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To Wear and What Not to Wear: How to Dress for a Job Interview 

June 19, 2024

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A man in a light gray suit shakes hands with a woman across the table, smiling warmly in a bright office environment.

First impressions matter, especially in job interviews. Before you speak, your appearance can significantly reflect your professionalism, attention to detail, and suitability for the job. While your skills are the most important, the way you dress can also influence how the interviewer views you.

Dress Code Do’s and Don’ts

Before picking a job interview attire, consider the company’s culture. Every company or industry has its unique way of dressing, from formal business clothes to more relaxed outfits. Check the company’s website, social media, and any pictures of employees you can find to understand their usual dress rules.

Here’s a breakdown of common dress codes and how to interpret them for your interview outfit:

Business Formal

Environments such as law firms, investment banks, and government offices are workplaces that demand a high level of formality in attire. Men are expected to don a well-fitted suit in darker tones, paired with a dress shirt and tie. Women should opt for either a pantsuit or a skirt suit complemented by a blouse. Shoes should be closed-toe dress shoes, like oxfords for men or pumps for women.

Business Casual

This option is common across many industries. If you’re aiming for a job like truck driving or working in a warehouse, this style makes more sense because a suit might feel too formal and uncomfortable. It allows you to maintain a professional appearance while also being comfortable and practical.

For men, you can go for tidy, pressed khakis or cargo pants paired with a polo shirt or a button-down shirt. If you have a company polo shirt, wearing it shows your enthusiasm for the job. Women can opt for dress pants, or a knee-length skirt combined with a blouse or sweater. Closed-toe shoes like flats, loafers, or pumps are a good choice. If the company is more laid-back, you might even get away with wearing a nice pair of dark jeans along with a collared shirt.

Casual

This dress code is common in creative industries like tech startups or media companies. It allows for more relaxed clothing but nothing sloppy or revealing. Consider wearing dark wash jeans with a dressy top or a casual button-down shirt. Women’s skirts should be at least knee-length. Sneakers might be okay but choose pairs that are clean and stylish.

General Interview Dressing Guidelines

No matter what job you’re applying for, several important details can enhance your dress and show your professionalism.

Make Sure it’s the Right Fit

This is more than just a catchy saying—it’s key to dressing well for an interview. Clothes that fit properly not only look neat but also make you feel more confident. Avoid clothes that are too tight, which might restrict your movements and pinch, or too loose, which might look baggy and sloppy.

Ideally, your clothes should fit close to your body without being tight or baggy. If you’re not sure about the fit, it’s better to choose something a bit looser because it’s easier to have clothes taken in than let out. Think about getting your outfit tailored for a perfect fit and a polished appearance.

Neutrals are Your Friend

When it comes to job interview attire, neutral colors like black, navy, gray, and beige are your safe bets. These colors look professional and sophisticated without being too showy or distracting. They also look good in photos, which is helpful if you have a virtual interview.

While a little bit of color can show your personality, keep it subtle and tasteful. Adding a scarf in a matching color or a tie with a simple pattern can make your outfit more interesting without taking away from its professional look.

Fabric Matters

The fabric of your interview clothes is important for how comfortable you feel and look. You should pick fabrics that hang nicely and don’t wrinkle easily. For colder weather, wool or wool blends are great because they keep you warm and look sharp. In hot weather, go for breathable fabrics like cotton or linen to stay cool and comfortable during the interview.

Also think about the fabric’s weight—a light linen blouse might be great for a summer interview, while a heavier wool suit would be better in the winter. Choosing the right fabric will help you look neat and feel confident, so you can concentrate on showcasing your skills and making a good impression.

Pay Attention to Details

Making sure everything is neat and polished shows that you are detail-oriented and professional. Check that all buttons are securely sewn on and that zippers work well. Remove any loose threads or signs of wear like pilling from your clothes before the interview. Polish your shoes until they shine, and make sure the hems of your clothes are even and not fraying. These might seem like minor things, but they add up to make a strong impression.

Accessorize Wisely

Accessories are a nice way to show a bit of your personality in your interview outfit, but it’s important to keep them understated and professional. Avoid anything too bold, distracting, or noisy. For men, a classic watch and a simple tie clip are enough. Women might choose a pair of pearl earrings or a delicate pendant necklace. It’s best to keep jewelry to a minimum and steer clear of anything that could make noise, like clinking bracelets, during the interview.

Bags are another important part of your dressing. Choose a professional-looking bag that’s structured and big enough to carry all your essentials like your resume, portfolio (if needed), a notepad, and a pen. Stay away from backpacks or large, bulky bags that might look clumsy or unprofessional. A briefcase is a traditional choice for men, while women might opt for a structured tote bag or a professional-looking clutch. Make sure your bag is clean and in good condition and try not to overfill it. How you handle your bag is also important—carry it confidently by the handle or strap and avoid slinging it over your shoulder or putting it on the floor during the interview.

Don’t Overlook the Finishing Touches

Make sure your hair is tidy and styled in a professional manner suitable for the work setting. For men, any facial hair should be neatly trimmed. Use cologne or perfume sparingly, choosing a light and fresh scent if any. Makeup should look natural and professional, using minimal colors and avoiding overly dramatic styles.

Above all, a confident smile is your best accessory! Smiling conveys warmth, friendliness, and enthusiasm—all traits that can make a great impression on the hiring manager.

What to Avoid Wearing

Just as there are Do’s, there are several Don’ts when dress for an interview:

  • Anything Too Revealing: Avoid clothing that is low-cut, tight-fitting, or shows excessive skin. This includes short skirts, sleeveless shirts, or see-through clothing.
  • Distracting Patterns or Colors: Avoid anything too loud or busy, as it can distract from you and your qualifications.
  • Being Overly Casual: Even in a relaxed work environment, ripped jeans or distressed casual clothing are not appropriate for an interview.
  • Strong Perfumes or Colognes: Avoid scents that might be overpowering to the interviewer.
  • Unprofessional Logos or Slogans: Steer clear of clothing with large logos, offensive slogans, or anything that could be seen as controversial.

Dressing for a Virtual Job Interview

In today’s world of remote jobs, your interview might be online. But this doesn’t mean you should ignore looking professional. Here’s what to remember:

  • Mind the Background. Choose a clean and uncluttered background for your video call. Avoid anything distracting or unprofessional.
  • Provide Good Lighting. Make sure you have good lighting that clearly shows your face. Avoid sitting with light behind you or in the shadows.
  • Look Professional from Head to Toe. Even though interviewers might not see your whole outfit, dressing professionally from head to toe can boost your confidence and ensure you’re prepared for any unexpected movements during the interview.

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