What to Wear to Work – 10 Business Casual Clothing Tips for Women

What you wear to work has a huge effect on your self-confidence, your work relationships, and even how often you get promoted at work. These tips for deciding what to wear to work are inspired by Lois Frankel, author of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.

What to Wear to Work“Research shows that about 55% of your credibility comes from how you look,” writes Frankel in Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers. “How you sound accounts for an additional 38%. Only 7% of your credibility is based on what you say.”

In Nice Girls, Frankel encourages women NOT to avoid office politics. Why? Because if you don’t play the game, you can’t possibly win. She also says not to multi-task — and she strongly encourages women to learn how to negotiate, both at work and everywhere else. Don’t equate negotiation with confrontation, though.

Watch how you use social media (eg, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc). You might even be careful what you say on the comments of various blog posts! Once it’s out there, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. And don’t ask for permission. Children, not adults, ask for approval. Be direct, be confident.

What Should You Wear to Work?

These tips on what to wear to work are from Frankel’s book. If you’re curious about how famous women dress, read Wearing What You Want to Work – Whoopi Goldberg.

Wear the appropriate amount of makeup at work

“I once asked the boss of a woman scientist for feedback about what she could do to overcome existing barriers to promotion,” writes Frankel in Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. “He explained for her staff.” When Frankel pressed him – he looked like he had something else to say – he sheepishly said, “Maybe she could start wearing makeup.” Finding the balance between beauty queen and working stiff can affect how quickly you get job promotions and raises!

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Learn what looks good on your face, knowing how to apply makeup skillfully, and learning when to kick it up a notch for those after work drinks…and when to keep it simple and clean.

I’m not a fashionista, but I believe that getting ahead at work isn’t just about doing a good job. That’s why wearing the appropriate clothes at work is so important.

Match your clothing style to your workplace

A business casual clothing tip for women is to tune in to the vibes at work. Is your office understated, or your trendy store upper-class? Don’t neglect your fashion sense altogether, but remember that you’re not only representing your company, you’re representing yourself.

I recently received a very interesting question from a reader about difficult coworkers and fashion, which I answered in When Your Coworkers Complain About What You Wear to Work.

Remember that short hair looks more professional

Knowing what to wear to work includes choosing a hairstyle that complements your image. “Typically, your hair should get increasingly shorter as you get older and go higher on the corporate ladder,” writes Frankel. “Not only is shorter hair more professional, but longer hair tends to emphasize facial features of which we may be less proud as we age.” The higher your position, the more professional you need to look.

Consider what your role models are wearing

An easy, effective clothing tip for businesswomen is to look at the women in senior positions in the office. That’s how you should dress. This clothing is especially helpful for career women who don’t have time to follow fashion trends.

View clothes as an investment in your future

Frankel advises women to buy several really good business casual outfits a year. Budget for good-quality clothes, haircuts, and occasional makeovers.

Don’t groom in public

What to Wear to Work

What to Wear to Work – 10 Business Casual Clothing Tips for Women

This tip is less about clothes, and more about behavior: don’t touch your hair unnecessarily, fix your makeup in a meeting or at a business lunch, or spend long amounts of time in the ladies’ room during business meetings.

Leave the long, dangly earrings at home

Don’t overdo your jewelry and other accessorizes. “Carefully chosen, accessories add style and personality to otherwise conservative corporate attire,” writes Frankel. “But when inappropriate or overdone, they detract from your credibility.”

Match what you’re wearing to your activities that day

If you’re giving a presentation to a large group of people, feel free to choose bolder accessories. Be aware of the impression you want to make on your colleagues and clients, and use your clothes and accessories to achieve the effect you want!

Wear glasses to look more mature

“Glasses can be used as a prop to make you appear more mature, if you have difficulty with being taken seriously because you look too young,” says Frankel. This business clothing tip is both functional and effective.

Do you need more money to buy good clothes for work? Read How to Ask for a Raise With Confidence.

If you have any questions or thoughts on these business casual clothing tips for women, please comment below!

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7 Responses

  1. Bonnie says:


    A very good set of tips…

    But I especially love the last one – about the glasses.

    It is sooo true.


  2. Holly says:

    I lost 50 pounds in a year and now have to buy new clothes for work! It’s a blessing and a curse, I can barely afford the cost to get to work much less having to buy new clothes. How do I buy career clothes without spending alot of money?

  3. Laurie says:

    Whenever I think about what women should wear to work, I’m reminded of Erin Brokovich’s clothes in her movie! She wore tight short skirts, stiletto heels, and tons of makeup. She accused her coworkers of being jealous when they complained. I think she’s totally unreasonable and narcissistic — her clothes were appropriate for nightclubs or worse, not a law office! Further, wouldn’t it be difficult and uncomfortable to work in tight, revealing clothes and high heels? Jeez.

    That was the one part of the movie that really rubbed me the wrong way — or one part of Erin’s personality, I guess.

  4. Shelly RObinson says:

    Women have to dress in businesslike ways so they’re taken seriously. No cleavage, no short skirts. It’s distracting and unprofessional, especially for women who want a good career. You don’t have to spend alot of money buying career clothes or professional businesswomen’s fashion tailored stuff! Go to a consignment store, and find what you need there.

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

    Thanks for your comments. I hope these tips for what to wear to work help!

  6. Beatirice says:

    Wow, the lists is great,i really have to change on the way i have been dressing.These tips will help through.Thanks for the information.b

  7. Khaki says:

    I never know what to wear to work, and now I have a new office job. Thanks for this tips on what to wear to work because it’s helped me see what I should be wearing.

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