What Does Every Dress Code Mean?

APRIL 9, 2018
Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff, and Background Actors in Younger
Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff, and Background Actors in Younger

Part of being a Background Actor means having a versatile wardrobe with different looks you can take to set. When you’re booked, Casting Directors will give you your wardrobe information and let you know where to find any additional wardrobe resources. Always pay close attention and write down your details. To make sure you’re ready for any role you book, here are some tips to build up your wardrobe for common dress code looks.

Casual dress code

Example of casual dress code
Casual dress code on Good Girls

When a Casting Director asks for a casual look, they mean the type of clothes you wear every day. You may get wardrobe notes for a specific type of casual style or you may get to show up to set in clothes reflective of your own style. Either way, it’s important to remember that casual style doesn’t mean athletic or loungewear. Unless you’re specifically asked to show up to set in sweats or yoga pants, it’s best to save those for the gym.

Casual clothing for women are sundresses, skirts, jeans, t-shirts, blouses, sweaters, and jackets. Sneakers, boots, flats, wedges, and sandals can all be paired with casual outfits. Accessories like scarves, purses, jewelry, and sunglasses are also great ways to add personality.

A casual look for men can include jeans, khakis, t-shirts, polos, casual button-ups, sweaters, and jackets. Casual shoes can range from boots to sneakers. You can personalize your look with hats, sunglasses, watches, and belts.

Business dress code

There are three main types of business looks: business, business casual, and business formal. They all share general rules, but the specifics of each vary depending on how formal the situation is. Every production has its own unique look, so if you have a resource, like previous episodes, make sure you look at what Background or the principal actors are wearing to give you an idea of what the dress code is. No matter the type of business style, all clothes should look neat and clean.

Business casual

Example of business casual dress code
Business casual on Great News

Of all the looks, business casual may be the hardest dress code to pin down because workplaces set their own standards for what this means.

For women, a business casual look would include skirts, dress pants, blouses, sweaters, blazers, light jewelry, and closed toed shoes.

Men’s business casual means dress slacks, chinos, khakis, belts, long sleeve button-up shirts, sweaters, dark socks, dress shoes, and an optional tie.


Example of business dress code
Business dress code on For the People

A general business look (also called professional) is the traditional dress code for workplace attire. This is the type of look you see in most professional offices.

Typical business attire for women are skirt suits, pant suits (no cropped or capri pants), and a conservative blouse or button-up. Clothes should be in neutral tones like black, brown, gray, or navy. Shoes need to be close toed; no sandals or peep toes.

Men’s business looks revolve around a two-piece suit in dark neutral colors with classic button-up shirts in muted tones. Ties are a must for this look and should work with the rest of the suit. Black or brown leather shoes should be born with dark socks and a belt that matches.

Business formal

Example of business formal dress code
Business formal on For the People

Business formal is the most conservative and polished dress code and is often found in law firms, finance offices, and board rooms. It’s also common for evening work events.

In this look, women should wear a tailored pant suit or skirt suit (with tights) in a neutral tone, with a white collared shirt and closed toe heels.

Men’s business formal attire means tailored and pressed suits in neutral colors, with a white button-up shirt, conservative colored tie, and dress shoes.

Cocktail attire

Example of cocktail dress code
Cocktail dress on Younger

Cocktail attire falls between a casual and formal dress code and allows for more personality than strict formal looks. Sometimes cocktail dress is confused with club or party looks, but generally cocktail attire should be more modest and elegant.

Women’s cocktail looks can consist of mid-length dresses, skirts, or dressy pants. This is the perfect opportunity to wear color and let your own personality shine through. Jewelry and shoes can be bold, but should still be elegant.

Men should opt for a tailored suit or semi-formal blazer with dress pants. Generally, you’ll still want to stick to darker tones like grays and blues, but there is more room for colorful or patterned ties.

Formal wear

Example of formal dress code
Formal dress on Pretty Little Liars

Formal looks can range anywhere from white tie to cocktail. Often when people say formal dress code, they’re thinking black tie or black tie optional.

A typical formal look for women is an evening gown. Evening gowns should be floor length and be elegant and sophisticated. Depending on the occasion, a cocktail dress may be appropriate and you can play with prints and colors.

Each production can have their own idea what formal consists of for men, but generally a black tuxedo works for a formal occasion. You may have the option of customizing the look with your choice of bowtie or necktie, lapel type, and in some cases, can deviate from the standard black jacket and pants.

Showing up to set with the correct, clean, and unwrinkled wardrobe is one of the ways you can stand out to Casting Directors. Remember, you can visit your office during Updates to update your photo and add additional looks. Read through our guide How to Become a Background Actor – Casting Photo to learn what kind of photos Casting Directors are looking for.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

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