Business vs. Business Casual

You’re new to the workplace. As far as you’re concerned, changing out of your pajamas is dressing up. So now that you are working in a professional environment, what do these dress code terms really mean? Understanding the distinction between business and business casual is critical to dressing within the boundaries of your company’s policy. Not all employers have the same definition of business and business casual, so be sure to pay attention to what your coworkers are wearing and ask questions.

Here are simplified and general definitions of these terms:

Business: Keep it conservative and traditional. A pant suit or a dress/skirt with pantyhose are appropriate. Avoid bright colors or bold patterns, and wear basic solids instead. Limited jewelry and simple hairstyles are preferred.

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Business Casual: A nice pair of pants or a skirt/dress without pantyhose are acceptable options. Rather than a blazer, go for a cardigan over your outfit. Jewelry can be more expressive and you can add color and pattern in moderation. 

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Since we are on the topic of dress code, it is important to understand what “casual Friday” means at your workplace. If you have a strict business dress code, “causal Friday” might not even exist. When in doubt, dress more business than casual. Again, pay attention to your colleagues attire and ask questions!

Pantyhose: To Wear or Not to Wear?

If you are like many women that I have encountered at work, you avoid dresses and skirts for interviews because you are unsure of whether or not you need to wear pantyhose. Many of us young women have never needed to wear stockings, so where do we even begin? There are positives and negatives to nylons, which leave us with a lot to consider. Sure, they keep your legs warm and look professional, but aren’t they a little outdated? Autumn Whitefield-Madrano describes her enduring love for pantyhose despite the changing opinions of others throughout the years. She feels that they speak to the lifestyle of a professional woman. Additionally, many pantyhose have a control top, which smooth lines and make you look slimmer. On the other hand, some feel that they are obsolete, uncomfortable, and too hot to wear in the summer months.

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So, are they necessary? There are numerous opinions out there. The overall consensus seems to be this: it depends. Wearing stockings is not a matter of right or wrong, but rather a matter of occasion. Emma Newcombe gives some great pointers to pantyhose in her article about wearing nylons to work or interviews, including when to wear them and when you can go bare. The most important thing to keep in mind is your employer’s dress code policy. It is always better to lean on the conservative side if you are unsure (both in interviews and at work).

If you decide to wear nylons with your dress or skirt, be wary of the color. Nude colored pantyhose should match your skin tone, so avoid the “suntan” nylons unless you are actually that tan. Black stockings are another option, and can be worn with darker colored clothing. Either the sheer or opaque options are acceptable, depending on your outfit and personal preference. Nylons for work are different from the tights that you might wear on your day off, so avoid patterns or colors in favor of a more traditional look.

Hopefully this will help you make a decision about whether or not pantyhose are necessary for your lives in the work world!

Building a Basic Work Wardrobe

With student loan payments, rent, gas, car insurance, and groceries to worry about, it is difficult to even think about shopping for non-essentials. Though as I’ve discussed, it is important to dress appropriately to establish your professionalism and be taken seriously in the work place. Many of us are just beginning our professional careers. We are not making very much money yet, but we are supposed to look like we are. How do we create an entire work wardrobe on a budget?

The key is to buy a handful of items that you can mix and match to create a variety of outfits to last you throughout the week. Follow my tips to build a basic work wardrobe to last you until your next promotion!

Before we discuss the fundamental garments, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, consider the job you have. What is the dress code? What sorts of things do your coworkers wear? Is your dress code business or business casual? Keep these things in mind when you go shopping.

Secondly, you want to stay within a broad color palette. For example, stick to either warm or cool colors so that your accessories and layering pieces can match with most of your outfits. This will help you create a multitude of looks using the same few articles of clothing.

With these considerations in mind, we can begin discussing the actual articles of clothing that your basic work wardrobe will be composed of.

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–  Choose a variety of blouses in various fits and styles. Keep them within the same broad color scheme though.

– The pair of pants that you choose should be the same color as the skirt and blazer. Go for either black or grey if you chose a cool color palette, and perhaps black or beige for a warm color scheme.

– As I mentioned, the pencil skirt should be the same color as the pants and blazer. Make sure the length is within two inches of the knee!

– You want to choose a dress that has structured, clean lines in a basic color that falls within your color palette.

– A few cardigans in different colors add a little something extra to your outfit. Avoid anything oversized or in a chunky fabric for a clean, professional look.

– The blazer should be the same color and fabric as the pants and skirt. You can use this blazer to dress up any combination of outfits for presentation days, interviews, or important meetings. Get measured for a blazer to ensure you purchase the correct size.

– At least two pairs of shoes are necessary to the beginnings of a work wardrobe. Choose simple styles in a color that will match with all of your other garments.

– Accessorizes complete your look, so pick a few necklaces, a belt, and a watch to bring your outfit together.

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Now that we have the basics of your wardrobe picked out, lets start building a few outfits. For this example, I chose clothes in cool colors that can be mixed to make a lot of different outfits. If you decide to wear a shirt + pants/skirt (as opposed to a dress), here are your options:

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For a dress, you can pair it with the following:

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Here are a few complete outfits to give you a better idea of how you can mix and match all of these pieces to create new outfits.

Now that you know what to look for, go out and get shopping! Good luck!