The ABC’s of Business Attire

“What’s considered appropriate business attire?”

I get this question a lot, not only from people in business, but from many entering or returning to the work force or those who find themselves needing to “dress up” for speaking engagements, special meetings, interviews and the like.

So what’s the answer?

It depends on your industry.

Now I know that sounds coy, but the reality is that you dress differently for different occupations. The “power suit” you’d wear to close deals in a corporate environment would be totally inappropriate for teaching preschoolers, for example. Or the tee shirt and stretch pants you’d wear to teach a dance number for your show would raise eyebrows during a pitch meeting to wealthy potential backers. Knowing what’s appropriate when can have a huge impact on your success.

So what do you do when you put something on and then have second doubts about how well it will be received?

When in doubt, just remember the “ABC’s” of business dress: appropriateness, boundaries, and consistency.

    Appropriate clothes match your work environment and the people with whom you interact. Work in a formal, strict place or industry? Wear formal clothing. Work in a casual, fun place or industry? Then wear casual, fun clothes.

    By setting boundaries with how you dress, you’ll know that your clothes always offer proper coverage. The more skin you show, the less formal it becomes, so if you want to keep matters strictly business, be sure and cover up.

    A consistent approach to business dress establishes trust and credibility for everyone with whom you interact. They know what to expect from you and will always treat you accordingly.

So how do these guidelines work with some of the most popular looks of the season? Let’s do a quick run-down:

Three-quarter length sleeve jackets are trendy, ladylike, and cool in warm weather, and work well in most industries where a jacket or third layer is worn. While this exposes a bit more of the arm than a regular jacket, these should fair well in traditional businesses like law or finance in all but the strictest offices.


Three-quarter length sleeve

Sleeveless tops and dresses can be risky for business because they expose the upper arm. And that upper arm tells a lot about you, namely your age and fitness level. If your arms are tone and taut, gazes will stray over the rest of you. If your arms are flabby and saggy, it’s a bit of a turn off. Either way, the exposed skin creates a distraction. So unless you’ll be wearing a jacket or sweater over the sleeveless top while conducting business, opt for the bit of coverage offered in a cap or short sleeve instead.


Sleeveless dress

Strapless tops are very popular this season, particularly with the under-30 crowd. But exposed shoulders and arms have no place in most business situations because they’re very distracting. So unless you’ll be wearing a jacket or shrug or something over the strapless top while conducting business, don’t wear them to work. Save them for after hours instead.

Strapless top

Plunging necklines draw attention to the breasts. If you want people to look you in the eye instead of talk to your chest, opt for a more modest neckline for work.

Walking shorts with jackets are very trendy this season, but this look won’t play well everywhere or in every industry. You might get away with it if you’re in a creative field like interior design or fashion, but save it for weekends if you’re an accountant or lawyer.

Walking short

Dressing right for your line of work isn’t hard if you remember to be appropriate, set boundaries, and be consistent with your business attire. Excessive displays of skin or costume-y type ensembles are generally inappropriate, unless you happen to be a lifeguard or a showgirl.

So keep that in mind as the weather heats up and you’re tempted to take it off to keep cool. If you keep your business firmly in mind as you dress, everyone you encounter will respond accordingly.

Need more help in deciding what’s appropriate for your business or industry? Download a copy of BUSINESS WEAR MAGIC

to see how easy dressing successfully for business can be.

Business Wear Magic


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