Casual or business casual? How to decode the dress code.

The dress code, really can sometimes feel just like that...a cryptic code., especially if you are going on an interview and need to dress to impress. How do you hit the mark, avoid over-doing it and definitely not under-do it? How do you break down the code and bring your own personal style to the table?

Know the Code

Who knew the Dalai Lama XIV was talking fashion when he said, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

For office wear there are several names that seem to imply some overlap:

  • Casual

  • Business casual

  • Smart casual

  • Business

Break the Code

Casual is just what it says...casual. Almost anything goes just so long as you are wearing something. But, even when the company code is casual, you can up your own game and style yourself as you see fit for your position. Don't forget that dressing more professionally impresses on your colleagues that you are a leader and not long for this casual world.

Business Casual and it is starting to get more cryptic, because every industry will have a different take on what is “conformist” and really, that means that this is where it starts being fun and bending the rules to suit your own style. However, here are some guidelines.

  • Shoes: Heels or flats are okay, but no sneakers.

  • Tights: If the weather dictates that your legs should be covered, but not necessary in summer.

  • Skirt length: Not too far above the knees or below the calf (a great time to point out that hemlines should fall at the narrowest point of the leg just above or below the knee)

  • Skirts or Pants?: Either, but not jeans and... khakis?...well who wears those anyway these days?

  • Dresses? Absolutely, but check with your HR about shoulders. If they should be covered then carry a little jacket that you can throw off as you head out of the door for the roof-top cocktail lounge at 5pm.

Smart Casual tells us that the company is more on the artistic side (and oddly scientists fit perfectly in this group, because scientists usually wear whatever they want and defy code of any sort.)

Smart casual is a fun place to be, because you can really step up your fashion-game and break out your most creative hi-lo wardrobe pieces. You want to observe all the codes of skirt length, but you can style your look with more color and bolder prints. Smart casual is the place to wear your fave skinny jeans with an elegant designer blouse or your chic wrap dress with the bold design and chunky ankle boots.

Business. Oh Dalai Lama, we need your advice here to save us from our button-down selves. As expected, business is the strictest of all dress codes, and therefore requires us to use our most creative code-breaking skills. Not many industries still hang on to business dress, but the financial and legal industries do and can be one of the most fun dress environments to be in.

Firstly business dress usually requires heels, polished hair and a slick uniform that is going to make you look and feel dressed to kill each and every day. Next, you are forced to chose luxury fabrics like silk and wool. You will dress to go from day to evening in sharp colors like black or navy. You can choose one bold and fabulous item to wear each day from a knock-out designer blouse to a sleek long-sleeved dress.