Workplace Dress Codes – Business Formal

Decoding your office’s dress code can be one of the most frustrating things about starting a new job. It was easy during the interview process, after all you were dressing to impress. But what do you wear to work on the day-to-day?

Hopefully your employee handbook gives you some guidelines as to what’s appropriate for your company. But maybe the tips stop beyond stating whether your dress code is business formal or business casual. Or maybe you noticed that the entire department you will be working in dresses much more formally/casually than the rest of the company as a whole.

In situations like these, try looking to your boss and supervisors for wardrobe inspiration. If your highest boss and the rest of your department (male/female) come dressed in suits everyday, chances are business formal is the (unspoken) dress code for your department.

Business formal is the highest level of professional attire in the workplace. While the popularity has waned over the years, it is still prevalent at banking/financial institutions, law firms, government/political institutions, and other professional settings where there is interaction with executives/board members on a regular basis. Business formal is still a popular dress code in these situations because it helps project an image of a trustworthy, knowledgeable business professional. That’s ideal for a courtroom, boardroom, or when speaking with clients about investment matters.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what you should wear if you find yourself working in a business formal environment.


  • Tailored, neutral suit with a white button up shirt.
  • Modest/simple ties and other accessories.
  • Well-groomed hair, nails, and skin.


  • Well-fitting, pantsuit or skirt suit. Skirts should be no more than 2” above the knee.
  • Button up blouse in a simple pattern or color.
  • Closed toe shoes in a neutral color.
  • Conservative accessories.
  • Neat hairstyles and clean, manicured nails.

Check with your HR policy on tattoos and piercings, but for business formal workplaces in general you will want to remove piercings other than in your earlobes and cover all tattoos with clothes/accessories.