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How To Decipher Business Dress Codes And Style Work Dresses

Last updated on : November 05 2019

what to wear to work

Introduction

We wear different looks for different occasions and places. We avoid wearing white to weddings unless we are the bride. When hosting a party, we outshine our guests instead of blending in with them. The goal is to fit in with the purpose of the event. And ensure you stand out to look your best.

This approach might feel challenging when dressing for work. However, creating a professional work wardrobe is within your reach.

Here's how:


Understand Dress Codes

There are four levels of business attire, and this is what each means for women.

Level 1 - Business Formal

This dress code is as formal as it gets. Think law or accountancy firms, or staid corporate offices. 

Business formal dress code requires a conservatively cut suit, either a pantsuit or a tailored skirt and jacket, usually in black, blue, or grey with a pressed white shirt with a collar.

If you choose to wear a skirt, then nude hosiery is required to cover your legs, and shoes need to be closed heels in dark or neutral colors. 

Jewelry and accessories are acceptable, provided they are conservative. Stud earrings, not hanging, for instance. 

Level 2 - Business Professional

Business professional or traditional business is a more relaxed version of business formal. It's not as strict, allowing you to show some style of your own. 

You are still required to wear a skirt or pantsuit, but this time choose one in a more vibrant color, or a noticeable pattern, and a less conservative style. Add in a solid color blouse or top, and hosiery in nude or black.

Shoes are still closed heel; however, you have some room to experiment with color, as well as larger, more statement pieces of jewelry. 

Ensure your look is neat, well balanced, and presentable.

Level 3 - Business Casual

Business casual is open to interpretation. Think of it as neat and professional. Either check in on your HR department for your corporate standard or assess the standard yourself from a visit to your new office.

Generally, you can be safe wearing coordinated business separates. This look might be a casual top or a cardigan with a skirt or slacks or a dress. See our dress suggestions below - all will pass for business casual. 

Shoes should be closed-toe, either flats or heels. Loafers and sandals might be acceptable; however, check with your company first.     

Level 4 - Casual

Casual work attire is not quite anything goes. In a work environment, your peers will judge you by the way you look, so maintaining professionalism is still relevant.

Make sure your clothing is clean and ironed (even if you're in jeans and a t-shirt) and stay away from all sports and club gear. Jeans are acceptable but should be a dark wash, without holes or other standout features. 

Wear professional-looking shoes as these will transform even a very casual look into something more acceptable.

Assess Your Work Environment

If it's not clear what level of business attire you need to wear, you'll need to figure it out. And yes, this can be tricky. The first step is to understand your work environment. 

If your workplace is traditional and classic, wear professional power suits, starched white blouses, and dresses. If it's a semi-formal environment, experiment with brighter colors, cardigans, and whimsical accessories.

Wearing inappropriate clothes will upset your image. Show too much skin in a traditional environment, and draw unwanted attention. Look too shabby in a modern context and be the subject of workplace whispers. Each work environment is unique and has a vibe.

Look at what the men in the office wear. If the men wear ties, then stick to feminine blazers, realistic heels, and lovely blouses. If they don't, your work environment is a bit more casual. So sweaters, cardigans, and jean skirts with textured tights work well. 

Create a Consistent and Professional Look

You don't need to wear the same type of clothes every day. However, do consider creating a uniform - a consistent and signature look for yourself, that fits your personality. Consistency saves you time and money. And you will get comfort knowing you have a professional and feminine look mastered. 

Explore your personality, consider your body type, and zero in on a look that is your signature office style.  

If you prefer sexy feminine dresses, pair them with tasteful blazers, loose-fitting blouses, and belts. Turning them into a classic, uniquely you, and respectable outfits.

As you progress through your work life, you will be glad for this consistency. Getting dressed in the morning is straightforward and routine, giving you time to focus on other essential aspects of the day. 

Stock Up on Professional Style Staples

When it comes to working dresses and style, remember two things. Keep it professional, and never lose your femininity. 

Choose a mix of professional wardrobe staples to accomplish this consistently. The pieces below are your go-to work staples. They work for any mood and for anything you plan to do in the office. They include: 

  • black skirts
  • blazers
  • trousers or slacks
  • collared shirts
  • Blouses and tops
  • little black dresses

Skirts & Blazers

Look for flattering fabrics and fits, which are comfortable and stylish. Skirts and blazers are versatile workwear options. A blazer paired with a beautiful dress creates a work ensemble that turns heads in appreciation, likewise with trousers, slacks, and collared shirts.

