Business formal wear is easy for men: a clean and pressed suit, buttoned up stiff collar shirt, and neatly attached tie with polished dress shoes. Business formal wear for women is similar, involving suits, closed toe dress shoes and minor variations from men's formal business wear. Conservatism is a simple and key principle to follow.
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Suit to Start
Suits are the foundation of any formal business wear. For a formal business event, wear a well tailored, fitted suit with a buttoned jacket and matching bottom, such as a pencil skirt, a conservative dress or slacks. Avoid separates that have different fabric, texture or colour variations. The best way to ensure matching fabrics and textures is the "sunlight" test. Bring your clothing under direct bright sunlight and check the different pieces against each other. Under this lighting, any colour and textural differences will be obvious.
Conservative Shades and Fabrics
There is a colour code when it comes to formal business wear and this applies to women in particular, since there are many more varieties of colours and textures available in women's clothing. Stick with black or as close to black as possible. Safe bets include grey, brown and navy. You may be able to wear white, beige, maroon or deep green depending on the cut and styling of the suit. The only time colours such as pink or light purple can be worn professionally is with high-end designer suits crafted in tweed fabrics such as the classic Chanel suit. Do not wear bold patterns. Allowable patterns include fine herringbone and houndstooth that do not attract too much attention.
Do not wear skirts that are flared, sheer, clingy or rise above the knees. If you're wearing a skirt, you must wear stockings.
As long as you avoid low-cut collars, most simple non-sports tops without loud patterns and colours are acceptable to wear under suits. The safest considerations include a fitted turtleneck sweater, a button up shirt or blouse, or blouses with neckties or scarf ties. Do not wear tank tops, polo T-shirts, revealing shirts or lingerie under your suit jacket.
Sports shoes are obviously out of the question here. If you're wearing high heels, do not wear heels higher than 3.5 inches and do not wear high platforms and sandals. Whether or not you want to wear heels, make sure the dress shoes you wear with your suit does not reveal your toes. Many women make the mistake of wearing peep-toe or open-toe shoes with their formal business suits, thinking that as long as the shoes are black, showing their toes is OK. This is not the case. It is absolutely inappropriate to reveal your toes in a professional environment--wear closed toe shoes, pumps, or ballet flats with your suit. Also, keep your shoe colour conservative and matching with the rest of your outfit. Remember, shoes should always be clean, comfortable and polished.
Consideration for Jewelery and Accessories
The biggest distinction between women's and men's formal business wear is the absence of ties for women. Without ties, women have other choices such as necklace, scarves, or brooches. Do not over accessorise unless you are the eldest or of high authority at the formal business event, or attempting to achieve a very wealthy and powerful look. The younger you are, the more streamlined your look should be. A simple strand of pearls, one brooch at the chest, or an elegant pocket handkerchief is just right to go with a formal business suit. Keep rings to a minimum. Go with conservative and classic styles when wearing jewelery, not fashionable, flashy pieces. Also, for whatever jewelery you choose to wear, make sure it stays in place and does not fall apart with wear.