What to Wear to an Interview 

Updated Oct 13, 20218 min
What to Wear to an Interview 

What to Wear to an Interview 

Caroline BantonUpdated Oct 13, 20218 min
What to Wear to an Interview 

What you wear to a job interview has a huge impact on how you are perceived. No matter how well qualified you are for the job, first impressions count, and your clothes are one of the first things interviewers will notice. 

That doesn’t mean you have to wear the latest haute couture, it just means that you should dress appropriately and follow basic grooming rules. Don't worry, it’s not hard!

This article will tell you how to dress whether you are interviewing for a job as a construction site foreman or a senior financial investment manager. We will show you how to make the right impression, what to wear for business professional or business-casual interviews, and provide ideas for outfits for both men and women.

How to Determine the Interview 

What you wear to an interview is largely dictated by the dress code at the company. So, it’s important to do your research and find out what others in your position at the company are wearing. Is it business casual or business professional? 

To find out the dress code, you can call your recruiter or company contact and ask them. You can check out social media and the company website. Or, hang out near the building for an hour or two at lunch to see what people are wearing. Just remember, however, that even if you see people wearing jeans and sneakers, you should still step it up for an interview and avoid being too casual.

If you will be working in a different environment than an office, such as a construction site or on a farm, your clothing should be suitably clean and neat, but obviously, a suit and dress shoes would be inappropriate. Dress to fit the occasion and the terrain!

Here are some general rules that you should adhere to for job interviews depending on the dress code. 

The Non-Negotiable Rules

There are some non-negotiables, whatever the situation:

  • Your clothing should be clean and relatively fresh. Don’t wear anything that is dirty, creased, or faded.

  • You should be clean and well-groomed, including your nails and hair.

  • Tattoos and piercings, in most cases, should be toned down or hidden as much as possible.

  • Clothing should be appropriate for the environment and conservative. Don’t wear revealing or over-the-top attire.

  • Keep jewelry, makeup, and perfume/cologne to a minimum.

Some exceptions to the above (except for bullet one) are artistic or creative environments where expressing your individuality could be expected and even an advantage. However, these scenarios are few and far between.

The Different Dress Codes 

Let’s examine the different dress codes you are likely to encounter, where you are likely to encounter them, and what type of dress is suitable. We look at dress styles for conservative/business professional, business casual, casual, and creative work environments.

Conservative/Business Professional

This dress style is popular among corporations such as financial institutions, accounting firms, law firms, and high-level government offices. It’s one of the more formal dress codes.

The good news is that you don’t have to wear a three-piece suit or Balenciaga heels, but the bad news is that you will have to invest in some high-quality wardrobe staples if you end up working in this type of business environment. 

For example, in a law firm, you will be encountering high-end clients and business professionals, and your company will require you to be a good representative of that firm, which includes your appearance. Thus, here are some ideas for interview attire if this is the context for your interview.

Business Professional Interview Attire for Women

For women, a suit or a blazer with either dress pants or a skirt in a matching fabric will work well. Here are some guidelines for interview attire to follow.

  • Choose a neutral color like navy blue, grey, or black.

  • The suit or blazer should fit well at the shoulder, and the sleeves should not be too long or too short.

  • Wear a conservative blouse that does not have a loud pattern. Plain pastels or white are best.

  • The skirt should come at least to the top of your knees so it’s not too short when you walk or sit down.

  • Avoid pants that are so tight you can’t sit comfortably and beware of a visible panty line.

  • The trouser cuff should be at the midway point of your shoe or just past your ankles.

  • Dresses are fine, but they should be conservative.

  • If you plan to wear a blazer open, you should still be able to comfortably close it. But be careful of too much extra room when the blazer is buttoned!

  • You don’t have to wear heels, but shoes should be conservative. Go for closed-toe, a heel no higher than three inches, and a neutral color.

  • Keep makeup, jewelry, and perfume to a minimum.

  • Hair should be neat and tidy, and nails should be clean and well-manicured. Avoid fancy nail polish.

women bp dress code

Business Professional Interview Attire for Men

Men must wear a suit to an interview where the dress code is business professional. It doesn’t have to be Chanel, but it does have to be well-fitting and a neutral color. There’s just no point in taking a risk with anything else. Save the yellow and green socks and polka dot tie for later in the day when you are firmly ensconced in the law firm as a senior partner.

Here are some guidelines for interview attire for men.

  • Wear a two-piece suit, in either charcoal, grey, or navy blue. Subtle pinstripes are fine, but “subtle” is the operative word here. Black is ok, but not ideal, nor is a black shirt. It strikes too much of trying to make a statement, which you are not.

