What to Wear: Decoding That Dress Code

Business casual?

Casual dressy?

Business formal?


Knowing what these words mean is a big part of being an adult, which is coming up quickly on us all (there’s a terrifying thought).

With the University of Iowa Job and Internship Fair next week, it’s important to know what to wear while meeting with potential employers. As much as we would all like to believe that we’re not judging each other by our appearances, clothing does make a statement. It’s the first thing people see, so it has to be impressive, professional and show who you are.

But what types of clothes go with each style? It’s a confusing mess of clothing that sometimes overlaps, but doesn’t at other times. There’s a plethora of shoes, skirts and pantsuits to sort through, and I’m here to help know what to wear for that big interview.

Black Tie/Black Tie Optional

What to wear for a black tie event varies depending on the situation. For men, it’s relatively simple: a tuxedo. But with the fabulous array of fancy outfits that a woman can wear, a black tie event could constitute wearing a gown, dressy separates or a cocktail dress. When in doubt of what to wear, go by what the hostess will most likely be wearing. For example, if a black tie event is a work function, you would most likely wear a formal cocktail dress.

Black tie optional is a little less strict, with more leniency in clothing for both men and women. According to Style Caster, “you aren’t expected to go all out as if you were attending the Oscars, but this dress code still calls for formal attire.” It’s a little bit of a murky description, but wearing a dress that hits below the knees is a good go-to.

Business Formal/Business Professional

This dress code is common for daytime formal events, such as conferences or work lunches. Clothing in this dress code is described as something you would wear in the office, but has a formal flair to it and feels dressed up. Some good staples to have for this are a tailored dress or a fitted pantsuit. Don’t forget to stick to a neutral, chic color palette for this dress code, too.

Business Casual

While this is the most common dress code for a business setting, it’s the hardest to figure out. Business casual is a mix between traditional work attire with a bit of street style thrown in. Pencil skirts, fun blouses, blazers and slacks can be dressed up with accessories and shoes in business casual.

Casual Dressy

Casual dressy is another strange amalgamation of styles. In essence, it’s taking what your normal casual style is and dressing it up with fancier accessories. For example, take the pair of pants you love to wear to work and dress them up with a nice pair of ankle boots.


The most comfortable of the work dress codes, casual is also the easiest. While it isn’t the same as what you wear for class (READ: NO LEGGINGS), it’s still very simple. Jeans and tennis shoes are allowed here, making for an awesome “casual Friday.”


Photos from Seventeen, Giphy, Polyvore and Fashion Gum.