Decoding the Office Dress Code

Your job interview is coming up, and you’re stressing as to what you’ll wear. Every job is different, so you may be wondering what the dress code is for this particular interview. And if you get the job, will you have to wear the same type of clothing that you wore to the interview? The hiring manager told you the dress code is business casual - what does that even mean? We compiled some tips to ease your big wardrobe decisions, so you can comfortably #GetThatJob.


Business Casual


It’s a term that can make even the most fearless person break into a sweat. Just how casual is business casual?


In general, most office spaces operate on a business casual basis (glaring exceptions would be anyone in the financial industry or with a job that requires an MBA). Ashley, a hiring expert at Cardinal Health, explains that, “Business casual could be anything from dress pants, blouse or button-down shirt with no tie, dress, sweater, khaki's, etc.”1 Essentially, this means no shorts, no sneakers, no flip flops, no hats, and certainly no t-shirts. Denim can be admissible, but the jeans need to be nice, dark denim. No holes or rips. Heels are accepted, but not necessary.


Although business casual exists on a spectrum, both ends are typically accepted. If you’re still having trouble imagining what the dress code looks like in practice, picture a stereotypical Ivy League graduate’s wardrobe. Now assume that graduate is en route to a country club. That’s business casual.


Business Professional


Ashley, a hiring expert with Cardinal Health, defines business professional as “a business suit (pants and a suit jacket), blouse or button-down shirt/oxford, a tie for males or a knee-length skirt or dress for females.” Male or female, it’s always a good idea to have a go-to blazer. Especially in warmer climates, blazers might not be a necessary part of the day-to-day office routine. However, if an important client makes a visit or your boss calls you in for an impromptu meeting, having a blazer or suit jacket on hand can make a strong positive impression.




There are very few office spaces that operate in casual clothes on a daily basis. Some marketing agencies or small firms allow employees to come in casual wear, as do call centers and trade stores. Beyond that, coming to work in a t-shirt is usually very heavily frowned upon.


It can be acceptable to attend office outings in casual wear, especially if your office is a tightly knit group. Even so, it’s probably still not a good idea to show up in a t-shirt with alcohol logos or other tabooed items. Use the grandma rule: if it’s short enough or ‘dirty’ enough that you wouldn’t wear it in front of your grandma, it’s probably inappropriate for work or an office outing.


Interviews Trump All


Interviews are the most important time to worry about dress code. Unless specifically stated otherwise, always assume that a job interview is business professional. After all, it would be very embarrassing to show up significantly underdressed from the rest of the employees - and it could also prevent you from winning the job.


Sometimes an interviewer will tell you in advance if there is a specific interview dress code in their office space. Although you want to fit in with the company culture, you also want to be comfortable in your interview. Jennifer, a hiring expert at Archer Daniels Midland, advises you to find a middle ground that works best for you. “If they say business casual and you don't feel comfortable going to an interview in anything but a suit, wear a suit.”2 The caveat is that it’s only okay to go up a notch on the dress code scale, never down.


Stephanie, a hiring expert at AT&T, explains that you should “Dress for success! It is always a good idea to ask the recruiter/hiring manager what is specifically meant for [the dress code] of their particular environment. We are all looking to do it right, and a well-framed question at the right time can ease the concern.”3 Wearing the proper attire is more than a one-time decision before an interview - it’s a continuous choice each morning before heading into the office. 




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