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JOBTALKS. PROFESSIONAL DRESS FOR WOMEN. Indiana University Kelley School of Business C. Randall Powell, Ph.D. Contents used in this presentation are adapted from Career Planning Strategies and used with the permission of the author. Women’s Dress: Business Professional and Casual.

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Indiana UniversityKelley School of BusinessC. Randall Powell, Ph.D

Contents used in this presentation are adapted from Career Planning Strategies

and used with the permission of the author.

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Women’s Dress:

Business Professional

and Casual

How Should One Dress for the Interview and On-the-Job?

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Business Casual for Women

  • Appropriate attire—know difference between business casual and casual attire

  • Fewer than 1/3 of all white-collar workers still required to dress formally

  • 4 out of 5 of those dress down one day a week

  • Gain edge in business with appropriate attire

  • Be sensitive to your industry

  • Dress the part for the role you play

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No Suits??

  • No, suits still important

  • Business casual - blazer or cardigan sweater and a coordinating skirt

  • Business casual is NOT same as casual attire

  • A woman’s attire must say that she means business with “authority”

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Who Cares?

  • A woman must look the part

  • Appearance may make or break her career

  • First impression continues to make a lasting impression

  • Recognize the value of company’s business casual guidelines

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Basics of Business Casual

  • A classic suit

  • A navy or black blazer and skirt

  • A cardigan sweater

  • A plain white or cream blouse in silk or rayon or a tailored tee

  • With a light colored jacket or sweater wear a darker colored blouse.

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Pants and Pantsuits

  • Pantsuits are great investments on business casual days.

  • Trousers and a blazer or a cardigan sweater are also appropriate.

  • Twill pants in black, navy, or khaki are appropriate.

  • If you are unsure if slacks are appropriate, simply mirror the highest-ranking female in your company.

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Other Choices

  • Basic skirts in black, navy, khaki, or taupe

  • Skirts should be same length as business professional skirt length or longer

  • A long skirt makes a feminine statement for business casual

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Belts, Shoes, and Hosiery

  • Coordinate with the other items worn

  • Classic leather pumps or flats in black, navy, taupe, or burgundy

  • Hosiery should be the same shade or lighter than shoes and hemline

  • With short-sleeved jacket or top skin-toned hosiery is a must

  • Make black, navy, or burgundy handbag and briefcase the smallest size possible to still be functional

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  • Jewelry should be the same as business professional--gold-tone or silver jewelry is best

  • Basic is best--follow the rule of 13

  • A woman can’t get into trouble being dressed in a simple, elegant manner

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Hairstyle, Make-up, and Fingernails

  • Hair should be or give appearance of shoulder length or shorter

  • Makeup should accentuate features rather than jumping out--eyes and lips important communication tools

  • Fingernails should be well maintained with subtle polish or the natural look

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Mistakes in Business Casual Dressing

  • Dressing too casually

  • 4 of the most commonly made business casual faux pas:

    • Not wearing hosiery

    • Wearing a skirt that is too short

    • Wearing sleeveless or halter tops and see-through blouses

    • Wearing stretch pants

  • How to decide what is appropriate

    • Look good

    • Dress up a notch

    • Thinking an outfit inappropriate means it probably is

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Don’t wear business casual attire when…

  • Not yet invested in business casual attire

  • When talking about salary or a performance appraisal

  • When unsure of outfit

  • When outfit is not cleaned or pressed

  • When unsure about an organization’s dress code on a visit

  • When interacting with potential clients or international clients

    Are jeans appropriate?

  • When the highest-ranking woman or CEO wears them to work

  • And, only if they are cleaned, pressed, and in good condition

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What Does a Woman’s Personal Appearance Say About Her?

  • Respect for herself and others

  • How much attention to detail she has

  • Interest in professional future

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Business Professional Dress

Women must look right to get foot in the door

Only suits?

  • Some companies have unwritten rule for suits only

  • In other companies, business professional dress can mean suit, dress, pantsuit, or blazer and skirt

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Business Professional Basics

  • Suits in black, navy, gray, and taupe

  • Brighter colored jackets and skirts from business casual may be blended into business professional

  • Skirts that are calf-length are appropriate

  • A blazer and coordinating skirt is appropriate when policy is more relaxed

  • Long-sleeve classic style dress in a good color

  • Black, gray, navy, and tan are good color choices--project authority

  • Avoid floral designs and other prints

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  • Best fabrics:

  • Wool, gabardine, cotton, and silk

  • Man-made fabrics that give the same look—scrunch test


  • Solid colors

  • Cream, white, and other muted as well as bright colors

  • Cotton, silk, and blouses made of man-made fibers that have quality look

  • Blouses of good quality, styles, and colors

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Belts, Shoes, and Hosiery

Match or be compatible with outfit

  • Classic leather pumps with closed heel and toe

    • Black, navy, taupe, and burgundy.

    • Heels -- 1 ½ to 3 inches high

  • Hosiery same shade or lighter than shoes and hemline -- Dark hose with same color long-sleeved suit

  • Accessories—leather, classic, black, navy, taupe, or burgundy

    • Purse/ briefcase compact and functional--small as possible

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  • 14 carat gold or sterling silver

  • Accentuate professional attire

  • Eliminate a piece when in doubt

  • Simplicity is key

  • Follow the rule of 13

  • No dangling earrings

  • Classic-style watch with black, gold, or silver-tone band

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Hairstyle, Make-up, and Fingernails

Easy to maintain hairstyle

  • Hair length—appearance of shoulder length or shorter

  • Make-up--accentuate features

  • Eyes and lips are important communication tools

  • Fingernails--well maintained, subtle polish colors or natural look


  • Glasses denote serious/intelligent

  • Conservative frames

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  • Dress up a notch rather than down a notch

  • Give extra edge by looking good on her way up ladder

  • Quality clothes

  • Investment

  • Thinking an outfit inappropriate--probably is

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What Does a Woman’s Appearance Say About Her?

  • Respect

  • Attention to detail

  • Credibility

  • Achieve professional goals

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Business Dress Codes

  • Company manual

    • Distributed to potential and present employees

    • Followed

    • Enforced

  • Dress by and for example

  • Knowledgeable

  • Sensitive to own industry

  • Dress the part for the role you play

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What Does Business Casual for Women Mean? What Does Business Professional Dress Mean for Women Today? Ann Marie Sabath, founder of At Ease, Inc.

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  • 1. I found the presentation material easy to understand.

  • 2. This discussion session increased my knowledge on the subject presented.

  • 3. I will be able to use some of the information from this discussion session in the future.

  • 4. The presenter was well prepared for this session.

  • 5. This presentation should be repeated in future semesters.

  • USE:a. Strongly Agreeb. Agreec. Disagreed. Strongly Disagreee. Don’t Know

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If you would like to learn more, Career Planning Strategies textbook will supply additional information on this topic.