One of the perks of being artists is getting to wear whatever we want. We can paint or write lyrics or novels (or art website articles) in our pajamas if we wake up in the middle of the night feeling inspired. Many of us are known for developing our own unique style. Then we get a paid speaking engagement, presentation opportunity, or are scheduled to play at an event and don’t know what to wear. Or we discover that we are called to a second career, or need a side job, and our workplace has a dress code. What are the levels of professional dress, and what should we wear for each one?
Professional Business Attire
If the workplace or event calls for professional business attire, it means you need to wear a suit, coordinating dress shoes, and a dress shirt. Men need to wear a tie. Women can skip the dress shirt if they choose a suit made up of a dress and jacket. Some businesses allow a bit of color. A woman can choose to wear a green dress and coordinating jacket, or a bright red blouse under a black suit. A man might be able to wear a bright purple dress shirt and coordinating tie under a neutral suit. Other businesses will require neutral colors for shirts and ties. When in doubt, err on the side of conservative in both style and color.
Remember that everything dressy is not professional business attire. You are indeed “dressed up” if you’re in sequins, strappy high heeled sandals, or a cocktail dress, but none of these items are appropriate for work.
Casual Friday is typically not so casual in this type of environment. You may be able to dress down by replacing your suit pants or skirt with khakis, and men do not need to wear ties, but they will still expect a dress shirt and dress shoes, and most places will not allow jeans.
You will need to wear professional business attire if your art career, side job, or second career takes you into a courthouse, bank, or the offices of most corporations. Some teaching positions may also require professional business attire.
Professional business attire is the best choice for a job interview at all but the most casual workplaces. You will also want to wear professional business attire to meet with anyone who may offer you a scholarship or grant. Smart casual/business casual may also be acceptable, but professional business attire tends to make the best impression in these situations.
Smart Casual/Business Casual
Most workplaces refer to business attire dressed down one level as “business casual.” When they want it dressed down just a tiny bit, they may call it “smart casual,” but the terms may be used interchangeably.
If you see or hear either of these descriptions in the dress code, think of putting together a professional business outfit, then removing your suit jacket. Despite the word “casual”, you will still need to wear dress pants, a dressy skirt, or the same modest dress worn under a suit jacket for professional attire. Dress shirts and dress shoes are still required. Cardigans, pullover sweaters, and jackets that coordinate but do not match the skirt or pants are acceptable replacements for the suit jacket for cool weather or workplaces that blast the air conditioning in the summer. Men may wear ties, but they are typically not necessary.
Casual Fridays are semi-casual. You still need to wear the dress shirt and dress shoes you wore the rest of the week. Your dress pants can be replaced with khakis, neat, medium to dark wash jeans, or corduroy slacks.
Fashion sites refer to my style as “librarian style.” I know this because while I’m up on what’s appropriate, I’m clueless about fashion, and just wanted clothes I could wear to work back when I was tossing around the ideas of getting a teaching certificate or a library science degree. I enjoy the whole “librarian” look, because I do love books and music and the internet, and it suits my personality and body type. (That’s me in the pictures. The first outfit is one of my favorite Monday through Thursday/Sunday church outfits. I have the cardigan open to show the blouse, but wear it buttoned halfway. The second photo is a casual Friday look.)
“Librarian style” is an example of business casual attire, heavy on the cardigans. Most teaching positions, office jobs that do not specify a professional business dress code, and jobs in the media require smart/business casual wear.
Casual workplace attire is still workplace attire. You can wear jeans, khakis, denim or khaki skirts, corduroy slacks, or heavy twill slacks with a polo shirt, plain, solid tee shirt, denim shirt, or loose blouse for women. But this does not mean you can show up in sweat pants, fuzzy pants, ripped jeans, shorts, mini skirts, or leggings. Check the company policy before wearing tees with tie dye, logos, or pictures.
Retail can be an especially irritating casual workplace. Many companies don’t issue uniforms, because the company would be required to provide employees with the clothing. Instead, they implement dress codes that are so specific, everyone winds up in two or three versions of a company uniform at their own expense. Go for the cheapest version of the unofficial uniform. If you can wear a navy or white shirt with a collar, and khaki or black pants or skirts, choose polo shirts. If they require black shoes, choose sturdy black tennis shoes or hiking boots that allow you to spend hours on your feet all day.
Working From Home
Working from home is increasingly common today, and many people have visions of being in their pajamas all day as soon as you mention it. If you do work with no chance of being seen by anyone else, you can indeed wear your pajamas to work if you insist, but I do not recommend it.
Wear what you would wear if you were doing the same job offline, in person. If that feels too formal, go ahead and wear the casual Friday version all week, making sure to keep a standard work outfit available for meetings. The phrase, “Give me ten minutes to go change out of my pajamas,” is not going to leave a good impression with the supervisor who just requested a video conference, or the student who asked you to turn on your web cam and sketch out something on a white board.
Overly casual wear also tends to encourage overly casual behavior. Unless I wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning to work on my fiction or this web site, I never work from home in pajamas. I wear my “librarian style” clothes whether I’m working for a client offline or teaching or writing online during the day, and save my baggy tee shirt and fuzzy pants with Eeyore on them for in front of the tv or in bed with a novel.