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Interview appearance and attire

Career Services > Job & internship search guide > Interviewing > Appearance and attire

On this page: Offsite resources:

What your clothes say about you

Guidelines for men & women

Men's details

Women's details

Grooming tips for everyone

What to wear to your job interview
myjobhelper.com What to wear to your job interview on MyJobHelper.com

Attire examples: employers comment
Attire shown for men and women.
North Dakota State University Career Center

Is the Office the New...
Lisa Earle McLeod on the Huffington Post
Plain language about clothing mistakes women make in professional environments.

Comfort vs. Fashion: What women wear to work
U.S. News Money.com.

 
What your clothes say about you
In an interview your attire plays a supporting role.
Your conduct, your interpersonal skills and your ability to articulate intelligent and well-thought-out responses to questions are the most important elements.
Appropriate attire supports your image as a person who takes the interview process seriously and understands the nature of the industry in which you are trying to become employed.
Be aware that in some industries, customer contact and image presented to the customer are critical. In such industries, your attire will be judged more critically.
Your attire should be noticed as being appropriate and well-fitting, but it should not take center stage.
If you are primarily remembered for your interview attire, this is probably because you made an error in judgment!
Dressing nicely and appropriately is a compliment to the person you meet, so if in doubt, err on the side of dressing to a higher standard than you might need to.
Even if you are aware that employees of an organization dress casually on the job, dress more formally for the interview unless you are specifically told otherwise by the employer. The interview is a professional meeting and thus a more formal occasion than daily work.
Never confuse an interview or business function with a social event. Don't dress for a party or a date.
Not every contact with an employer requires interview attire. For some occasions business casual is appropriate. See business casual for when to wear it and what it is.
Changes in fashion may change some things, like the width of lapels, the cut of pants, or the colors of blouses, shirts and ties available in the stores. Basic professional attire does not change with the whims of fashion. A good suit should last five to ten years, depending on its quality, how hard you wear it, how well you care for it, and if it continues to fit you well. You can express fashion's whims in your off-the-job clothes, and to some extent in your accessories.
 
Interview attire guidelines for men and women
Suit:
A two-piece matched suit is always the best and safest choice.
What if the JOB is in a NON-SUIT-wearing WORK ENVIRONMENT:
Even if you would or could wear jeans on the job, or the work environment is outdoors and a very non-suit environment, wearing a suit to the interview shows you take the interview seriously as a professional meeting. Dressing well is a compliment to the person(s) with whom you meet. If you think the industry in which you're interviewing would frown on a suit, or the interview will involve going to a work site where a suit would be inappropriate, look for advice through professional organizations, your professors who have been employed in that industry, and/or by asking the employer directly and politely. One alternative is to wear pressed pants (like khakis) and a dark jacket; less formal than a suit, but still business-appropriate for both men and women.
Conservative colors / fabric:
Navy, dark gray (and black for women) — are safe.
Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes.
Solids or very subtle weave patterns or plaids (the type that look solid across a room) are safest.
Wool, wool blends, or other good quality natural and synthetic fibers, are generally the best fabrics in all seasons. Avoid lower quality acetate / rayon blends.
Cost / quality:
You are not expected to be able to afford the same clothing as a corporate CEO. Do invest in quality that will look appropriate during your first two or three years on the job. One good-quality suit is sufficient for a job search if that is all your budget allows. You can vary your shirt/blouse and tie/accessories.
Clean / loose threads / tacking stitches / tags:
Everything should be clean and well pressed. Allow time to take your suit to the dry cleaner if needed. Hold it up to bright light to check for stains you might not see in your closet. Carefully inspect clothes for tags, dangling threads, etc. Cut away the tacking threads that hold jacket and skirt vents closed (these are for the garment to stay neat at the retailer, not for permanent use).
 
Additional interview attire specifics for men
Suit:
A two-piece matched suit is always the best and safest choice. Don't combine a suit jacket with pants that don't match. Not a suit environment? See guidelines above.
Conservative colors / fabric:
Navy and dark gray are safe and are the most conservative for men. Black for men was once considered severe or overly formal, and may still be considered so in very conservative industries, although it is commonly worn by many. Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Choose a solid or very subtle weave pattern or plaid (the kind that look solid across a room). Wool, wool blends, or very high-quality natural and synthetic fiber blends are acceptable fabrics for a conservative men's suit.
Cost / quality:
You are not expected to be able to afford the same clothing as a corporate CEO. Do invest in quality that will look appropriate during your first two or three years on the job. One good quality suit is sufficient for a job search if that is all your budget allows. You can vary your shirt and tie.
Ties:
Tie styles come and go. Select good quality silk ties.
Avoid fashion extremes, like character ties, in interviews.
Notice what men in your industry wear on the job, at career fairs, at information sessions, when they meet with clients.
Shirts:
Long-sleeved shirts, even in summer. Choose white or light blue solid, or conservative stripes. A dark shirt might be acceptable in a non-conservative industry. Avoid being trendy.
Socks:
Dark socks; color should match pants.
Mid-calf length so no skin is visible when you sit down.
Shoes:
Leather, lace-up or slip-on business shoes, preferably black or cordovan (match your belt color). Invest in a good pair; even if you don't wear them daily at work, you'll need them for other occasions; good shoes should last years if not frequently worn.
Belt:
Black or cordovan leather, to match your shoes.
Facial hair:
If worn, should be well-groomed. Observe men in your industry if you are unsure what's appropriate or are considering changing your look.
Jewelry:
Wear a conservative watch. If you choose to wear other jewelry, be conservative. Removing earrings is safest. For conservative industries, don't wear earrings. Observe other men in your industry to see what is acceptable.
Details:
Everything should be clean and well pressed. Suits typically have tacking stitches to hold vents — on the jacket back and on sleeves — in place before the garment is purchased. Cut them off if your retailer / tailor doesn't. And that tag stitched on the outside of your sleeve is not meant to stay there for show — cut it off! Carefully inspect clothes dangling threads, etc.
  Los Angeles Times: It cost me $44.93 to look like a million bucks.
Finding high-end clothing on the cheap, plus a visit to his tailor.
 