  • You should wear a dress shirt that is solid white or pastel. Avoid pink, at least for job interviews in a conservative firm.

  • Avoid French cuffs. Again, you’re not making a statement.  

  • You will need a tie that is solid, striped, or with dots, and the colors should not be too loud.

  • Your shoes should be black, brown, or burgundy. They can be Oxfords, quarter-brogues, whatever, but avoid pointy toes or patent leather.

  • Wear conservative socks that work with your suit and shoes. Remember, be subtle from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.

men biz professional dress

Tip: For budget shoppers, try end-of-stock retailers like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Ross for interview clothing.

Business Casual 

Business casual is the most typical office style and is seen in marketing, government agencies, education, retail, tech, engineering, and real estate. Business casual is a less formal version of business professional. Full-on suits are not required, and you can be trendy, but flip flops are not an option.

Business Casual Interview Attire for Women

Women’s wear for this type of environment is slightly less formal than that for business professionals. Suits, pantsuits, and dresses are fine, but pants and blouses with more color and style mean that the casual look allows for a little more flare. An A-line, pleated, or pencil skirt in a solid color always works best, and it should reach your knees. Blouse necklines should still be conservative

Dresses can be more colorful, and cardigans and sweaters can be worn if they are tailored and professional. Sleeveless dresses work, but they should still be knee-length. You don’t have to adhere to such muted styles and colors. 

Shoes can be more interesting, and flats, wedges, heels, and boots will work. Keep heel height to less than three inches.

women biz casual

Business Casual Interview Attire for Men

For men, blazers, suit jackets, pants, chinos, and button-down shirts are all options for an interview. Avoid bright colors in anything.

A good rule to follow is either wear a jacket and tie, or neither. Beware that wearing a tie with pants and a shirt and no jacket can make you look like your mother dressed you

Keep colors muted. Jeans and polo shirts are not ok for an interview, even if they are normally accepted dress code at the firm. You should always step it up for an interview.

It’s vital that what you wear is ironed to perfection otherwise, you will look sloppy. Tuck in your shirt, and don’t expose too much chest hair or have more than two buttons undone.

Loafers, oxfords, derbies, and brogues work. Sneakers work only if you don’t want the job.

Men business casual

Casual Attire

Casual dress is what you see in industries such as household repair, landscaping, plumbing, and construction. Unless you are going for a management role in a large company, suits or ties are unnecessary.

Business attire is not necessary for service industries, but men should wear slacks and a polo or colored shirt. Sweaters are fine too. Women should wear a skirt with a blouse and jacket, or pants with the same. Shoes should be conservative, no high heels, but a low heel is fine. Still no flip-flops or sneakers though. Whatever the type of job, the most important thing is to be neatly presented with good grooming.

women casual

Creative Attire

Creative dress is typical for the entertainment, fashion, graphic design, travel, and music industries. Depending on the company, anything goes here except for overtly suggestive clothing or anything offensive. Even though there is an opportunity for self-expression in terms of color and style, clothing should be professional. Therefore, suits, pants, blouses, and shirts are required.

creative attire

Grooming for Interviews

It doesn’t matter how impeccable your interview clothes are, if your hair is a mess and your nails are dirty you will create a bad impression. Cleaning and manicuring your nails is straightforward, but how should you wear your hair?

Grooming for Men

For men, a beard is fine but have it neatly trimmed. If you have long hair, that’s a trickier situation. If you are interviewing in a business professional environment, it might be best to have it cut. If the interview is at a firm with a more casual or creative dress code, a man bun could work. Never leave long hair down.

Grooming for Women

Women have a much easier time of it in the hair department. They can choose to wear their hair up or down as long as it is neat. Buns and ponytails are fine too. Nail polish should not be distracting, and it is best to stick to light colors or clear polish.

Hopefully, you have a good idea now of what your interview outfit should look like. To summarize, and to avoid last-minute mishaps or offending the hiring manager, here’s a summary of absolutely what NOT to wear to an interview.

  • Bright, flashy suits.

  • Flip flops or sneakers.

  • Heavy fragrance or makeup.

  • Blouses that are too short or too low cut (this goes for men and women).

  • Visible underwear, bra straps are the biggest culprit here.

  • T-shirts.

  • Anything that doesn’t fit.

  • Shorts and jeans.

  • A lot of jewelry or piercings.

Follow these tips and you’ll make a good impression at your interview. Remember, whatever the dress code or company culture, the interview is the time to step it up. So, even if the environment is business casual and you might see people going to the office in sneakers, they should not be part of your wardrobe for your next job interview.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

Grow your career with a coach

Find my coach