So You Need to Wear Business Attire?

by - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I’m not sure how applicable this post will be to anyone still in high school, but even then, there’s some take-aways (you can’t show up to your Honor Society induction or award ceremonies in jeans, right? On the other hand, you wouldn’t necessarily show up in a suit either…).
A little background (I seem to always jump in too far first): at college, I’m in an undergraduate business program. At orientation, we were told that upon the start of school that we needed to have a suit in our (teeny tiny, may I add) dorm room closets. I was the definition of the eyes wide open emoji – of course I imagined that I would need a suit at some point, but I certainly didn’t think that on the onset of freshman year it would be a necessity.
Fast forward to the end of first semester and I wore my suit SO many times. Interviews, job fair, club events, class presentations, case competitions, networking nights… The list goes on and on. It’s incredible how versatile two pieces can become, even if they aren’t your usual go-tos (think the business version of your favorite pair of jeans and the cute top you seem to repeat so often).
Interrupting the first few paragraphs with a nice look into my kitchen at home and me, in my business professional get up:
Suit: Tahari via Macy’s, Turtleneck: Ann Taylor, Flats: DSW
Now lets go back to the summer (sorry for the time traveling in this post): after orientation, I started out on a hunt for business casual and business professional (suit) clothing. Long story made short: it was difficult! And not just the suit – shells to wear underneath, professional flats, not too uncomfortable heels, and other business casual pieces.
To continue with this post (as I’m writing this I realize I may have taken on more than I can chew with this topic), I’ve decided to break down some of the many dress codes in the business world.

dress code definitions decoded

Neat & Smart casual // For fashionistas, probably a casual outfit of yours – jeans, polished shirt, mature and nice shoes (I’d assume flip-flops are a no). Obviously this exact look will have to be tailored to the event you are going to; some events can be neat or smart casual more on the formal side, so definitely consult others and look to see if the company or organization hosting the event gave any instructions. Other options can include nicer tailored pants with a cardigan.
Business casual // My version of business casual is essentially business professional but not a matching suit. I typically like to go a bit fancier than what is required just incase, so I typically pair a fun (and by fun, I mean not just one solid color) blazer (the few I have are from Ann Taylor) with nice tailored black pants. In the summer, I tend to wear nice skirts or (typically) black dresses that are a bit more conservative in length. Feel free to wear skinny or trouser pants – whatever you are most comfortable in. Business casual definitely does vary; at the high school level, I would recommend a nice dress or even black jeans with a nice top. Again, keep in mind what the occasion is and that should guide you to which end of the spectrum you need to be on.
Business professional // No questions asked: a suit, probably in navy, gray, or black but there are some other options. I currently have two, one with a skirt as the bottom and one with trouser pants (as seen in the picture above). Having both is not necessary and both are acceptable for business professional. I have two simply because Binghamton can get extremely cold in the winter and although I could wear tights with the skirt, I figured having pants would be the smartest decision (especially if I have to walk across campus). Underneath the suit jacket, a professional shell is needed – this is a shirt made of a nicer material – look for simple and neutral colors and patterns, nothing that takes away from your professionalism. Above I’m wearing a fancier, ribbed turtleneck from Ann Taylor which also works.
For all of these looks (aside from, occasionally, neat/smart casual) you’ll need a pair of nice flats and heels (not too high) that pair well with your suit and tailored pants – this way you don’t have to buy multiple for each outfit. Key word with these shoes: simple, preferably black (depending upon your suit/pant color), and leather/patent leather. Brands such as Cole Haan, Vince Camuto, and Jessica Simpson typically have shoes that fit the bill.
Lastly, a nice bag – one that can hopefully fit your resume and a few other essentials is necessary.
Minimal jewelry is a smart choice – nothing too flashy – and simple makeup.
Here’s a summary of some business professional professional pieces (not necessarily sure they all pair together with the grey suit, but you get the gist).
I literally had a class in which we had to memorize these things, cold. Questions surrounding attire were on our midterm!

onto where to shop these things…

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Ann Taylor is the best place to start – they have a wide range of sizes, colors, fits, and styles so you can see what looks good on you. Although expensive, the quality is truly amazing – but definitely look out for sales (fairly frequent) and try not to buy full price. If anything, Ann Taylor is great place to try on and get a sense of what business clothing looks like on you – from there, you can find similar items at a lower cost.
Macy’s can seem like a hidden gem, as on the outset, some of their suits/business clothing seemed a little gaudy and aged to me. However, Macy’s has some great picks from Tahari – I strolled in and got a whole pantsuit with leather trimming for $70! Amazing price. Search here for suits at the best price, and come armed with coupons – Macy’s always seems to have a slew available.
Department stores (Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and Lord & Taylor were my go-tos) are great to find shoes. Again, look for sales and use coupons when applicable. Like I said above, Vince Camuto, Jessica Simpson, and Cole Haan are great for chic shoes that pair well with professional clothing. Sam Edelman also has some options – occasionally their shoes can be a bit funkier (great outside the business realm!) so be careful.
Are you still here? Cool. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any more specific questions! As I wear more business oriented outfits, I’ll try to snap pictures to feature them on the blog (or update this post with specific outfit ideas, which I didn’t get a chance to photograph in time for the publication of this!).
Seriously though – if you are curious as to more about this aspect of college/undergraduate business at all, e-mail me!

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Written by Jamie from The Fashion Newcomer

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