What Should I Wear? – Office Dress-Code

You are joining a new employer and don’t want to end up in a fashion disaster at the first day? You can easily avoid this by dressing accordingly to the environment. But what does that mean?

Only about 50% of workplaces have an actual dress code and this number is decreasing. So what to wear if there are no guidelines?

If your new employee orientation didn’t cover this topic, contact HR to ask about the official policy. Even if your orientation tells you to dress in a certain style, what exactly does that mean? What is acceptable – and what isn’t? Different companies in different industries have different interpretations of the same terms. So let’s break it down so you will be dressed appropriate.


In general, your occupation and job title within your company defines the level of attire you are expected to wear.

If you work as attorney, you will spend your days wearing business formal. Also executives, high-level managers, politicians, and even people who have regular contact with such positions, are expected to wear business formal. This means full suit and only very little space for personalizations. It is more about the appearance of the role this person has, than the actual person. No matter how different our political leaders around the world are, they all dress more or less the same. Same goes for lawyers, doctors, and many others. The clothes worn is a uniform and barely leaves any space for personal notes. However, it is possible to personalize even a business formal: Gentlemen, I had a colleague who loved to match the colour of his socks with his tie. That was his signature. Everybody knew the color of his socks when seeing his tie. Ladies, you have a some more flexibility, ranging from cuts, (still conservative) hairstyle, jewelry or other accessories.

The majority of office folks is dressed either business professional or business casual. Business casual means less strict and slightly more personal.

You might have also heard of casual attire. That’s what you spend most of your free time in. Some offices and occupations allow this, depending on industry, size, age, and culture. If you are fortunate enough to work in a casual office, be careful to avoid getting too casual with your attire. Still no short pants for the guys and also no bikini top for the ladies. Also sandals are too casual for an office environment.


Let’s focus on the broad majority of offices which promotes business casual or business professional attire.

The step below full suit business formal is considered business professional. The clothing is neat, conservative, and traditional, a little more loose when it comes to color and pattern. Expect to present a professional appearance everyday, injecting personality into your outfits with your accessories and color choices.

Business casual is one of the more common dress codes in North America, allowing employees to add personality to their workwear without looking unprofessional. In a business setting, you can expect to see a lot more color and accessories.


So what to wear during your first days of work?

It’s easier than you may think. Just think back to when you interviewed with your employer. What did people wear? What did the hiring manager wear? The HR representatives? The colleagues who interviewed you? Have they all been in full suit and tie? Did the hiring manager wear suit and tie, but the colleagues neither jacket nor tie, but just shirt and dress pants?. Plain white colored shirt or did you see a variety of colors and patterns? Did anybody wear a tie at all? Have people been wearing jeans? Sweaters? Or even T-shirts?

This helps you getting an idea of what the dress code may be. As mentioned, it is better to ask HR instead of assuming, even though you may hear that there is no dress code. It is fairly common nowadays that employers leave the choice of attire to their people to create the atmosphere they are comfortable and productive in.

You observed your surrounding during the interview and have an idea of what the office style is, so dress accordingly and take it a step above.

No matter what atmosphere you are in, you want to make sure you are dressing one step above everyone around you, at least for the first few days. If people are wearing jeans, wear nice black pants instead. It will make you feel better about yourself and makes other people feel like you know what you are doing. Studies show that coworkers make specific judgements regarding your capabilities based on your clothes, which also extends to employers. There’s something to the saying “Dress for success”. It has shown that dressing professionally can affect the way people perceive you, how confident you are feeling, and even how you are able to think abstractly.

You can step up your attire by having one piece which is more formal than your dress code. If you are in an environment with jeans, throw on a blazer. Blazers also have a psychological power of making you feel like you are ready to get down to business.

Another way is to add a piece of statement jewelry like a bracelet or necklace, or get a pair of heels or flats in a fun color. For gents we are talking cufflinks, pocket squares, watches, shoes, and such.

Clean and neat cut finger nails and hair have a big impact on you appearance as well. So does the perfume you use. It is adding to your overall well-composed outfit and appearance.


Want to stand out?

If you want to be remembered even if people only see you, create your signature style. It can be as easy as simply wearing a piece of clothing which stands out but is not too far away from the general dress code in your work place. I remember one guy who was wearing read running shoes in a business casual environment. He was wearing them every day and it soon became his trade mark. Another one was always wearing a sweater over his shirt and tie. Always the same color. Another one was wearing black socks with strong colored patterns on them in a business professional environment. Personally, I’m rolling with cufflinks and watches in an business casual environment, and add a tie and vest for business professional. Throw on a jacket and you reached business formal. Jeans are restricted to business casual and below only. Fairly easy for gents.

If you spend your time in an business casual work place, you can stand out by just adding a vest. It is not too formal but not casual anymore. However, if you continue wearing this, you will create your own trade mark.

Special if you are fresh out of college and refused to wear business attire, you may feel uncomfortable at first or simply refuse it for no reason. You will become comfortable with it and even enjoy it when dressing better than everybody around you. It will make you feel and appear more capable and open doors for you.

Keep in mind that your work attire is not a means of expressing you personal opinion, orientation, believes, or any sort of that. It is only about looking credible so people take you serious. You trust a doctor who looks like one. Not somebody who claims to be a doctor but looks like a clown.

Your visual appearance and attire has affects on your career and daily work, so make sure that it isn’t holding you back!


Make the selection of your work attire a part of your evening routine. Chose your outfit for the next day in the evening so you don’t have to make this decision in the early morning when you are still half asleep. This way you also make sure to not accidentally grab pieces which aren’t nice and clean. You don’t want to show up with stains or wrinkles. Consider the weather and your meeting schedule when preparing your outfits.

Keep your clothes clean to extend the lifetime of the fabric. Make sure your shoes are well taken care of. For some weird reason, people tend to judge others by the state of your shoes.

And lastly: separate your work attire from your loungewear, so you won’t mix up work and private.

Now go, dress nicely, enjoy the effects you will be able to observe, and share your experiences with us.