Professional vs. Casual: Dress for Ladies

By: Annie

Dressing for the professional world may seem like a daunting task to some, and may not be daunting enough for others. It is important to know what type of attire is appropriate for different professional settings. Employers, co-workers, and clients will make their first impressions within seconds of seeing you—it is in our human nature.

There are two main styles in the professional world, business professional and business casual. In general, job fairs, interviews, and some professions always require business professional. Business casual is appropriate in most workplace settings, at many networking events, and at certain other career-related events. Nevertheless, when it comes to a job fair or an interview, it is always appropriate to dress business professional. Dress for the interview, not the job.

Business professional is more formal. It is a suit, consisting of a tailored jacket and blouse paired with trousers or skirt.

Business casual is more informal. This style may include sweaters, blouses, more casual jackets, and various accessories.

The line between the two styles can get blurry. Depending on your industry, your company, or even your schedule for the day, different attire may be appropriate. Also, the guidelines can change depending on where you are working geographically. For example, nylons and close-toed shoes are common in the Mid-West. However, this is not always true in Los Angeles and other warmer climates.

Here are some examples of business professional versus business casual.

Business Professional:


Business Causal:


Hints to Help You Dress:

  • Look to your boss, or whoever is currently in the position you would like to have someday. How do they dress? Use these people for inspiration, not only in your work but also in your dress!
  • Be cautious of armpits! Add a cardigan or blazer to avoid this problem.
  • No more than seven pieces of jewelry. (Yes, each earring counts as one!)
  • You can wear color and be professional! Just make sure it is right for the setting.

Business casual can allow for a little more creativity, but certain things can never be ignored. I like to remember these things in terms of two-inches.

Two Inch Hints

Note on the skirt rule: This rule can differ depending on body-type. If you can see thigh, or if you have to ask the question, your skirt is most likely too short.

On a final note, dressing professionally does not have to break the bank. Young professionals are not expected to be wearing top-of-the-line designer suits. It is more important that clothes fit properly than carry a fancy label. It may sound shallow to get so hung up on looks, but we all do it to some degree. Judgment is part of being human, so make it work in your favor! You only get to make one first impression!

Most of the dress ideas out there are based on traditional gender roles. Transgender job seekers can dress professionally for the gender they would choose to present in or gender-neutral attire. We have this great infographic on our Pinterest boards that goes through business professional and business casual dress guidelines without assigning gender to specific wardrobe options.

For more on dressing professionally:

And guys, don’t worry, a post for you is coming soon!

Read other posts by Annie

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