Decoding Office Dress Codes

Michelle Lowry

There’s a lot of things to consider for your first day at a new job- like navigating the commute, meeting your coworkers, and setting up your desk, just to name a few. First days also mean first impressions, and your clothes play a big part. But what do you wear? When you check your employee handbook, you’re likely to find phrases like ‘business casual’ or ‘business professional’. What do those mean? Read on to find out!


As the name implies , casual wear is just that- casual! This is the most open and unrestricted kind of wardrobe. You can wear what makes you comfortable, such as jeans, sneakers, sweaters, dresses, and clothes and accessories with bright colors and patterns. However, keep in mind that you’re still at work. For many companies, casual dress codes still come with expectations. Until you’re familiar with your office and coworkers, it’s a safe bet to avoid clothing with logos, rips, or plunging necklines. If you choose to wear sneakers, make sure they’re clean!

Business Casual

This is the most common office dress code today- it’s also the one people tend to struggle with. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie, but you can’t show up in jeans either. That middle territory is hard to navigate! Generally speaking, you should try to look nice, but you don’t need all the trappings of formal dress. Ties and suit jackets can be left at home. Go for slacks, button down shirts, blouses, dresses, or skirts. Colors and patterns are welcome as long as the overall look is neat and polished. Avoid sneakers and opt for loafers, flats, or more formal shoes instead.

Business Professional

Older, more established companies usually require business professional attire. You may run into this dress code at banks, law firms, or corporate offices. Suits and ties are the standard, as well as professional dresses and blazers. The best way to sum up business professional attire is to think of it as business formal, but with more options for colors and accessories. You can inject your personal style into this wardrobe with fun neckties, colorful heels, or statement jewelry.

Business Formal

This is the highest standard of professional dress. Business Formal attire includes more than just clothes- employees are also expected to maintain their personal appearance, such as having neat hair, nails, and makeup. Daily dress consists of suits, ties, skirt suits, and heels. Accessories should be conservative and low-profile, such as simple jewelry and basic colors.

If you STILL don’t know what to wear after all that information, don’t worry. On your first day, play it safe by dressing more formally. Over-dressing very rarely makes a bad impression, but under-dressing certainly can. Here at Barton, we operate under a business casual dress code- with bonus casual Fridays! We always recommend new employees come professionally dressed on their first Friday so they can see what their coworkers wear. After you get past that first day, you’ll know what to wear for your new career.

Want to spend your first day with us? Apply online for a position in one of our ten nationwide offices!

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