How to dress appropriately for work


Tafadzwa Zimoyo (The Boss) Business Closest
One good thing about fashion is that it’s everywhere.

Allow me to introduce this new column, — “Business Closet”, which will tackle the issue of fashion at the workplace.

A lot of questions have been asked by many about what is the right or correct formal wear? Do those who do white collar jobs have seasonal dressing too, considering that now we are getting into summer?

The problem could be your company’s dress code policy, or lack of it. If you still don’t have a formal policy, you’re not alone.

Plenty of companies — especially those operating in small, casual, or creative environments, are happy to work without a formal dress code.

That is, until the receptionist snaps in one sweltering day in shorts, a tank top, and gladiator sandals, especially on a Friday.

Some still bring those jogging black tights and leotard tops worn with a skirt. This week for ladies, I will focus on the types of formal wear as defined by fashion gurus.

Coming from a fashion background, it is not hard to understand these things. Skirt or slacks, tights or bare legs, sandals or pumps? These are the questions you might find yourself asking each morning as you select work outfit.

And, depending on the dress code your company enforces, you could be spot on — or woefully off-base in your fashion choices. According to a global survey by, only 55 percent of workplaces have a dress code.

Well, if your new employee orientation didn’t cover it, please do contact your human resources department to avoid embarrassment or just clarify your official policy.

Even if your orientation manual tells you to dress “business casual”, though, what exactly does that mean?

What is acceptable — and what isn’t?
However, there are typically four types of corporate dress codes — business formal, business professional, business casual and casual. Here are some general tips researched on business wear for both men and women for each category.

By the way, stick close to the basics and ensure that you’re always dressed appropriately.

  1. Business Formal

If you work in law, regularly meet with executives, or otherwise hold a high-level position, you might be asked to come dressed “business formal” or in “boardroom attire”. This is the highest level of professional dress.

For Men

A tailored one-, two-, or three-button suit in a solid, neutral colour like black, gray, or navy. Avoid colourful suits.

Ties and other accessories should be both modest in colour and style — solid, brighter colours (a red tie, for example), or patterned-muted neutrals (a navy plaid tie) — as well as high-end in quality. No novelty ties, such as sports team patterns.

  1. White, collared button-up shirts.
  2. Shoes should be closed-toe oxfords in brown or black, not loafers. (I am usually surprised when men don’t understand formal shoes, it has to be closed or laced if you want).

Hair should be well-groomed thus just general, short hair is most acceptable depending on working environment. Some have dreadlocks but make sure they are clean and tied back. Nails should be clipped short, clean, and buffed.

For women

A well-cut pant-suit or skirt suit in a conservative neutral colour, such as black, navy, or brown.

White button-ups with a collar. Closed-toe heels in a neutral colour such as taupe, black, grey, or brown. Tights, preferably in a dark colour. Conservative accessories — for instance, diamond studs rather than chandelier earrings.

Well-groomed hair worn in a conservative cut, such as a bob or soft layers. Skirts never more than two finger-widths above the knees. Well-groomed, neutral nails that are either clear coated, or painted with a beige-toned polish.

2 Business professional

A step down from business formal, business professional clothing is still neat, conservative, and traditional, if a little more loose when it comes to colour or pattern.

Business professional is also sometimes called “traditional business.” Expect to present a professional appearance every day, injecting personality into your outfits with your accessories and colour choices.

For men

A one- or two-button suit. Suit colours should still be conservative, but you have more leeway with pattern — a conservative stripe or check, for instance. Pressed, lighter-coloured dress pants worn with a sports jacket.

Conservative ties, but feel free to introduce colours and patterns. For example, you can feel free to wear a blue-striped, professional tie, but no novelty ties.

High-end accessories, such as watches (preferably silver, gold, or white gold) and cuff links, if necessary.

Shirts should be collared button-ups, but can be coloured, as long as the colour is fairly conservative. Blue, burgundy, or gray all work well.

Shoes should be conservatively coloured oxfords or polished loafers in black or brown. Hair and nails should be groomed, but check with HR on acceptable hairstyles.

For women

A suit or skirt, top, and jacket in a conservative neutral colour, such as black, brown, or navy. Collared button-up shirts that may be any solid colour.

