We’re all accustomed to different workplace dress codes. Sometimes, it’s casual, business dress or even business casual. The term “business casual” has been a widely adopted dress code in many workplaces in recent decades. However, there’s another type of dress that’s becoming more commonplace today: business professional.
Business professional can be said to be the strictest dress code at work and is common in the business world. Granted, it’s not a term you’ll run into everyday - yet. If you’re trying to find out what it all means, and how you should dress at the office, this guide has everything you need to make a great impression while looking sharp in business attire.
What Does a Business Professional Mean?
Business professional is just another one of many dress codes for the workplace. Business casual isn't strict in the items you can choose to wear. However, business professional is a lot more straightforward. In short, you must wear a suit, dress shirt, tie, dress pants (also known as slacks) and dress shoes - never any polo shirts or t-shirts.
If you work in government, law or in upper levels of management, chances are you’ll need to dress in business professional most days. It's also the most common dress code for a job interview.
Dress Shirts for Business Professional
As part of the definition of business professional, you have to wear a dress shirt (both button down shirts and button up shirts work) with your suit. However, not all dress shirts are the same, and that can make it hard to decide which is appropriate.
Depending on your office environment, different colors of dress shirts are more acceptable than others. Light colors are a good bet, but when in doubt, white or classic light blue are perfect, making them ideal for a job interview.
Very subtle stripes are also sometimes acceptable, as long as your office environment and the colors of your suit and tie allow it.
When it comes to the cuffs, you can choose either barrel or double french cuff style. No matter what you choose, both are completely acceptable for business professional dress codes. With barrel cuffs, the difference is in the cuff links, or lack thereof.
With double barrel french cuffs, you’ll use cuff links. If you like attention to detail, or want to bring out your favorite cuff links, this is an ideal dress shirt style.
Professional Accessories for Men
Accessories are your chance to show off your personal style, no matter what the particular dress code at your office is. When it comes to professional business attire, there are still some rules you need to follow. That said, picking the right professional accessories allows you to add a little flash to your style, and show that you’re into details.
Some accessories are more or less necessary. Some are optional, but you need to know what you have at your disposal first.
While you may not think of them as an accessory, dress socks definitely are for any business casual or professional outfit. The golden rule is that they should always match with your suit, and the rest of what you’re wearing, of course.
Dress socks can be a seamless extension of your outfit, or a pop of color or personality. The important thing to keep in mind is that they should coordinate with the rest of your outfit, not be a distraction.
Here’s the thing about pocket squares: they’re almost always optional. However, a good pocket square can elevate any business professional attire. Pocket squares are timeless, and always add points for class.
If you’re the type to tire of suits or your regular professional wear, pocket squares are a great solution. As long as it matches and compliments the rest of your outfit, you’re in great shape. Much like dress socks, they’re a way to add personality to any suit, and add interesting details that get noticed (in a good way).
Dress shoes are a crucial element of any business professional attire & dress code. In most cases, you’ll want to go with classic leather. Keep your professional shoes well shined, and stay away from worn, frayed old pairs. When you think of the traditional dress shoe style, you’re likely thinking of Oxfords.
In some cases, you may hear them called Balmoral style shoes. Either way, they’re an essential part of your professional wardrobe.
When you pick out your dress shoes, stick to classic, neutral colors. As you might assume, black and brown are the most common colors. If in doubt, pick either, as long as it matches with your suit. Remember, it’s typically a faux pas to mix brown with black. If your suit is black, go with black shoes. If it’s a charcoal grey or navy blue suit, feel free to choose whichever you think flows best with your outfit.
A belt is good insurance, but it’s also part of your overall look. If you ever have your suit jacket unbuttoned, make sure you pay more careful attention. Like with shoes, the rule is that you shouldn’t typically mix brown with black. A classic leather belt with a metal, usually silver or bronze, buckle is the best choice.
Flat style belts are the most common, although it isn’t that unusual to see a braided or woven style. However, not all business professional dress codes are as friendly to textured belts, so check before you hit the office wearing one. Because your dress shirt should be tucked in, it’s inevitable that at some point your belt may show. With that in mind, don’t skip this detail.
Ties are, as we mentioned, an absolute must for business professional attire. However, ties are also an important accessory, and a way to show some of your personal style. When it comes to ties, the knot is important, but so is the color, and pattern if you so choose and how it matches with your shirt or suit. For example, a dark red patterned tie can be great with a navy blue suit.
Business professional ties shouldn’t be distracting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play with a bit of color either. In many business situations, a black tie isn’t the top choice, even if it matches with nearly anything.
Because black is associated with formal or serious occasions, it’s best to leave it for another day. Blue and red ties are always a good choice, and if you like solid colors, so are varying shades of grey, especially charcoal.
That said, your tie can completely change the way your suit or button down shirts look, so it’s a good way to experiment with a little flash here and there.
Tips to Achieve a Business Professional Look
Keep Your Wardrobe Looking Sharp
Professional attire should look clean pressed, wrinkle free, and streamlined - does someone look professional if their button down shirt is wrinkled? The trick is knowing how to store your clothes so you have minimal to do. Anything you wear for professional attire, like your suit (jacket and pants included) and dress shirt, should be on a hanger. Casual clothes like knits, personal wear, or sweat go in drawers.
Streamline Your Professional Attire
You don’t need to have a whole shop in your closet to look great everyday. Of course, you do want extra options in case something is at the dry cleaners, but you don’t need too many.
Let your accessories do most of the ‘talking’ and make sure you have a few reliable suits to do the rest. This also helps you keep an image of someone who’s consistent, and reliable.
Keep Accessories in Balance
Accessories are your way to add a ‘pop’ to your outfit, and show a little personal style. Don’t let your accessories overtake your outfit. A couple pieces should be enough to add the accent you need. With these, you can experiment with color, texture, pattern, and so much more.
Play to the Occasion
Even within the office, there are different events, special occasions, or even the weather and season to consider. Don’t wear galoshes to the office, but feel free to bring a classy umbrella. For an office party, you might be able to relax your attire a bit, but pay attention to company culture to avoid going too far. However, don't ever wear polo shirts if there is any indication of business professional to the event. If it's raining or snowing though sport coats or sport jackets may be okay.
Look for Classics
Some pieces can last a lifetime, and those are the best ones to add to your wardrobe. These classic pieces never go out of style, and they’re something you can turn to in nearly any occasion. Having a classy timepiece, or a classic cut suit is always worth having around when the occasion calls for it.
Get a Great Tailor
There’s nothing that says you have it all together like a well tailored outfit. Find a good tailor that can help you understand your body type, and how to create the most flattering fit. Your suit shouldn’t be overly tight, but a baggy suit won’t do any professional any favors, either. A tailor can help you transform the suit you love into a piece that fits perfectly, and gives off a more professional image.
Tailors can work around a lot of issues that prevent you from otherwise loving a suit. Finding the perfect suit is hard enough, so why not let a tailor make the suit you really like into one you absolutely love?
Business professional attire is sometimes upfront, but when you get into the details, it can be more complex than you imagined. To make it easy, all you need to do is follow this guide. As always, remember that a good fit, and coordination is key. Use your accessories for expression, and your suit to show everyone else you mean business.