Decoding Dress Codes

Think of dress codes as a ladder: The bottom rung is informal and the dress code becomes increasingly formal as you move up the ladder.

To be clear, this ladder has nothing to do with hierarchy - I'm not advocating that one dress code is better than another, it's simply a method for always knowing how to dress for different business situations.

On a daily basis you dress in-line with your office dress code. If the dress code is not explicitly stated, observing how others dress in the office is a good gauge. When you're interviewing for a job, or in a client facing situation, I recommend dressing one rung higher to leave a positive impression without feeling out of place.

Regardless of what dress code you must abide by, it's most important to be comfortable in what you decide to wear. When you're comfortable, your personality and confidence will shine and your presentation, conversation, or interview will feel much more natural.

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Click to jump to a dress code, or scroll through all of them!

 

Dress Code Ladder

 

Casual:  Jeans, sneakers, open-toe sandals…really, anything goes! Enjoy your fashion freedom, but make sure you still look presentable and well-groomed.

Avoid clothing with stains and tears, or anything that looks too worn.  If you are interviewing, it is very rare that you would follow either of the "casual" dress codes.

 

Smart casual: Less "running errands" more "meeting friends for lunch". Think of a trendier version of casual: dark colored jeans with a blazer, black or khaki pants, skirts or dresses. Definitely wear dress shoes or loafers instead of sneakers. 

Avoid shorts, casual sandals, old jeans and graphic t-shirts.

If you're interviewing at a casual company (think startups and tech), you might dress smart casual if it is recommended to you by HR or the hiring managers. When left to your own discretion, it is best to at least dress for business casual. 

 

Business Casual: Khakis or slacks with a button down or polo shirt for men; dress pants or skirt with a blouse for women. You could also sport a mix-matched blazer-bottoms combo.

Avoid jeans, and dressing too formal (no tie!).

 

Cocktail: Suit with no tie for men or with tie and no jacket; for women, wear a knee-length hemline for skirts and dresses, or slacks and blouse.

You would not be wearing cocktail attire to an interview, however, this is common attire for networking events and evening events at conferences.

 

Business/Business Formal: This is the standard "businessman" / "businesswoman" outfit. This means a full suit with tie for men and either a suit (pant or skirt) or tailored dress with a blazer for women.

Avoid open-toe shoes (women) and white socks (men).

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Remember, for a powerful first impression, and especially during an interview, dress one rung higher than the normal dress code. Unless it is recommended to you by the hiring manager or HR, it is rare that you would dress for casual or smart casual on an interview - stick with at least business casual.

 

 


Since most offices follow one of the casual dress codes, you most likely won't need a suit after your interview. That's why OTB offers suits for rent - browse our suit options here. (Women's interview attire coming soon!)

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