If getting dressed for work feels like a full-time job, let us decode the work wear dress code!

What You Wear Matters

Before we talk about what to wear, let’s talk about why what you wear to work matters.

First, the old adage, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” never stopped being true. The reality is, when people look like they’ve got their stuff together, we naturally assume they do. Dressing well is a simple competitive advantage that makes you stand out…in a good way.

Also, when you get dressed with intention, your mindset shifts and you do better work. This is a theory called enclothed cognition. Want to be more creative? Dress more creatively. The idea is that you can become more of who and what you want to be simply by dressing for it.

The Most Common Dress Codes, Explained

There are two main categories of workwear dress codes: Business Formal, and Business Casual. In each, there’s a range of dressiness, and the best thing to do is simply know your office, and what’s appropriate. With that in mind, use this advice as a starting point!

Business Formal:

Always: Suits, closed toe heels, structured flats, understated jewelry, muted colors/subtle patterns, blazers.

Maybe: Dresses (with or with a jacket), bold colors/patterns, open toe shoes, structured cardigans

Never: Jeans, sneakers, casual cardigans

Business Casual:

Always: Dresses, dressy separates, blazers, blouses, cardigans, bolder colors/patterns/accessories, sweaters, refined knit tops, closed toe flats or heels

Maybe: Jeans, open-toe shoes

Never: Sneakers, flip flops, anything sexy or “going out”, athletic/outdoor clothing, shorts


If you work in a casual office, chances are, pretty much anything goes. However, put a little bit of effort in, and dress with intention!

What to Wear When There Is No Dress Code

It can be tricky to figure out what to wear when the dress code isn’t clear, but use these tips to help guide your choices

First, err on the side of overdressed, especially when starting a new job. You can always relax when you get a feel for the office culture, but you want to start off of the right style note.

Second, Take your cues from the other women in the office. Look for the best dressed woman in the office, and emulate her. You don’t have to copy her look, but use her as a guide for what’s acceptable.

This works even better if if your office style muse is in a more senior position than you are. If the women up the ladder aren’t exactly winning any style awards, that’s ok. You don’t have to copy their looks, but if they wear sandals, it’s obviously ok for you to wear them, as well. Just wear a more stylish version!

When it doubt, wear a dress. Unless your dress is too tight or too short, it’s almost impossible not to look appropriate and polished in a dress. Dresses are workwear wonders–pair yours with a nice necklace and good shoes, and you’re good to go.

Checking the ol’ employee handbook isn’t a bad idea either. Most companies have an official dress code policy, and it may clear up lingering questions.

I hope this episode makes it a little easier to love the way you look at your next social event.

Listen to the episode for more, and to hear our answers to your questions about looking fab at work

Additional Links & Resources from the Episode:

Style lessons from “The Good Wife” Wall St Journal- The Good Wife and Its Lessons for Dressing The Guardian-Diane Lockhart’s Necklaces The Cut-The Good Wife Taught Women to Dress for Work

Not sure what your workwear style is? Take the free Signature Style quiz!

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