Defining Dress Codes

What exactly does “business casual” means versus “business formal” versus “smart formal” versus “casual mean? Here are some guidelines on how to interpret these dress codes and how to consequently present yourself appropriately. It is important to always keep in mind though that each company’s culture is different, so it is important to research the company properly beforehand. Overall, in a recruiting-related environment, try to present yourself professionally and appropriately for the industry and company culture.

Business Casual


  • Sport coat or blazer: either black, navy, or grey
  • Long trousers or ironed khakis
  • Collared, long-sleeved shirt or polo shirt
  • Dress shoes or loafers
  • Dark socks
  • Belt
  • Optional: tie


  • Casual jacket or blazer with trousers or a skirt
  • Tailored dress
  • Blouse, fitted sweater or sweater set with trousers or a skirt
  • Skirts must be at least knee-length
  • Optional: stockings

Smart Casual

More formal than business casual, but less formal than business formal. In general, strive to look professional but not particularly formal.


  • Dark trousers
  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Closed shoes
  • Dark socks
  • Optional: jacket, blazer, cardigan or jumper
  • Optional: tie
  • AVOID: jeans, denim jackets, leather jackets, shorts, flip flops, sneakers, t-shirts, hats/caps, white socks, shirts with slogans or images


  • Mid-length dress or skirt, or trousers
  • Simple jewelry and accessories
  • Ballerina flats, low heels or dress boots
  • Optional: blazer, cardigan or shawl
  • AVOID: flip flops, sandals, sneakers, t-shirts, tops with slogans or images, large tote bags, evening gowns, sportswear

Business Formal


  • Two-piece suit: black, grey navy
  • Long-sleeved, button-down shirt
  • Dark socks
  • Tie: subtle pattern and color
  • Dress shoes


  • Two-piece suit: black, grey, navy
    • May be a skirt or pant suit
    • Can also be a dress with a blazer
    • Appropriate length for dresses and skirts is that they should be at least knee-length and should cover your thighs when you are sitting down
  • Conservative blouse (avoid anything revealing or that has ruffles, a very high neck, or frills)
  • Heels (no more than three inches high, no stacked heels, either black or nude, closed-toe) or ballet flats.

General Tips

  • Make sure clothes are clean and fit well
  • Make sure that you are comfortable in what you are wearing
  • If an event does not have a dress code, and you are unsure about the dress code, ask the recruiter! If you are still unable to find out the dress code, check this page for recommended dress codes for common events.
  • You can also ask an NCA advisor for a recommendation on what to wear to different types of events! Remember to schedule an appointment!

Information on this page is provided by NCA and supplemented by NU Threads.


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