From Classroom to Boardroom: Decoding Workplace Attire

Story by Allison Lindsey
Photo Courtesy of Nordstrom

As we get closer to “real” adulthood, it’s important that Central Michigan University students know attire lingo in the workplace. I’m sure many students, especially students who have already received experience in the workforce, can relate to the difficulty of deciphering the clothing norms in a new office.

Typically, offices are either business casual or business professional. There tends to be a fine line between the two styles, but there are ways to differentiate them, so we’re breaking it down.

Business Casual
This style of clothing is typically most common when first entering the workplace. This is a style that is simple and relaxed, yet still sophisticated. For women, twill pants paired with a mod blouse and flats are a great option.

For men, a nice button up or polo with casual dress pants and dress shoes are a great first-impression look. Khakis and a tie could also be a nice touch.

Business Professional
An easy way to distinguish between this style and the former, is to picture something a CEO would wear. For men, a nice suit is always a sleek, professional choice.

For women, a polished pantsuit paired with heels will have you looking “Devil Wears Prada” ready. The infamous “suit/pantsuit” combination make this look easy to achieve and locate when shopping.

Business Attire
Since business attire can be anything from a pantsuit and suit to a nice skirt and khakis, it’s best to always play this one safe. For women, a button up shirt and a knee length pencil skirt are a great option.

For men, a button-down paired with dress pants, a tie and dress shoes is a safe, dapper selection. Always remember with this category, at least on the first day, to always assume a more professional look compared to casual.

What to Avoid
While categorizing workplace styles is sometimes rough, it’s surely do-able. Although we gave you some general outfit selections for each workplace clothing style, there are also some looks to avoid on the first day.

For women, it’s always best to avoid open-toed shoes, skirts above the knee and shirts cut far below the collar bone.

For men there are few rules to live by. Shorts are always a no-go, and avoid mixing navy with black. Finally, always be sure to wear shoes that aren’t comparable to sneakers.

Put on Your Workplace Best (and Apply for a Job!)
Even if you still have a few years in school, these tips will come in handy for events around campus. Internships and career fairs are a great place to test out your workplace fashion abilities.
Here are some upcoming times to test your style:

  • American Marketing Association (AMA) Career Fair: Oct. 13, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
  • Alpha Kappa Psi Career Day: Oct. 14, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
  • Central Michigan Univ. Graduate & Professional School Fair: Oct. 27, 3 – 6 p.m.

For more information, visit career services.