Dark or nude-coloured hosiery. Closed-toe pumps in a neutral colour such as black or brown.

Larger, more noticeable jewellery — as long as it’s not distracting. Think along the lines of one statement necklace or a chunky watch. High quality is preferred.

Skirts never more than two finger-widths above the knees. Well-groomed, neutral nails. May be clear coat or beige. Hair should be neat and groomed, but check with HR on acceptable cuts and colours.

  1. Business Casual

Business casual is one of the more common dress codes in Zimbabwe, allowing employees to add personality to their work wear without looking unprofessional.

In a business casual setting, you can expect a lot more in the way of colour and accessories.

Still, the term “business casual” can mean different things to different organizations, so it’s always best to check for guidelines instead of making assumptions.

Note that sometimes business casual can also be called “executive casual.”

For men

Can wear coloured, collared button-ups in any colour. Conservative patterns such as checks or stripes are acceptable too, worn with or without a tie.

Ties should still be conservative in pattern. Avoid novelty ties, and choose patterns like dots, stripes, or checks. Most colours are acceptable.

Pullovers and sweaters worn over collared shirt. Choose solid, striped, or another conservatively patterned sweater. Primary and jewel-toned colours are best.

Dressy slacks, such as black dress pants or pressed khakis in the summer, worn with or without a sports jacket.

More casual accessories, such as a leather-band watch. Shoes can be oxfords, loafers, or another comfortable yet dressy choice, in brown or black. Avoid sneakers.

May offer more leeway for hairstyles, allowing for longer hair (check with HR). Nails should be clean and short.

For women

Business separates, rather than a full suit — a skirt worn with a cardigan or jacket, for example. Coloured shirts and blouses, rather than mandatory collared button-downs. Choose solid colours, or muted patterns like stripes or checks, and avoid low-cut shirts or bright patterns.

Slacks and khakis.
Larger jewellery, such as a statement necklace or large cuff-style watch. Doesn’t necessarily need to be the highest quality — gemstones and other casual materials are fine. Scarves may also be appropriate.

Shoes may be comfortable flats and loafers, as well as pumps, but should remain closed-toe. Can be any colour, although black, brown, red, navy, and gray are among the most appropriate.

Nails should be well-groomed, but there can be a few restrictions on colours.

Hair can be more casual, with less conservative colors and even more noticeable (chunky or high-contrast) highlights generally acceptable. It should still be neatly styled, such as blow-dried, or in a ponytail or bun.

  1. Casual

If you’re fortunate enough to work in a casual office, the trick is to avoid getting too casual or creative with your dress.

Some people say that your co-workers make specific judgements regarding your capability based on your clothes, which may extend to employers as well.

By arriving to work in casual clothes that are still neat, pressed, and appropriate for the type of work you do, you can make sure that a casual dress code isn’t holding you back.

For men

Casual pants and slacks, but never jeans unless stipulated as acceptable at work. If jeans are permitted, dark-wash, straight-cut only.

Collared polos or crew-neck sweaters and pullovers. The majority of colours and patterns are okay as long as they’re not a novelty pattern, such as a sports team logo.

Casual accessories, such as brightly coloured watches. Shoes that are clean. Sneakers are usually acceptable, as are loafers.

Hair and nails can be more casual. Nails should remain short and clean, and casual offices generally allow for longer hairstyles and ponytails.

For women

Nicely fitted tops and blouses, although shirts should never be tight or revealing. Slacks or skirts in more casual fabrics, such as cotton. If denim is permitted, dark-wash only. Avoid overly casual denim cuts, like cutoffs or flare jeans.

Skirts should remain at knee-length. Open-toed shoes are permitted. Avoid casual shoes such as sneakers or flip-flops. Casual accessories, such as scarves. Larger rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces are fine, and may be of any quality.

More leeway with hair length, style, and colour. More adventurous styles and colours are typically fine.

Nails can be painted in brighter colours, or with any type of pattern. Avoid novelty characters or designs, or limit “louder” designs to one nail only.

The writer is a Senior Lifestyle and Arts writer with The Herald. He is an award winner for Zimbabwe Fashion and Model awards and Style Oracle Fashion awards on writing and analysis. He can be contacted on and facebook, instagram, twitter on Tafadzwa Zimoyo TheBoss


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