During the colder months, choose suits or blazers made of wool. For summer clothing, opt for fabrics like cotton, linen, or gabardines. If you have trouble with off-the-rack dresses, get them tailored for a more custom fit.

Blouses & Tops

Opt for materials like silk, sateen cotton, or microfiber blends. These allow you to breathe and stay calm when under stress. They give your body a feminine appeal that is lovely in your clothes.

Little Black Dresses

These are must-have office staple and worth the hype. Working hours are flexible nowadays and bleed into your free time. There are after-work parties to attend, investment dinners to shine in, and plenty of evening appearances to make immediately after work.

The beauty of an LBD is its versatility. Every working woman requires at least one elegant and understated black dress. One, she transforms into a classy evening dress at a moment’s notice. Whether you choose a classic wrap dress or a form-fitting bandage LBD, begin hunting for one today. 

little black bandage dress 

Choose Work-Worthy Shoes and Accessories

Shoes

Your shoes will get noticed by your co-workers and clients. Naturally, you should keep them clean and in excellent condition. 

When it comes to choosing work footwear, think of functionality as well as looks. Low-and mid-heeled pumps between 1 to 3 inches or flats are ideal for wearing in the office. They give you a lift to improve your posture and provide femininity without effort.

Shoes with heels that are too high (more than three and a half inches) are unprofessional in most office settings. Additionally, they'll be uncomfortable for a full day at work. While sneakers and flip-flops are comfortable, they are not acceptable office wear. 

Accessories

When accessorizing for work, less is often more. Make your accessories count. Don’t settle for simple when you can aim for elegant and lasting. Choose from rings, bracelets, and earrings to brooches, handbags, shoes, belts, and scarves. There are many ways to add value to your work ensemble.

Don't go for everything at once. Instead, choose one or two accessories for your look. Stick to a few elegant additions that add a pop of color or texture to your work outfits. 

Shopping for Accessories

As I mentioned earlier, creating a uniform and signature look saves you time and money. Stick to one or two primary color palettes to make shopping for accessories straightforward. Pay attention to the color of your staples, and match your accessories accordingly.

If you wear neutral colored dresses and bottoms, your accessories should include a pop of color, prints, or patterns. If you prefer bold patterns or printed, keep the accessories neutral. 

Bags

Ensure that your handbag or briefcase doesn’t turn into a bottomless pit of old fashion. Carry a bag that is large enough to include your essentials — makeup, your devices (laptops or tablets), and of course, wallet. Larger handbags can make you look frazzled and unkempt, so opt for smaller ones that are still functional.

When carrying a briefcase and a handbag, do your best to have them complement each other. Consider architectural bags that boast a shoulder strap. Or an oversized clutch with strap. These styles are more comfortable for you to carry during your workday.

Watch Your Jackets, Denim, and Flip Flops

Denim & Flip Flops

Your office may support tailored denim pencil skirts or dark denim wear. However, more often than not, materials like denim and jersey will not be appropriate office wear.  

Yes, denim and jersey are comfortable and economical to wear. But they run a high potential of looking sloppy and cheap. Flip flops raise the same challenges, so opt-out of these too. 

Jackets & Outerwear

A jacket or coat makes or breaks your work ensemble. 

The right one is essential for your signature look. It's a good idea to invest in a few universal pieces - like a fitted trench coat or a tailored black, grey, or taupe waistcoat. You can wear these with many work outfits, making them wise purchases. 

Wear Stockings, Tights, and Pantyhose

You can wear opaque stockings or pantyhose to work. Or try appropriately textured tights when the weather begins to cool. 

Pantyhose, tights, and stockings are essential. They give you coverage in the office, allowing you to pull off a shorter feminine and sexy styles. 

Wearing either is not mandatory for the warmer months unless your skirt or dress is short. Embrace them if your hemline is two to three inches above your knees while sitting. 

Realize That Work Dresses and Apparel Matter

Your workwear needs to balance a professional, feminine, and approachable look. What you wear has the power to alter perceptions of you. So be mindful of the psychological impact it has on you and the people around you. 

