What To Wear to an Interview – A Style Guide

What To Wear To An Interview and Get the Job

You found your dream job, and you applied, going through their thorough and challenging application process. You already had the first chat on the phone with the recruiter, and they loved your application. Now they want to meet you in person to learn more about you.

You are getting excited, adrenaline is rushing through your body, and you are thinking of all the glorious days you will spend at your new job. And then a deep dark thought settles and disperses all the joy you felt.

“What will I wear?!” you say as you are rushing to the wardrobe and frantically looking through your clothes. It is the eternal question that most of us are asking ourselves, every single morning, in front of a wardrobe full of clothes. But this time, it seems to be a legit question and it is indeed more important that you focus on it, compared to any other morning. Because of the way you dress for this interview can have an immense impact on your job prospects. You not only have to prove to the interviewer or recruiter that you are competent and possess the skills for the job. You also have to show that you can dress well and take care of yourself, and you can also fit in with the team through your attitude and style. 

Research about the office culture

The interview is usually an opportunity to not only prove your skills once again to the interviewer but also a way to get a glimpse into the office culture. But checking out the office culture at the interview is a tad too late to help you decide on the outfit – so some thorough research beforehand is required. 

Usually, you can ask the recruiter to ask for if there is a dress code so that you can have an idea about the general direction of the style – is it business formal, business casual or smart casual? This can help you tremendously in narrowing down your choices significantly.

If they are not getting back to you on time, at all, or they say they are rather flexible, then you need to dig deeper. Have a look at their social media profiles and see what kind of outfits are worn in what they post. Check out their website for pages or documents that may contain pictures of their events or their employees. In both cases, you can get an idea of the general vibe in the office and what the employees would be wearing on a normal day in the office. 

If your search is not conclusive, try to research about similar companies and what their dress codes might be. Usually, the same type of company has the same type of dress code. Law firms? They are all about business formal. Tech startups? Much more flexible and it’s usually on a scale from business casual to smart casual.

One of the best cases is if you happen to already know somebody working there. They can not only give you pointers on what to say and how to behave at the interview but also give you an insight into the office culture and how to dress.

Once you have gathered all the information you could, it is time to figure out in which category your outfit should be:

  1. Business formal
  2. Business casual
  3. Smart casual

While at first glance these may seem confusing and with very subtle differences from one to the other, we assure you that they are indeed very different dressing styles. And we are here to guide you and help you succeed in your journey towards getting your dream job. 

What to wear for a business formal job interview

Business formal is the most formal outfit you can wear – above that would be black tie and that is not something that you would often have a chance to wear. A business formal attire would be suitable mostly for companies such as law, auditing, or financial firms, or banks. The type of job you apply to is also important – if you are interviewing for an executive or manager position, you have to go for the classic suit and shirt combination. 

Business formal is about the suit, the must-have of every man’s wardrobe. When it comes to colors of your suit, stick to the classic ones such as black, navy, brown or gray. For shirts, you can never fail with a crisp white shirt. Make sure you are wearing dress shoes, a tie as well as a belt, that are matching nicely the entire outfit.  

Choosing your outfit for a business formal interview is not the time to experiment with new colors or accessories. The best way is to keep it simple and classic. The only way you may be able to spice it up is by having a pocket square in a contrasting color, but even then, make sure that it looks good with everything else. 

What should you wear to a business casual interview

We are now in between formal and casual office outfits – the business casual. This is a style that the majority of companies nowadays prefer. Business casual allows for more flexibility and individualism compared to business formal, but it still allows for a sharp look. 

When it comes to business casual interviews you have more choices than business formal. You can not only wear suits, but also other pants (chinos, khakis), or even sweaters. There is definitely more wiggle room when it comes to colors. 

When it comes to suits, pants, jackets, and sweaters, you could experiment with mid-tone and dark shades such as burgundy, olive, mustard, magenta, or midnight blue. In terms of patterns, always go for classic patterns in dark colors, like a dark blue striped suit. When it comes to shirts, you can lose the crisp white shirt once in a while and go with off-whites and pastels – and when it comes to shirt patterns, stick to small and dense patterns such as stripes or checkers. 

Business casual outfits are so flexible that you may even add some fun accents. Either the pocket square or the socks can be in a contrasting color or pattern. 

