Interview Attire Basics
What your clothes say about you
In an interview what you wear plays a supporting role, it is widely recognised that non-verbal communication accounts for over two thirds of all communication, therefore it is important to maximize your chances by wearing the right apparel.
Looking apart and wearing the appropriate attire will support your image as a person who takes the interview process seriously and who understands the nature of the industry in which they are trying to become employed.
Be aware that in some industries, customer contact and image presented to the customer is critical. In such industries, your attire will be judged even more critically.
Your attire should be noticed as being appropriate and well-fitting, but it should not take centre 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, regardless of the job you are applying for it’s a good idea to be overdressed rather than underdressed. Never confuse an interview or business function with a social event. Don’t dress for a party or a date.
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.
Changes in fashion may change some things, like the width of lapels, the cut of trousers, or the colours 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
A two-piece matched suit is always the best and safest choice. Avoid wearing 3 piece suits or sweaters.
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.
Conservative colours / fabric:
Navy, dark grey (and black for women) — are safe.
Other colour 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.
Everything should be clean and well pressed. Carefully inspect clothes for tags, dangling threads, etc.
Additional interview attire specifics for men
A two-piece matched suit is always the best and safest choice. Don’t combine a suit jacket with trousers that don’t match. Choose a single breast pocket suit with 2 or 3 buttons, do pay attention to button etiquette.
Conservative colours / fabric:
Navy and dark grey 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 colour 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 fibre 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.
A deep red solid colour tie is your best choice as it conveys the most formality, a dark blue colour tie is also a good choice; avoid light colour ties, particularly those that closely match the colour of your shirt. You should also avoid wearing ties with more than two colours or display complex patterns.
Long-sleeved shirts, even in summer. Choose white or light blue solid. Do wear shirts without breast pockets as they imply informality.
Dark socks, mid-calf length so no skin is visible when you sit down.
Leather, lace-up or slip-on business shoes, preferably black. Invest in a good pair; even if you don’t wear them daily on the job, you’ll need them for other occasions and you should expect to get lots of years out of good shoes. Always remember to shine your shoes.
Black leather, to match your shoes.
Should be avoided altogether. A fresh shave look inspires the most professionalism.
Wear a conservative watch. If you choose to wear other jewellery, be conservative. Removing earrings is safest. Wear conservative cufflinks (geometric shapes), preferably silver, same applies for the tie clip or the lapel pin, be conservative.
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.
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.
Wear a two-piece matched suit.
Suit – trousers / skirts:
Tailored trousers suits are appropriate for women. Trousers 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 trousers, they should be creased and tailored, not tight or flowing.
Much of what you see on TV/movies 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.
Colour / fabric:
Navy, dark grey, and black are safe. Other colour trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Women generally have more options with suit colour than men. For example, while a woman could look conservative in a light grey suit, it 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 colour 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.)
Jewellery / accessories:
Wear a conservative watch. Jewellery and scarf styles come and go. Keep your choices simple and leaning toward conservative. Avoid extremes of style and colour.
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 colour, especially in conservative industries.
Should be leather or fabric / micro fibre. 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.
Should be plainly styled (no patterns), sheer is most conservative (not opaque), and in neutral colours complementing your suit. Dark, matching your suit and shoes is appropriate in colder weather. Avoid high contrast between your suit and hosiery colour. Do wear hosiery in cold weather!
Purse / bag:
A business-like tote bag is ideal for interviews and other professional occasions. It can carry your portfolio, extra copies of your CV 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 colour. Your tote/purse can be leather, faux leather, micro fibre or a fine woven material. Avoid purses that look like beach/pool totes or have bold prints.
Grooming and accessory tips for everyone
Should be clean and neat.
Should be freshly polished.
No missing buttons, no lint; and don’t forget to remove external tags and tacking stitches from new clothes.
Clothes should be clean, neatly pressed, and fit properly.
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 odours in clothes. Don’t smell like smoke.
Pad-folios / 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.