Professional Business Attire for Women: Your Capsule Wardrobe

You just need a few basic pieces (and some fun extras) to feel confident in any business situation.

Published March 27, 2024
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professional women

Let's face it: looking pro is important. Professional business attire should convey your credibility and competence (naturally), but you can also reflect some personality. How you look can make a difference in how people treat you, but we've got you covered with the basics of this type of outfit.

Look Around to Determine Your Office Dress Code

How you should dress in your office really depends on your company's dress code and the cultural norms of your workplace. Companies usually issue employee handbooks with formalized dress codes, and that's also a good starting point to understand what's appropriate to wear in your office. From there, though, it helps to be observant.

A good tip is to keep an eye on the attire of your supervisors and women who are similar in rank to you in your office for a week or two whenever you start a new job. It's important to pay attention to what they wear on days when there might be an important meeting (when you will typically see the most formal of attire) and ordinary days. Seeing what others wear is the best barometer for determining the appropriate level of formality in your office.

Business Formal Attire for Women

Think of business formal attire as what you would wear to an interview, when you're giving an important presentation to the CEO, or going to court. It's the most formal attire you can wear to work. Chances are, you won't need it every day, but it's good to have an outfit or two on hand.

Formal Business Suits

Happy businesswoman wearing suit holding smart phone on steps

Business suits are the most basic building block of business formal attire. They consist of a blazer and either a pair of trousers or a skirt in a matching fabric. It's best to stick to suits in a neutral color, like black or dark grey, and in a seasonless fabric like wool. We're all about Calvin Klein's Lux Blazer and the matching Straight Fit Suit Skirt because they have such a flattering fit and come in a wide range of sizes. Plus, they're affordable, which is always a bonus.

Quick Tip

We love the idea of investing in a variety of classic, stylish coordinating suit separates (which helps ensure the best possible fit) in styles appropriate for the most formal work environments. Here's why: you can put those pieces to work with other items in your wardrobe and max out the versatility of your suit (and your investment).

Suits should be well-fitting. Pay particular attention to details like these:

  • Sleeve length - The sleeves should end at your wrist without hanging down over your hands.
  • Shoulder fit - It should fit snugly at the edge of your shoulders without hanging past.
  • Skirt length - The skirt should come at least to the top of your knees, including when you're sitting down or walking.
  • Pants length - The trouser cuff should hit the midway point of any type of shoe and may need to be tailored depending on your height and the height of the shoe you typically wear.
  • Button closure in the front - Even if you plan to wear the jacket open, you should be able to comfortably fasten any front button. Also, there shouldn't be a ton of extra room when the blazer is buttoned.
Quick Tip

Don't stress if you've had your suit for a while or you're worried the one you're about to buy will go out of style. Like the rest of fashion, there are trends in business suits, but the tried-and-true simple, unembellished suit is appropriate for all formal business occasions. It's a classic for a reason.

Formal Business Tops

Smiling businesswoman in creative office

You may have heard the buttoned-up shirt described as the workhorse of a business formal outfit. That's because it comes in a huge variety of colors, patterns, and fabrics, and it's suitable for all business professional women's outfits. It's not the only option, though. We love pullover shell blouses in lightweight fabrics like the TASAMO round neck blouse because they're easy to switch out to give your suit a new, updated look. Plus, a cap sleeve is always a win in case you need to take off your suit jacket.

There are a few things that are key for work-appropriate tops perfect for pairing with business suits:

  • A cotton blend, rayon or silk top is often the best option.
  • The color or pattern you choose should coordinate with your suit.
  • You can't go wrong with conservative tones like black, white, burgundy, hunter green, or navy, but you can also express yourself with light colors like baby blue, light pink, and white. Avoid neon tones or anything too trendy.
  • Any neckline you prefer is fine, as long as it doesn't plunge to reveal too much cleavage.

