The Ultimate Guide on What to Wear to an Interview


When interviewing for a job, there is more the interviewers consider than just your answers to their questions.  What you wear can impress an interviewer or ruin your chances of getting hired.  Read on to learn everything you need to know to impress employers with your dress.

Do my clothes really matter?

YES! While more important in some industries than others, what you choose to wear to an interview affects the interviewer’s impression of you. Although your clothes don’t define you, it is a natural response to judge based on appearance. This is especially true when meeting someone for the first time, with little else on which to base an opinion.

Amy Glass, a trainer and coach at Brody Communications Ltd. of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and an expert on presentation skills, business etiquette, professional presence and interpersonal communication said,

“Your image matters because it shows your attentiveness to detail and gives recruiters an idea of how you’ll represent their company to clients, both internally and externally. The visual message you send makes a big difference in how you’re perceived and, ultimately, whether or not you get the job.”

Go ahead and ask what to wear if you’re not sure!

Different organizations vary greatly in their employee dress codes.  Some require a suit for men, others require panty hose for women, and some are ok with a t-shirt and flip-flops.  It can be especially unclear in less traditional industries like graphic design and IT. So when preparing for a job interview, how do you know what to wear?

The best answer is to ask the hiring manager, HR person, recruiter, or whoever invites you to interview, what the appropriate dress is for their company.  This shows respect for the company and a desire to fit in with the company culture, which is part of what an interviewer looks for.

If for some reason this is not an option, try looking on the company website for cues as to how the employees dress.  When in doubt, it is better to overdress than underdress. Before you even open your mouth, an impression has already begun to form in the employer’s mind based on your appearance, and first impressions stick!  A bad choice of clothing, makeup, or hairstyle could distract the employer from your qualifications or make him not take you seriously. 


Dress codes and what they mean

When asking HR what to wear to your interview, they won’t tell you, “a neutral color blazer with pants, close-toed pumps, and a simple pair of earrings.” Instead, they might say, “business formal,” “business casual,” or type of dress code policy.  But what do those mean? Below, four typical dress codes are reviewed so you have a better idea of what to wear to work.

Business Formal

This is the most formal of all professional dress, and is typically required of executives, people that work in law, and other high-level positions.





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Business Professional

Also known as “business traditional,” this is the next step down from business formal, and is very similar.  It’s still a very professional look, but with slightly looser requirements as far as color and accessories go.





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Business Casual

Also known as “executive casual,” this is the most common dress code.  While still looking professional, much more color and personality is acceptable.  “Business casual” may differ slightly between companies, so it’s recommended to check with HR for guidelines.






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business casual women

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Casual dress is just what it sounds like, however, avoid dressing overly casual.  Coworkers tend to judge other’s capabilities at least partially based on their appearance.  So if you take the casual dress code to the extreme, you could make a poor first impression and come off as incompetent.  Take care to maintain a neat, clean appearance that shows you will take your job seriously.




Note:  These are the general guidelines for a casual dress code in the workplace.  However, for an interview, it’s best to avoid jeans and sneakers.  Dress casual enough to fit in, but slightly more formal than regular employees.  An interview is a special occasion that you want to show through your appearance, is important to you.


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Make-up guidelines

When it comes to make-up, keep it natural and soft looking.  Make-up should not be distracting to the interviewer.  In other words, choose colors close to your skin-tone (avoid bright eyeshadow, vibrant lipstick, over-the-top blush).  Wear a natural-looking blush.  If you choose to wear eye shadow, it should not be very noticeable, just a gentle natural color (think earth tones). Consider just a clear gloss or lip balm on the lips, or a color similar to your natural color.  Don’t pick any lip product that looks really sticky, dry, or that will smear on your teeth.  Avoid false eyelashes. Choose a waterproof mascara in case you sweat or it rains.  Try a pencil eyeliner instead of liquid cat eyeliner; it’s softer and less harsh.  Here are a couple of examples to refer to:

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Hairstyles for her

When choosing your hairstyle, the two most important things to be sure of is that it is neat and out of your face.  Here are a few simple and pretty ideas:



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simple ponytail

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elegant bun

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A few extra tips…

What to do if you’re over/under dressed

If you show up for an interview overdressed, take off your suit jacket after the introduction, or discreetly roll up your sleeves to show a more casual look.  If you show up underdressed, try to compensate by being more formal in your manner of speaking and presenting yourself.

Be a smart shopper

If you have multiple interviews at the same company, you don’t have to buy an entirely new outfit for each one. Save money and simply switch up what you wear with the suit. For example, wear a different tie, shirt, scarf, or necklace. Also, don’t feel like you have to spend hundreds of dollars on a suit at Nordstrom. Go ahead and look there for ideas of what to wear, and then look at outlets or other less expensive options for similar but cheaper clothes.  Try Forever 21 or H&M for great clothes at cheap prices.

If you have tattoos or piercings:

Typically, it is advised to cover up your tattoos and remove piercings (besides the average earring) in the workplace if possible.  Exceptions to this include casual work environments and companies where HR has specifically said otherwise.

To hide tattoos, cover them with long sleeves, pants, or dark hose, depending on where they are.  Accessories like scarves and large watches can be used to hide tattoos on the neck and wrist.  When in doubt of what to do, talk to HR to clarify the company policy and see what they recommend for you.

What bag?

For men, use a nice, good-looking briefcase if you have it.  If not, use a quality portfolio binder.  Women, use either a briefcase or a purse, not both!  Make sure that whatever bag you use, it is neat and organized.  Show your organization skills and attention to detail through your bag.

NEVER wear:


Plan your outfit ahead of time and dress for success.  When in doubt, err on the side of caution and dress up a little more.  Once your appearance is not a concern, you can just focus on your interview conversation.  Need help preparing for other aspects of your interview?  Click here.

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