Dress codes can be very confusing, especially when it comes to professional events and interviews. You may be asking yourself what the difference between “business formal” and “business casual” is or what they even mean by themselves.

Dressing to look professional helps you feel confident in the setting you are in. Caring about how you look may sound shallow, but think of dressing up as more of your personal branding. You want employers and other professionals to believe you are smart, qualified, and confident and having a neat, well-groomed image is important for first impressions.

If you feel overwhelmed, don’t worry! This blog post will outline everything you need to know about dressing for success at networking events, job fairs, and interviews.

Professional Dress Codes

Be sure to pay attention to invitations that you receive for professional events and look to see if there is a dress code listed. Some of the common kinds are listed below with a few examples of what to wear for these types of attire.

Business Formal

Your clothing pieces should match in color, be pressed, and neat-looking. Usually, “formal” means darker colors like charcoal gray and black. Generally, this dress code requires a business suit.

  • Women: You do not have to wear suit pants and a jacket, you can also wear a conservative skirt with a matching jacket. If you wear a skirt, be sure that the length is at or just above the knee. Wear a collared shirt underneath your jacket that is either tucked in or sits at your waistline. Be cautious of your neckline and never show too much skin in a business setting. For footwear, match the colors of the rest of your attire in an appropriate material like leather or fake leather — flats, boots, open-toed and closed-toed shoes are recommended. Be sure that these shoes are not scuffed and are as polished as the rest of your attire.

  • Men: Matching pants and a jacket with a simple button-up collared shirt and a tie are the norm for the male dress code. Wear neutral colors like white, tan, and light blue for your dress shirt and a tie that incorporates similar colors. Wear nicely polished, matching dress shoes as well as black dress socks — no gym shoes or sneakers.

Business Casual

As the dress code name connotes, it is much more casual than business formal. For both men and women, casual collared shirts like polos and button-ups as well as sweaters can be worn. You can wear a plain t-shirt or camisole under a cardigan. Be sure necklines and skirt lengths are not too revealing and wearing extra tight clothing is not appropriate. Dress and corduroy pants are appropriate in addition to dresses and skirts that are knee-length or below. Jeans, sweatpants, shorts, and spandex are not acceptable to wear. The same footwear rules apply as formal except that you can wear loafers and dress sandals.

Business Traditional

This dress code is essentially in between business formal and business casual.

  • Women:You don’t have to match your jacket and pants or skirt, but don’t be too bold with your choices in differing colors or patterns. Same rules for footwear and tops apply as in the business formal dress code.
  • Men: Non-matching pants and a jacket with a simple button-up collared shirt and a tie or no jacket or tie is appropriate as well. You can wear patterned and brightly colored shirts. Same rules for footwear apply as in the business formal dress code.

Grooming & Accessories

In addition to wearing the right clothes, you must also present yourself in a clean and professional manner, which includes your hygiene and choosing the correct accessories.

  • Women: Simple jewelry is best, nothing flashy or big, and avoid drawing attention to other body or face piercings. Makeup should be worn minimally and look natural. Don’t wear much perfume in case it offends or causes an allergic reaction of someone in the room.

  • Men: Wear a belt with your suit and be sure to match the color to your suit. Cuff links and pocket squares add an extra formal flair but they should match your tie.

In general, be sure to shower, shave, wear deodorant (not too pungent), and brush or style your hair in a clean manner.

After reading this guide, we hope you know what to wear to your next professional occasion!

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