Different Workplace Dress Codes, As Demonstrated by Iconic TV Women

By Emma Hickey

Workplace dress codes are trickier now than they’ve ever been. Gone are the days when all employees were expected to wear suits and ties, or pantyhose and pumps to work daily—and thank god for that!—but in the absence of this hard and fast rule, chaos has emerged.

Today, we use many different words used to describe office dress codes, and it can be hard to pin down what, exactly, each dress code actually means in practice. We know these dress codes represent varying degrees of formality in workplace dress, but the lines between each degree are blurred. Before starting a new job, you may be told your office dress code is “Business Casual” or simply “Casual.” That’s great, but when you’re standing in front of your closet trying to decide what to wear on your first day, you want more to go off of than those terms. You need visuals! The best way to figure how to dress for work is to observe how other people dress in the office, but when your first day looms near and that’s not an option, you can always turn to the greatest style guide of all: television. Below are four of the most common workplace dress codes, as exemplified by some of the most iconic women of TV.  

Business Professional


Business Professional is the most formal of office dress codes, and who better to represent it than the most elegant woman of television, Scandal’s Olivia Pope? Whether she’s taking down a foreign government or scheming against her own, Olivia always looks polished, put-together and, well, professional. Business Professional, sometimes referred to as Business Formal, leans conservative. For women, it means pant suits, skirt suits or dresses with blazers, tights and shoes that are close toed and high heeled. For men, a Business Professional dress code means wearing a suit and tie with a button down shirt, socks, and leather shoes. This is the most common dress code for executives, those in fields like investment banking, and people who work in the law—or, in the case of Olivia Pope, around the law. When getting ready for a job with Business Professional dress code, just think to yourself, would my grandmother approve of this outfit? If the answer is yes, you’re probably fine.

Business Casual

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Business Casual is a step down from Business Formal. It stills aims for a professional and polished look, but it allows for more creativity. On Parks and Rec, Leslie Knope typically dresses in Business Professional attire, but her best friend Ann Perkins errs more Business Casual. When Ann isn’t wearing her nursing scrubs, she often wears cardigans, sweaters, blouses, skirts and dresses. She rarely wears blazers, which is the blessing of a Business Casual dress code, and she doesn’t often wear heels. For both men and women, a Business Casual dress code typically means you can wear collared shirts, button down shirts or blouses, khaki pants or slacks, cardigans and close toed shoes. Skirts and dresses are also both acceptable with tights, and you don’t need to pair them with jackets. The Business Casual dress code is still conservative, but unlike Business Professional, it also gives you room to breathe.


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Whether she’s on earth, in the after-life, or trapped in purgatory, The Good Place’s Eleanor Shellstrop always dresses casually. Under a Casual office dress code, jeans aren’t just permitted, they’re encouraged, as are sweaters, sandals, and everything in between. Like Eleanor, a Casual dress code prioritizes comfort over formality. It’s not quite an “anything goes” environment, but it’s pretty close. Casual dress codes are becoming more and more popular due in large part to the increasing number of millennials in the workforce. In fact, Bustle even recently asked the question, are millennials killing the dress code? Studies have shown that  one of the best ways to appeal to millennial talent is to have a Casual dress code. Of course, in a Casual office environment it’s still important to look put-together, but you’re permitted to achieve that goal however you see fit.

Start-up Casual


One step further than a Casual dress code is Start-up Casual. Start-up Casual appeals to the people who grew up during Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to Facebook domination, all while wearing his trademark zip-up hoodie. Start-up casual throws the rule of looking “put-together” out the window, though it often incorporates looking trendy, and no one embodies this aesthetic more than Broad City’s Ilana Wexler. Ilana wears whatever she wants, whenever she wants. Whether it’s athleisure, overalls, or crop tops, nothings stop Ilana from making bold, casual, and sometimes sloppy fashion choices for the office. When dressing for a Start-up Casual workplace, ask yourself: would I wear this outfit to the grocery store? Would I wear this to the gym? Would I wear this to the movies? Apply a bit of common sense—don’t be like Ilana the one time she wore a crop top that exposed both her stomach and her bra at work—but overall, everything goes!

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