>> Article Archives >> Business Etiquette >> Dressing Casual?

Business Etiquette
Dressing Casual?
By Mercedes Alfaro, President, First Impression Management

If business casual is your dress code, its imperative you strive for is a well-coordinated, finished look that has style,

For many companies, what was intended for employees as a company perk or as a way to conduct business in a more relaxed environment - has backfired into an occupational hazard.  I'm talking about Business Casual or Dress-Down Days.The problem is that too many business professionals look like they are dressed for weekend relaxation rather than serious business.  This hazard has been the demise of many employees who should reach higher levels only to be held back because of lack of presence.

If business casual is your dress code, it's imperative that you strive for a well-coordinated, finished look that has style, and coordination.  When you dress for success, you feel empowered, gain more respect and make faster career advancements by looking your professional best.

Use the following as a business casual guide to project a professional yet casual image:
  • If it doesn't fit, don't wear it. Squeezing into a size 8 may feed your vanity, but it will make you appear overfed to everyone else.  Shop by FIT, not by size.  If you can't sit down or feel like a trussed up turkey, you're not going to feel your best.  Why put yourself through that kind of torture?  Find clothes that fit or have them tailored to fit and stack the cards in your favor.

  • Since you wear different clothes for different activities in you life; your makeup should change as well.  Just remember that inappropriate makeup includes not wearing makeup.  The first basic rules are:  Light for day, heavier for evening, sheer for sports or other strenuous pursuits.

  • You'll look taller and trimmer by matching the color of your hose to your shoes and your hem.  Wearing a black skirt and shoes?  Wear sheer black hose. Have a bright blue dress and taupe shoes?  Go for the taupe-colored hose. What? You only wear black hose because they hide things you don't want people to see?  Well, guess what: unless your whole outfit's black, you're CALLING ATTENTION to your legs. If that's not what you want, it's time to rethink your plan.
  • If your shoes have seen better days, find a good shoe repair shop to give them TLC.  Polish them regularly. Use a felt tip marker on scuffs, and put a piece of soft carpet under your feet when you drive.  And most importantly, invest in a good pair if you're going to wear them every other day.

  • Keep your nails clean and evenly trimmed.  To make repairs quickly, keep a clipper and a nail file in your purse and at your desk at work.  Paint over chips or remove all polish.  If you're in a business environment, stick with conservative nail polish colors at work and save the sparkly/neon/funky looks for weekends and vacations.  Dragon-lady lengths are never appropriate for business.

  • Your hair should be neat, clean, and conservatively styled. Ladies, banana clips, brightly-colored scrunches or elastics, and cheerleader-type ponytails look out of place in a business environment. You may want to wear your hair in an up-do, pull it back into a low ponytail, or wear a barrette (this suggestion does not include the tiny little barrettes that only hold the front of your bangs back). The idea is to look polished and professional, not to advertise what a creative genius your hairdresser is.

  • Think twice about wearing jeans under any situation when you are working.  Even if your company finds them acceptable, they don't send the message, I am a professional.

  • Keep the following items for your weekend or at-home wardrobe only:  zip-front hooded sweatshirts, team jackets, jean jackets, t-shirts with slogans, midriff-baring tops, tank tops, well-worn jeans, spandex pants, stirrup pants, overalls, biking shorts, sweat pants, mini skirts, see-through tops, halter tops, flip-flops (even if they have rhinestones), sneakers, sandals, baseball caps, clothes that are too sexy, t-strap blouses or low-cut tops.
Pay attention to all the details of your professional presence: clothes, hair, makeup, and personal grooming.  Why spoil your look when looking great and professional is so easy?

Mercedes Alfaro is president and founder of First Impression Management, a national business etiquette training and consulting firm, helping individuals to excel in all aspects of their professional presence, online at or at 561-395-0256

More articles by Mercedes Alfaro
More articles on Business Etiquette