Mastering the workplace dress code is one of the things that’s expected of you when you start a new job - but one of the key things that university fails to prepare you for.
It’s not as easy as it used to be either. When your parents were entering the workplace, a suit and tie was the way to go (and Nikes in the office were unheard of). However, fashion is a lot more complicated these days. ‘Athleisure’ has hit the mainstream and you’ll probably stand out if you’re wearing a suit in the office on Casual Friday. Walking the line between ‘professional’ and ‘cool’ can be tough to navigate!
In this topic, we’ll cover the basics (for both guys and girls) and help you to:
It doesn’t matter how much you know about a prospective employer - if you don’t nail your interview attire, you won’t get a foot in the door. Like it or not, first impressions count.
The right outfit not only shows your level of professionalism, but also (and maybe more importantly) your overall cultural fit for the company (no pressure).
Rocking up to an advertising agency in a suit might make you look like you watched one too many episodes of “Mad Men”; going to a meeting at a finance company in a white tee and chinos will suggest you lack care and judgement; and going to a meeting with Nike sneakers (when you’re presenting to the Lifestyle Marketing Manager of adidas) would be catastrophic.
When we’re talking about dress code, it’s best to break it down into two categories: corporate and casual. There are nuances that come with each, but our recommendations will ensure you’re kitted out appropriately.
We’ll give you the run-down on the best corporate and casual options (both male and female) and split our recommendations into two categories:
In high-powered corporate fields, professionalism is what you’re aiming for. This is the case for industries like finance, banking, accounting, consulting, law and real estate. In these fields, you need to be well dressed to impress clients with big budgets. They expect you to look professional, which means conservative and traditional. Most government departments will also err towards formality.
If you’re about to make your mark on the corporate world, you’ll want to keep things conservative. That means no short skirts, low-cut necklines or slip dresses, ladies. Staples that you’ll need include:
Some corporate workplaces are moving towards a more relaxed aesthetic, and many firms may do ‘Casual Friday’, but remember that ‘casual’ in the corporate world isn’t necessarily what you’d wear on your weekends. Keep it professional - and if in doubt, err on the side of caution.
Pro tip: Stick to neutral colours and skip the heavy make-up. You want to be remembered for your work, not your flamboyant fashion choices.
Whether it’s your first interview or just another day in the 9 to 5, you’ll need a good suit, tie and shoe combination. This will quickly become your uniform so it’s best to have a few variations of the below to keep it fresh:
When it comes to corporate attire, the real question comes down to suit colour. If you’re keen to play it safe, black is always acceptable. A charcoal or a mid-grey suit is another firm favourite and works well when combined with a nice white or pale blue shirt and a darker tie. For many, the navy suit is a staple in the wardrobe due to its versatility. For all of the coloured options, just don’t let the lightness increase too much.
When it comes to ‘Casual Fridays’, play it safe by wearing a nice collared shirt or polo, paired with some darker denim or even chinos. It’s best to probably leave your tees and sneakers at home.
Creative industries like advertising, fashion, PR and music/entertainment usually have more casual dress codes than the corporate world. However, this is where a lot of the outfit anxiety and ambiguity can occur. The safe and standard rules of corporate attire don’t apply, and you’ll need to walk the line between ‘professional’ and ‘cool’ on a daily basis.
Working in a creative space will often mean blending together your workplace and weekend looks. A good approach is to start with smart-casual pieces to test the waters. If you find that your colleagues are leaning more towards casual and creative, you can always relax your look by:
Generally in this type of work, a nice tee, pair of chinos and sneakers will be commonplace and accepted in your day to day. Some employees can even get away with shorts and caps as their workplace uniform, but we’d suggest sussing it out for a week or two before you get too comfortable. Staples you’d generally see here include:
In these more casual offices, you’ll be able to show off your own personal style a lot more, but be sure to note down any important meetings you might have the night before. While the dress code may be a lot more relaxed in these environments, it's still a safe bet to dress it up slightly for your clients.
While the workplace dress code can be quite a difficult one to navigate, with the above recommendations you’re sure to look the part. Remember to keep it simple and understand what occasion you’re dressing for - and if you do that right - you will have mastered the first part of entering the workforce.
Stay tuned for upcoming topics or check out or other useful articles here. We’ve got plenty more gold to help you make the leap from top student to top professional!
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