Let’s face it—appearance matters, especially if you’re a corporate person. To say “dress to impress” is an understatement. But here’s the good news: you don’t have to look like one of those models on the runway to look like a true leader. In fact, you would be surprised at how easy it is to pair or even come up with unique styles with a few essential pieces available in any wardrobe.
Check out these brilliant tips to dress like a leader in any work environment:
5 Levels of Business Attire
Dressing for work is a tricky business. In today’s corporate world, how others perceive you depends mostly on how you intend to present yourself. So, it is easy to find yourself perplexed when faced with different designs, colors, and patterns to mix and match in various settings. But there are tricks to make it easier. Your starting point is knowing the five levels of business attire. Depending on your position, you should be able to figure out the types of outfits to wear at work every day.
Sporting a straightforward, clean look for daily work has never been easier. The simplest way you can dress up for work is the baseline casual. Effortless yet presentable, baseline casual is your go-to option if you have a packed schedule or just limited time in the morning to go through your wardrobe. It is also the perfect fit for those on the go, whether you are a freelancer working between home and a workplace or an employee with a physically active job.
Outfits in this level mostly consist of tidy and fitted shirts, blouses, or sweaters for your top, clean and crisp denim pants (no rugged jeans) or cotton skirts, and a pair of elegant open-toe sandals or sneakers. Colorful or plain accessories complement the attire even more. Go for solid and bold colors instead of patterns to achieve an uncluttered look.
You could be an independent contractor sharing a co-working space with other professionals in just a solid color t-shirt, plain denim, and sneakers. Maybe you are a freelance photographer on the move or a musician who needs to get the job done in something as swift as sandals.
Baseline casual is intended for a day-to-day casual and relaxed environment that does not impose a strict dress code and does not include face-to-face contact with clients or managers. Hence, keep in mind that baseline casual is not job interview-appropriate as it may indicate unprofessionalism and make the employer second-guess selecting you for the position despite your skills and experiences!
Despite that, you can get away with a baseline casual attire during Skype or Zoom meetings if you do not have enough time to pick up a business-like blazer.
Going a step forward? Business casual outfits appear more polished than baseline casual. This is a more put-together attire, and it can vary by industry, depending on your workplace’s dress code. Although the specifics of mainstream casual may seem ambiguous or even outright difficult to discern, try to think of it as the ideal blend of efficiency and convenience. It is not as formal as wearing a suit but not as casual and plain as wearing jeans.
It is meant for settings that do not enforce a clearly-defined dress code. Usually, people working in creative agencies, healthcare, tech, or similar fields can wear the attire and still get the job done without bordering on being too casual.
Your look will most likely consist of short-sleeved tops (with or without blazers or cardigans), vests with skirts, or trousers. For your footwear, you want a pair of pretty open-toe sandals or comfortable loafers. You may also add accessories such as earrings or wristwatches to improve your look even more.
For instance, if you are a copywriter agonizing over various ornamented adjectives in your office, you would want something comfy enough for long hours that also maintains a clever feel. In this case, a blazer or a vest paired with a skirt or pants is the perfect combo!
You could be a medical professional who has to wear a lab coat or scrubs most of the time, so it is only natural to go for pieces that do not get in the way, such as short-sleeved shirts or straight-leg trousers.
Mainstream casual is more commonplace in companies or organizations that do not have direct contact with clients. However, if you feel unsure whether mainstream casual is the appropriate dress code for a position you are about to start, it is always better to refer to the Human Resources Department for definitive insight.
Do you want to strike a balance between corporate and business casual? Maybe you are just a style-oriented CEO who hates wearing ties or uptight collars. An executive casual dress looks highly professional without being stuffy.
Executive casual can be defined as the new-improved business attire for modern times, and it has found its place right between Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Nowadays, more and more big names in executive positions are adopting executive casual attire as it has become almost synonymous with leadership.
For women, it usually involves fashionable outfits in bright colors and elegant fabrics. Accessories are important too. An executive casual dress calls for bigger and more unique jewelry, such as statement pieces.
As for men, a selection of essential items in monochrome colors looks sharp and professional without the need to suit up. Polo shirts, blazers, and well-fitted or tailored pants are versatile pieces and can be mixed and matched to create new everyday outfits. It is preferable not to add jeans or sneakers, as they are considered too casual for an executive look.
Executive Casual is today’s leaders’ chosen style. We are seeing prominent people in software development, entertainment, and even some corporate companies lean toward the executive casual. The interesting thing about this particular dress code is that it can be worn either elaborately with vivid colors and sophisticated materials or minimalist with essential pieces in solid or monochrome colors. Think of Steve Jobs’ iconic turtleneck, but with well-fitted pants instead of jeans to polish up the look.
You do not have to be a CEO, in particular, to rock a casual executive look, though. If you dress to inspire those around you and leave a good impression on those you meet every day, executive casual is the right style for you, no matter your position.
