Business Attire For Women In Finance: Brand Recommendations

Business Attire For Women In Finance: Brand Recommendations

Business Attire For WomenYou know what’s considered the appropriate business attire for women in the finance field. The problem is…

Where exactly can you get the right look? This article gives you some brand suggestions. Plus, I’ll go over what to wear to work to keep the focus on your professional skills, not your outfit.

1. The Most Important Business Professional Attire for Women: The Suits

If you work in business, you should have a few good suits in your closet. A skirt suit is considered to be the most business formal attire for women, but pantsuits or suits with a dress and blazer are other options. If you do opt for pants, hem them for the type of shoe you plan to wear (flats versus heels). Plus, shorts suits or short-sleeved suits don’t match the formal business attire women wear unless your firm has a very relaxed dress code.

Where to Find a Good Suit

If you have no idea where to start for formal business attire for women, you can visit these shops first:

  • Theory (featured on the top left) is quite popular, and they have lots of discounts in the major department stores like Bloomingdale’s. But Theory suits work better for some builds over others, so try them on.
  • Boden has suit separates in many cuts, styles, and colors for business professional women attire. Their looks are modern but never trendy. Plus, I love their selection of colorful blouses to wear under your suit jacket.
  • Brooks Brothers is a standard in business women attire. They sell their suit pieces as separates so you can mix and match. Plus, they offer free alterations so you can get your fit just right.
  • BCBG could be a good choice for business attire for young women, especially for blazers if you want a modern look that can be layered with other pieces.
  • Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, Saks, and Bloomingdale’s sell women’s business professional attire for all different body types. Check out brands like Tahari, Vince Camuto, and BOSS.
  • Some women swear by Pendleton suits, especially the wool ones and ones with longer skirts that are great for business formal attire for women. They are understated, so you can pair them with more modern blouses for timeless style.
  • And finally, I’ll mention Reis. They have classic professional business attire for women but offer suit separates in harder-to-find colors like dark blue, forest green, and berry in addition to the standard black.

A Note on Suit Color

Black is the default suit color in business professional womens attire. It matches everything, it never goes out of style, and it’s great at hiding spilled coffee. But if you have black hair and black eyes, together with a black suit and shoes… you look like you are going to a funeral. And some firms have “unwritten women’s business attire guidelines” about not wearing an all-black power suit unless you’re meeting with a high-profile client or you’re spending your day in court.

So what do you do? I have two recommendations:

  • Break up a black suit with tasteful accessories like a refined piece of jewelry or colored shoes and a colored bag. Or separate it with a nice blouse in white or another light color like blush or light blue.
  • Get something off-black. Dark gray can be quite nice.

Suits vs Separates

Suits are convenient, but they can look “pre-packaged” and boring. Plus, they can feel a little outdated for women’s business professional attire guidelines. So it is totally fine to mix and match to create your style. But be careful if you go with black—all of your pieces should be the “same black.”

And remember that solid colors will give you the most wear; patterns and stripes are too memorable.

Skirt Length

When you’re selecting a suit skirt, check the length. Skirts should be no shorter than 1” above the knee. And any slits up the side or back should not rise too high while you’re seated.

2. Blouses

A lot of business women purchase several good suits and mix things up with different blouses. Under a suit, you could wear a camisole, short-sleeved silk sweater, button-down shirt, or blouse. Here’s my take on some popular brands:

  • J Crew, Stitch Fix, and Express – I do have a bunch of blouses from these stores, but steer clear of anything that is too trendy, even for casual business attire for women. I also avoid shiny fabrics because they can look inexpensive and ruin a good suit.
  • Ann Taylor has been selling work blouses for years, so I have a lot in my closet. Some of them can give you a “mom” look. But when I was younger, I needed that because I look younger than my age, which doesn’t help in client-oriented businesses.
  • Benetton offers a good selection of colors and has many good alternatives to button-down shirts. While some of their blouses would be nice under a suit for a business formal look, others are best for business casual women’s attire.
  • Uniqlo is a Japanese store that is a big hit in Asia. They now have US stores, too, or you can shop online. Some of their styles are similar to Benetton, but come in at a lower price point. I would steer away from their casual wear for work, but they have a nice collection of blouses that look good under suits.

