Decoding dress codes

Author: Tanya Philips, careers adviser.

We all know that dressing formally job interviews makes that all important good first impression, but once you land yourself a job, what should you wear day to day for work? Is there a dress code for your work environment? Dressing for business may seem daunting, especially if you’ve only ever had a job with a uniform. On one hand you don’t want to underdress and be the only person in the office in casual clothes on the first day, but nor do you want to overdress and look smarter than your manager! Dress code for office wear really comes down to the categories below, and once you know what is appropriate for each category, dressing correctly for work is simple.

Some companies conveniently provide guidelines for work wear, but what does “business casual” actually mean? Read below to decode the dress codes. 

Business Formal

These days’ smaller businesses allow more casual dress for work, but larger offices typically still expect corporate attire. A two piece suit is a must for men, but ladies have various options. While a smart dress with a tailored jacket should be acceptable, a skirt suit or pant suit is usually a safe bet. Ladies, always make sure that the skirt length is no shorter than just above the knee. Whilst corporate clothing can be expensive, the upside is that a well-fitting suit is rarely affected by fashion trends. Invest in a few good quality suits and you can update your look season to season with different shirts and blouses.

Business Casual

Business casual is the most popular dress codes for creative office environments like publishing, media and marketing. The word “casual” is misleading – it doesn’t mean you can simply turn up wearing whatever you want; they just don’t expect two piece suits every day. Wearing more fashionable clothing will probably be encouraged, but stay safe on your first day with a classic like a tailored dress, or smart pants and shirt. Once you’ve had a snoop around the office at what everyone else is wearing you can get an idea of what is acceptable.

Smart Casual

Smart casual is a step down from business casual – usually the requirement if your office has “Dress Down Friday”. Smart casual is more laid back and can allow anything from jeans to shorts, but always ensure they are suitable for the office, i.e. not something you would wear to go out clubbing. You still want to maintain a professional attitude.


If your new job is in a small business, casual dress is usually the norm. Casual usually means any day wear that would otherwise be worn at weekends, like jeans and a T-shirt. However, just because you can dress like it’s the weekend it doesn’t mean that you can dress like you’re spending an afternoon lounging on the sofa. A sloppy outfit suggests you have the same attitude towards your work. Ensure your clothes are at least clean and ironed. Basic expectations with your appearance still apply, never arrive to work looking like you’ve just fallen out of bed! “Sports”attire, like hoodies or tracksuit bottoms, are never acceptable in any work environment.

Tanya Philips is a careers adviser. People often ask her for advice on dressing for work. Sometimes people ask her about work uniforms, when she directs them to

One thought on “Decoding dress codes

  1. Pingback: What Clothing Reveals You | southernandsubtletyblunt

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