What to wear for a smart casual job interview

Smart casual is the most relaxed office outfit out there and allows for a lot of creativity when it comes to outfit building. While employees may wear jeans regularly, for the interview try to avoid them. You still want to look sharp and professional, so give your ripped jeans a break. 

If you are happy you got away with not wearing a suit, but you wished you could wear jeans, the compromise is chinos. The easiest outfit you can style chinos is with a shirt. You can never go wrong with a pair of khaki chinos, white shirt, and white sneakers. If you want to be more than that, go for a shirt in mid-tone or dark colors. You may even go for patterns, but try to not choose something too bright or distracting. In terms of shoes, depending on how ‘formal’ the top looks, you can either go for sneakers or dress shoes. 

Grooming before an interview

It is pretty obvious that no matter what style of clothing you have to wear to a job interview, you need to look like you are taking care of yourselfAnd this means being clean and neat

  1. Hair
  2. Facial hair
  3. Hands and nails

When it comes to your haircut, make sure it is neat and well maintained. If you have long hair, you could get away with having it in a bun, but this may be more accepted in more casual environments. 

As far as facial hair is concerned, trim and/or shave your beard and mustache. Last but not least, take a look at your hands and nails – are your nails trimmed? Is your skin dry? Just because you are a man does not mean you should take care of our hands. Trim your nails to an appropriate length and, if it is winter, give hand cream a try. 

What accessories to wear to a job interview

Accessories are sometimes associated with glamour and are considered unnecessary. But they are very important parts of our daily outfits. Everything that is not clothing is an accessory, so does that mean you would stop wearing socks or belts? Definitely not! When going to an interview, accessories are ok to wear, but you must be careful not only when choosing which ones to go for, but also their style

  • Jewelry
  • Watches 
  • Belt
  • Pocket square
  • Socks

Generally, for interviews, the jewelry should be kept to a minimum, especially when you are going for a business formal outfit. However, for more casual encounters, you can keep your bracelet or necklace. 

An accessory that is always accepted in all types of interviews, is the watch. We dare say that it is almost a must-have for every man’s outfit. For the business formal outfit, go for a classic one with black strap and white dial or dark brown strap and black dial. For business casual, you have more freedom in choosing the color of the straps and dials, so that it matches your outfit more closely. For smart casual, you can have almost any watch – from leather or cotton strap to even a smartwatch. 

Just like the watch, the belt is another necessary accessory for your outfit. As a general rule, a belt has to be worn if the pants have belt loops – and this is the case in all three types of outfits. While the belt does not have to match the shoes, it should match the overall outfit. For business casual, opt for a black suit, white shirt with black shoes and black belt. For business casual, depending on the color of your suit or shirt, you can go for brown belts too. When it comes to smart casual, you do not only have more freedom for the color.

The pocket square is purely decorative but when possible, do take advantage of its presence by jazzing up your outfit. For a business formal outfit, the pocket square is usually white. If you would like to break the boredom of a black and white outfit, opt for a pocket square with a light pattern, a colored edge, or in dark contrasting colors such as a warm brown or burgundy. For business casual outfits, the pocket square gets more personality, as you have much more choice of color and pattern. 

Last but not least, socks are not only crucial accessories, but they can also be decorative at the same time. For a business formal outfit, you would want to stick to black socks. But for business casual or smart casual interviews, you can experiment more with socks, from different colors and patterns to even novelty socks

What socks to wear for an interview

The world of socks is so big, yet many men are not seeing beyond the classic black socks. While the black sock goes with everything and is necessary, it does not have to be the only type in your wardrobe. As we already mentioned, for business formal outfits, the black sock is the only way to go, but for other styles, you have more freedom. 

  1. Plain and patterned neutral
  2. Plain and Patterned in colors
  3. Funky patterns 
  4. Novelty socks

Socks in neutral colors, either plain or patterned socks, should be your next purchase. Classic colors such as grey and navy are something you add to your business casual attire. If you have nothing but a black suit, but you want to make it interesting, go for a pair of striped black and white or striped navy and white socks.

Brighter colors are where it gets more interesting. If you prefer plain socks with your business casual outfit but want a pop of color, you can go for classic dark colors like burgundy, mustard, or forest green. If you like patterns, go for classic patterns, like the stripes, but in brighter colors – how about yellow, red, purple, pink or orange? 

Fun socks are allowed for casual encounters – so perfect for your smart-casual outfit. You can go from tame patterns such as thick stripes, horizontal stripes or polka dots, to zig-zag or puzzle. Style your navy chinos and black sweater outfit with a pair of matching puzzle socks.

