Types of Business Attire for Women: Decoding the Office Dress Code

Skirt or pants? Tights or bare legs? Flats or heels? These are some of the questions women contemplate when thinking about the different types of business attire. Striking the perfect balance between professionalism and style can be a tricky task. Luckily, we’re here to help. The four most common workwear dress codes are business formal, business professional, business casual and casual. Not quite sure what these terms mean? Keep reading for our tips and tricks to ensure you dress to impress all week long. 

Business Formal for Skillful Authority

Think of business formal as the highest tier within the types of women’s business attire. If you regularly meet with executives, work in law or hold a high-level role, nailing this look is a necessity. Business formal attire traditionally includes a jacket with a matching skirt or pants. Acing this style is all about the color palette you choose. The darker the suit, the more formal your finished appearance will be. Black, navy and brown are all classic, fail-proof options. Keep things chic with neutral colors and little to no embellishments. Hold onto the mantra, “less is more.”

Depending on the season, three-quarter sleeve blazers and cropped trousers are acceptable. Skirts should sit at or just above the knee—no higher than two finger-widths is a good rule of thumb. While pantyhose are no longer required with skirts, dark-colored tights keep you sleek and warm during the cooler seasons. A crisp collared shirt or dressy blouse adds the finishing touch to a spick-and-span suit. Remember to always keep your top tucked in for a refined workwear look.  

Businesslike Accessories and Shoes

Conservative accessories and closed toe-shoes round out your business formal wardrobe. Save your statement jewelry and sandals for the weekend. Stilettos and flats are sure-fire choices to achieve that put-together look. Subtle stud earrings and dainty necklaces are all you need to put the finishing touches on your outfit. Curious how to wear pearls to work? Top off your ensemble with a choker length pearl necklace for a retro flair. Appearing polished is the name of the game for this type of business attire. Ensure you maintain a high standard in your appearance to enhance your personal brand. 

Expert Style Tip: If you take public transportation to work, chances are you do a lot of walking. Wear comfortable shoes for your commute and stash your heels in your tote bag. Do a quick shoe swap once you arrive at your desk. Your feet will thank you.

Business Professional Attire for Mastering Confidence

Business professional attire is a small step down from the business formal dress code. It is also considered a conservative and traditional type of business attire for women. Presenting keynotes and working in finance or the government may require this style of dress. There is more flexibility with color and patterns, and an opportunity to inject personality into your nine-to-five uniform. Your business professional attire should be well-fitted and tailored to your fit specifications.

Suits still reign supreme for this workwear, but feel free to explore with trend-forward print options and unique details. A preppy plaid blazer layered with a white button-down is an office-friendly pairing. Wondering how to wear wide-leg pants in a professional setting? A structured full-length pair modernizes your getup without sacrificing comfort. Slip your silk shirt into a sleek pair of black wide-leg trousers to complete this sophisticated outfit. Now, you’re all set to crush your career goals.

Give your suit a break and opt for a tailored dress. As Karl Lagerfeld once said, “one is never overdressed or underdressed with a little black dress.” Why not apply this rule to your business professional dress code? Sheath and fitted silhouettes with three-quarter sleeves are your best bet. Elevate the look with an edgy pair of snake-print heels. Avoid dresses that are too tight or short, and always wear a blazer or jacket over a sleeveless dress. Let your personality shine through your workwear by donning an emerald tote bag. Carrying around all of your essentials has never looked so stylish.

“One is never overdressed or underdressed with a little black dress.” – Karl Lagerfeld

Business Casual Attire to Stay Neat and Presentable

Business casual is the one of the most common types of women’s business attire. Most tech companies, classrooms and office settings utilize this style of dress. Expect to see more color and accessories in this type of work setting. The goal is to maintain a businesslike appearance without sacrificing comfort and individuality. Think more business and less casual. Keep in mind this dress code can mean different things to various organizations. When in doubt, always check with your Human Resources department or glance around at what fellow colleagues are sporting before making any assumptions. 

If you find yourself asking if jeans are business casual, we’ve got the answer for you. Yes, but not all jeans are created equal. Leave your distressed denim and lighter washes for your days off. Instead, reach for dark indigo hues or classic black styles when heading to the office. Take a cue from common trouser silhouettes such as bootcut or straight-fit. And of course, quintessential skinny jeans can dress up your workwear. Look for skinnies with a proper fit—not too tight, and not too loose. Once you’ve found your perfect pair, step up your style game by wearing them with a vibrant pink top. Layer on a black blazer, and you’re nailing the business casual look like the boss that you are.

What is the Difference Between Business Attire and Business Casual? 

Before we break down the differences, let’s define “business attire.” This phrase is used interchangeably referring to either business formal or business professional attire. When asking about the difference between business formal attire and business casual, the easy answer is: suit versus no suit. Business formal requires a traditional dark suit set, while business casual lets you mix and match suit separates with informal pieces. Take the jacket from your suit and pair it with jeans and a comfy mixed-media blouse for business casual workwear

The same rules apply when deciphering the difference between business professional and business casual. Business professional attire requires distinguished suits and dresses, while business casual allows you to reach for more effortless pieces. Both create an adept impression, but the latter allows you to work in a few of your weekend favorites. As mentioned previously, denim can be business casual. But your prized pair of perfect-fitting jeans are a no-go for women’s business formal or professional attire. Now you have cracked the code on variations between these types of women’s business attire. Let’s dive into the coziest styles on our list.

“The great thing about fashion is that it always moves forward.” —Oscar de la Renta

Workleisure is Business Comfort on the Rise

Times are evolving, and so have corporate dress codes near and far. As the name implies, workleisure is a blend of workwear and leisure. This type of business attire is a winter women’s 2022 fashion trend that strikes a balance between structured and soft fabrications. Think of workleisure as the post-pandemic response to business casual—or as we like to call it, business comfort. Give this trend a go for your next casual Friday. We promise, we won’t tell if you repeat it for Sunday brunch.

If you thought the return to in-person work events meant folding up your favorite joggers, we have good news for you. Workleisure lets you get even more use out of your beloved leisure pieces. Grab a prim pair of black drawstring pants and wear them with a nautical stripe button-down. A simple French-tuck is all you need to pull these two pieces together. Complete the outfit with contemporary mules for a current yet comfy style. You’ll feel at home, even if you’re heading back to the office.

Casual Attire to Stay Effortless and Elevated

Last, but certainly not least, is the most relaxed type of all business attire: the casual dress code. This less restrictive women’s workwear style is common in creative industries and on laid-back Fridays at more formal workplaces. If you’re lucky enough to work in a casual setting, the trick is to avoid looking too relaxed. 

To maintain an elevated appearance while wearing casual clothing, fill your closet with bonafide basics. Button-down blouses, knit tops and denim that’s free of rips and holes are a great foundation for casual attire. While clean sneakers are acceptable in some settings, flats are always a safe bet. Grab a trendy pair of straight-cut jeans in a dark blue wash and pair them with a bright white T-shirt. Layer on a cozy windowpane plaid cardigan for cabincore vibes, and finish with dainty ballet flats. Classy meets casual—it doesn’t get much better than that. 

Now that you’re an expert on all types of business attire, your new-age work wardrobe is just waiting to be found. Take your style quiz and schedule a Fix. Ask your stylist to send women’s workwear pieces suitable for your specific dress code. You can relax trying on everything at home, plus shipping and returns are always free.

A New Way To Shop

Stitch Fix connects you with personal Stylists to send you looks you’ll love.

Get Your Fix

Need expert fashion advice?

Get a personal stylist

Want more tips, trends & insider news? Follow @stitchfix on Instagram