Dress for Success: Defining ‘business formal’

Q: My new employer requires ‘business formal’ attire for all meetings and conferences. I assume that this means ‘suit and tie.’ Could you please tell me the specifics for business formal?

A: Business formal would be a suit, shirt, tie, socks, and polished shoes.


  1. Jody

    I agree with EPI as to what “business formal” means. Is there anybody at the firm that you can ask, to verify your understanding is the same as the employer’s? (such as HR, or a coworker)

  2. Charles

    The answer is not that simple, as there is no definitive source for the definition. The HR department can provide you the details you need, but you can’t go wrong with the following to start with:

    – Solid, dark, properly fitted 2 button suit. (trousers & jacket made from same material) Start with navy, then add charcoal, then other dark solid colors. Add subtle patterns as your wardrobe grows. If it is not properly fitted, it will do more harm than good… you’ll appear unsophisticated and sloppy.
    – Long sleeve shirt with point or semi spread collar (no button down). Solid white is best/safest; followed by light blue.
    – Conservative tie (solid or stripe)
    – Socks, matching or darker than the slacks.
    – Very well cared for and polished, dark leather oxfords (lace ups). Although some people wear loafers with a suit, many believe it is lazy and inappropriate.

    Do not overlook grooming details. Clean fingernails, well maintained and clean hair, etc. Always be freshly cleaned and subtly scented. I don’t mean that as an insult, but I am amazed how many people entering the office environment have not been told these things.

    Once you are there, notice what the “C” level and their direct reports wear… copy them. Go easy on the decorative items until you get the lay of the land. (dress for the position you want; not the one you have)

    Formal is not only the opposite of casual, it also means more uniform than individual expression. This is key.

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