Decoding the Dress Code Jargon For Any Business Occasion

dress code jargon

We all know that we should overdress for a job interview, but once you have the job, how do you choose your daily outfit? What is the dress code for after-hours networking events or client meetings? Dressing for business may sometimes seem confusing, but it usually boils down to 3-4 categories and knowing which look is appropriate for each setting.

Sometimes, businesses or events will conveniently provide instructions in the employee manual or on the invitation, but what does business casual really mean? If you’re wondering just how casual you can get on Casual Friday, check out the guidelines for any business occasion below.

Business Formal

The small business world may trend toward the casual, but larger offices will typically require corporate dress, or business professional. Luckily, only about 9 percent of workers are required to wear  more formal business attire, so you may not need to worry about this. Every workplace will have different guidelines, but they will typically call for suits for both men and women. Coat and tie should be sufficient for men, but ladies have a few options. While a dress with a jacket should be acceptable, a skirt or suit is usually the norm.

Business Casual

Business casual is one of the most popular dress codes in most workplaces. In the US, about 43 percent of workers wear casual business attire. Even though it says casual, don’t expect to break out your shorts or jeans. Men can probably wear a collared shirt or polo without a tie, but only wear a T-shirt once you’re sure it is allowed. Ladies can wear dresses or skirts, and khakis or dress pants are acceptable for everyone.

Formal/Black Tie

Formal attire is the fanciest you’ll ever be required to dress for a work function, which means it’s time to dust off your tuxedo or gown. Ladies can break out a ball gown and fine jewelry. Men should wear a tuxedo, if available, but a dark suit with pocket square will suffice.


Also known as cocktail attire, semi-formal is typically a slightly dressed down version of formal. For men, it’s as easy as a suit with no tie, but you may want to bring a tie along for the night if other guests are wearing them. For women, cocktail dresses and heels are the norm.

Smart Casual

Smart casual is a variant of business casual, but think “Casual Friday” clothes. Make sure to ask you manager first, but smart casual can include jeans, but make sure they are appropriate for the office, not for going out.


If you work at a tech company, you’re probably familiar with casual dress at work. Casual will usually include anything that you would typically wear out to lunch on the weekends, like shorts and a T-shirt.  Most companies do have guidelines even for casual dress, so make sure you understand the rules. And remember, just because you are allowed to dress casually doesn’t mean that you always should. If you have a meeting with a client, try throwing on a polo and khakis at the very least.


Mike Cushing is a freelance writer for Incepture, a Florida-based staffing agency serving Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Jacksonville. He’s been dressing himself for work with moderate success for nearly 15 years.

photo credit: Lutz-R. Frank via photopin cc