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Business Professional vs Business Casual 101 for Women

Tips for Women on How to Dress for the Occasion

Hey ladies! With a wardrobe packed with clothes for every occasion, it feels almost impossible to figure out what is the right thing to wear on a daily basis. Preparing for an interview feels even worse because you don’t want to wear the wrong thing and risk not getting the job. Should you go in a suit or tone it down with something more casual? How will you know what colors are acceptable or how to style your hair? Well, here are some helpful tips on what to wear and not to wear for both business professional and business casual interviews.

- Research the company’s culture. The internet is your friend. Check out their website or social media to see if they have videos of their staff and what they were wearing. If you are interviewing for a corporate position such as a banker or human resources manager, dressing in business professional attire is definitely the way to go. However, if your interview is for a tech start-up company or construction position, feel free to wear business casual.

- Interview Etiquette. When preparing for any interview, ensure your clothes are pressed, covering your cleavage, and free of wrinkles, rips, and stains; your teeth are brushed and odor-free; and you are wearing little to no perfume. Also, your hair should be pulled back or neatly down. Keeping your nails short (imagine typing on a keyboard) and a white or natural color, if wearing polish, is important. Your make-up should be minimal and just a nice final touch. Avoid using bright or glittery colors. You want to look as natural as possible so that your skills are the main focus.  Make sure to carry a portfolio or sturdy purse that contains your resume, references, pens, and a notepad; it shows you are well prepared and organized.

Business attire. Go ahead and pull that suit out of your closet because you are going to need it. If you are attending a corporate interview, wearing a matching suit jacket and pants or skirt is a must. Keep it natural and focus on your personality shining; not your clothing. In a survey of hiring managers, it was discovered that 70% of them do not want the applicant dressing trendy or fashionable. With that being said, your suit should be black, navy, or brown. Tan and grey are acceptable but not as favorable. If you choose to wear a skirt, keep it at knee length or longer. Always wear a slip! If the weather permits it, feel free to wear sheer or nude-colored panty hose when wearing a knee length skirt. Skirts with slits in them should be avoided unless the skirt is below the knees to make it more comfortable when climbing stairs. To accompany your suit, use a tasteful long-sleeve collared shirt. You can also wear a sleeveless blouse that will be hidden under the suit jacket or tailored blouses. Cotton and silk tops are great choices to wear. Avoid wearing bright colors or patterns. In a business setting, natural colors are your best friend. Shades of tan and white will never steer you wrong. Finally, never wear open toe shoes. No matter the weather, always keep your toes hidden; however, you can still wear heels. Your heels should be no higher than three inches and match the color of your suit. Round or pointed black leather pumps are great accessories and the standard for business professional work environments.

Business casual attire. There are so many options in clothing when attending a business casual interview. The dress code is slightly more flexible then the professional interview; nonetheless, you still have to look professional. You can leave your suit in the closet and pull out the cardigans. A knit sweater or cardigan is a nice complement to a button down shirt, turtleneck, or blouse. Feel free to wear simple patterns and even pastel colors. Avoid wearing anything that can be overbearing and bright such as neon colors. Again, the focus should be on you and what you are saying not your clothes. 55% of first impressions when meeting someone for the first time is based on how you act, what you are wearing, and how you walk through the door. As with business professional interviews, skirts and pants are acceptable. Your pants should never be tight or too flowy. Both skirts and pants are limited to the colors black, shades of grey, brown, khaki, and navy. Although sandals can be worn; it is not recommended. Panty hose can be worn if the weather permits or if your skirt is knee length or shorter. Open toe shoes are never a good idea for an interview; neither are stilettos, platforms, or chunky heels. Three inch pumps are the best option followed by flats. Black, navy, brown, beige, or taupe are the only shoe colors that should be worn; a purse matching your shoes is a nice final touch.

Smart casual attire. In some instances, you may not know if you should wear business professional or business casual. If that happens, feel free to wear a mix of both which is called smart casual attire. It is a step down from business professional but a step up from wearing business casual. With this option, a suit jacket and skirt or dress pants is required. However, you can wear patterned or pastel colored button-down shirts, blouses, or turtlenecks. You can even wear sleeveless shirts that are 3 inches thick under your suit jacket. Your shoes should be your reliable pair of three-inch black leather pumps that are acceptable for any type of interview.

65% of employers said in a survey that an applicant’s attire can be the deciding factor when faced with two similar candidates. When in doubt, remember your attire is important but it is your personality that will steal the show.

Know a man who needs help figuring out what to wear, check out our article Business Professional vs Business Casual 101 for Men.

Written by Sheena Roman.

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