Business Professional Women's Footwear

business woman walking

Well-made leather pumps are essential to a professional woman's wardrobe. They should be comfortable while remaining stylish and work-appropriate. Both flats and heels are totally fine for the workday. We're into the Naturalizer Michelle Classic High Heel Pump because it's attractive and comfortable (and the last thing you want to worry about when you're working or interviewing is sore feet).

Here's what we look for in shoes for formal business wardrobes:

  • For shoes with heels, go for something in the range of two to four inches — both for comfort and maintaining professionalism. Flats can also be appropriate.
  • Always choose a closed toe.
  • Two pairs of shoes are necessary at a minimum (though chances are, you'll want more than that!). We like having a pair in black leather and a nude patent pair to cover most workwear outfits.
  • You've got to keep your shoes looking nice, too. Scuffed toes and worn-down heels are no-nos in a professional situation, so be sure to frequently take them to the cobbler or get them cleaned once a season.

Related: Find Your Footing With These High-Heel Training Tips and Tricks

Jewelry for a Professional Look

Beautiful woman portrait with stylish pearl earrings accessories

Stick to simple jewelry if you're a female business professional. In a formal business environment, you will never go wrong with a great set of pearls. We really love the classic look of the 18-inch freshwater pearl strand from The Pearl Source because it's affordable but still genuine pearls. You could also go with a classic strand of stone beads or a simple pendant on a chain.

Quality Leather Handbag

business woman with black purse

A quality designer or other leather handbag large enough to fit letter-sized documents is a necessity in the workplace. We're all about the Kate Spade Leila satchel because you can slip papers into one of the three compartments and keep your personal items separate. Plus, it's just a really classic, stylish shape. For a formal workplace, it's best to buy a handbag in a neutral color, like black or brown, that doesn't show stains easily (since a dirty-looking bag is one of the fastest ways to kill your pro look).

Business Casual Professional Style

Casual dressing in a business environment is extremely different from a casual outfit you'd wear to coffee with a friend. Business casual attire is popular in creative industries and on "casual Friday."

Dress Pants for Business Casual Looks

Woman Going To Work Talking On Phone

You can wear your suit pants with a more casual top for this type of look, but it's also good to have some other options. Here, you'll want to follow trends. Wide-leg pants are big right now, but straight-legged pants never seem to go out of style. We're a fan of Calvin Klein's Straight-Leg Classic Business Casual Pants, which come in a bunch of super useful neutral colors.

  • Depending on your office culture, it might not be appropriate to wear colored and patterned pants.
  • For more conservative offices, stick to pants in a solid neutral, like black, navy, or camel.
  • For ladies in more creative industries, you might be able to wear pants in jeweled tones and with subtle patterns, though neon colors and loud prints should be avoided.
Quick Tip

The biggest factor with pants is finding a fit you like and feel comfortable in. Try on several styles to see what works best for you.

Casual but Professional Skirts

Businesswoman pulling luggage alongside train

Pencil skirts and a-line skirts are always great options for a business casual environment. Depending on your industry, a maxi or midi skirt can work well (especially in a neutral color). Our pick is Fisher's Finery Pull-On Ponte Skirt because the stretch fabric looks put-together but lets you be comfy at the same time.

  • It is best to choose a wool blend or cotton-blend skirt to minimize wrinkling. (Trust us: linen doesn't look awesome after you've been sitting at your desk for a while.)
  • Printed and colored skirts are fantastic, too if you keep your top fairly simple.
  • If you have a more casual workplace, a dark denim skirt can also be great. Go for a knee-length or maxi skirt, and skip anything with rips or a cut-off hem.
  • As a rule of thumb, skirts should be no shorter than the tips of your fingers.

Pretty, Work-Appropriate Blouses

professional business woman executive

You definitely need some cute blouses to change up your look. In general, blouses appropriate for the workplace have sleeves and are not sheer. You can't go wrong with a good button-down like this Calvin Klein blouse. It's wrinkle-free, which is a big plus in our book (who has time to iron these days?).

