10 Rules For Nailing The Corporate Dress Code

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Last updated: November 25th, 2023

corporate dress code

Last updated: November 25th, 2023

Reading Time: 7 minutes

One of the most daunting aspects of starting a new role is ensuring you get the dress code just right. The dress code for the corporate setting can be challenging as employers don’t always clarify it.

Most corporations have leniency within a general guideline, yet progressive companies seemingly throw dress codes out the window altogether! 

Unsurprisingly, understanding appropriate corporate dress codes can take time. Not to fear. You’ve come to the right place. 

Today, I’ll review general dos and don’ts for designing your ideal work wardrobe and explore industry professionals’ advice for incorporating your personality and flair into your fashion choices. 

By the end of this guide, you should feel ready to arrive at work each day feeling confident, comfortable, and professional. No fashion disasters here!

(Related: How To Deal With A Toxic Boss).

Types Of Business Attire.

The history of dress codes is fascinating.

In Australia, fashion has been dramatically impacted by Australia’s involvement in world wars before being subsequently affected by cultural and social shifts worldwide.

Nowadays, there is a range of dress codes applicable to professional and personal events. You’ll quickly become accustomed to your workplace’s expected dress code. 

Research conducted by SEEK revealed that most of us strongly prefer a specific type of dress code. Smart casual wins at 26%, followed closely by uniform (23%), then business casual (19%).

Common codes include:

CasualThis is a ‘come as you are’ attitude to clothing! Casual means low-key and informal but not careless. Consider t-shirts, open-toed shoes, denim, or sneakers; anything but pyjamas or swimwear. 
Smart CasualCommon in progressive workplaces, smart casual attire combines the comfort of casual (tees and jeans) with the formality of a blazer or dress boots. It’s the best of both worlds.
Business CasualThis code levels things up slightly without full-suit attire. You can consider dress pants, a short-sleeve, or a collared button-up with flat shoes.
BusinessCommon in most corporate environments, a business dress code means tailor pants, collared shirts and suit jackets with dress shoes or small heels. 
Semi-Formal/CocktailCommon for seasonal parties, weddings or events, cocktail balances boardroom, and ballroom styles. This means a full suit for men and mid-length dresses for women.
Black TieBlack tie is standard at industry events or award ceremonies. Beyond a simple black business suit, you should consider silk lapels and a bow tie. For women, high heels are appropriate along with long dresses. 
White TiePull out all the stops for white tie. This attire is for attending your cousin’s lavish wedding in the South of France: a tuxedo for men and a full ball gown for women. 

Depending on the requirements, your office dress code will likely involve a combination of smart casual, business and semi-formal options.

For men’s attire ideas, read here, and for women’s inspiration, read here.

Read on to discover our top tips for developing your style whilst remaining professional and sleek. 

Expert tip.

Dress code is industry specific. An e-commerce start-up may be encouraged to wear activewear and sneakers, while those working in a law firm will only almost always sport tailored suits and heels. 

10 Golden Dress Code Rules.

These ten rules will ensure you look sharp and aligned with your corporate workspace setting regardless of industry. 

1. First Impressions Count. 

Yes, they do. Whilst there is always more than meets the eye, you will want to play it safe and keep things professional when new to a workplace. 

Did you Know?

Your outfit impacts 70% of someone’s assumptions about you during the first meeting.

My tips are: 

  • Don’t underdress: Whilst it may be awkward, overdressing is much better than arriving in casual clothes on your first day. You’ll quickly see the types of outfits different teams choose to sport. 
  • Don’t cut corners: It’s worth investing in quality work shoes or a blazer that will last you multiple years. Cheaper options tend to need replacing more often. 
  • Take no risks (for now): As much as we love creative flair, save the dazzling earrings, or neon lipsticks for once you know your coworkers more personally. If in doubt, read some general rules here.
  • When in doubt, keep it simple: Neutral colour and understated items are the way to go if you’re unsure. 

expert Tip.

The company dress code applies to interviews, conferences, or meeting settings, not just your day-to-day work.

2. Know Your Industry. 

Some industries love to push the boundaries.

Expert Tip.

Before starting, you should research the company or speak to mutual contacts to better understand the sector and what is appropriate. Consider reaching out to a future colleague for coffee before starting and asking for advice.

Some organisations may also require specific attire or ‘uniform’, which they’ll be sure to specify during your hiring process. 

Common industries with specific dress codes include: 

  • Tech: Uniforms are usually required for brands or in-house agencies that travel.
  • Media: Those on camera will often have additional resources or budget for their workwear, plus hair/make-up teams.
  • Fashion: Potentially the most high-stakes, those working in the fashion industry will be tirelessly judged on the brands they choose to wear.
  • Law: Corporate in every sense of the word, law firms will require business attire.
  • Healthcare: Clinics or practices will almost always be uniform. 
  • Start-Ups: The no-dress code dress code; you can get away with (almost) anything except your bikini. Discover some basic guidelines here.

Each organisation will champion a completely different dress code, but rest assured that some basics will be suitable across all!

(Related: How To Deal With Difficult People At Work).

3. Overdress? Yes! 

Yes, you read correctly. 

Starting a new job can be stressful enough; learning new processes, memorising names, and figuring out your new commute.

The last thing you need is the added worry of looking too casual amongst your new colleagues. 