How About Button-Down Shirts?

The button-down shirt used to be a must for professional business attire for women. However, some women avoid them now. They don’t often fit very well, and I stopped buying them because they can gape at the chest. In short, wear at your own risk. Or, have them tailored so that the buttons won’t pop open at the wrong time.

Casual Fridays

Many of the brands I’ve already mentioned have good looks for days with relaxed dress codes, but here are some others to consider. Remember: Business casual attire for women can be comfortable, but you still have to look polished.

  • Loft has a lot of pieces for womens casual business attire. Some of their blouses could go great under suits, too.
  • Banana Republic has been a popular choice for women’s business casual attire for several decades. There, you’ll find a good selection of pants, blouses, sweaters, and blazers that are contemporary but professional.
  • Talbots has many conservative but casual business attire looks for women that make you look elegant, even on casual Fridays.
  • I also like Zara and Stitch Fix for casual Fridays, especially their tailored pants and blouses. If you have an informal interview lined up, you could also choose Zara’s for women’s business casual interview attire.

3. Shoes

Shoes are pretty important considerations for formal business attire for women. We need to pay attention to the height, the style, and the material. Unless your company has a relaxed female accountant dress code or you have physical issues that make them uncomfortable, I would stick to heels. In fact, I think the height of the heels is the #1 consideration when you buy a pair of shoes for work.

The Heels

Obviously, it depends on your height, your personality, and your style, but generally, I would stick to a conservative look. I would recommend:

  • Height: Stay conservative with 1.5” – 3” inches.
  • Style: Look at what’s in style. For example, if round toe shoes aren’t popular in business circles that season, don’t wear them.
  • Width: No super chunky heels and platforms, please. I noticed that heels are getting a little wider again, especially with brands like J. Crew, but don’t choose anything that looks too retro. When in doubt, stick with classic pumps. Only wear stilettos if they are appropriate for your company’s work culture. (And please…only wear them if you can walk in them.)
  • Materials: I would choose shoes that are all the same material and color. Leather (or vegan leather) are classic, so they’re always a good choice. Avoid metal and loud embellishments.

A Few Other Notes

  • Peep toed ok?  Some offices are fine with peep-toed shoes, while others are not. Please observe your co-workers and female supervisors for a few weeks before you test the water. If you go ahead, don’t forget a pedicure!
  • Be sure the shoes don’t make a big clacking sound when you walk.
  • There’s no need for designer shoes. People notice only if you go overboard. But if you love designer shoes, just don’t choose anything too trendy or flashy. Classic lines are always on point.

What I wear to match other female accountant attire:

  • Mostly pumps with heels 1.5-2.5 inches. All very plain and classy. My most “admired” pair was in burgundy and had a 2.5” high-heel from Ann Taylor.
  • Other than that, I had a couple of really plain black Nine West. Also, similar ones from Manolo are good.
  • Pumps from companies like Mark Fisher LTD and Cole Haan are classics.
  • Dior and Prada have tasteful and appropriate shoes for female finance analysts and accountants as well.

Tip: Get a pair of flats in case you twist your ankle or a heel breaks.

4. Pantyhose and Tights

Pantyhose are no longer the norm for women in corporate environments, but you can observe your female co-workers and supervisors to see if they wear pantyhose on a daily basis.

On cold days, you may be able to wear tights with a skirt. Tights should only be worn under a dress or skirt, and only in offices that allow tights in business casual attire for women.

Pantyhose & Tights Complaints and Solutions

  • “Man it’s hot!” I know. Pantyhose can be warm to wear. But most air-conditioned offices always feel cold to me, so this shouldn’t be a big concern.
  • “I always get runs.” In case I get a run, I stick to a nude color that matches my skin tone. Also, stock at least two extra pairs in the office in case of an unlucky day.

5. Bags

Again, the general rule for bags is to choose something classy. In my opinion, it’s worth investing a bit more on one good bag, because your attire gets instantly upgraded with the right classic handbag.

