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.
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.
If you have no idea where to start for formal business attire for women, you can visit these shops first:
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:
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 Plus, they can feel a little outdated for women’s business professional attire guidelines.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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Obviously, it depends on your height, your personality, and your style, but generally, I would stick to a conservative look. I would recommend:
What I wear to match other female accountant attire:
Tip: Get a pair of flats in case you twist your ankle or a heel breaks.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!