Traditional Business Attire
Have you ever heard of ‘enclothed cognition’? It is a term that describes how much power and influence clothes have on our psychological and emotional processes. In white-collar environments, it is not just about looking at the part but feeling it as well. Traditional business attire radiates influence and authority and is often imposed by organizations or agencies with a strict and defined dress code.
Just like the outfits you see corporate people in movies wear, this style calls for professional tops without a deep neckline, such as collared shirts and button-up shirts, brightly colored or neutral suits, tights, or tailored pants for a clean-cut look, and closed-toe shoes such as dark colored Oxfords or loafers. Clothing should look neat and never wrinkled, dirty, or worn out.
Whether you are in a position of power or an employee who is in and out of meetings or is in constant communication with customers, you can always pull off a two-piece business suit with little or some variation in color and match it with brown or black shoes.
If you want to look conservative for your manager role, go for muted or pastel colors instead of bright colors. You can also add patterned pieces such as waistcoats or vests and match them with minimal accessories.
This business attire is more on the formal side, so we see it more utilized in industries such as government, law, or finance. Whether for a job interview or a meeting with a client, traditional business attire is the most appropriate wardrobe selection for most positions. You can never go wrong with it if you want to embody professionalism and capability.
Inspiring decision-makers to access or gain opportunities requires confidence, and confidence can be partly incorporated by the way you choose to present yourself. The boardroom dress code projects a professional image and executive presence. Some might say that executive presence is a given gift or trait, but it is merely a set of skills to employ, one of those skills being how to assimilate your company’s culture in a mere outfit.
The standard attire for women includes collared dress shirts or blouses, classic suits in dark colors, skirts (length is two fingers above the knees), and black tights and heels. For men, it is often slim dress shirts with simple ties under two-piece or three-piece suits in dark colors with Oxfords or Derbys for footwear. Keep the accessories minimal but high-quality, such as wristwatches or leather briefcases.
Opportunity and visibility are key here. Do you have a pitch or a presentation coming up that you just can’t afford to mess up by choosing the wrong attire? Maybe you need to attend your monthly board meeting or hold a meeting with senior management or key stakeholders.
As an innovator or someone promoting their skills, you want to be heard, and most importantly, you want to influence the decision-makers to take and follow up on your objectives. However, this cannot be done if your choice of clothing does not reflect competence and determination.
Putting thought into your outfit selection for an important event conveys planning and shows a sense of respect for the people you are going to meet. Boardroom attire is the standard dress code for any business interaction involving managerial or governing bodies who either make or influence the decision-making process in your company, organization or even your own career.
Once you determine the dress code level suitable for your position, you can always follow the “+1/-1” rule. This means you can dress one level up or down. Maintaining consistency is key, as skipping two or more levels (e.g., going from casual baseline to executive casual) might make you look overdressed.
Style Tips to Follow
Invest in quality
Fabric quality can make or break your look. It’s fine to have a few versatile pieces in your wardrobe that are of good quality than to have so many items that look cheap and get easily worn out after several uses.
Also, paying attention to the quality, whether it’s clothes or accessories, says a lot about your business style and leadership.
For men, in particular, quality is a major factor to consider when wardrobe shopping. Quality men’s wallet from Alpine Swiss, accessories, suits, and outfits are great investments. As for women, there is a various selection of high-quality accessories that can accompany any outfit no matter the occasion.
The saying “less is more” is true, especially when dressing up for work. You want just enough accessories to complement your outfit without having them get in the way of your work or even bother those around you.
A few matching accessories are enough to polish your look.
Here are some important tips when wearing accessories for work:
- Earrings should be conservative and small.
- Avoid chic and big-stone rings. Wear your engagement or wedding ring if you have one. Miss rings in other cases.
- Carefully think before choosing eyeglass frames. Prefer minimalistic eyeglasses and try not to be extra.
- Avoid bulky bangles that make noise when your hand/arm moves.
- The color of your purse should coordinate with your shoes.
- It’s fine to wear tasteful scarves in the office. Just make sure they are not winter scarves, or else you’d feel a lot less comfortable.
Use basic colors that you can combine.
Navy, black, and gray suits are great colors to wear in professional settings, whether you’re having a job interview, a presentation, or a speech.
Avoid outfits with large patterns. As much as possible, stick to solid designs. Unless you’re following an executive casual dress code, try to avoid bright colors. Neutral hues, such as white, navy, gray, black, and brown, are easy to mix and match with any outfit and occasion.
Dressing for work can be tricky. In light of the numerous styles and attires, it is easy to feel overwhelmed about how you intend to present yourself on every occasion. But with these guidelines, you can pull off amazing work-appropriate outfits that will not only make you look great and feel confident but also mirror your skills and your company’s culture to inspire everyone you meet in the workplace.