Don’t feel like you have to purchase a name-brand bag if you don’t want to. In fact, I personally think it’s more professional to have a quality bag that isn’t plastered with a company logo. Some of my no-brand bags add a bit of character and creativity to my otherwise conservative CPA attire.

But if you look for branded handbags, here are some popular choices:

  • Longchamp has classic styles in neutral colors that still have a modern edge.
  • I see lots of LV at the office, too, but I would skip the styles with the famous colorful LV monogram print.

6. Makeup

When it comes to makeup, remember that less is more, to an extent. I recommend highlighting your natural features without overdoing it. You want to present a professional look, and that might mean different brands or applications from what you might wear to the club on Saturday night.

Here are the general rules:

  • Use high-quality make-up. It’s well worth the investment to buy high-quality make-up. It doesn’t smear easily and you don’t need to fix it every couple of hours.
  • Concealer is a must! Even if you’re someone who doesn’t like the feel of concealer, I urge you to try it. So many modern formulas feel weightless but still give you a fresh look. Keep an extra bottle in the office—it comes in handy after a long night.
  • Stick with neutral colors. When it comes to your eyeliner, eyeshadow, and lipstick, I would go with classic, neutral options. Avoid trendy colors, avant-garde looks, or anything with a lot of glitter.

Best Places to Purchase Makeup

You can get everything you need at a store like Sephora or in the make-up section of large department stores like Macy’s or Nordstrom’s. Plus, these places have sales associates who can help you pick out the right products for your skin tone.

Popular brands among my finance and accountant friends include NARS, Charlotte Tilbury, and Bobbi Brown.

7. Hair

I am quite surprised at the number of questions I get about hair.

The day I got an offer for an internship, I cut my hair and didn’t grow it long until the last year of my banking career. You don’t need to follow my drastic move, but here are two things to bear in mind:

  • (Good) junior bankers and accountants are always busy. So you need a hairstyle that is easy to maintain.
  • You are fine as long as you look professional.

Hair Up or Hair Down?

A lot of female finance professionals have long hair and many wear it down. It is perfectly fine as long as you look neat and professional. But if you have a habit of playing with your hair, especially when you are tense or bored (read: in a client meeting), it is better to wear your hair up. Or, keep it pushed back with a headband.

Neat ponytails and buns both work, especially with women’s business casual attire. Having said that, some people look quite “childish” with a ponytail, so avoid that look if it makes you look very young. Plus, if you use a hair tie, it should be new—don’t use old ones that are misshapen and covered with stray pieces of hair. But womens business attire often calls for a classy hairband or clip.

How to Deal with Curly Hair

Curly hair is wonderful as long as you have time to take care of it. But the reality is that you probably won’t have a lot of time for your hair. In my case, I have naturally curly hair that can get frizzy in humid weather. It tamed down when I cut it, but that’s not your only option if you have curly hair.

My hairstylist has helped me find products that tame my hair and make me look professional. Dry shampoo works for my hair, and I have a serum for the days when it just won’t lay flat. I’ve also experimented with buns, so I can pull it back and still look tidy on bad hair days.

Another alternative is to straighten your hair every day using an iron straightener. Or, you could go to the salon and get one of those Japanese Straight Perms. I’ve tried one of those and it looks great, but please note that this kind of chemical treatment can hurt your hair over time.

Regardless of your hair type, just make it look well-groomed.

8. Nails

As an accountant or banker, you’ll probably hand documents back and forth with clients and co-workers. So people can easily notice your hands and fingers.

I don’t manicure or paint my nails. I just can’t seem to get a manicure to last more than 3 days (it’s just me) and I have no time to go get it fixed. Obviously, clean and “bare” nails are better than half-painted ones.

But still, I would say that more than half of the women I know in the profession have manicures of some sort. Here are some general rules:

  • Keep the color conservative for accountant attire for females. Avoid black, other dark colors, or anything trendy like crackle finishes.
  • Glitter nail polish is best for the weekends; it doesn’t match the professionalism of women’s business attire.
  • No red, please! Vintage doesn’t match a professional business look.
  • Keep them short. Long nails make it hard to type on a computer or handle documents.
  • Ballerina pink nail polish and French manicures are among the most popular.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you go to the salon or do your nails at home. But keep them neat, clean, and tidy.

