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Work Dress Codes: What You Need to Know

People wearing business casual clothes at work

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You just landed a new job, and your manager tells you the dress code is business casual. This is great – no worries about what to wear, right? Not exactly. Understanding work dress codes can be tricky, so here are some tips.

There’s no universal definition of business casual, making it a source of confusion. Attitudes about appropriate business attire vary by industry, city and company. And if there’s no dress code at all, unraveling the dress code mystery can be even more challenging. Here are a few tips to keep you looking your best at work.

Business Casual Dress Code

In general, a business casual environment means projecting a professional image while encouraging more comfortable, relaxed clothing. Appropriate outfits typically include the following items.


  • Slacks or khakis with a belt
  • Open-collar shirt or polo shirt
  • Tailored blazer (forget the corduroy) or sweater
  • Loafers or dark, coordinating shoes


  • Dress, skirt or slacks
  • Blouse or knit top
  • Blazer, cardigan or sweater
  • Comfortable, but professional shoes covering most of the foot

Examples of business casual dress (Source: Houston Chronicle)

Casual/No Dress Code

 A casual dress code or no work dress code allows the possibility of wearing sneakers, jeans and even the occasional t-shirt to work. However, it’s still important to keep your appearance neat, professional and put together. The following items would be appropriate in a casual or no dress code environment.


  • Khakis or jeans, belt optional
  • Casual collared shirt or polo shirt
  • Comfortable loafers or sneakers
  • Sweater or cardigan


  • Slacks, jeans or skirt
  • Coordinating top or sweater
  • Flats, loafers, sneakers or other casual shoe

Example of a casual dress code

The Don’ts

No matter what the dress code is, there are some universal rules that always apply. As a general rule, we suggest you never wear:

  • Heavy cologne or perfume
  • Shorts and extra-short skirts
  • Excessive or heavy jewelry
  • Spandex and other body-hugging items
  • Low-cut or unbuttoned shirts or sweaters
  • Dresses or tops with spaghetti straps or no straps
  • Flip flops
  • Sweatpants, yoga pants, gym clothes
  • Jeans with holes or stains
  • Shoes that are worn or dirty
  • T-shirts or jackets with political/cultural/religious statements or offensive images
  • Heels higher than 4.5 inches


 Hygiene is important in the workplace, since you come into frequent, close contact with others. Your clothes should be washed or dry cleaned regularly. Beyond the need to shower daily, hair should always be clean and neatly styled. Using deodorant daily is expected. For men, beards should be well-groomed. Fingernails should be clean and trimmed to a practical length.

Dress for the Job You Want

Because the definition of work dress codes varies from place to place, it will take a few days or weeks to learn your company’s style. When in doubt, it’s always better to err on the side of being overdressed. After all, human resources pros often advise us to dress for the job we want, rather than the one we have.