The business formal dress code is meant to convey the utmost professionalism through your attire. Whether you’re just representing yourself or standing in for an entire company, this style of dressing should focus on being elegant and polished. It may sound a bit stuffy, but personal touches like accessories and footwear show your personal style while maintaining a professional look. When you follow the basic guidelines of business formal dressing, you can tweak your ensemble to fit any season or occasion.
Business Formal Basics
Think of business formal as your nicest work outfit dressed up. For men this means a dark suit in black or navy blue. A crisp, collared button-down shirt should be worn underneath. If anything, stay a bit more conservative than you normally would, and keep prints to a minimum. A printed tie is acceptable in a classic stripe or plaid — no loud colors or patterns. Shoes should be leather oxfords. Ladies can opt either for a matching pant or skirt suit and a button-down shirt underneath as well. Stick to a classic closed-toe pump. No flats or sky-high stiletto heels.
On and Off Duty Looks
For a business formal dinner, keep your ensemble extra conservative. Choose a solid white, baby blue or light gray dress shirt under a black suit with a solid tie. This also applies to ladies, who can do the same with a skirt or pant suit. Instead of a tie, wear a single diamond or other gemstone drop necklace for a subtle, yet classy touch. At corporate events and parties, three-piece suits add formality for evening and the occasion. A solid, knee-length sheath dress under a black blazer with a statement necklace and patent leather pumps gives ladies a more feminine evening option.
Business Formal for Him
In addition to the black or navy blue suit, dark charcoal gray is another option, especially in summer. Color is an effective way to lighten up a seasonal look. Layers add warmth in cooler months, so try a three-piece suit for your winter look. A light pinstripe is often acceptable, like a tie in a traditional print. You can also add accessories such as a quality metal or leather watch and a silk pocket square to match your tie for a personal touch. Just don’t stray from a black patent or glossy leather laced oxford shoe. Styles like wingtips and derbys are stylish variations on the oxford.
Business Formal for Her
Once you have the foundation of your outfit, accessories set the tone. Try a navy skirt suit in summer with a white button-down shirt and ruby red patent leather pumps. A gold watch and subtle chain necklace add to the nautical-inspired ensemble. For cold weather, sheer tights keep legs warmer under a dark forest green sheath dress. Choose black tights with a black blazer, and then add a silk scarf and sparkling earrings. Your best bet for footwear is sticking to a classic patent or matte leather pump in a dark or neutral hue. Flats just aren’t dressy enough, so wear a low kitten heel when needed.
References and ResourcesEmily Post: Attire Guide from Casual to White Tie
Business Insider: Here's What the Boardroom Formal Dress Code Really Means
StyleCaster: What Every Single Dress Code Really Means
Who What Wear: Dos and Don'ts of Every Dress Code
Jos A Bank: Choosing Men's Business Shoes