For the next two months, our weekly blogs will be focused on the topic “Know Yourself.” It’s important to know who you are when applying for internships and jobs and deciding on a more long-term career path. When your family, friends, colleagues or professors ask you the dreaded question, “What do you want to do with your life?” it’s always better to have an answer instead of completely blanking or just not knowing at all. The first step to knowing what you want to do with your life, whatever that really means, is knowing yourself—more specifically, knowing your interests, values, strengths, and skills. Insight into these things will be the first step to knowing what you want to do professionally and what you want your life to look like.

This week, our “Know Yourself” topic focuses on professional dress for work or an interview. The process of developing your professional style takes time and is specific to each individual’s career. That said, it’s an effort worth making since it’s an aspect of your professional life that you’ll be making choices about on a daily basis.Ultimately, the goal is to help you be confident and comfortable in your clothing at work or during an interview. We have come up with the following recommendations based on an article from ‘Money Crashers.’

Here are the main rules when it comes to professional clothing:

  • The pieces of clothing should fit your body comfortably. You don’t want the clothing to be too baggy or too tight, you want something that fits you just right and that you feel confident in.
  • Pieces of clothing should be clean and wrinkle-free. They should be in good condition with no holes or tears.
  • Know your industry. Every industry will have different standards of professional dress. Some, like accounting, may expect traditional business suits with neutral colors. Others, like advertising, may value expression of personal style and clothing that is on trend.  

Another thing that is important to understand is the difference between dress codes in the workplace. Business casual and business professional mean two different things. So, here are a few examples of the common categories of professional dress.

Business Formal

Business Formal-06

Business formal is usually categorized as the top level of professional dress and is applied mostly to those that work in the field of law or those whose company requires “boardroom attire.” Neutral colors are encouraged in this category of business wear.

What to wear…

  • A tailored suit; it can be a skirt, pant or three piece suit
  • White buttonup shirt or blouse
  • Shoes include closed-toed oxfords or closed-toed heels
  • If you want to wear a dress or skirt, it should not be more than two finger-widths above the knees and you should wear tights with them as well
  • Your hair should be clean and well-groomed, as well as your fingernails
  • Accessories like earrings, necklaces, or a watches should be a little more on the conservative side. For example, with earrings, wear studs instead of long dangling earrings.

Business Professional

Business Professional-03

While very similar to business formal, business professional attire can be a little more personalized when it comes to presenting your style.

What to wear…

  • Patterns and brighter colors are more acceptable in this second category of work wear
  • Suits are still a recommendation, but suit jackets or blazers are also a good option and can be paired with a dress or a button down and skirt or pants
  • Oxfords, loafers, and pumps are acceptable for footwear
  • Hair and nails should still be well groomed
  • Accessories can be a little more expressive as long as they aren’t too distracting

Business Casual

Business Casual-04

Business casual is the next category but can mean different things to different people and organizations. Your best bet is to clarify with your supervisor or the HR department what the exact specifications are for business casual dress. But below are some guidelines that are usually acceptable in most work places.

What to wear…

  • Business separates such as slacks, sweaters, cardigans, button up shirts, skirts, dresses, and blouses are all acceptable and can be paired together easily
  • Patterns and brighter colors are once again more acceptable and encouraged in this category
  • Closed toed shoes are still required and can include loafers, oxfords, flats, pumps, or other dressy shoes. However, you should try to avoid sneakers unless otherwise specified by your company.
  • Accessories can be even more expressive and can include statement pieces
  • Hair and nails should still be well-groomed and clean



If you’re lucky enough to work somewhere with a casual dress code there are not as many restrictions when it comes to colors or patterns, but one important thing to remember is not to become too casual. In other words, it’s still probably not cool to show up in sweats or yoga pants and a T-shirt.

What to wear…

  • Casual pants, skirts, and dresses, but only wear jeans if they are permitted in the dress code. If jeans are allowed it is recommended to wear a dark wash jean with no holes or rips.
  • Shirts such as polos, blouses, or tops are recommended and can usually be any color or pattern. Avoid wearing tops with sports logos or brand names featured prominently on the front or back.
  • Sneaker, loafers, and nice, open toed shoes are usually allowed. However, avoid flip-flops and very casual sandals.
  • Hair and nails should be clean and well-groomed. You usually have more leeway with bright or fun colors in a casual setting, but always double check.

At the end of the day, one of the most important things you should do concerning dress code is to ask someone at your company. Your supervisor or HR department are your go-to’s concerning dress code and should be more than willing to help.

The recommendations in this post were adapted from

For students who are still building a professional wardrobe, the CLDC now offers a library of professional clothes that can be borrowed for FREE! Contact the CLDC to schedule a time to visit the Career Closet.

By Kate Ansel, CLDC Social Media Intern

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