Tips for Plus Size Women’s Business Attire

Several clothing companies cater to women’s plus size business attire. But still, you should try on all pieces and check the size. Some of my friends like to purchase their plus size womens business attire (especially their suits) just slightly too big. Then, they take their suits to their favorite tailor to get the perfect personalized fit.

  • Lane Bryant has stylish women’s business attire in stores across the US, or you can purchase items online. Plus, many of their pants and blouses have a little stretch in the fabric, making them more comfortable to wear.
  • Tahari, which is available at larger department stores, has a full plus-size line of professional suits, pants, and blouses that you can mix and match to create sleek looks.

Business Looks on a Budget

Let’s be honest…the right business outfit can add up. However, you don’t have to break the bank to score a professional look. Most clothing companies and department stores have big sales a couple of times per year, so wait for those opportunities to make major purchases.

Plus, discount stores like TJ Maxx can be a good place to find blouses, business casual looks, shoes, and bags. I’ve personally scored some very envy-able bags from TJ Maxx.

What Is Business Attire for Women Working from Home?

Many of us are now working from home at least part of the week. But when you’re working from home, there’s still a dress code whenever you might “see” a co-worker or client in Zoom call or a video chat.

The Dress Code for Video Chats

  • Basically, if you’re meeting with a client, you should wear the same type of outfit as a face-to-face meeting.
  • If you have a video chat with a co-worker, you may be able to wear business casual if you’re working from home, but check with your company.
  • Video chats tend to make us look washed out and tired. So consider putting on a little more make-up to give you some color, especially around the eyes. Even a little brightly-colored lip balm or a little lipstick will make your eyes pop more online.
  • Avoid wearing a shirt that is the same color as your backdrop. So if you sit in front of a white wall when you Zoom, don’t wear a white shirt. You could opt for blouses in blush, light pink, or even jewel tones to brighten your complexion while online.
  • Put on pants. Too many of my friends have stories about dressing up for a Zoom meeting, only to remember that they didn’t put on pants when they stand to pick up their toddler who just came into the room.

At The End Of The Day…

This “dress code” is important because it gives a very positive first impression. Plus, the way you dress can make a subtle difference when your manager is considering taking you to important client meetings and so on.

However, it does not matter if your outfit is expensive or designer-brand. The focus should be on fit, quality, and tailoring.

What Is Considered Overboard?

Obviously, you don’t want to be labeled as the person who is too lazy to put together a nice work outfit. Likewise, you don’t want your outfit to attract too much attention; the focus should be on YOU and YOUR SKILLS, not fashion.

But what does it exactly mean? Again, it depends on the culture at the office. Just dress as if you are ready to see a client every day. That way, your boss won’t be embarrassed if they bring you to a meeting.

While observing your female colleagues, please take note of the difference between your junior and senior managers. Partners and senior executives obviously have more leeway when it comes to their version of professional attire. It goes without saying that you should mimic your junior manager’s attire.

Business Attire for Women: 5 Rules of Thumb

  1. Stay neat, conservative, and professional. Your look should say, “I’m a successful professional—you can trust me.”
  2. Time your purchases during department store sales. This is the best way to score high-quality clothing at more affordable prices.
  3. Get more fashionable when your reputation is well established. The women in senior positions at your company might take more risks with their looks than entry-level employees. As you move up the career ladder, you can add in more creative and daring pieces and set the tone for the office.
  4. Keep an emergency set of clothes, shoes, and pantyhose in the office. If something happens during the day—you spill your lunch, you get a run in your pantyhose, or you get caught in the rain—you project a positive image when you’re prepared for the inevitable.
  5. Dont forget your concealer! Even a weightless formula makes you look like you put some effort into getting ready in the morning.

What’s the Fashion Culture in Your Office?

What’s the business professional attire women are wearing in your office? What do female accountants wear in comparison to the men? And what is the business casual attire for women on casual Fridays where you work? I’d love to hear from you!

If you have thoughts about where to buy women’s business attire, please suggest brands so I can add them to the list. Thanks!

For further reading, check out 3 Golden Rules for Finance Interview Dress Code.

About the Author Stephanie Ng

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!

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