Novelty socks are usually not recommended for interviews and sometimes not even the office. But if you know for sure you are interviewing for a company that has a laid-back attitude towards office attire or is in the creative field, you can impress your interviewer by having some tasteful novelty socks. The key is to keep the rest of the outfit muted, while the socks are the stars. Wondering how you can match novelty socks? The key is to have the colors of your outfit present in the pattern or picture of the socks, and you are ready to go! 

Type of outfitType of socks
Business formalBlack, navy, dark grey
Business casualNeutral, mid-tone and bright colors, classic patterns
Smart casual/creativeAll of the above, as well as funky patterned socks and even novelty

What we have purposely avoided discussing here are white socks. They should never be worn in an interview and in general, are meant to be worn during athletic activities, or with summer outfits. But even if your interview takes place in summer, that is still no excuse to wear white socks. Also, a ‘no-no’ is not wearing socks for an interview, no exceptions.

Socks are often underrated and treated as an afterthought, but they always play such an important part in the outfit. Next time you are choosing your socks from your wardrobe, or you are finding yourself sock shopping, reach for the more interesting ones. You will not regret it!

What not to do when preparing your interview outfit

We have talked so much about what to do, what to wear, how to match, but we have not explicitly said what should definitely not be done. We think that most of these rules should apply on a daily basis because they are common sense if you want to dress appropriately

  • No flip flops or open-toe shoes
  • No shorts or jeans
  • No tops with distracting patterns or messages
  • Ill-fitting clothing
  • Visible underwear
  • Heavy fragrance or aftershave

Unless you are applying for a surfer position, wearing flip flops or open-toe shoes is a ‘no’. While women may get away with this in summer, by elegant sandals, for men, there is no way around this. 

Also a big ‘no’ is for shorts or jeans. As already mentioned before, you can go with any pants from dress pants to chinos and khakis, but not shorts and no jeans. Tops with a distracting pattern or message are also to be avoided. They not only distract the attention of the interviewer(s) and you may not know the message that he gets from them. Avoid wearing them to minimize any potential risks. 

Make sure that whatever you choose to wear to your interview is fitting you well. If you need your suit or pants to be readjusted, go to a tailor as soon as possible. Not only ill-fitting clothing is unacceptable, but also clothes that are purposely too short, sleeveless or too low-cut. Rather obvious is that you should make sure that your undergarments are not visible. Double-check that while you move, sit down or stand up, nobody can see your underwear or undershirt. 

While you should take care of yourself and be groomed before showing up to the interview, try not to overdo it with the aftershave or the fragrance. Keep it minimal and avoid drowning the interviewer in your latest cologne. 

If you are not doing these for your interview, then you are on the right track! The way you present yourself is important and you want to show yourself to the interviewer in the best light. 

Key takeaways to help you choose the best job interview outfit

An interview is more than the final step in the recruitment process (before signing the contract). It is a milestone where you should be happy that you are actually fulfilling the requirements of the job and you have a great opportunity to further prove yourself and to find out more about the job and company you are applying for.

On top of all the outfit tips, tricks and inspiration we already discussed, as well as what not to do, we have some final key takeaways and a table to help you quickly put together your outfit:

  • You can overdress dress a little bit, but not too much, as it is as bad as being underdressed.
  • Keep the jewelry to an absolute minimum, but you can always wear a watch
  • Make sure everything is clean, ironed and neat, with no stains, wrinkles or threads hanging.
  • The days before your interview, have a look at the weather so you can prepare your accordingly. Always have a plan B for shoes and coat, and an umbrella, in case it turns out to be raining.
Type of outfitType of clothesType of shoes
Business formalBlack or dark grey suit, crisp white shirtDress shoes 
Business casualSuit or pants (color choice is flexible) with matching shirt (plain or patterned) or sweater Dress shoes, Chelsea boots, loafers
Smart casualChinos/khakis with a t-shirt, shirt or sweaterSneakers, Chukka boots, boat shoes

Choosing your outfit for the interview is a burden for so many of us, both men and women. With so many outfit choices all over the internet, the shops, billboards, and magazines, we are feeling overwhelmed with ideas. We hope that this article has managed to make this process more bearable and that all you have to focus on is to show the interviewer how good you will be at the job. 

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