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How to interpret the workplace dress code

Sometimes interpreting the dress code at work can be as simple as reading the policy in your employee handbook. However, many policies do not cover the details and consequently leave the policy open to a varying degree of interpretation. If you’re looking for help with how to assess appropriate dress for your workplace, consider the following guidelines.

how to interpret your workplace dress code

Office style survival guide


Evaluate your environment. Observing the attire worn by your managers and top-performing executives within your workplace is the absolute best way to determine the preferred type of dress within your organization.


When in doubt, err on the side of caution. If you’re not sure about an outfit, then hold off from wearing it. There’s nothing wrong with asking your manager if open-toed shoes or sleeveless shirts are appropriate in the office. In fact, taking the initiative to check with your boss before taking the fashion plunge will show you are paying attention and that you take your position within the organization seriously.


Read between the lines. If a dress code is very specific and requires closed toe shoes, hosiery with skirts, or even dictates an appropriate skirt length, then you are working in a conservative work culture and should avoid wearing anything too trendy. On the other hand, if you receive the common dress code description, “Business-casual,” then you may not want to overdress by wearing a full suit.

Tip: A nice jacket can be the saving grace to any business casual ensemble. Choose a jacket that’s flattering and well-tailored for a pulled-together look.


The dress code extends past your actual dress. In addition to dressing the part, appearing well-groomed is included in your overall work appearance. Your hair, makeup and accessories all offer a great opportunity to express your personal style and fashion. However, they also blend into your employer’s expectations of your appearance. Again, it’s best to take the conservative route up front. This includes covering up tattoos or piercings, wearing light makeup, and keeping your hair and jewelry simple and stylish.


Pay attention to what’s underneath. You need to be comfortable at work, so your underwear should be comfortable. It should also be invisible to your coworkers and clients. Visible panty lines and bra straps are sure ways to distract management and impede promotions.


Well-presented trumps expensive. Whether it’s Hawaiian shirt day or a normal suit wearing day, well-maintained, clean and wrinkle-free clothing are crucial to presenting yourself in a favorable light at the office. You do not have to spend a fortune on your wardrobe, but you do need to spend time putting it together.

7Black pants and a good black dress are valuable staples to any work wardrobe. They are professional and easy to work into most outfits, which add versatility to your wardrobe. This is especially helpful when starting out in an office. Just make sure that your blacks match if you wear multiple pieces.


Shine your shoes. Even the most expensive shoes can look unprofessional when they are scuffed. Take care of your shoes and know when to let a pair go. Better to buy new than to let an old pair downgrade an office outfit.

More on the workplace:

Dress to impress: How fashion can affect your career
Fit tips for women’s business wear
5 Tips for dressing for an interview

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