Business professional attire can be necessary for everything from internships to interviews, class presentations and networking events.
In today’s competitive job market, “looking the part” can make or break your success in the workforce, so it’s important to understand the appropriate way to present yourself.
But when it comes to dressing professionally, it can be tricky to know exactly where to begin — which is why I’m here to walk you through the basics.
From budget tips to clothing staples, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about dressing business professional.
Business professional vs. business casual
Business casual and business professional attire are both ubiquitous in today’s workforce, so it’s important to understand what sets them apart.
Think of business casual as a semi-formal attire that gives off an air of professionalism without being too formal, while business professional is more of a full-blown professional look. For example, instead of pairing a dressy top with a casual bottom like you could do in a business casual situation, your whole outfit should be formal when it comes to dressing business professional. (If you’re looking for more tips on business casual attire, click here.)
Business professional tops
Business professional tops are usually blouses, and depending on your style, can come in a variety of materials and designs. For instance, business professional tops can range from satin to silk, and can be fitted, button-ups or flowy wrap tops. However, business professional tops should remain conservative and simple. To keep the outfit professional and not too distracting, they should be somewhat sleeved and not too flashy. Some business professional staples include simple white and black satin blouses that can be easily paired with slacks and heels.
Business professional bottoms
In terms of dress pants, business professional bottoms can include slacks and pants, and can either be straight-legged or slightly wide-legged at the bottom. Business professional bottoms should be fairly neutral in color and not too skin-tight. Having a few pairs of black or navy slacks is a great way to start building your business professional wardrobe, and are easy options for pairing with a variety of blouses and shoes.
But if slacks or pants don’t satisfy you, business professional skirts are a great option as well. Pencil or straight-fit skirts can be paired well with a blouse and blazer for a chic business professional look.
Business professional dresses
Business professional dresses should be mid-length and made of a more durable material than cotton or silk. Typically, business professional dresses are either sleeved, or sleeveless and paired with a nice blazer or cardigan to top off the look. Patterns can work in business professional dresses, but it’s best to stay away from anything too vibrant or overwhelming.
Business professional suits & jackets
In my opinion, there’s nothing more powerfully stylish than a woman in a suit — and business professional settings are a great excuse to break them out. Full-piece suits can range from the classic all-black jacket and pants to pin-stripes, and even bolder, lighter colors such as white or tan. Full-piece suits are an easy way to style a business professional setting while giving off an air of professional authority.
Additionally, when it comes to business professional jackets, blazers can make any outfit look sharper. Black and navy blazers, or black and grey suit jackets, are excellent options for any business professional setting.
Business professional shoes
Shoes are an important component to dressing professionally, and when it comes to business attire, it’s always good to have a nice pair of both flats and heels. Even though heels can sometimes feel daunting, there are plenty of styles that are comfy and easy to walk in. Plus, heels shouldn’t be too high for a business professional setting. A good rule of thumb for heel height is 3 inches or lower, and they should typically be neutral colors such as black or nude. Additionally, a nice pair of loafers (heeled or flat) can go a long way in the world of business professional style.
Business professional accessories
Business professional accessories should be simple, conservative and classic. A business professional setting is not the place for giant colorful earrings or a statement necklace — instead, try adding some dainty pieces to your outfit. Stud earrings, humble necklaces and minimalist bracelets can be good ways to add a little decoration without being too distracting.
On a budget? No problem!
While “dressy” items are often perceived as being expensive or out of reach (especially on a college budget), they don’t have to be!
With the right resources, buying business professional clothes in college won’t put you in a financial hole. Ever hear of a thing called student discounts? Notable brands like BCBG, LOFT, Kenneth Cole, Topshop and Steve Madden offer a generous student discount (10-15%) and have great sales where you can save even up to 80%. You can also check out department stores like Macy’s, which offers some pretty incredible deals on the latest fashion trends and styles.
If you still can’t find what you want, check out The University Network for student discounts and other deals. TUN’s Student Save Engine is designed to save students money. You can also earn TUN Tokens when you shop at participating brands, which you can redeem for quality products, gift cards, online classes or cash.
Building a business professional attire might seem like a lot of work, but it’s actually quite easy to accomplish. By starting with a few of the staples listed above, you’ll be well on your way to creating a professional wardrobe that suits both your personality and work life. And, business professional clothes can be easily adapted to fit a variety of looks — all you have to do is try mixing and matching!
Natalie Colarossi is a recent graduate from Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. She is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has covered a number of topics including art, culture, politics, music, and travel. Her greatest passion and priority is to travel, and she hopes to experience as many places and cultures as possible.