Instead, elevate your workwear until you feel comfortable playing it safe. To do this, I recommend the following: 

  • Shoes: The adage goes that if there’s one thing you should never skimp on, it’s a quality pair of shoes. Style will be up to personal preference, but I love these options.
  • Bag: For men, a quality laptop case or satchel will elevate your look. Women should opt for a classic tote that will match every outfit. Explore these here.
  • Jewellery: Jewellery choices are down to personal preference, some prefer to go all-out, and others prefer a minimalist style. As long as nothing is too distracting, either is fine. 
  • Glasses: If you wear glasses, experimenting with fun frames can be a fashion statement! Consider more oversized retro frames or those in different colours. 
  • Technology: Don’t be afraid to bring your iPad, headphones, smartwatch, or any other item that assists you in the workplace with you.

4. Understand Casual Dress Code. 

One essential rule for nailing the corporate dress code is understanding business casual

This dress style, whilst the most commonly utilised worldwide, confuses most. Where does the line exist between business and casual?

After all, they seem like two different styles altogether.  

Business casual attire typically includes:

  • Casual pants like jeans or chinos.
  • Short sleeve, collared shirts.
  • A blazer with a t-shirt underneath. 
  • Tailored pants with sandals or sneakers (for younger employees).  
  • Dresses with a suit jacket.

Small details can make all the difference. If you dress down with flat shoes and a tee, ensure you style your hair, groom your beard and opt for refined, natural makeup.

Explore business casual inspiration here for men, and here for women. 

5. Rock The Traditional Look.

In addition to understanding business casual, you should know the traditional dress code and when to use it.

Some situations, like high-stakes meetings or business functions, require a more professional and refined look. 

The traditional corporate dress code includes the following: 

  • A full tailored suit.
  • Dress shirt and tie.
  • A longer-length dress or skirt.
  • Blazer or suit jacket.
  • Polished dress shoes or heels.

You can match many of these staple items with pants or blouses to create a different look. 

6. Shop Smart.

While completely redesigning your wardrobe upon starting a new role can be overwhelming, you don’t need to break the bank.

Shopping at the correct places will ensure you can design an impressive, on-trend corporate wardrobe that stands the test of time!

Designer options can be expensive, so consider the below:

  • Designer resale: This is a great way to purchase authentic second-hand goods. Explore the best platforms here.
  • Sample sales: Designer brands often hold sample sales (all the time in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne!). With minimal notice, you can find posters around the city or details on Instagram outlining the details. You’ll discover on-season pieces for often a third of the price. 
  • Depop: Many people sell their pre-loved fashion (some with tags on here). It’s a global marketplace where you can search for your needs.
  • Wardrobe Swaps: Pair up with friends or family to swap pieces that work well for you or attend markets. 
  • Seasonal Sales: Look out for end-of-season sales at your favourite retailers, which are the best way to bag a bargain. 

Whilst some items (like a suit jacket) will typically be pricier, it’s worth spending money on quality staple items that will last you for years. 

7. Casual Fridays. 

Casual Fridays are an industry classic! These days are notoriously one of the most challenging to dress for. You’ve been permitted to dress down, but how casual is too casual?

The key is to balance the corporate look with everyday items and avoid anything too relaxed. Steer clear of anything too boundary-breaking; that means no summer Havianas, Hawaiian shirts, or revealing clothing.

Instead, mix it with different coloured or textured shirts or wear your hair out rather than completely styled.

Opt for loafers or dress sandals when the weather is appropriate!

8. Dress Well For Remote Work. 

Whilst we’ve all become very comfortable with working from home requirements, some individuals seem to take this as permission to work in their pyjamas!

It’s not a great look to join meetings with those who have not yet brushed their hair for the day. 

If you work from home, aim to dress as if you are still attending an office.

You can, however, enjoy the flexibility of wearing casual t-shirts, jeans, or comfortable dresses. Avoid sweatshirts or hoodies at all costs!

9. Never Go Completely Casual. 

When building your corporate wardrobe, if in doubt, it’s best to focus on the clear no-nos.

I recommend you steer clear of the following: 

  • Logo t-shirts.
  • Shirts with political or religious messaging. 
  • Ripped denim. 
  • Thongs or sandals
  • Mini skirts or shorts
  • Sporting caps. 

Although dressing down and being comfortable is tempting, it’s too risky. You never know when your boss may call you into a high-pressure meeting with stakeholders or business partners!

10. Follow The Professionals. 

Finally, to inspire you, I’ve gathered recommendations from industry professionals. These fashion experts weigh in on the must-know info to build your new wardrobe! 

Tan France: Queer Eye Host and Fashion Icon.

His top advice: Wear clothes that make you feel good. 

According to France, this can change your mindset for the day. “It can make a difference, not only to your appearance but also your mental health, because you’re telling yourself in the morning when you decide what you’re going to put on your body, how seriously you take yourself, and how seriously you take the life you want,” he says.

Erin Walsh: Celebrity Fashion Stylist.

Her top advice: Get the basics sorted.

Walsh says you need versatile items in your wardrobe to build a perfect corporate closet. “Start with a few key pieces that you can wear with most things you have. A piece you should absolutely invest in is a perfectly fitting blazer, smoking jacket, or cropped jacket that can be worn with jeans, a dress, or on a plane. Also, figure out the style of pants or tops that looks best on you and buy them in a few colours.”

Abiding By Your Company’s Dress Code.

Nailing the corporate dress code does not have to be daunting. With a bit of creativity and flair, it can be fun.

When in doubt, follow the above tips and guidelines to design your ideal corporate wardrobe.

Rest assured that you can make a great impression on your new workplace with a few basics (or staple items) that don’t need to break the bank and can be worn for years.

Ultimately, restraining things is best until you fully understand your new company culture. Then, you can incorporate your personality whilst still keeping things polished and professional. Good luck! 


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