What To Wear To Work: By Dress Code and When There Isn't One

Updated February 3, 2023

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When determining what to wear to work, it starts with the company dress code. A company's employee dress code can substantially vary depending on its industry and its overall company culture. Understanding both factors along with your role within the company can help you make a strategic decision regarding your workplace attire.

In this article, we suggest what to wear to work for three common dress codes, what to wear when there isn't a dress code to start with and tips for finding a suitable outfit for your workplace.

What should you wear to work?

As the saying goes, it's important to dress for the job you want. It's also important to keep in mind your company's culture, the industry you work in and your position. These can help guide your wardrobe decisions.

For example, a more relaxed environment typically warrants you to dress more casually, whereas a business environment or leadership role typically adheres to more professional dress. The attire you wear to work needs to be professional enough while also sending the right impression.

Related: What To Wear on Your First Day of Work

Workplace attire by dress code

Workplace attire can differentiate by its degree of formality. Here are three dress codes and examples of suitable attire for each category:


Casual dress is often found in the technology or creative industries. Even though this less-traditional type of attire is more relaxed than other dress code categories, casual attire needs to be clean, wrinkle-free and well-kept. 

In the event of a special event or business meetings, companies with a casual dress code may encourage more professional attire. Casual attire would include:

  • Casual pants such as jeans

  • Knee-length skirts in casual fabrics such as cotton

  • Shorts of appropriate length

  • Wrinkle-free and tidy T-shirts

  • Collared polo shirts or crew-neck sweaters

  • Clean athletic shoes, sandals

Related: 10 Benefits of a Casual Day of Work

Business casual

Considered one of the more commonly adhered-to business attires, a business casual dress code is slightly more professional than casual attire. As opposed to business formal, business casual outfits allow employees to better express their personalities through color and accessories. As with companies that allow casual dress, business casual is often found in the technology industry.

Business casual vs. smart casual

In some cases, the term "business casual" may be replaced with "smart casual" or "executive casual" dress. This is a gray area in the workplace fashion industry since smart casual is considered a combination of both professional and informal dress.

For example, while jeans are acceptable for a smart casual dress code, they’re often avoided for business casual attire. If you do decide to wear jeans to work for a business casual dress code, consider a dark wash and tailored fit paired with a professional top or a blazer. Common clothing options for a business casual dress code include:

  • Blouses

  • Short- or long-sleeve collared shirts

  • Pressed khakis or dressy slacks (dark jeans with no holes)

  • Simple sweaters in modest colors and patterns

  • Flats, Oxfords or loafers

  • Conservative colored and patterned ties

  • Conservative colored and patterned sweaters over a collared shirt

  • Dresses in neutral colors or patterns and simple shapes

  • Jackets

  • Sports coats

Related: Guide To Gender-Neutral Attire

Business casual vs. business professional

The biggest difference between business casual attire and business professional is that business casual doesn't include a suit and a tie. Given that business casual is a broad category in terms of workplace attire, it's best to consult with your human resources department when in doubt on what to wear to work to ensure your wardrobe meets the company’s standards.

Read more: What Is Business Casual Attire? (With Example and Tips)

Business formal

If you hold a leadership role and/or work in a traditional work environment,  what you wear to work may have to adhere to a business formal dress code. This attire is also known as "boardroom attire." Common industries that adhere to a business formal dress code include finance and professional services, consulting, government and law.

This type of dress code is the least forgiving when it comes to what you should wear to work and requires employees to have a sophisticated and high-end wardrobe. Some examples of a business formal dress code include::

  • Well-built, tailored suit in a neutral color such as gray or black

  • Modest pantsuit or skirt suit

    • Appropriate length of no more than 2 finger-widths above the knees and in conservative colors such as black, navy or brown

  • Modest ties with solid colors or simple patterns

  • Collared button-up shirts

  • Closed-toe shoes such as Oxfords and heels

  • Dark tights or socks

Related: Business Professional Attire: Tips on How To Dress for It

What to wear when there is no dress code

If your employer doesn't enforce a particular dress code, it's important to consider what you wear to work strategically to remain professional. Your comfort is also important. Many companies with no dress codes accept casual dress but it's important to be mindful of the rest of your appearance. Ultimately, it's important to remain professional and put-together.

To start, it’s advisable to err on the side of more business-like attire when you’re unsure of what to wear to work until you know more. Again, you will want to keep in mind the company culture, your industry and your position within the company for guidance.

Related: Dress Codes for All Business Occasions

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