Proper Interview Attire: Workplace Fashion That Makes A First Impression
You’re only one day and a few hours away from your big interview. It’s for your dream job. You’ve been patiently waiting and working harder than ever for years to prepare for this moment. It would be devastating to throw all your hard work and preparation out the window because the interviewers were extremely disappointed with your outfit choice. Short, tight dresses showing cleavage, wrinkled shirts, and old, beat up tennis shoes tend to make any recruiter turn the other way. Remember your attire demonstrates your professionalism, how serious you are about the position (do you really want this job or is it just another option…), and the level of respect you have for yourself, the interviewer, and the company.
Or maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum; you’ve done your research and you’ve spent two hours (okay…maybe two and a half) choosing the perfect pair of heels. If you’re anything like me, you spend more time preparing your interview outfit than preparing for the interview itself (which isn’t necessarily a good thing). Of course, your interview attire is important, however, it should be subtle and simple. You wouldn’t want your outfit to distract from your words. Your answers to the interviewer’s questions are what lands you the job, your outfit is just an aid. But, be sure your “aid” helps you rather than hurts you.
Why proper interview attire is important
Like I’ve previously mentioned, dressing professionally shows respect for yourself, the interviewer, and the company. Keep in mind, you only have one chance to make a first impression; make it count. Consider the message that your interview attire sends. Are you clean, neat, and professional? Or are you uncommitted, disorganized, and unprepared? This doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to spend $800 and an entire day picking out the perfect interview outfit. Just spend a little extra time ironing your blouse or button-down shirt and be sure that it’s free of lint or pet hair.
Remember, this isn’t a fashion show. Unfortunately, you won’t have the chance to strut down the runway (lined with office cubicles instead of photographers and press) with every employee poking their head out from behind their cubicle panels hoping to catch a glimpse of this season’s stunning designer “workplace collection.” Your best chance of getting seen is being lucky enough to be interviewed in an office with glass walls and doors on the busiest floor of the office building. Therefore, avoid dressing for attention. Keep it subtle, professional, and understated.
What NOT to wear
Before we get into proper interview attire, it’s important to understand the things you should never wear to a job interview.
- Blazers are ideal interview attire. With that being said, be aware of the layer under your blazer or jacket. Low-cut tops that show cleavage or casual, wrinkled tees are not appropriate. A blazer does not grant you permission to just throw on any old shirt underneath.
- Go light on the perfume or cologne. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if your interviewer kept coughing or covering their nose, or even worse, had an allergic reaction to your strong scent?
- No open-toed shoes, sandals or flip-flops, or old tennis shoes. These shoe options are way too casual and unprofessional.
- Ladies, don’t overdo your makeup. I understand that makeup is a necessity (it is for me as well) and helps us look our best but, keep it natural. Bright red lips, false lashes, and a bold smoky eye is both distracting and unnecessary.
- Avoid looking too dated. Believe it or not, an outdated outfit can be just as distracting as a tight, short, bright colored dress. Throughout the entire interview, the interviewer will be wondering which decade you time travelled from instead of being attentive to your answers to their questions.
- Keep accessories to a minimum. For guys, a belt and watch is perfect. Women should keep to studded earrings, a dainty necklace, and/or a watch or bracelet. Your jewelry should not be clinking and clattering with every step or small movement.
What to wear
Before you even begin to consider your outfit possibilities, do some research on the company you’re interviewing for. But, not on the company’s background, product or service, etc. (although that type of research is required and very important as well). Google images of the company or office and conclude the attire that other employees are wearing. Is the environment business casual or business professional? This will help you determine how you should dress for your interview. However, it’s always better to overdress rather than appear too casual. Of course, business casual attire does not mean cargo shorts and a t-shirt. In fact, there is no exact definition of this type of dress. I’ll try to offer you the best description and examples, however, “business casual attire” requirements will vary depending on the company, location, and industry.
Your interview attire should be understated rather than flashy and you’ll want to wear something that makes you feel confident. For example, a button-down shirt and slacks which fit properly will have you feeling and appearing much more confident and comfortable than pants that are too short and a blazer that restricts your arm and shoulder movement would.
Let’s begin with proper interview attire for women (assuming that you’ve determined the formality of the office environment).
- Khaki, corduroy, twill, or cotton pants or skirts (be sure that your skirt is not too short; around knee length or slightly above the knee is appropriate)
- Flowing or sheath dresses (solid colors rather than loud, bright patterns)
- Sweaters, cardigans, polo or knit shirts, or a blouse (a basic print or statement color is acceptable as long as other wardrobe pieces are neutral and understated)
- Flats, peep-toe shoes, or heels (for a slightly more formal look)
- Minimal jewelry
A more casual environment might accept dark-wash jeans without holes or tears. Limit your attire to only one statement color. For example, if you wear a bright yellow blouse or sweater, your skirt or pants and undershirt should be a neutral color such as gray, white, khaki, or black.
- Navy, black, or dark gray suit
- Suit skirt (skirt should be no shorter than just above the knee)
- Basic patterned blouse with a solid-colored skirt
- Sweater with black or khaki dress pants
- Dark, solid, neutral colored blazer
- Solid-colored dress with an appropriate neckline and knee-length hem (a statement-colored dress is also appropriate if it is more conservative as the color will already draw attention)
- Simple black dress
- Natural colored pantyhose (if necessary)
- Closed-toed shoes (preferably heels, but not platform)
- Minimal jewelry
Remember, your formal interview attire should appear neat and clean. Remove all lint or pet hair from your outfit and make sure it’s free of wrinkles or stains. Wear natural-looking makeup and a professional hair style (keep your hair out of your face and eyes).
Whether the proper attire for the company is business casual or professional, men’s interview attire should always consist of dark dress socks (not ankle socks), dress or leather shoes, and neatly pressed pants.
- Khaki, gabardine, wool, or cotton pants
- Cotton, long-sleeved button-down shirts
- Sweaters over button-down shirts (if the sweater is bright-colored or patterned, the undershirt should be a neutral color)
- Leather or dress shoes
- Leather, brown or black belt
If the environment is more on the casual side, dark colored jeans without holes or tears may be appropriate. To make the attire a bit more formal, add a colored or patterned statement tie and a watch.
- Solid, neutral-colored suit (navy, black, dark gray)
- Color-coordinated, long-sleeved button-down shirt
- Leather or dress shoes
- Leather, brown or black belt
- Watch (optional, however, I think that it’s a stylish addition to the professional appearance)
Be sure that you appear neatly groomed and shaved with trimmed, clean nails and a professional hairstyle. Your attire should be clean and pressed in addition to properly tailored and fitted.
Dressing for your interview might appear as more of an afterthought, however, the importance of your interview attire should not be underestimated. After all, this is your opportunity to dress to impress before you’re hired and exiled to your office cubicle where your amazing style is hidden behind your cubicle walls anyway.