This article will be discussing the business professional dress code, which means a suit and tie for men. We offer a garment-by-garment breakdown with visuals and corresponding explanations.
If you’re curious about other dress codes for men, see our home page for dress codes.
Anyone who’s had a job knows that, more often than not, workplaces require their employees to adhere to a dress code. There are varying levels of strictness and formality, with some offices requiring a suit and tie, others being okay with khakis and a polo shirt, and others still who could care less if you show up wearing flip-flops.
What follows is a discussion of the strictest of professional dress codes: business professional.
What Is Business Professional?
“Business professional” was the standard dress code of any office worker up through the 1980’s, at which point the 1990’s stepped in with the widespread adoption of business casual.
The dress code is simple, at least on its face: wear a suit and tie. As time has progressed and professional mores have become more relaxed, we’ve seen less and less of this dress code.
If you work in law, government, or are at the C-level of most organizations, it is likely that you dress in a business professional dress code at least four days a week.
The biggest takeaway you need to know about business professional is that the name of the game is conservatism. Unless you work for a tailor shop that adheres to business professional (and many do, as wearing your goods makes them easier to sell).
Breakdown Of The Business Professional Dress Code
As mentioned above, the key here is wearing a suit and tie. We’ll get into more specifics below:
Your suit should be a two-piece number, either charcoal grey or navy blue. Thankfully, both of these colors comprise the backbone of the capsule wardrobe. You may also wear navy or grey suits with subtle pinstripes.
Somewhat lighter greys and blues (think medium grey and cadet blue) can be worn in the warmer months, but it’s best to avoid very light suit colors. These are fine for weddings and other fun events, but won’t work in a sartorially conservative office environment.
Solid white and light-to-medium blues are best, both of which are covered by your existing capsule wardrobe. While we are huge fans of pink dress shirts, they tend to be more widely accepted in England than they are in The United States.
In terms of pattern, you can get away with subtle stripes, with blue being your best bet on a white shirt, and white stripes being your best bet on a blue shirt.
With regard to cuffs, you may theoretically wear either barrel or French cuffs. Our suggestion is to leave French cuffs to your co-workers who have seniority over you. While it may not be fair, there’s a chance that a younger man wearing French cuffs may be seen as brash, cocky, or arrogant, not having “earned” the right to wear them.
Ties should be simple: red, blue, or yellow. Solids are obviously a perfect starting point (again, these are in your capsule wardrobe), but stripes and other conservative, classic patterns will work.
Keep the colors muted. Avoid bright reds, loud yellows, and electric blues. To learn more about color, check out our comprehensive color guide.
You probably have the most leeway with shoes than with anything else in this dress code. While anything casual is pretty much off-limits, the range of dress shoes available to men is pretty extensive, and you can have some fun here.
You can wear either black, brown, or burgundy shoes. We suggest oxfords, cap-toes, quarter-brogues, whole cuts, and dressy Venetian loafers. If you see other men wearing monkstraps around the office, you may do so as well.
You’ll want leather belts to match your shoes. Keep the hardware silver in color (nickel is the typical material used), as gold is a bit flashy for the office.
Pocket squares should be white cotton, linen, or silk. We suggest a TV fold (1/4″ showing above the breast pocket in a straight horizontal line) or something of similar conservativeness. If you feel like you can branch out into colors, we suggest white squares with different-colored trim.
Socks should match your trousers and be pulled up to the knee. Colorful, crazy socks -while fun- don’t have a place in a business professional environment. Furthermore, “no-show” socks are a no-go. There is nothing less professional than visible ankles.
A note on braces: braces are similar to French cuffs in the business professional office. They’re appropriate to wear, but they tend to be under the purview of your older office workers. Young guys in suspenders can come off as disrespectful to their elders: not something you want to do if you’re looking to move up within the company.
Top Three Business Professional Mistakes To Avoid
In addition to what’s mentioned above, these are the three biggest pitfalls to avoid in a business professional office:
- Skimping on tailoring: Putting on a suit and tie in a business professional workplace is useless if you don’t have your clothes altered properly. This is particularly true if you’re client-facing. Get yourself to a tailor and invest in your professional wardrobe properly.
- “Fashion” details: Avoid things like peak lapels, ticket pockets, and loud patterns. They may be fun and stylish, but they’re not exactly professional.
*Editor’s Note*: An exception to this would be private criminal defense lawyers. These men tend to dress flashily as a way to say communicate the results they get for their clients, which in turn gets them paid well.
- Unshined / improper shoes: If you wouldn’t go to work in a dirty suit, you shouldn’t do the same in dirty shoes. If your shoes aren’t in good condition, people will notice. It will take a lot of the professionalism out of your look.
Business professional is a dress code with limited choice, which means that it’s also reasonably easy to adhere to. If you’ve built up your capsule wardrobe, then you will have just about everything necessary to dress perfectly in such an office.