The Art of Legally Selling Yourself: A Guide to Dressing for the Workplace

American fashion designer Tom Ford once stated, “Dressing well is a form of good manners.” While specific dress codes vary by office, there are a few universal guidelines for demonstrating professional manners. We think it’s safe to say you should be covering the four B’s (breasts, butt, belly and back), not wearing pajamas or sweats and exhibiting basic human hygiene (teeth brushed, hair combed, deodorant applied).

But if you’re reading this, I take it you have mastered these rules, and you’re ready for the next stage: distinguishing business casual from business professional.

Business Casual

The business casual environment is usually enforced in schools, banks, insurance agencies, sales departments, restaurants and more. For men, the dress code demands slacks, polos and oxfords. For women, casual skirts and dresses, slacks, oxfords, blouses and flats get the green light. Jeans are also included in this category for many offices, including here at Imaginuity. To model the business casual lifestyle firsthand, here are a few Imaginarians on an average work day:

Creative Intern Bryce wears dark wash fitted jeans, a grey button up and suede sneakers. This look works for a business casual setting for a few reasons. First, the color of the jeans; dark wash always looks nicer than light wash. There are no visible rips or holes, and they fit well. The same goes for the oxford, which also fits appropriately and is ironed. The shoes are simple and clean, looking nice without drawing attention.

Strategist Rachael wears a black pencil skirt, a black top and a yellow summer scarf with slingback heels. Rachael’s outfit falls on the more professional side of the spectrum. Adding a blazer to this look would make it suitable for a business professional environment.

Senior Account Manager Jon looks dapper in khakis, an interesting checkered oxford and brown dress shoes. The look is relaxed, yet refined. It’s a look that says, “I not only take great care of my clients, but can also share a laugh with them.” Keep up the good work, Jon.

Account Manager Shay nails it in a white cotton button-up dress and beige espadrilles. Her outfit is comfortable, light and polished. Absolutely perfect for a business casual office, and accommodating for the Texas summer heat.

Business Professional

Many of these outfits could be converted for a business professional setting by adding a matching blazer or dress shoes. These environments usually include law offices, financial firms and nearly any corporate workplace. There is less room for variety; women stick mostly to matching suits, dress skirts, tailored dresses and heels. Men also wear suits, along with ties and dress shoes. When Imaginarians go business professional, we are usually presenting at seminars or meeting with clients. Here are a few examples:

Account Coordinator Chelsey is snapped on her way back from a client meeting, providing a great example of business professional. Her black lace dress, flats and blazer appear professional and classy. This outfit demurely communicates, “I’m stylish and capable.”

Add a tie and jacket, and here you have a perfect example of business professional from Executive Director of Account Strategy, Rick. “Hello? Don Draper? Why yes, I can meet you in half an hour to discuss fashion and advertising,” Rick says confidently into the phone.

Hopefully our guide has given you some veritable information for distinguishing business casual from business professional. Looking the part is a great first step to actually playing the part, and as the saying goes, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Check out some of our favorite fashion blogs for additional tips on dominating the workplace:

For women:

1. Corpette

2. Commondress

3. Work Chic

4. Corporate Catwalk

5. Marie Claire

For men:

1. Put This On

2. The Style Blogger Men

3. Style Girlfriend

4. The GQ Eye

5. Off the Cuff

The final category is called Web Developer Casual, and you only need one example to understand. Developer Nathan Vaughn, ladies and gentleman:

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