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Formal Office Wear for Men and Women: How to Dress for a Professional Workplace

There is time for everything. A time to work and a time to rest; a time to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and a time to do you. If you’re among the working class, your workplace is Caesar. And aside from your dedication, you have to give it something else — formal office wear.

In other words, if your workplace is a professional environment, you’ll be expected to always dress in an attire that blends in with it.

And to do that effortlessly, you need to know how to dress for a professional workplace.

Not to worry.

lady dressed in a brown dress for work

You’re on the right track.

And before you get to the end of this piece, you’ll know all it takes to appear in formal office wear.

This guide will enlighten you on all it takes so you never look drab at work in the name of being professional.

What is Formal Office Wear?

lady wearing light-blue blazer and pants

Otherwise known as business formal attire, Formal office wear is the dress code for the office. It evokes sophistication and professionalism. It also enhances the image of your workplace as well as your personal brand.

In a business formal environment, the standard dress code for men and women are suits, jackets, dress pants, knee-length skirts, or a dress with conservative details.

However, it is important that you know the dress code for your workplace and abide by it.

This is because not all organisations adopt business formal attires. Some permit business casual wear or even casual attire.

And there are also days when you’re expected to dress down. It could be by wearing the company’s tees with jeans or any casual attire.

Why It’s Important to Dress Formally in the Workplace

old man wearing red suit and tie to work

If your organisation adopts a business formal dress code, these are the reasons they do so:

To Maintain Moderation

lady in white shirt and green formal pants at work

A workplace is a formal environment and not a fashion show.

Your employers know this and that’s why they set the business formal dress code for you and other colleagues to abide by.

This is necessary to promote a conservative look and minimize any form of revealing outfits.

The goal is to wear less in a stylish way and do more to enhance productivity.

So, save the excesses for activities outside work. 

To Promote Professionalism

Ebuka wearing formal office wear at the court

How you dress affects your behaviour at work. 

You doubt that?

A study published in 2015 in Social Psychological and Personality Science showed that dressing in formal clothing contributed to an enhanced ability to think abstractly. 

In other words, as Brain Fodder puts it better:

“It seems that wearing formal office wear and structured clothes puts us in the right frame of mind to conduct business. Wearing power clothing makes us feel more confident [possibly because we call it power clothing]; and even increases hormones needed for displaying dominance. This in turn helps us become better negotiators and abstract thinkers.”

Brain Fodder

In fact, when you look at yourself and see that you’re dressed for a suit and tie setting, you’ll tailor your actions and behaviours to be as professional as possible.

That’s how much dressing affects our psychology.

It’s a corporate environment and everything you wear should enhance corporate behaviour, unity, productivity, and esprit de corps.

It Fosters Corporate Image

smiling lady wearing dark-red suit and pants

How members of an organization dress to work will boost that organization’s reputation.

That’s why banks adopt a strictly formal office wear dress code. Wouldn’t it be absurd to say you work in a bank and you’re found in jeans and a hoodie behind your desk?

How would clients perceive your bank? 

One word: unprofessional!

Unless your bank is the bank of the unconventional though.

That aside, you are part of the publicity team of your workplace. How you dress for work will help to boost your company’s reputation and in turn gain customers’ trust.

Formal Office Wear for Men and Women

lady wearing a red formal gown

Looking for the perfect inspo for your work attire this week?

Read on as we show you what makes up a business formal attire.

1. Shirts, Tops, and Jackets

man wearing dark suit and tie

—What to Wear

The tops you should wear to work include button-ups, button-downs, blouses, turtlenecks, etc. 

To appear more professional, layer them with a blazer or better still, opt for a complete suit with a shirt or camisole, pants and jacket.

—What not to Wear

Don’t wear T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, crop tops, tank tops, spaghetti strap tops, off-shoulder tops, sleeveless tops, or tops with a plunging or revealing neckline. They aren’t formal office wear.

Furthermore, avoid shirts with vulgar inscriptions or graphics on them. In fact, if you ever want to wear a shirt with an inscription, let it be your company’s shirt.

2. Pants

lady wearing stripped shirt and palazzo pants

—What to Wear

Wear slacks, tailored pants or suit pants. For women, if you have a palazzo of solid colour, you can pair it with your shirt.

The pants you wear shouldn’t have loud details. They should be something you can easily pair with a suit jacket or blazer.

—What not to Wear

Never wear jeans, sweatpants, yoga pants, shorts, dungarees, leggings, joggers, etc., as formal office wear. Save them for casual occasions.

It’s a professional environment and all you wear should exude formality. 

3. Skirts and Dresses

lady in a formal work dress

—What to Wear

Your skirts and dresses must be knee-length or extend below your knees. You can go for skirt suits, peplum skirts, midi skirts and dresses, etc.

Ensure your skirts and dresses don’t reveal any inappropriate skin.

—What not to Wear

Avoid high slits, above-the-knee, and tight dresses and skirts. Also, save your revealing necklines for your casual outings.

Only wear skirts and dresses that are suitable for a professional environment.

4. Footwear

man smirking in suit and tie, sipping coffee

—What to Wear

For men, wear dress shoes such as brogues, loafers, Chelsea boots, Oxford and other types of shoes for men that suit the business formal setting.

For women, wear dress flats or heels. Just make sure the shoes you wear cover your toes. 

You can check out our guide on the types of shoes for women to see more shoes that are suitable for formal office wear.

—What not to Wear

Avoid sneakers, sandals, peep toes, palms, slippers, flip-flops, crocs, etc. They aren’t formal at all.

5. Makeup and Perfume

lady wearing brown blazer and pants

Keep your makeup mild. Remember, moderation is key when dressing for a business formal environment. If you want to wear a bold lipstick, make sure every other cosmetic on your face is mild.

Same as your perfume. 

Consider the fact that your colleagues may be allergic to some fragrances and try to wear your perfume in moderation.

Ensure it’s a welcoming scent and not a choking one.

6. Accessories

man wearing shirt and tie with shades outside

Keep your hats and sunglasses away while in a business formal setting. Only use accessories such as belts, handbags, pocket fillers, ties, wristwatch, moderate earrings, etc.

You can rock your sunglasses when you’re out of the office. But once you’re in, let it stay off your face.

Never forget these tips for formal office wear so long as you work in a professional environment.

Moreover, if you don’t want to wear any of your business formal clothes as ready-made, you can go African with it. Start with this ankara office wear guide.


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Victoria B. Willie

Writing has always been a part of me. From writing stories as a young child to studying Communication Arts in the university, it has always been more than a medium of expression to me.

And then one day, I found myself toeing the path of an entrepreneur and becoming a fashion enthusiast. This made me develop an interest in content marketing and copywriting which I've been chasing alongside my fashion career.

That aside, when I'm not sharing style articles, selling with stories, or sketching fashion-forward pieces for Ria Kosher, you'll find me telling wild stories that always come with a twist.

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