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A man browses suit jacket options hanging on a rack.

Professional dress guides help students select the best attire for their workplace’s definition of appropriate attire.

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As institutions prepare students for a professional workplace in their internships or after graduation, dressing them for success is top of mind. A research study using Adzuna job listings posted between March 2019 and March 2023 found U.S. workplace dress codes are changing to be more professional, and students should be prepared to match them.

So far in 2023, 42 percent of job postings referenced a “business casual” dress code—13 percentage points higher than in 2022.

Career closets provide students with free professional attire that they can borrow or keep, but institutions are also teaching students how to put together a work-appropriate and tasteful outfit.

Inside Higher Ed found four tips for career centers and higher education professionals on how to guide students in their professional dress development.

  1. Define terms of professional dress.

Teaching students how to dress professionally has to start with the language of professional dress codes.

Breaking down the differences between casual, smart casual, business casual, business and business formal dress can establish a baseline of expectations for a student.

Gardner-Webb University has a business attire guide online for students that establishes what each article of clothing is and could look like, including accessories and grooming.

  1. Show industry standards.

In different professional roles, students will be expected to dress more conservatively. Offering insight into how an elementary school teacher might dress compared to an accountant or a communications manager can establish confidence in a student’s professional garb before their first day on the job.

Different geographical areas will also distinguish between types of dress. Duke University’s career hub attire guide suggests students speak to a mentor about industry expectations and cultural differences around what’s appropriate for work.

  1. Create a visual guide.

Establishing a photo guide of professional dress examples can serve as a reference point for students.

While many professional clothing guidelines detail what kinds of clothing fall under each category of workplace wear, styling the pieces together or matching colors can be another layer of confusion for the novice professional.

The University of Houston’s professional dress FAQs include a video tutorial on how to tie a necktie and a bow tie, another confusing process for some students.

A photo guide can also show what a student should avoid wearing at work. Rutgers University’s guide gives photo examples of what is not included in a business professional wardrobe.

  1. Establish norms across genders.

Creating universal or gender-neutral standards of professional wear is more inclusive, allowing for students across gender identities to see themselves in standards of dress.

Pennsylvania Western University’s guide to professional attire shows on-trend gender-neutral attire and suggestions of clothing that are commonly worn by people of all genders.

Do you have a career prep success tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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