Warning – Work Dress Codes Are Still a Thing in 2021

It’s time to dust off those Oxfords (literally).

It’s Sunday night. You’re heading into the office tomorrow for your first full, in-person week since March 2020. You’re staring at your closet wondering how you’re going to pull together five complete “work outfits.” What even constitutes a work outfit anymore? You consider how to strategically incorporate your favorite loungewear into an outfit. And it’s so hot. Can you wear shorts? Are there rules about Crocs? 

We are entering a new dimension in work attire. A power suit can sometimes feel like a thing of the past. And those leggings you’re eyeing in your closet may, in fact, be acceptable. Depending on safety issues and standards, you can possibly even slip on some sandals (maybe you should skip the Crocs). But before you do, consult your HR department to get a refresher on the specific policies of your organization.

Dress for YOUR Job

Dress codes and standards vary significantly based on industry, company culture, and job requirements. Many companies have opted out of strict dress codes and now give their employees the flexibility to determine what makes sense for their particular role and daily activities. For example, if you meet with a client who regularly wears a sports coat, try to do the same. Unless you’re some hedge fund manager who plays by their own rules – think Bobby Axelrod on Billions –  you don’t want to show up to a meeting wearing jeans and sweatshirt, when everyone else is sporting three-piece suits. On the other hand, if you’re an employee of a tech startup and have little interaction with clients, a t-shirt and Nike’s might be completely adequate. 

Here’s a simple breakdown of the five most common corporate dress codes: 

  1. Business Formal
    Men: Crisp, wrinkle-free, matching suit and tie with dress shoes.
    Women: Matching pantsuit, skirt suit, or suit dress with dress shoes (typically heels).
    *the darker the color, the more formal the suit.
  2. Business Professional
    Men: Slacks, blazer, button down shirt, with dress shoes.
    Women: Skirt, pants, or dress with jacket and dress shoes.
  3. Business Casual
    Men: Slacks or chinos, button down shirt, with dress shoes.
    Women: Slacks, dress, or skirt. Jacket, blouse, and/or sweater, with dress shoes.
    *when unsure, err on the side of more formal
  4. Casual
    Jeans, casual shirts, sneakers, or sandals.
    *for a more professional look, pair your jeans with a Polo shirt, blouse, or jacket.
  5. Flexible
    Wear what makes sense for your day’s activities.

What Not To Wear:

Ripped Jeans, midriff tops, t-shirts with offensive words or images, flip-flops, hooded sweatshirts, or short shorts. 

The reality is, we all have a level of common sense and professionalism when deciding what to wear to work. 

The saying, “dress for success” means more than simply adhering to the rules of your workplace. It means wearing what makes you feel confident and allows your personality to shine. If you’re looking to advance at your company, dress the part. Make them take you seriously. Try not to distract your employer from your stellar job performance by showing up with ripped jeans and messy hair. Lastly, you are a reflection of your company. Your appearance can help build your customer’s trust in you and your organization.  

If you’re still stuck on what to wear, take a line from General Motors’ two-word dress code, “Dress Appropriately.” 

Check out this article on what to wear to make a positive first impression!

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