Just How Casual Is the Dress Code Becoming for Accountants?

Three people dressed in casual dress code

Dressing for success runs the gamut in today’s workplaces, from pinstripe jackets and slacks to humble hoodies and jeans. Traditionally, finance and accounting has been more buttoned up and high-heeled than other professions, but offices are welcoming a more casual dress code.

CFOs were asked their opinions about workplace attire in a new Robert Half Finance & Accounting survey, and they confirmed that dressing up for work is going out of style: 61 percent said their employees abide by a somewhat casual dress code — khakis and polo shirts or sweaters, for example — and for 13 percent of them, jeans and T-shirts are the norm.

As for the rest of the respondents, 4 percent said their offices are still very formal, as in suits and ties, and 21 percent describe the outfits as somewhat formal — dress slacks or a skirt with a button-down shirt. See the infographic, below.

So what should you do about your wardrobe if you’re a job seeker preparing for an interview, or an employee traversing an accounting career path and making an inventory of your clothes closet?

Suit and tie

“It’s better to dress on the formal side for the interview,” says Clint Ahlgrimm, who coaches candidates as a division director at Robert Half Finance & Accounting. “However, it’s important not to appear out of place. For example, if you interview with a tech startup, it’s probably best not to wear a full suit.”

And once you’re hired, Ahgrimm suggests you model your dress code after the person who holds the job you want in the future.

“If you’re a staff accountant, take notice of how the CFO dresses each day.”

Here are three more suggestions to guide your style and formality decisions in this era of increasingly casual dress codes in finance and accounting jobs.

1. Study the corporate culture

Every workplace has its own set of unwritten rules. Once you’ve been with a company for an extended period, you’ll find it easier to differentiate what business dress code the office culture will tolerate and what fellow employees and customers will find appropriate for dress. Until that time, err on the side of conservative when getting ready for work. Some colleagues may not be so strict when following the dress code policy, so try to mirror upper management with your wardrobe choices.

2. Follow good etiquette

Even in this more relaxing atmosphere, you should keep in mind some of these potentially distracting faux paus:

  • Don’t show too much skin.
  • Don’t wear dirty/wrinkled clothing.
  • Don’t wear too clothes that are too big/small (and no shorts).
  • Don’t wear shoes in poor condition (and no flip flops).
  • Don’t go over the top with accessories (or hats).
  • Don’t wear graphic tees or neon colors.

3. Dress for your day

Are you meeting with others? If you’re going to see vendors, external partners, customers, clients or coworkers, odds are you’ll want to dress up more than if you’re not leaving your desk.

Do you work at a cubicle? It depends on your company’s guidelines, of course, but if you’re given the flexibility to dress for your day’s responsibilities, you can probably opt for a more casual attire if you’re relatively isolated in your work environment.

Are you interviewing for a job? Dress up.

For men: Even if the firm you’re applying to appears to have a business casual dress code, it’s best to wear a suit to your job interview. Choose a dark color like black, navy or charcoal. It might seem counterintuitive to stick to more conservative colors and designs when you’re trying to stand out, but you'll make a much stronger impression if you keep things a bit more muted.

A crisp white or light blue shirt and simple tie (aim for no more than two colors or an uncomplicated pattern) will give you a polished, professional look. Complete your look with an unadorned belt and matching shoes that are well-shined.  

For women: The ideal interview attire is a well-tailored suit with a button-down blouse. There are many stylish silhouettes available to choose from, whether they’re pants, skirts or dresses. Choose a high-quality fabric in a low-key color — today is not the day to rock a dressy, pink Jackie O suit, even if it is Chanel.  

You can dress up your look with a necklace or earrings, but it's advisable to keep accessories simple. Closed-toe shoes with a modest heel will pull everything together.

While clothes and fashion might seem inconsequential, appropriate attire does carry weight in the workplace. If you’re unclear of your company’s guidelines or you’re unclear about what outfit to wear for a specific situation, it’s smart to check with your manager, coworkers, human resources or recruiter.  

Casual dress code infographic

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