The key is to pay attention - the next time you get ready for work, think of the impression you want to make. Chose a professional dress that gives you confidence if you are closing a deal or meeting clients. To cultivate a friendly meeting, try a colorful dress with a sweet cardigan to soften the atmosphere. 

Adapt your dressing style, but stay true to who you are and your signature workplace look. Work outfits that leave you confident, comfortable, professional, polished, feminine, and classy are the better choices. 

Work Dress Inspirations

Try these work dress inspirations from our signature bandage dress collection. They are approachable, feminine and professional, and sexy! 

Look #1 - The Sophisticated Woman

blue midi bandage dress

This stunning blue dress leaves you sophisticated, in charge, and with undeniable sex appeal. It keeps you covered and modest with it's below the knee hemline. If necessary, add a feminine blazer or jacket to make it work-friendly. 

Work styles don't necessarily need you to stick to dark color palettes. This shade of blue is professional, as are shades of beige, nude, and purple.

Look #2 - The Girly Girl Boss

Long sleeve black bandage dress from the kewl shop

Pair a conservative long-sleeved dress with an off-shoulder style and love it. Add a jacket for a well put-together look or show off your collarbones, keeping it sexy yet dignified. Create a perfect fashion statement with a look that has professionally stamped all over it. 

This black dress with long sleeves is a classic to include in your work wardrobe. It is feminine and carries a powerful punch. 

The dress is versatile and hugs your curves in all the right places. Wear it with colored pumps and a workwear jacket or trench coat when you need to step outside. Accessorize with white crystals or pearls or go for gold. It features a natural waist, not requiring a belt. Transform it into an evening event with luxe silk, wool, or cashmere scarf.

Look #3 - The Office Backbone

turtleneck bandage dress

With a straight silhouette and midi-length, this pink nude bandage dress is a work wardrobe staple. It screams, "you can count on me to get things done!" Boasting a high choker neckline and anti-wrinkle fabric, it is work-ready. Pair it with a black clutch and simple gold earrings.

Complement the color of the dress with a brown chocolate-colored coat or jacket. It features an understated and conservative fit that hugs your curves. It is acceptable for an investment dinner or a boardroom meeting. Wear this classy dress with brighter accessories such as a scarf to transform the look from 9-to-5 to Happy Hour.

Look #4 - The Ready For Anything

off shoulder midi bandage dress

Choose this new midi-length dress instead of a traditional skirt suit. The longer length is formal, and the flared mermaid hem adds femininity to your ensemble. 

Made from quality rayon, spandex, and nylon, this bandage dress fits snugly and contours your body elegantly. Pair it with a colored blazer and pumps to complete your work look. Shed the blazer and switch out your shoes for the after-work cocktail party. 

Look #5 - The I’m Every Woman Dress

One shoulder gradient bandage dress from the kewl shop

Don't be too bland, colorless, or masculine in your work outfits. Choose a dash of color and attitude with an ombre work dress like this — a bandage dress with a gradient palette in shades of red. 

Pair it with a short flared black blazer, black or nude heels, and you're boardroom-ready. Wear your hair in an up-do and add simple earrings and a bracelet for polish.

Look #6 - The Girl Next Door

black classic bandage dress

This black cap sleeve bandage dress is the ultimate in versatility. It's a simple and elegant solution for those days needing one. 

It features a high back, flattering cap sleeves, and a natural waistline. It's short in length, so pair it with opaque tights for formal or traditional workplaces. 

The design and cut work for formal dinners and professional events. Wear it with black heels, understated makeup, and a simple jacket. Or opt for colored or metallic heels and brighter accessories when relaxed. 

Summary

Mark Twain said, “Clothes make the man.” Well, they make the woman too! 

Be aware that what you wear to work makes a difference. Assess your work environment to understand what is acceptable and isn't. Choose outfits that are approachable, feminine, and professional. And invest in staples for a consistent look that you can repeat every day. 

Above all, stick to an appropriate signature style that gives you confidence. The last thing you want is to worry about inappropriate clothes at work. 

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Sasithon Bella is the kewl in The Kewl Shop. Co-founder, chief buyer, bandage dress guru and a lot more. If you like what you see at The Kewl Shop it is because of Sasithon Bella. You might know her better as Sasi.

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