Dress to Impress – What is Appropriate Interview Attire?

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As “the office” changes and the workplace becomes more and more casual, it can be tough to decide to what to wear to an interview. Depending upon the industry, there may be hard and fast rules, but for most – there will be a gray area as it relates to the appropriate thing to wear to make a strong first impression.

More and more work environments are become remote. With the rise of places like WeWork and other co-working office spaces, it’s hard to get a handle on the culture and the environment in which you might be working.

As a long-time sales veteran, the rule of thumb was to dress one “step” nicer than who you’d be meeting with. For instance, if you expect your client in slacks and a top, you might throw on a jacket w/ your ensemble. If the person you were meeting with would be in jeans, slacks and a more casual top is a good choice.

However, when interviewing, I still believe in dressing to impress. Regardless of the type of environment you will be working in – putting effort into your clothing choices are important. Nothing says “I’m not that interested…” like jeans and sports coat for a job interview. Even if the entire staff has on jeans and a t-shirt, you want to follow a business casual dress code, at a minimum.

Why though, Ryann? Unless you’re in banking or an attorney – everyone wears jeans these days. Or at the very least, dress pants and a nice top. No one wears a suit to work anymore.

Simple answer – you’re not going to work. You’re going to ask someone if you can work with them. You goal is to show them that you’re a serious candidate and someone capable of handling that job. If it’s me, I want to make sure that I show that person (or those people), that I take their time and consideration seriously.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a society where our outward appearance is the first thing that people judge us on. While we certainly hope it’s not the only benchmark, it’s the first thing we defer to assess someone we’ve just met. It’s human nature to gravitate towards someone that is well-dressed, well-groomed, and appears prepared.

I didn’t make the rules, I just want to be sure that you follow them. First impressions are important. And that means you have to dress the part.

They do say that “dressing for the job you want, not the job you have” is antiqued, outdated, and old fashioned. While I don’t entirely disagree, I always keep it in the back of my head. Even when I interviewed for an entry-level or mid-level role, I wanted to LOOK like the VP or Director of Sales. Ultimately, that’s the job I wanted.

Now that you know that dressing to impress is necessary, let’s talk about what the means. Like I said, we’re talking business casual at minimum. To me, that means slacks or dress pants, a top or blouse, and closed toed shoes. No jacket or suit required with business casual, but professional, well put-together and IRONED is necessary. Yes, break out the iron. Take it somewhere to be pressed. Ask your mom to do it for you. Just DO NOT show up looking like you rolled out of bed. Please.

If the company you will be interviewing with has a business casual dress code (check LinkedIn, their HR website, or Glassdoor for an indication), I would throw on a jacket or blazer, too. It doesn’t have to be full on suit, but it’s a nice touch and adds a level of professionalism.

Let’s go back to the shoes. Closed. Toed. Shoes. For the interview. I don’t care how pretty your toes are or how fabulous your new peep-toe booties are. Closed toed shoes. That you can walk in. 100% required. Interviews are NOT a good place to try out shoes you’ve never worn before. You don’t know if the interview will involve a tour of the office or a long walk from the parking lot to the office – but you don’t want to be distracted by throbbing and aching feet. Flats are in. Take advantage of that.

Another gray area in interviews – sleeveless tops. I love a good sleeveless “shell” that you can throw a blazer, suit jacket, jean jacket, or cardi over. However, I’m not sure I would wear it to an interview. Here’s why…I sweat. A lot. And I run warm. It’s inevitable that I will be warm and want to take off my jacket. Then, I’d have to worry about my bra showing…and sweat stains. I prefer to avoid those situations all together.

Here are a few other things to avoid when getting dressed for an interview:

  • Any top that you can see your bra
  • Maxi skirts
  • Skirts that don’t pass the “finger length” rule
  • Any top that requires a strapless bra
  • Pants with any rips/holes (I don’t care how “in” the look is)
  • Button down shirts that don’t “button down” appropriately (believe me, if this is a problem for you – you KNOW)

I know, I know…I keep telling you what NOT to do. Here’s what you should do. Black pants, professional blouse, blazer, flats. That’s my interview attire of choice. Blends in regardless of the work environment. You appear “dressed up enough” in a business casual environment and not “too stuffy” in a casual environment.

It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you work in banking, law, the government, etc. – wear a suit. Because you’ll be wearing a suit to work everyday. The person or people interview will have on a suit. It’s important…but you already know that.

Most importantly – be comfortable. Be yourself. And smile. Good luck!