I Like Looking the Business

by Anita Lowe

Dress codes in the workplace vary enormously, and one person’s smart casual is another person’s beachwear.  Cracking the professional dress code can seem like a minefield at times.  This guide gives some pointers in the right direction for:

  • Formal business wear
  • Relaxed business wear
  • Business casual wear

If the dress code is ‘formal business’ then the following guidelines apply:

Men and women:

  • For jackets and suits go for solid colour in dark, neutral shades or with a discreet stripe
  • Team your most flattering neutral (black, grey, navy) with a white or coordinating pastel shirt, blouse or simple top for a look that will make people take you seriously
  • A single breasted jacket is more formal and authoritative
  • Shoes should be leather, clean and in immaculate condition


  • Cotton long sleeve shirts in white or pale pastels
  • Standard or cut away collars
  • Double cuffs with cuff links really are the only option in this look
  • Please, no short sleeved shirts with a suit (ever!)
  • Always wear a belt
  • The tip of the tie should just touch the belt
  • Silk ties will hang better and contribute to a look that says quality and style
  • The shirt needs to be lighter than your suit and the tie darker than the shirt


  • Buttoned up, well tailored jacket in your most flattering neutral shade
  • A well defined shoulder line carries more authority so keep it clear of hair and fussy details
  • Skirt suits are more formal than trouser suits, or a well tailored, neutral colour dress with matching jacket
  • Hosiery should be lighter than your hemline and shoe colour
  • Short skirts and no tights could interfere with your business image
  • Aim for high contrast between your blouse or top and the suit you’re wearing
  • Avoid visual distractions including anything too short, tight or transparent

‘Relaxed business’
appears to be what most companies are aiming for when they talk about smart casual, so the following pointers will help you to get it right:

  • Men and women can wear co-ordinated separates –  though you’ll still need to have a jacket
  • Incorporate more texture, colour and pattern, but keep to no more than two patterned and one plain item of clothing, making sure that the patterns work together and are relatively understated
  • Relaxed business is definitely a ‘no-tie’ day for men, though it can be useful to have one with you, just in case
  • Long sleeved shirts can have buttoned cuffs
  • Any jewellery should be appropriate for the setting, so unless you work for a surf company, stay away from the surf-dude style necklaces and bracelets
  • Knitwear works well under jackets and it’s OK to take your jacket off
  • Wear colour next to your face, sticking with those which flatter you the most

‘Casual days’ are not licensed slob days!  If you’d wear something to the beach or to a nightclub the chances are that it isn’t suitable for work (unless you work on the beach or in a nightclub). So what is ‘business casual’?

  • Quality is crucial, so everything should be clean, neat and tidy
  • No ‘it’ll do’ for anything; it probably means it isn’t clean, neat or tidy when you think ‘it’ll do’
  • Does the dress code include denim?  If so, keep it dark and please, no rips or strategic fading – you’re still at work, after all
  • Knitwear is OK so no need for the jacket
  • Separates that co-ordinate but which don’t distract; ladies, this generally means you, sad to say, so remember to keep midriffs, bra straps and thighs covered please
  • Bring in more pattern, colour and texture and really express your personality
  • Use more accessories, such as jewellery, scarves, funky notebooks and relaxed work bags

It (almost) goes without saying that whatever the dress code it’s essential to be clean, tidy and well groomed in order to ‘look the business’.

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