Finding that perfect interview outfit is an elusive and often stress-inducing endeavor. Will you be over-or under-dressed? Do your nice clothes even fit anymore? And what does business-casual even mean anyway? All these questions can put a damper on other avenues of interview preparation, like practicing interview questions. So we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll walk you through what’s appropriate to wear for an interview and what’s not. We’ll also give you concrete tips on how to figure out a company’s dress code and build interview outfits in four professional attire styles. Let’s get you ready to dress for success.
Let’s start with the basics. The most appropriate outfit for a job interview is always clean, neat-looking clothing with no visible stains or tears. This is true regardless of how formal your prospective employer is. But when it comes to the actual clothes you choose, how do you figure out the right level of dress? The general rule of thumb for interview attire is to dress a step or two nicer than the typical office attire. This makes a good first impression and demonstrates that you care about performing well in the job interview.
In practice, this typically means you should dress in business casual clothes at a minimum (we’ll define business casual attire in detail later). But how do you figure out the average office dress code so that you can go a bit beyond that? Let’s take a look at how to research the dress code in our next section.
When you’re trying to figure out the appropriate level of formality for your job interview outfit, there are a few ways to go about it. The easiest way to research an office dress code is to look at the careers page on the company website. Many employers have information about their company culture that can help you determine how formal they are. You can also look for pictures of the workplace or team throughout their website or on social media profiles. Having visual inspiration will be very useful in choosing what to wear for your interview.
For instance, these images on Credit Karma’s career page show a pretty casual look among its employees.
In contrast, the headshots on the Clifford Chance law firm website show a business formal dress code.
Researching the company dress code for your prospective employer does more than tell you what clothes to wear. It also helps you understand the work environment, which gives you more insight into whether the job will suit you. You’ll likely research the company as part of your interview preparation anyway, so pay a little extra attention to the company culture. You’ll then have a good idea of what to wear for your interview.
While there’s a lot of variety in office dress codes, these four categories cover a wide range that should help you identify what to wear for an interview. We’ll break down each type of interview outfit and what it should look like for both men and women. Let’s get started.
One of the most common types of interview attire, business casual dress is usually found in industries like retail, home services, and food services. More office-based jobs are moving toward a more casual dress code, too, with start-ups, tech companies, and marketing agencies often having a relaxed feel to their style of dress.
Business casual dress can mean a lot of things. It doesn’t include jeans, sneakers, or t-shirts. Beyond that, there’s a lot of flexibility in what you can wear to match this category. Women may opt for slacks or a pencil skirt paired with a blouse or sweater with a modest neckline. A statement dress is also a good option, provided it’s not too casual. While dressy sandals may seem tempting, particularly if you’re wearing a dress, stick with close-toed shoes instead. A pair of flats, loafers, or kitten heels would be a good choice.
Men can keep it simple in slacks or chinos and a button-down shirt. A tie or blazer can be a nice addition but isn’t necessary for business casual outfits. With business casual attire, you can be bolder in your color or print patterns. Don’t go overboard, but feel free to choose brighter colors rather than sticking to gray and black.
Executive casual kicks business casual up a notch. You’ll often find this attire in sales, education, and real estate, as well as many small businesses. In many ways, executive casual is the same as business casual. Bright colors and patterns are still acceptable here, and the basic outfit pieces remain the same — with one key addition.
Women will still choose from slacks, a skirt, or a dress, paired with a blouse or button-down if needed. Add a blazer, rather than a cardigan, to bring the outfit to the executive casual level.
Men should also wear a blazer or sport jacket over their button-down, paired again with slacks or dress pants. A tie is still optional at this level, but when in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to add one to the final outfit. Men should also wear dress shoes.
Also called business professional or traditional business attire, business formal interview outfits look decidedly different from the casual dress codes we’ve just covered. You’ll typically find business formal attire in law, accounting, or finance firms. Corporate-level employees in many industries also adhere to this dress code. Both women and men should wear suits for business formal interviews. Women may choose to wear a skirt suit as long as the skirt ends no more than an inch or two above knee-length.
Colorful clothing is still acceptable here, although in most offices, they should be more muted than what you’d wear at the executive casual level. It’s better to choose a solid color than an unusual pattern or print.
Men may choose from the classic black or grey for their suit color or opt for the less traditional brown or blue suit. They should also wear a tie — no more exceptions. The last new piece of business formal attire is accessories. Jewelry, purses, watches, and any other accessories should be high-quality and in good condition. It’s better to skip the jewelry than to wear pieces that look dingy.
You’re unlikely to run into boardroom attire unless you’re interviewing at the executive level in corporate offices or working in high-level government or law offices. Still, it’s a good idea to recognize this style in case you come across it.
Boardroom interview attire requires dark, classic plain colors with a crisp finish. Typically, this means navy blue, dark grey, or black with white button-down shirts or blouses underneath. Both men and women should wear black suits and shoes. Women may still choose between a skirt suit and a pantsuit.
Once again, accessories are extremely important. Keep them to a minimum, and stick to plain, classic styles.
By now, you should have a much clearer idea of what to wear for an interview. To make it easier for you, we’ve also made this quick list of what you should not wear to a job interview.
T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers
Pajamas or sweatpants
Athletic or athleisure wear
Clothes that are dirty, rumpled, or stained
Clothes or accessories with graphic or obscene content
Open-toed shoes, sandals, and flip-flops
Clothes that are visibly torn or worn
Low-cut tops or dresses
You should also avoid dressing too formally or too casually for the workplace where you’re interviewing. Going too far out of the norm in either direction can leave an odd impression, but when in doubt, opt for the more professional look.
Finding the perfect interview outfit can be a bit tricky, but it’s exactly what you need to make the right impression on your hiring manager. Do your research on the office dress code and align your outfit with their level of formality. And above all, remember to look professional, polished, and prepared.
For more help with your job search, visit the Getting Hired Resource Center.