How to solve the office dress code dilemma and dress for success at work

The world of office-appropriate attire has traditionally been a straight forward one with a corporate suit, shirt and tie for men and a skirt or trouser suit for ladies. But the question of what to wear to work is becoming increasingly complicated as working environments evolve and change.

Some organisations are adopting an ever more relaxed view to work attire, along with more trendy work environments and flexible working hours. Others have adopted a casual policy for just the end of the working week with the popular dress-down Friday.

So the question of what’s appropriate to wear is becoming a very grey area and open to an increasingly liberal interpretation of what is acceptable. What is classed as business formal, business professional, business casual or casual? It’s all a bit ambiguous and undefined and leaves people sometimes baffled as to what to wear with a worry of feeling too overdressed or under-dressed.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, notoriously wears T-shirts and hoodies to most work and social occasions and Apple CEO Steve Jobs always preferred a dark turtle neck over a traditional shirt and tie. It’s not only the business environment where you have to worry about dress codes either. Social events and sporting events such as Royal Ascot and Wimbledon have strict dress codes. Not wearing a jacket and tie to Wimbledon was a mistake Lewis Hamilton made in 2015 when he was denied entry to Wimbledon’s Royal Box.

Here at Irongate, we advocate dressing smartly with a ‘business smart’ dress code as we feel that it’s important that customers want to know we are competent and professional in what we do. Dressing casually could send out the wrong message, but we have recently adopted a dress-down day policy on the last Friday of every month. It’s up to individuals if they want to partake in that or not but it’s proved very popular with our staff.

As part of my role as a workwear specialist at Irongate, I come across a lot of companies who are taking the ambiguity of what to wear away by creating a bespoke branded staff which their workforce are obliged to wear, especially in customer facing roles where presenting a professional image is important. There’s a huge choice of garments now for smart stylish business wear. Gone are the days where polo shirts were the only choice. We’ve seen a big demand from companies wanting to provide suits and format shirts and blouses for their staff.

Vikki Harriman, Sales & Customer Relations Executive at Stuncroft, our corporate tailoring supplier thinks we are seeing a move back in the direction of smarter workwear, but also more fashionable workwear. She says “As a business we have seen demand rise for more fashionable silhouettes that more closely mirror the skinnyfittrends available amongst the more fashionable high street retail brands. This is perfectly illustrated by how popular our Everyone skinny fit range has been.”

Personally, I think there is a move back to suits because they’re easier. When you get up in the morning, you’ve got less mixing and matching to think about. Most of our clients are going back to black smart, tailored suits because it’s always the most professional looking. You can have a look at just some of the stuff available here.

Creating that right professional image is very important in a competitive market place so I’m pleased to say that our lovely friends at T.M. Lewin – experts in professional workwear – have designed a handy reference guide called Cracking the Office Dress Code, which will help us all decide what style aligns with which business environment.


But my advice is to always best to err on the side of caution and dress a little more formally than necessary until you have a better grasp of what is and isn’t acceptable at work.

Check out the infographic below:


If your business would like any guidance or advice on creating a smart professional work wardrobe, get in touch, I’d love to have a chat with you.

Thank you to T.M.Lewin: for supplying us with the fabulous infographic.

T.M. Lewin is often seen synonymous with smart clothes or workwear both for the classic gent as well as the modern man and woman and we’re delighted they could help me out with this blog.