Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Career Tips: Dressing For Business - What does it mean?

Everyone totally knows this situation - You get an email saying there is a company dinner or recruiting event and the dress is business casual, business formal or smart casual or smart formal. What does that even mean? What do I wear? What is the difference? Each level has different levels of formality on top of the decision between skirt or pants and blouse or buttondown. Here's a guide to navigating the business world in style.

Casual/Whatever You Want

Dressing casual in a work setting usually occurs when someone from work invites me to a party at their house over the weekend or out to dinner with their family on a weeknight. I find the best way to approach these situations is to wear something put together - what I call upscale casual. I define this to be something i would wear to church or to a nice date.  During the summer, I was invited to a baby shower of one of the team members. I didn't know what to wear but I wore a slim pair of printed pants with a black t-shirt that looked really nice together. I also was invited to a brunch before we started work for the week - I wore a dress and wedges like the photo above.

Invest In: quality basic clothes that do double duty - something you could possibly wear to an event with friends or family but also works for people you work with everyday

Casual Friday/ Smart Casual 

Casual Friday to me usually means business on top, jeans on the bottom. I tend to wear, like in the photo above, a shirt with khakis or a blouse or tee and blazer with jeans. If your office allows jeans, a rule of thumb that I use is the rule of three. They must be dark jeans, fitted but not too tight and with no holes or crazy cuts. I have three pairs I rotate between for these - a dark wash high waisted skinny pair for heels or boots, a dark wash ankle length pair for cute flats and a dark wash flare pair for high heels. Another option is a pair of dressy skinny pants with a more casual top. I have worn a nice clean white t-shirt with khakis and cute colored flats/accessories and got a ton of compliments in the office from the other ladies - including my boss at the time for having fun with  the usual Casual Friday outfit.

Invest In:  a good pair of jeans with very little embellishment and khakis that fit really well

Business Casual/Smart Casual 

Business Casual means several things and I try to interpret depending on the event or workplace. Some workplaces deem business casual as a suit with no jacket while others think of it as khakis and a polo. I find that in most manufacturing settings, business casual errs on the side of actually casual with the khakis and a nice shirt. In the more office like settings, I find myself in basically separates that could be worn as a suit - pants and blouses or skirts and button downs. Above is something I wore to work at the bank - swap the sandals for fun at night and you are set!

Invest In: Separates - well fitting dress pants, fun blouses and sweaters and the classic button down

Business Professional/Interview Attire

Business professional means suit - no ifs, ands or buts. I always try to figure out if I can wear a skirt suit or a pants suit in these situations. For job interviews or anything that might require a plant tour, I wear a pants suit with a buttondown shirt.  Most manufacturing plants will not let you on the floor with a skirt suit on because of safety issues. I usually end up wearing a skirt suit with a blouse for presentations or for other formal events that require a suit. According to a study I read recently, skirt suits are more effective for women to seem powerful to men in the room. As an engineer - a new one at that - I take all the tricks I got, even the scientifically proven ones.

Invest In: A good suit - same material pants, jacket and skirt

Hopefully, you feel more comfortable with navigating business situations in style after reading my guide! Good luck!

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