Casual Business – Dress Code for the Office

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Dress codes for offices and businesses can seem like a tricky topic: what should you wear, and what is considered inappropriate? Luckily, we’re here to help. Below is a list of all the things you need to know about dress code etiquette at the office recommended by Style Cluse.

What are some examples of appropriate clothing items?

For women, this includes skirt or dress pants, khaki or navy dress slacks, skirts that are no more than three inches off the ground (no shorter), dresses without slits in them (such as strapless dresses), skirt suits with hemlines reaching the knee or longer, trousers with matching jacket. On top, you can wear a blouse, button-up shirt, sweater, knit top, business jacket or cardigan. A blazer is also appropriate for most offices. For shoes, opt for flat or sensible heels at a maximum height of two inches.

For men, the rules are a bit more relaxed. Khakis or dress slacks are great dressed up with a sport coat or sweater that isn’t too bulky. Avoid wearing any type of jeans to the office unless it’s a laid-back environment where this is accepted. Casual dress shirts and polos are fine as well – make sure to wear crisp white button-ups if it’s a professional workplace. You can also wear a blazer or sport coat with your professional slacks. For shoes, it’s a good idea to avoid wearing sneakers and to go with dress shoes by brands like Johnston Murphy, Allen Edmonds, Cole Haan, Rockport or Dr. Martens.

What happens if I show up to work in inappropriate clothing?

The worst thing that could happen is that you’re sent home to change… but hopefully you know ahead of time what the dress code is for the office! In most cases, this will mean arriving in jeans or a casual shirt instead of a suit or business skirt. If everyone dresses casually, you’re probably good to go.

Do I have to wear a tie?

In most professional offices, men do not have to wear a tie. There are some exceptions at places like banks, where you will need to wear a jacket and tie as part of your dress code. In other cases, you may want to wear a nice sweater or button-up with your khaki pants (without the blazer).

What should I bring with me for meetings?

Make sure to always bring along hosiery (tights or nylons) if you’ll be wearing skirts or dresses. If you forget them, you can usually borrow a pair from your office or snag one at the drugstore on the way to work. This applies to women only men should never wear tights or hose.

What’s up with all these fashion rules?

These days, it may seem like people care more about fashion than ever before. Of course, this isn’t always true there are still plenty of people who don’t care much about what they wear. However, if you want to be taken seriously in an office environment, then it’s important to pay attention to your clothing choices.

What should I do if I show up and everyone is dressed more casually than usual?

First of all, you might just be at the wrong place ask a colleague you trust if there was a memo about it being casual that day or week. In general, it’s best to dress business casual for those days or weeks where the office is less strict with their dress code.

If this happens, make sure you take note of everyone’s attire to speak to your supervisor about what should happen next time. Some offices will ask you to change or go home if it’s too casual. This can be difficult for some people who really do find their work jeans the most comfortable, but if the office is serious about the dress code, this might be better than being embarrassed in front of your colleagues.

Why isn’t it up to me to decide what I’ll wear?

If you’re unclear on what dress code is expected or even if there is one, then take it upon yourself to ask someone at the office before stepping foot inside. Many people aren’t comfortable with this because it makes them seem like they don’t know how to dress themselves, but it’s better to be prepared before you step inside. If an employee shows up at work wearing the wrong thing, the employer could have grounds for termination, so take the initiative to ask ahead of time.

Teaching success:

  • Practice this article by having students repeat the words and phrases in bold.
  • Put students into pairs or small groups and ask them to create a dialogue using the language from this article. Here is an example.

A: I can’t believe we’re going to be casual today. Can you believe it?

B: Yeah, but do you think what we have on is okay?

A: Yeah, I think so. It’s a pretty laid-back office, so I think this should be fine.

B: Okay, good. So how about I pick out what to wear?

A: That sounds great.

Resources:

  • Dress Codes for the Office by Alexandra Levit.
  • 10 more examples of online dress up games for students to practice their language skills.
  • A lesson on Language and Culture: Related Topics of Clothing and Dress Codes
  • To use this article as a writing prompt, you can print it out and distribute it. Here is a Student Handout with the article above already printed out.
  • If you need an answer to a dress code question for your student, please visit the ‘Ask a Teacher’ page on this website.

Where should I go if there is no dress code?

There are some offices that require their employees to follow a certain protocol in terms of clothing choices, even if it’s not enforced by management or HR. These policies are usually put into place for specific reasons (such as lowering maintenance costs). Look at your company benefits and see what other policies you can find about employee clothing choices.

 

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