How to Dress for an Interview

A generation ago, dressing for a job interview could hardly be considered rocket science. Job counselors and coaches had plenty to say on the subject, but their advice fit a predictable pattern: don’t wear ripped jeans, shorts, or skimpy skirts. Wear a suit. Done and done. But the days of simply wearing a suit are fading into the past. At this point, job search attire is becoming more nuanced, and in a competitive marketplace with a seemingly boundless array of company cultures, it’s easier than ever to get it wrong. On the other hand, hitting the right notes can also be simpler (and easier on your wardrobe budget) than ever before. Keep these tips in mind.

Suits can still be okay.

Just to be clear, suits are still appropriate interview attire in many cases. By suit, we mean a buttoned-up or oxford-style shirt, a professional jacket or blazer, and pair of slacks or a professional skirt below the beltline. In particular, if you’re interviewing for a position in a big corporation or are looking to join the ranks of an industry with a more formal company culture, like banking or law, you’ll want to be dressed more conservatively.

Dress to the culture.

On the flip side, suits are no longer required interview attire, and most candidates now have access to other options. How do you decide what those other options are? Take your cues from company culture. Do a little research on your future employer. Are there pictures of people in the workplace? What are they wearing? Similarly, does the industry itself have a dress code reputation? For instance, tech start-ups are notoriously casual (and would actually frown upon suits), while fashion houses expect their employees to look like they could walk out of the pages of a magazine. Once you’ve painted yourself a picture of what the average worker wears, take your interview outfit up a notch or two. You still want to be dressed slightly better than everyone else, but you don’t want to be decked out in such a dramatic way that the hiring manager may take it as a sign that you’re not going to gel with company culture.

Suggestions for younger workers

Workers below the age of about 35 (including entry-level candidates with no workplace experience) should consider a neat, pressed blouse or buttoned shirt with long sleeves, paired with an optional cardigan or sweater. Below the waist, wear a pressed pair of slacks, neat khakis, a pencil skirt, or any skirt that extends beyond your fingertips when your arms are held flat against your sides. Dress-cardigan parings are usually appropriate as well. Polished leather shoes and dress shoes are a better choice than sneakers, and shoes should always look new, not worn or damaged.

Suggestions for older workers

Above the age of 35, candidates should follow the same tips listed above, but with a few additional considerations. Choose dignified, expensive-looking, natural fabrics like wool, linen, gabardine, or pure cotton. Older candidates should watch out for details that younger workers have an easier time getting away with, like cheap-looking shoes, plastic or knock-off jewelry and accessories, and cheap synthetic fabrics.

Common Mistakes

Be aware that your interviewers will be gathering impressions and making assumptions based on the flimsiest details (it’s human nature to do this). These might include wrinkled material, slightly misapplied make-up, loose threads, nearly invisible stains, mildly plunging cleavage, or wild, renegade hairs on your head or face. Check yourself in a full-length mirror before you leave the house and duck into a bathroom for a final check just before your meeting begins. Above all, choose neat, subdued attire that fits you well and that doesn’t steal the spotlight from your face or your words as you speak. — For more on how to make a professional impression and land the job of your dreams, use the guidance and application tools available at MyPerfectResume.