Quick Tip

If you would like to make a sleeveless blouse work for the office, wearing a cardigan or blazer over the blouse is a game-changer.

Dresses for Work

woman in green dress in modern corporate building lobby

You can totally rock a dress in the workplace, but it needs to be appropriate for a female business professional. Translations: skip the sequins and micro-minis. Work dresses shouldn't be too tight, too short, or overly revealing in general. We're into the DKNY Jewel Neck Scuba Crepe Dress because you can dress it up or down, and the fabric is low-maintenance and comfy.

What's awesome about dresses is they can be paired with blazers and cardigans for the colder months. If you're wearing a dress in the warmer months, opt for one with sleeves, as sleeveless looks are generally too casual for most workplaces.

Professional-Looking Denim

women colleagues met in office hall chatting

Jeans are sometimes appropriate for business casual offices or for Fridays in a lot of workplaces. Before showing up at work in jeans, though, make sure they're acceptable in your office. In general, if jeans are allowed at work, it's best to stick to a darker wash and jeans that are free from rips and tears. Black jeans are also a win. Skinny jeans that are skintight and ultra-baggy jeans would not be appropriate for most offices.

Our favorite jeans are Lucky Brand Sweet Flares in a dark wash. They're ultra-flattering and comfortable (there's some stretch to the fabric).

Chunky Jewelry

Confident young businesswoman with golden necklace

You can't go wrong pairing a statement necklace or some chunky jewelry with your business casual outfit. We love how the right necklace adds a pop of color and personality to outfits. Try something like a POMINA leaf necklace that's neutral and simple but still shows off your personal style.

Quick Tip

Before you wear a necklace or earrings to work, check to see if it makes a lot of noise when you move. You don't want to distract other people with noisy jewelry or have your necklace take center stage at your next business meeting.

Fashion Handbag

Shocked woman in plaid jacket talking on phone

You can opt for a more relaxed fashion purse to pair with business casual outfits than the basic black leather style best suited for positions that require formal professional apparel. Avoid going with anything that is too casual, such as an oversized canvas tote or a particularly blingy style. Other than over-the-top looks like those, you can be creative when it comes to selecting your business casual handbag. We like a pop of color like this sweet lavender Marc Jacobs mini hobo.

Related: How to Spot a Real Coach Purse and Avoid Getting Duped


woman in black trousers and leather beige moccasins

Business casual outfits can work in a little more personality than more formal attire. For example, opt for a pair of colorful or metallic flats like the Anne Klein Umeko ballet flat to wear with black pants and a cream shirt. The key is to keep it simple and not delve into ruffles, frills, or glitter — these are too casual and may not give a good impression of your competence.

Budget Tips When Buying Business Professional for Women

Depending on your budget, prices for a full business professional closet can range from $300 to well over $2,000. You've got options, though.

  • For ladies on a larger budget, the best places for professional business wear are luxury department stores or your favorite specialty shops. You can bring in accessories you buy online.
  • Expect to spend at least $300 on a suit, but you can get some deals if you shop sales at places like J. Crew or Banana Republic.
  • There are plenty of great options for finding professional clothing on a budget. Don't forget thrift stores, which can have some awesome deals on suits and separates.
  • Reserve a little of your budget for tailoring, especially with a suit. Suits and trousers bought off the rack often don't fit perfectly, so tailoring may be needed for a proper fit. The great fit will pay off in the long run.
  • It is best to initially purchase two suits (one pantsuit, one skirt suit) in a seasonless fabric like wool, and three to five shirts that pair well with your suits.
  • As you grow into your role or add to your wardrobe budget, accessories, and additional trousers, blouses, and dress options can slowly be worked into your closet.

Building Your Business Professional Work Wardrobe

Whether you're a recent graduate starting out in the workforce or someone looking to build up your wardrobe with business-professional women's clothing, looking pro is all about feeling comfortable and confident in your clothes. Keep it simple and work-appropriate, and add more pieces as you get a chance.

Professional Business Attire for Women: Your Capsule Wardrobe