Dress Codes

Monday, June 1st 2009

Dressing for business can be a daunting task. Many of us during our morning routine begin to stress as we stare into our wardrobes and think, “What should I wear today?” It can be difficult to find an outfit that not only feels comfortable, but at the same time delivers a powerful message about who we are, while making ourselves stand out, and current all at the same time. But what is appropriate?


Business has become more global and easily accessible than ever. Because of that, dress codes for business have become more diverse to accommodate all the different types of jobs and lifestyles that go along with it. This has left almost everyone in a state of confusion on what to wear for different events in their careers.  It’s one of the biggest topics I cover when going in and speaking to companies.


So how many dress codes are there? Most of us have heard of the terms, “Business, Business Casual, and Casual”. While these three dress codes still hold true; they each have two subcategories of their own, bringing us to a total of 6 levels of business dress. This doesn’t include evening wear (which would bring us to a total of nine!). The six levels of dress are as follows:



  1. Formal Corporate
  2. Corporate

Business Casual

  1. Professional
  2. Casual Professional


  1. Smart Casual
  2. Active/Leisure


While I won’t dive into detail on each category (as I could have you reading forever as each level is very specific!); I will provide a few general rules. The first two levels of dress must have suits. For women, this means a suit with a skirt and not trousers (hosiery must be worn). The darker the suit, the more formal and powerful you will appear; especially when contrasted with a lighter or white shirt underneath. The higher the quality of the suit and your accessories, the more refined you will look. In business space = power, so the more layers your clothing has (i.e. perhaps a vest or a double breasted jacket), the more authority you command. All belts and shoes (which should be oxfords or low pumps) should be leather, while accessories should be gold, silver or platinum. Under the business umbrella, there are strict guidelines to follow for dress. It’s important to be aware of what these are, as your knowledge of them is seen by many as ‘understanding what that level of lifestyle requires’.



Once you reach the Business casual umbrella; women are able to wear trouser suits and both genders do not require the jacket and pants to match (or even have a jacket at all if you like!). Since we are leaning towards a more casual look, this is the first time you can begin to show more of your personality in your attire and more of the current fashions. You can begin to play with more fabrics, and colours!  I highly recommend everyone to have a colour analysis done. It’s quickly becoming the new edge in business attire in both formal and casual situations. Plain and simple, it not only makes you stand out, but you will look A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. If you plan on having one done, please seek out a trained professional, like myself in your area.


Whatever levels of dress your place of work may be, your casual Friday look is always two levels below that. However, no one should ever go below ‘casual professional’ in the workplace. In short, it’s seen as sloppy.


The Casual umbrella includes attire such as things you would wear to the gym, in your personal time, going out with friends and family, etc. This includes, jeans, shorts, swimsuits, athletic wear, sandals, tank tops, shirt with logo’s or print on them (with the exception of company logo’s), or anything else that could fall into that category. While this category is light hearted and fun, it’s not something to bring into the work environment if you’re looking to be taken seriously.


I do encourage all of you to find out the suggestions for each level of dress. However, when in doubt, use some of the rules from the higher and more formal levels of dress. It will instantly give your professional image and credibility a boost. And as most people point out; it’s always safer to be over dressed than under dressed.  



Warmest wishes,


Christie Ressel, International Image Consultant and Stylist

Personal Power Image Consulting™©