What Is a Traditional Office Dress Code?

By Michelle Powell-Smith

Though many workplaces have become significantly more casual in recent years, some retain traditional office dress codes. Understanding traditional business dress can allow you to look your best, advance in your career and know what to wear at what times. Smart planning will allow you to meet wardrobe expectations and create a well-balanced closet that fills your work-week needs.

young business woman
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Pantsuits are increasingly accepted for women.

Traditional Dress Fabrics

Traditional business dress demands certain fabrics to look professional in the office, courtroom or boardroom. Wool, silk and cotton are the best choices for a formal, traditional office. These fibers can, depending upon their weight, accommodate a variety of temperatures, wear well, last for years and maintain their appearance. Women also may choose some modern synthetic fabrics; however, these should mimic the appearance of natural fibers. Fine-gauge knit sweaters also are an appropriate addition to women's work wardrobes, but they are less appropriate for men in a traditional office.

Women's Suits

Women should choose matched suits, consisting of a jacket and skirt or jacket and pants. Professional dresses or dress-and-jacket sets also are appropriate for many traditional offices. Though women may wear a wider range of colors than men, opting for medium to dark, conservative neutrals are the best choice for a traditional office wardrobe. Choose lighter or brighter shades for cotton shirts, silk blouses and fine-gauge sweaters. Opt for small, classic jewelry, low-heeled pumps and pantyhose to complete your outfit.

Men's Suits

The suit remains the best choice for men in a traditional business environment. Suits should be a classic and flattering cut. Your suits can be worn with a cotton dress shirt; however, you can choose a traditional or athletic cut and opt for a spread or button-down collar as you prefer. White and blue are the traditional shirt colors, but many traditional office environments will allow dark-colored dress shirts. Have your shirts dry-cleaned for the most professional appearance. Keep your ties conservative, avoiding novelty prints. Wear dark dress socks, a simple wristwatch and polished dress shoes with your suit.

Casual Friday in a Traditional Office

Though casual Friday may mean jeans in a less formal office, in a traditional office, your jeans need to stay at home. For men, skip the matched suits in favor of good-quality slacks worn with a sport coat or a good-quality sweater; for women, pair slacks or a skirt with a blouse or cardigan. Loafers or flats can replace your usual dressier shoes; however, your attire still should be well made, high quality and professional enough to allow you to meet with clients, customers and superiors.