Before starting your day in a business formal environment, there are a few things that need to happen. Perhaps it’s your morning routine of brewing a strong cup of coffee. Or, getting into the right mindset with a motivational playlist. However you prep to conquer the workday, you don’t want to spend all of your time stressing over your outfit choice. Even if you’re a seasoned pro, we know it can be a struggle to interpret this buttoned-up work dress code. We’ll take that as our cue. Keep reading for our guide to women’s business formal attire and the must-have pieces to add to your sartorial schedule.
What Is Business Formal?
Before we get into the specifics, let’s define what business formal attire for women means. Consider this dress code as the office equivalent of the black-tie dress code at a wedding. This type of business attire requires you to look your most polished and professional. Traditionally, this translated to dark pants or skirt suits, pantyhose, crisp button-downs, classic blouses and neutral pumps. However, in recent years, employers have loosened up across the board. But don’t reach for your jeans just yet. Modern business formal outfits still need to look clean-cut, but a few of the rules have relaxed.
For example, unless stated otherwise, pantyhose are no longer a requirement, especially in the summer or in hot climates. Wondering if formal business attire requires a suit? Suits are still the standard here. However, you can incorporate more colors into your workwear palette. Plus, mixing suit separates is no longer off the table. Now that you have the answer to “what is business formal,” let’s explain when to wear it.
When To Wear Business Formal Attire
If you’re wondering what jobs require business formal attire, do a little internet sleuthing before your first day. Take a look at the company website and images of the office itself. These resources will often reveal key clues on workplace dress code requirements. As a general guidepost, we recommend this attire for many legal, financial, political and broadcast media fields. These industries tend toward a formal business environment, especially in client-facing positions. If you’re heading into an executive role, this is the sophisticated look you may wish to consider.
Outside of the office, business formal clothing is appropriate for award ceremonies, conferences and interviews. The saying, “dress for the job you want,” never rang so true. With the fundamentals out of the way, it’s time to equip your closet with our favorite formal work clothing staples.
5 Pieces To Start Building Your Business Formal Wardrobe
We all have our right-hand clothing pieces for different occasions. Picture your comfiest leggings for a workout or wearing a little black dress for a night out. The same goes for those business formal essentials that set you up for success. In our book, these include blazers or jackets, blouses, bottoms, professional dresses and jumpsuits. Consider these your building blocks to an endless array of power outfits. Get to know these four workday wardrobe warriors that deserve a raise.
Business Formal Blazers and Jackets To Top the Charts
Topping our list of women’s business formal attire basics is a structured blazer or jacket. These sleek layering pieces not only define a formal dress code, but they automatically upgrade your ensemble. When picking out a blazer or suit jacket, fit is it. Make sure the shoulder seams line up with the apex of your shoulders. Look put-together with sleeves no longer than your wrists. Some offices allow three-quarter length sleeves during the summer months. In terms of color, we recommend starting with timeless neutrals like black, charcoal and navy for easy clothing combinations. Ready to pick tops to go underneath your trail-blazing blazer?
Refined Blouses and Button-downs for Go-Getters
Once you’ve got your blazer or jacket of choice, incorporate polished blouses and button-downs into your business formal outfits. Invest in high-quality button-down shirts in solid colors like white, powder blue, tan and grey. Look for styles that have enough length to tuck into pants or a skirt. If comfort is number one on your list, find knit-blend fabrications to give stretch where you need it. Even a low percentage of flexible material like spandex makes a huge difference in ease of movement.
Along with button-downs, refined blouses are also worth adding to your fashion repertoire. Try options made with luxury fabrics. Silk adds a feminine twist to this vital workwear pick. While solid-colored blouses are an easy yes for any formal work environment, some places will let you dabble in prints. In this case, be sure to stick to simple, subtle patterns like a dainty polka dot or dapper pinstripe. You’ve got the top half of your look down, now partner it with style-savvy pants and skirts.
Business Formal Bottoms: Skirts and Pants to Anchor Your Outfit
Complete your women’s business formal ensemble with a professional pair of pants or a skillful skirt. Let’s give you the scoop on what pants to wear to the office first. Seek out a full-length pair of trousers. Stay away from distressing and overly trendy designs, such as bell-bottoms or loud patterns. Dark solids are always an A+ choice. However, you can also consider playing with low-key prints like heathering, houndstooth or window-pane plaids. Looking for that top-notch extra detail? Choose slacks with a pressed crease going down the front of the pant leg. This simple touch puts in the legwork for a polished ensemble.
For skirts, a pencil silhouette is never a miss. Curious about how to find the perfect fit? Ensure the backside hangs straight down instead of flaring out or puckering underneath the seat of your skirt. If you prefer a breezier silhouette, a-line skirts are also acceptable choices. Regardless of the cut you choose, the rules for length remain the same. Aim for a hem that sits at, or no more than, an inch above your knee. We’ve run the gamut on separates, so that means it’s time for that one-and-done business formal piece: the dress.