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Additional interview attire specifics for women
Don't confuse club attire with business attire. If you would wear it to a club, you probably shouldn't wear it in a business environment.
Suit:
Wear a two-piece matched suit. Not a suit environment? See guidelines above.
Suit - pants / skirts:
Tailored pants suits are appropriate for women. Pants suits can be an excellent choice for site visits, particularly if the visit involves getting in and out of vehicles and/or the site is (or includes) a manufacturing plant or industrial facility. If you wear pants, they should be creased and tailored, not tight or flowing. If you are pursuing a conservative industry and are in doubt, observe well-dressed women in your industry on the job, at career fairs, at information sessions, etc.
Skirt lengths:
Much of what you see in entertainment media that masquerades for professional attire is not appropriate for a work environment. Your skirt should cover your thighs when you are seated. Showing a lot of thigh makes you look naive at best, foolish at worst. A skirt that ends at the knee when you're standing looks chic and professional. Longer skirts are professional too; just make sure they are narrow enough not to be billowing, but not so narrow that you can't climb stairs comfortably. Don't purchase a skirt or decide on a hem length until you sit in the skirt facing a mirror. That's what your interviewer will see, and what others will see when you are seated in a waiting area prior to your interview. Ask yourself whether it will be distracting or reinforce your image as a person who looks appropriate for a business environment or gathering. High slits in skirts are not appropriate. A small center-back slit in a knee-length skirt is appropriate. On a calf-length skirt, a slit to the knee to facilitate walking and stair climbing is appropriate. Practice walking, climbing stairs, sitting, and standing in your skirt with the shoes you will wear. Make sure you don't have to adjust or tug your skirt into place when you move.
Color / fabric:
Navy, dark gray, brown and black are safe. Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Women generally have more options with suit color than men. For example, while a women could look conservative in a slate blue or light gray suit, slate blue would be inappropriate for men, and light gray would be more casual for men. Choose a solid or very subtle weave pattern or plaid (the type that looks solid across a room). Wool, wool blends, and high quality blends and synthetics are appropriate for women's suiting.
Shirt / sweaters:
Underneath the suit jacket, wear a tailored blouse in a color or small print that coordinates nicely with your suit. A fine gauge, good quality shell (sleeveless) or sleeved knit top (not bulky; not thin or gauzy; not a t-shirt) is also appropriate underneath your suit jacket. Don't show cleavage. (Remember that tv/movies are trying to attract viewers; they don't represent reality of the professional environment.)
Jewelry / accessories:
Wear a conservative watch. Jewelry and scarf styles come and go. Keep your choices simple and leaning toward conservative. Avoid extremes of style and color. If your industry is creative, you may have more flexibility than someone pursuing a conservative industry.
Cosmetics:
Keep makeup conservative. A little is usually better than none for a polished look.  Nails should be clean and well groomed. Avoid extremes of nail length and polish color, especially in conservative industries.
Shoes:
Should be leather or fabric / micro fiber. Shoe styles and heel heights come and go. Choose closed-toe pumps. Regardless of what is in style, avoid extremes; no stilettos or chunky platforms. Make certain you can walk comfortably in your shoes; hobbling in uncomfortable shoes does not convey a professional appearance.
Hosiery:
Should be plainly styled (no patterns), sheer is most conservative (not opaque), and in neutral colors complementing your suit. Dark, matching your suit and shoes is appropriate in colder weather. Avoid high contrast between your suit and hosiery color. DO wear hose in cold weather!
Purse / bag:
A business-like tote bag is ideal for interviews and other professional occasions. It can carry your padfolio, extra copies of your resume and any other papers you might need, and personal items can be concealed within. A structured tote that will stand up when you set it on the floor is preferable to one that flops over (and potentially spills its contents). If you also carry a purse, keep it small and simple (so that you are not carrying two large bags); you might place your smaller purse within your larger tote. Tote/purse color should coordinate with your overall attire; it does not have to match your shoes, but should not clash in style and color. Your tote/purse can be leather, faux leather, micro fiber or a fine woven material. Avoid purses that look like beach/pool totes, have bold prints, or are partyish or little-girlish.
 

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Grooming and accessory tips for everyone
Hair:
Should be clean and neat.
Shoes:
Should be in polished condition. Make sure heels are not worn.
Details:
No missing buttons, no lint; and don't forget to remove external tags and tacking stitches from new clothes.
Hands:
Clean fingernails.
Fit:
Clothes should be clean, neatly pressed, and fit properly.
Smell:
Perfume or cologne should be used sparingly or not at all. Remember that some people have allergies/sensitivities; you'd hate for that to derail an interview. No odors in clothes. Don't smell like smoke.
Padfolios / business bags:
Always wise for holding paper to take notes and to hold other documents you may need to bring and receive. Business-like totes or small briefcases are also appropriate. But if you have no reason to carry a large briefcase, don't; you risk looking silly.
Backpacks, book bags:
Not appropriate for an on-site interview at the employer's location. For an on-campus interview, you can leave it in the waiting area, or discreetly place it behind your chair. If you are graduating, invest in a business-like tote/bag, so that you don't need to bring your school backpack to interviews.

 

 

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Ladies: When weather is cold, wear tights or hose to interviews!

Ladies: When the weather is cold, wear tights or hose to interviews!

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