Updated 31 May 2020
Due to an increasing shift towards a more informal working culture, it can be hard to know what to wear to an interview.
Whilst some industries still expect interviewees to attend in formal business wear, others take a more casual approach to recruitment. This article will discuss interview outfit trends, and why what to wear for an interview remains as important as ever.
The purpose of an interview is to provide a potential employer with the opportunity to assess your suitability for the role on offer.
While judgement will be predominantly based on your interview performance, first impressions count for a lot – and how you present yourself can carry major weight.
Dressing appropriately for an interview is important because:
When choosing what to wear to an interview, consider how your physical appearance can complement your skills and experience, and help to demonstrate that you are a good fit for both the role and the hiring organisation.
Different industries have different expectations when it comes to what to wear to an interview.
The following examples provide guidance on business formal, business casual and smart casual wear, the types of roles they are associated with, and interview dress tips for each scenario.
Industries such as finance, banking, legal, high-profile sales and HR all fall into the business formal category of interview attire. You’ll want a polished outfit that presents you as assertive, confident and professional.
Stick to a tailored suit with the jacket buttoned up, a plain, light-coloured shirt and a tie. Avoid black as this can appear stuffy. Greys and dark blues offer a much more approachable look.
Keep your tie simple and avoid heavy patterns, bright colours or novelty ties. Colour match it to your suit or choose pastel tones to complement.
Finish off with smart leather shoes (well polished), a leather belt and perhaps a briefcase. Compliment the look with a nice watch but avoid any other jewellery.
Wear a skirt or trouser suit in dark tones with a light coloured buttoned blouse or shirt. It’s generally acceptable for women to go without a jacket, particularly in warmer months, but it’s a good idea to carry it with you. Keep the skirt below or just slightly above the knee and complement with nude tights.
If you’re comfortable in them, wear a tapered heel of no more than three inches. If not, opt for smart flats; avoid open toes or slingbacks.
Complete with a briefcase or smart business bag, and subtle jewellery such as a simple bracelet watch. Don’t accessorise with cheap jewellery, as it will harm your professional appearance. If you don’t own something smart, simply go without.
Technology, education, marketing and hospitality are examples of the industries more commonly associated with business casual wear.
This style of dress is more difficult to define than business formal as different people have different views on what it means in practice. A good rule of thumb is to try and balance elements of casual wear with more formal attire.
Smart trousers or chinos are generally good foundations for men. When it comes to your top half, blend business with casual. For example, a button-down shirt with an open blazer or sports jacket, or a fitted V-neck sweater with a collared shirt and tie beneath.
Colours tend to move more towards lighter tones for business casual but remember to keep them neutral.
Complete the look with a coordinated belt and smart casual shoes, such as leather brogues or Oxfords, and consider swapping out the briefcase for an over-the-shoulder leather satchel.
Smart trousers, chinos, khakis and knee-length skirts all work well for business casual. Match them with blouses, shirts or smart tops and a casual blazer over the top. Again, lighter tones are acceptable, as are short sleeves for women.
Whilst a smart dress is also appropriate, a two-piece generally gives a more professional look.
Stick to low heels (either block or tapered) or flat shoes, avoiding open toes. Choose subtle accessories and complete with a smart tote bag or portfolio.
Smart casual is a dress code most commonly associated with the creative industries and start-up business culture, where the workforce is generally younger.
In creative interview scenarios, it can be acceptable to present a little of your personality through your outfit. In certain roles, such as the arts or fashion, showing a little personality is advisable, as individual style can help to showcase your artistic flair.
Remember, though, you are still attending a professional appointment and your outfit should reflect that.
Button-down shirts, either plain or in simple check, V-neck sweaters, relaxed fit tops or a plain t-shirt and blazer combination are all acceptable for the smart casual interview. As always, keep your colours neutral and coordinated. Try and stick to full-length sleeves, as they generally give men a smarter appearance.
For your bottom half, khaki pants, chinos and well fitted dark wash jeans can all be worn in a smart casual interview. Try and balance your choice of trouser against your choice of top: for example, dress up jeans with a blazer, or dress down chinos with a V-neck sweater.
Stick to shoes such as brogues or loafers (suede is acceptable for smart casual) and a smart shoulder bag or satchel.
The female version of smart casual is essentially a step down from business casual. Feel free to swap out the trousers or skirt for dark wash skinny or tailored jeans, and add a simple pattern such as a check to your top half (of course, plain is also fine if that’s what you prefer).
Flat shoes or boots are acceptable for a smart casual look.
For some job roles, the guidelines are pretty clear-cut when it comes to what to wear to an interview. For others, it can be a little harder to determine the expectations around appropriate attire.
If you’re unsure, always play it safe, as it’s far better to turn up overdressed than underdressed.
For your peace of mind, there are a few steps you can take to help you plan an appropriate style:
As stated, if you have any doubts at all, err on the side of caution. Business casual is generally a good fail-safe since it falls between the more formal and casual styles.
When choosing what to wear to an interview, it’s important to remember that you are presenting yourself in a professional capacity and, whilst you may adopt a unique personal style out of work, this is not necessarily suitable for the interview room.
As discussed, in some cases it may be appropriate to show a little of your personality through your outfit but, generally speaking, it’s best to let your individuality come across through your interview performance rather than your dress sense. With that in mind, always opt for professional over personal style.
In addition, there are guidelines you should follow when it comes to what not to wear to an interview:
Choosing what to wear to an interview is an integral part of your preparation. You should plan your outfit way ahead of time to prevent any last-minute emergencies that may well impact your nerves.
Make sure that whatever you choose makes you feel relaxed and confident. If you appear uncomfortable at interview, the employer may mark this down as a negative point.
You could even consider a dress rehearsal – a practice interview with a friend or family member in which you wear your chosen outfit. This will not only ensure you’re comfortable with what you have picked, but also provide the opportunity to get a second opinion.
For more tips on how to succeed at interview, see our article on general interview advice.
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