Professional Dresses To Stand Strong
An unparalleled choice for a formal business environment is a smart dress. Opt for a contender that reflects your personal sense of style. Are traditional silhouettes a requirement? You can’t go wrong with timeless tweed, a classic crepe fabrication or a stunning sheath dress. Layer a button-down shirt underneath a structured dress to wear your dress comfortably in the winter months.
If your formal dress code has some leniency, reach for a knit fabrication in a cheerful or whimsical pattern. A print that sparks joy instantly shows off your style. From classic stripes to floral motifs and geometric designs, these patterns can be toned down by layering with jackets. Mixing subtle prints and adding texture creates intrigue for workplaces with a business formal dress code. Now you are set to express yourself with executive flair.
Are Jumpsuits Business Formal?
At this point, we know what all the jumpsuit lovers are wondering: “are jumpsuits business formal?” The answer is a resounding yes. As offices adopt more lax dress codes, these tasteful one-pieces are now welcome across the board—and in the boardroom. This modern and stylish workplace wonder has the allure of a dress and the comfort of a pantsuit. It instantly creates a poised look that shows off your inner fashionista. Choose a classic color like black, navy, blue or white to streamline your business formal attire. Elevate it with a crisp blazer, suede heeled pumps and simple accessories to keep this trend-forward garment in professional territory.
The Difference Between Business Casual vs. Business Formal
What is the difference between business casual vs. business formal, you ask? Allow us to decode the rulebook. Dressed to the nines from nine to five, business formal is standard for many formal business environments. Pristine, pressed and never wrinkled, this workwear presents a polished image that is well-suited for professionals. Business casual is a far more relaxed version of this dress code. Collared shirts, sweaters, dress pants or chinos, dresses and closed-toe shoes are acceptable attire.
Your water-cooler cohorts can also help you decipher the appropriate dress code at your place of work. When in doubt, look to your human resources department or employee handbook for clarification.
Modern Formal Business Attire for Women
We’ve guided you through the basics of business formal. But what if your career is in a field with more wiggle room regarding work wear? Creative industries like art, fashion and start-ups play by a different set of rules when it comes to formal wear. For these cultural workplaces, may we suggest modern formal business attire for women? Read on to learn how to incorporate more thrills and frills into your outfits with colors, contemporary silhouettes and accessories.
Enterprising Bold Colors
Bring excitement to daily dressing with unexpected colors in your go-to modern business formal staples. Stray from traditional choices with a vibrant kelly green, punchy coral or canary yellow statement piece. Swap your classic-toned blazers or trousers for an eye-catching hue. You can mix shades in the same color family for a monochromatic look or tonal dressing. Combine two or more hues with contrasting tones to color block. You’ll have a head-to-toe ensemble that shows your smarts and showcases your personality. Bonus: having playful colors helps your look go from desk to dinner in no time. Are you starting to feel like the boss of bold colors? Let’s transfer you over to our modern silhouettes department.
Delve Into Modern Business Formal Silhouettes
As office attire gets back to business, workplace silhouettes are no longer limited to tailored garments. Turn up the volume with a bold sleeve, wide-leg pants or an oversized blazer. Adding these really ups the ante to your workday look. Be sure to experiment with one of these modern silhouettes per outfit. This keeps you in line with the business formal dress code.
A blouse with billowy sleeves can add drama to your look without going over the top. Are the days of donning sweatpants for virtual calls in the past? Lean into an equally airy wide-leg trouser to stay comfortable and sleek. Style a relaxed pair of wide-leg pants with a fitted top and traditional blazer to add balance. Keep the outfit business-minded with pointed-toe flats. Ready to play with proportion? Reach for an oversized blazer. Crisp shoulders bring on a power stance, setting you up for success while keeping business formal attire front of mind. Midi dresses strike an ideal balance between sophistication and comfort. Opt for a design with a pleated skirt or polo neckline for a trend that’s spot-on for workplace style. Now, you’re an expert in modern cutting-edge silhouettes and it’s time to choose the right accessories to seal the deal.
Trend-Forward Accessories That Hit the Pavement
A sure-fire way to level up your career wear is with the right accessories. These finishing touches infuse joie de vivre into formal business attire for women. Fancy up your footwear with kitten heels, or opt for a chic loafer. Breaking in new pairs is an easy way to make heels more comfortable. Be an office queen with a statement headband that’ll keep your hair out of your eyes and brighten up your day. Balance the look with stud earrings and delicate bangles for simple yet office-friendly touches. As for types of bags, a trusty tote serves as a catch-all for your workday essentials. A patent leather-like satchel offers an instant update to your go-getter aesthetic.
We’ve come to the end of our women’s business formal attire rundown. Ready for these looks to join your team? Take your style quiz and schedule a Fix. Ask your stylist for workwear pieces to have you looking like a pro. Relax and receive five curated pieces to try on at home. Buy what you love and send back the rest. Shipping and returns are always free.