What Is the Difference Between Casual Business, Casual Professional Business and Formal Attire?


Dress for success, because your colleagues and clients are watching. People make snap assessments based on your attire, says a study published in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management. Faceless pictures of a man wearing a made-to-measure suit were compared to pictures of a man wearing an off-the-rack suit; participants reacted more positively to the picture of the man wearing a tailored suit and assumed he was more trustworthy.

If your office or a work event specifies a particular attire, abide by it. It never hurts to ask others what is appropriate and to follow the lead of the your most successful coworkers. Inappropriate clothing can tarnish your image and make it harder for you to earn respect.

Main Types of Business Attire

The three main types of business attire are:

Casual Business

Casual business attire is often described by what it's not: jeans, flip-flops, miniskirts, spaghetti straps, athletic wear and T-shirts.

Instead, a collared shirt and slacks for a man is appropriate. The collared shirt may be a dress shirt, with or without a tie, a casual button-down or a collared polo shirt. Depending on your place of work, khakis may or may not be appropriate. Loafers and socks, not tennis shoes or slides, finish off a casual business look for men.

Women may also don slacks or a knee-length skirt, and a blouse or shirt with a collar. Knit shirts and dressy sweaters are also appropriate. A woman also can't go wrong with a dress, provided it's not low-cut or otherwise overly revealing.

Casual Professional Business

Casual professional business attire is one step up from casual business. A jacket or blazer is a must for men. The tie may still be optional -- and if you wear one, it can be whimsical in color and pattern. Slacks and a long-sleeve dress shirt are also essential to an appropriate interpretation of this code.

For women, casual professional business usually means a suit -- either pants or a skirt -- or separates with a complementary blazer. Unlike plain casual business attire, sweaters and knit shirts are not appropriate. Instead, stick to a blouse and avoid sleeveless cuts.

Formal Attire

Business formal attire calls for a dark suit, solid-colored dress shirt and conservative tie. A matching vest can complete the look, along with dark leather shoes and dark socks. For women, a business suit -- either with a skirt or pants -- is a must. A dress with a jacket over it is also appropriate. Pantyhose are usually required, as are tasteful heels; avoid strappy numbers and stilettos.

If you're going to an office party that specifies formal attire, men should opt for a tux with a conservative tie and cummerbund. Women could wear either a full-length or cocktail-length dress. Opt for styles with a fair amount of coverage that aren't too tight. Lots of bows, an excessive display of cleavage and short skirts can ruin your professional image, even on a special-event night.

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