The do’s and don’ts of business attire


Elisabeth Neely

Member Bridget Maguire talks to an interested student at the Alpha Kappa Psi Business Fraternity info night on Jan. 18. Staff writer Ashley Rayan recommends different clothing items to wear for smart casual, business casual and business professional dress codes for business events like this.

By Ashley Rayan, Staff Writer

Before I came to college, I assumed professional wear was one thing: a suit or some variation of it. Once I became familiar with the ins and outs of rushing professional fraternities and attending career fairs, I realized there were a few different categories of professional wear: smart casual, business casual and business professional.

The most confusing thing about these dress codes is there is not a clear-cut definition for what is considered appropriate. It depends on the situation, the wearer and the venue. The following guidelines provide an overview of what is generally considered acceptable to wear for certain occasions.

Smart casual

Smart casual is the most ambiguous and ill-defined of all the dress codes. It generally means attire that is neat yet informal. Think of it as what you would wear for a nice dinner. As far as bottoms go, jeans (without rips or holes), trousers, shorts and skirts of appropriate length are all acceptable.

Dresses that hit at the knee or slightly above the knee are good classic options, especially when paired with a cardigan or a simple blazer. For tops, solid T-shirts, button-down shirts and blouses are all safe. Men and women can accessorize with simple or classic statement jewelry, a watch or a classic leather belt.

For shoes, think loafers, boots or boat shoes. Fun prints and colors can be a way to break up the monotony of a professional outfit. As always, don’t forget socks, including no-show socks for women’s flats.

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Business casual

Business casual is a common dress code for offices. It’s similar to smart casual, but rules out options such as T-shirts, shorts, jeans or sandals. A simple button-down shirt is always a good unisex option, and it’s a staple in any business casual wardrobe.

Other acceptable tops for men include polos, a collared shirt or a sweater. Ties are still optional at this phase. Khaki, black or navy dress pants work perfectly with a dress shirt. For women, a conservative skirt and blouse.

Informal dresses paired with cardigans and a pair of flats provide a perfect business casual outfit. Blazers are acceptable, although they can sometimes make your look a little overdressed. For shoes, flats, heels, boat shoes, dress shoes and loafers are all acceptable options.

Business professional

Business professional is one of the easiest dress codes to follow: close-toed shoes, solid colored pantsuits, skirts, blazers or suits paired with minimal jewelry would all qualify.

Women can wear a skirt with a blazer and a nice blouse, or a pant suit. For men, blazers or suit jackets with a button-down shirt and dress pants are appropriate. Ties and jackets are required. For footwear, close-toed heels or flats for women are a safe bet, and leather dress shoes for men are perfect with suit pants.

As always: When in doubt about whether an article of clothing is appropriate or not, opt for the more conservative option. You would rather be overdressed for a professional occasion than underdressed. If you feel overdressed during an occasion, you can always remove a tie or a blazer to make the outfit less formal.

If you’ve scoured your closet and can’t find anything appropriate, check out the Career Center at 715 S. Wright St. They have an entire closet stocked with all the essentials to provide you with the perfect professional outfit no matter what dress code you’re looking for.

Ashley is freshman in LAS.

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