It's like a black tie or white tie outfit for business purposes. When mentioned on the invitation card, a tuxedo for gentlemen and a long black dress for ladies may be required. But usually, business formal for men means a plain dark-colored suit, white shirt, simple, high-quality tie, and matching leather belt and shoes. It's a minimalist outfit where the quality of fabric, tailoring, and accessories matters.

Business formal for women means long or knee-length dresses in neutral colors and classic cuts with as few embellishments as possible. The outfit includes stockings or tights and closed-toe shoes, simple but precious jewelry (e.g., tiny gold earrings, small pearls, etc.), and, when needed, a tailored jacket. You can replace the dress with a skirt or pantsuit with a masculine cut and a light-colored shirt or blouse.

Business Professional

Professional business outfits are less formal than the previous ones and are suitable for most business meetings and events. Instead of a tuxedo or long black dress, you will wear a tailored suit with matching leather shoes and a belt. Men may replace the black tie with something slightly more colorful, including stripes and geometric prints. Even the suit is allowed to have thin stripes or be in a lighter color if it's a day event.

Women may also choose more intense colors, although the general tone of the outfit is traditional. The closed-toe shoes and fine jewelry stay. But you can add a floral scarf, a pastel shirt or blouse, and a harmonious mismatch between the color of the bag and the shoes. A practical leather briefcase may accompany men and women in business professional attire.

Business professional attire is often the mandatory dress code for employees working with the public (e.g., bank office), day-to-day business meetings, meeting investors and stakeholders, and attending conferences and industry events. It's also the preferred outfit of executives and managers to show their status.

Smart Casual

Smart casual attire is a more relaxed version of business professional attire with a modern twist. It still requires tailored clothing but provides more freedom regarding materials, design, and colors. For example, men can opt for a designer jacket, regular-cut trousers, and a shirt instead of a complete business suit. They may lose the tie or choose one that complements their outfit more modernly. They may also replace dress shoes with more casual ones.

Smart casual attire allows women to showcase their style. It means Audrey Hepburn-like dresses, crayon mid-length skirts, tailored blazers, or cardigans. The jewelry may be larger and more colorful, and closed-toe shoes may give room to open-toe shoes. Patterns and textures are also allowed.

Opt for smart casual attire to show confidence, professionalism, and modernity. It's ideal for day business meetings and events with people you don't know, as well as cocktail business parties and conferences.

Business Casual

Business casual attire is a step down from smart casual attire. It is recommended when attending regular business events where you've already met the attendants and know their preferred dress code. It is also recommended for less traditional meetings, such as meeting peers at a work hub, attending a local event for small businesses, attending a software launch or interview, and even regular office hours. In these situations, business casual attire strikes the right balance between professionalism and comfort.

For men, business casual attire means replacing traditional trousers with slacks and khakis, shirts with collarless or even designer t-shirts, and tailored jackets with sporty jackets or cardigans. Shoes may also have a sports design and light colors. Business casual attire includes a broad range of fabrics, from classic fabrics to denim, knitwear, cotton, and linen.

For women, business casual attire means A-line dresses and skirts, wide-leg trousers, neat tops and cardigans, designer jewelry, and sandals. The color palette is still restricted to earth colors, pastels, and small accents of vibrant colors. You can make the outfit more feminine by incorporating floral patterns, wearing a scarf instead of a leather belt, and mix-matching prints.


Casual attire is common for many companies and refers to informal clothing. Employees working from home or an office are often allowed to wear casual outfits that include sports shoes, short-sleeve shirts and tops, shorter dresses and skirts, sandals, and loafers. Casual attire for men and women permits prints, vibrant colors, clothes with messages, oversized accessories, and a broad range of fabrics.

However, casual attire may be needed outside regular working hours, for example, attending an informal business meeting at an outdoor venue, attending a business-related sports event, making a business trip, etc. Although it is casual, and you can theoretically wear whatever you like, it's important to maintain a professional look, match your outfit with the event, and tone down anything perceived as awkward.

What Is Not Business Professional Attire?

Any situation is different, so adapt your style to the business environment. For example, if you meet executives who prefer professional business attire, dress accordingly, even if you usually wear something more casual. Similarly, only overdress if your colleagues wear a particular business attire. The same applies to new situations, such as attending an event or visiting a company for the first time. Check out their websites, read about their culture and preferences, and try to fit in.

As a rule, it's better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed. So, when in doubt, go for the more professional outfit. Another good rule is to choose clothing you are comfortable with, which means selecting the right size and fabric. The design matters, too. For example, women may prefer a plain A-line dress and a matching blazer instead of a pantsuit. Men may prefer a plain T-shirt under a tailored jacket instead of a classic shirt. When the situation allows it, make sure you take your style and personality into consideration.

It's also good practice to remember what is not business professional attire and avoid it at all costs. Anything that has the potential to shock your interlocutor should be reconsidered. For example, colorful socks in a formal or business professional outfit may need to be put in the right place. Heavy jewelry T-shirts with offensive messages, items too revealing or in the wrong size, leather clothes, beach clothes and shoes, and noisy items are also examples. Even when you go for a casual outfit, ensure you don't receive the wrong type of attention.


What are the common mistakes in business attire?
The most common mistake in business attire is not considering the occasion and required dress code, especially when mentioned. In this scenario, you stand out from the crown because you are the only one who didn't follow the brief.

Another common mistake is trying so hard to look appropriate that you must consider how the outfit makes you feel. In this scenario, your outfit doesn't fit you, is uncomfortable, or affects your confidence.

Last but not least, people often think business attire refers to a one-time-only outfit and buy low-quality clothing. If it is a one-time-only situation, it's okay, but usually it's not. You will go to more than one business meeting or job interview. So try to buy quality clothing that will look good for a longer time and make a better impression.

Business casual vs business professional
Business professional attire refers to the traditional business dress code: suit, long-sleeve shirt, tie belt, and dress shoes. The colors are neutral, often dark, except for the white shirt, and the prints are kept to a minimum. Business casual attire is a modern addition and refers to reinterpreting the professional style. Instead of the classic two-piece suit, one can mix individual items with a more casual style. Restrictions are eased when it comes to colors and fabrics, too.

What to wear to an interview?
Although one shouldn't wear anything sloppy or out of place to an interview, interview outfits depend on the position you are going for. For example, for a manager position, you should opt for a more formal outfit, such as a smart casual or business professional. You should also consider what the company you applied to expects from its employees. Check out their website, mission statement, and company culture. Companies that favor creativity may appreciate a stylish business look more than more traditional companies. Consider the message you want to convey as well. At first impression, you may seem severe, trustworthy, intelligent, creative, open-minded, a team player, motivated, and so on. Choose the message that best fits the job description.

Automate your Human Resources management with the easy to use core HR software.

Easy set-up ● No contracts required ● No credit cards