How To Dress Professionally

Do you know how you should dress for an interview? If your answer is no, don’t worry. When I got to college, I had no idea what the difference was between business casual and business professional. More importantly, I didn’t know which style was most appropriate for various job-related situations.

While workplaces vary in their required clothing for their employees, you should aim to dress business professional during your interview. You want to send the message to your employer that you are a young professional who is ready to embrace the real world.

After my first interview, I quickly learned that looking professional means more than dressing nicer than usual. Dressing professional is the best way to prove to your future employer that you are an intelligent, clean, and dedicated individual who is trying extremely hard to make a good first impression (and that you sincerely want your desired position).

There are clear distinctions between business causal and business professional clothing for men and women.  So, let’s look at how the two types of business attire differ from one another.

What’s business casual?

Business casual clothing falls between extremely casual attire and extremely professional attire. Don’t be fooled: just because the word “causal” is in the term doesn’t mean you’ll be dressing in your comfy clothes.

In other terms, these outfits don’t have a defined universal meaning except that the clothing isn’t as casual as blue jeans or as dressy as a suit. Generally these are the articles of clothing that are categorized as business casual attire:

Men

  • Khaki or cotton pants
  • Cotton long-sleeved button-down shirts
  • Polo shirts
  • Collared shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Leather shoes and belt
  • Tie (only optional!)

Women

  • Khaki or cotton pants
  • Sweaters, cardigans, polo shirts
  • Nice cotton or button-up shirts
  • Cotton dress
  • Cotton skirts
  • Bright colors
  • Heels or Nice boots
  • Flats

What’s business professional?

Business professional clothing is the most conservative style for the workplace. The universal definition of this type of attire is stricter than the business casual attire. Often times, you may think an outfit is professional, but if it doesn’t fit within one of these categories, it isn’t the right clothing for your interview.

Men

  • Suit (solid black, navy or grey)
  • Long sleeve shirt (white or coordinated with the suit)
  • Belt
  • Tie
  • Dark socks (High socks)
  • Leather shoes

In addition to clothes:

  • Clean-shaven
  • Neat, short or combed hairstyle
  • Light use of cologne (don’t wear too much!)
  • Portfolio or briefcase

Women

  • Blazer (navy, black, dark grey, beige or other subtle solid color)
  • Skirt (knee length and doesn’t ride up when you sit down)
  • Blouse
  • Dress pants (solid color—nice to match your blazer if you wear one)
  • Closed-toe shoes (heels and flats)
  • Limited jewelry
  • Tights

In addition to clothes:

  • Professional hairstyle (Neatly combed or styled up)
  • Light make-up and perfume
  • Portfolio or briefcase

Note for women: Low-cut clothing is never acceptable for either one of these business styles. In order to come across as a professional woman, the very last thing you want is to expose your cleavage. This is extremely inappropriate for an interview but also for the workplace in general.

Some other things to keep in mind (for both men and women):

  • Don’t wear your sunglasses on your head
  • Make sure your shoes and socks  match
  • Don’t wear stained or wrinkled clothing
  • Trim your nails
  • Remove facial piercings
  • Make sure your outfit fits you nicely (not too loose or tight)
  • Don’t forget to remove any tags from a new outfit

Hopefully this checklist will help you decide on an outfit when you need to dress business professional or business casual. Remember: not every job requires the conservative business professional style, but it’s always a great idea to at least present yourself in that manner for your interview.

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Stephanie Vlk

Stephanie Vlk

Stephanie Vlk is a junior at the University of Dayton pursuing a degree in communication with a concentration in electronic media as well as a minor in English. While not in class, Stephanie is involved in a service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, and a honors professional fraternity, Phi Beta Chi. Outside of academic and community activities, she enjoys dancing hip hop, reading, spending time with friends, and doing yoga.