When Should I Wear a Business Suit?

Business People Shopping Ties

Caiaimage / Lukas Olek / Getty Images

No matter what company you work for, or what industry you work in, you'll never go wrong if you wear a ​​business suit. And, while certain situations call for less formal attire (e.g., the company picnic), it's not hard to figure out attire if you follow a few simple guidelines. The big caveat is: when in doubt, in a business setting, always opt for a suit. You'll always be better off if you over-dress than if you under-dress. For men, a suit consists of dress pants, a jacket, shirt, and tie. In certain business cultures (e.g., Millennial men's fashion) men can forego the tie. For women, a suit consists of a jacket, blouse, and either dress pants or a skirt.

The Importance of Wearing a Suit

Wearing the right outfit (which means wearing a suit) commands (and projects) an aura of respect whether you're in a professional or personal situation. Arriving at an event or meeting in a suit immediately conveys a subtle but powerful message you are there to focus completely on the business at hand.

When You Should Wear a Suit

Every industry commands a different sense of style. For Wall Street workers the attire veers toward conservative, while the fashion industry necessitates a more fashion-forward approach to dressing. Either way, you should wear an industry-appropriate business suit in the following situations.

  • At any business networking event unless it specifically calls for dress attire that is defined as “business casual” or “casual attire.” The term “informal business attire” is not interchangeable with the term "casual" and may still require (for both men and women) the need to dress conservatively. It's worth noting that when talking about proper business attire, the terms “informal” and “standard” do not mean “casual dress,” “semi-casual,” or “smart casual.”
  • When the event calls for any of the following four dress codes: “informal attire, “standard business attire,” “International business attire” or “Western business attire.” Those living in the Middle East are not required to wear suits.
  • Anytime you want to convey the image that “you mean business” or need to show you are in control (even if you are not). For example, a suit is appropriate for contract negotiations, depositions, and board meetings (especially if you are the chairperson).
  • Anytime you are representing, presenting, or defending yourself (or your company) in front of the media, or in a legal setting, or any other situation where you need to convey a message of power, authority, and respectability. When going on a job interview, including informal interviews, meeting a potential employer over coffee, or career fairs and expos because you are job hunting.
  • On the personal front, (unless otherwise requested or noted on an invitation as “casual attire") men should wear a suit to weddings and funerals. Women are not required to wear suits to funerals and weddings, but should still dress conservatively, without dressing better than the bride at weddings and should always wear black to funerals.

The bottom line is that the purpose of wearing a business suit is to convey a message that you are a competent professional and are serious about the situation. In personal situations (such as weddings and funerals) you want to project a feeling of respect to the other person.