Clothes: What do you wear to an interview?

Attire Overview

First impressions matter.  How you dress in an interview can be seen as a reflection of your knowledge of the career field and your employer, as well as your level of seriousness in the interview.  Ultimately, you want a potential employer to focus as much as possible on your skills and abilities during the interview. By dressing professionally, you can help eliminate distractions.  

The way we dress is often a key part of our identity and an outward reflection of our culture and values.  For some, a more prescribed style of dress may seem challenging, uncomfortable, and even offensive. Consequently, workplace dress requirements may be something to reflect on as you explore jobs, industries, and employers.  If you are interested, for example, in a career in Finance but are averse to a business suit, this decision may indicate a need to think more critically about this field or to explore different options.  Remember, it’s often the case that you will dress far more conservatively in an interview than you would day-to-day on the job.

Important General Tips

  • Know the organization with which you’re interviewing: are they business casual or professional every day?
  • Anticipate the need for an interview outfit.  Don’t wait until the last minute. Try it on early so you know it fits and can focus on your preparation.  You may wish to wear the outfit for a day to make sure it feels comfortable (shoes, especially). The more comfortable you feel in your outfit, the more confident and focused you will be.
  • Choose classic styles over trendy styles – this will help the outfit to last longer.
  • If you can afford to, invest in quality attire – outfits will last longer and will often fit you better.
  • Neutral colors will ensure minimal distraction. Black, navy blue, brown, khaki/beige, or white are good choices.
  • Hats or caps are almost never appropriate, except when consistent with your cultural or religious practice (e.g. yamaka or hijab)
  • A good guideline is always to dress more formally for an interview than would be expected on the job.

Styles Defined

Most professional interviews and events will require either “business professional” or “business casual” attire.  It’s good to have both options planned and available in advance, so you are ready to go on a moment’s notice. Deciding which is appropriate may require a bit of research or detective work.  Occasionally, you will find recommended dress as part of your interview invitation, or the recruiter may tell you as a matter of courtesy. You may look at photos on the company website, or find useful information through a general internet search.  If you are in doubt, business professional is almost always the safest choice. If you are uncertain or need help with planning your attire, please contact the Piper Center.  Any of the coaches would be very happy to speak with you.

Business Professional: Business professional means that you should wear a suit.

  • A two-piece matching pant or skirt suit in black, charcoal, navy, or another dark color (solid color or a simple pattern). Pants should end or break at or just below the back of the shoe; Skirts should be knee length when standing. A vest/waistcoat is an option but not required.
  • A conservatively colored dress shirt or blouse with a collar (not low cut or sheer).
  • Ties should be simple; avoid busy or flashy patterns and colors.
  • Dark, closed-toe dress shoes with a low or moderate heel; choose comfortable shoes.
  • Socks or nylons that fit the color of your skirt/slacks; avoid flashy patterns and bold colors.
  • Conservative jewelry or makeup, worn in moderation, is fine.
  • Clothes should be neatly ironed/pressed and wrinkle-free.  Have them professionally cleaned and pressed or learn how to use an iron yourself!
  • A professional black, brown, or navy padfolio is a smart and practical addition to your outfit.
  • Purses should be formal and professional, generally small and unobtrusive, and match the style of your overall attire.
  • No backpacks!

Business Casual: Business casual is slightly less formal than business professional.

  • Khaki, gray, navy, or black pants with a long-sleeved, buttoned solid shirt (tucked in); a short-sleeved button down or nice polo shirt may be appropriate for certain environments (e.g. outdoors during the summer, golf course, etc.).
  • Skirt paired with a collared shirt/blouse or without a collar and a dressy sweater/blazer.
  • A professional blazer or dress jacket is optional but often a nice choice.
  • Ties are optional; if worn, avoid busy or flashy patterns and colors.
  • Closed-toed dress shoes with a low or moderate heel; choose comfortable shoes.
  • Dress socks.  No athletic or other overly casual socks.
  • Clothes should be neatly ironed/pressed and wrinkle-free.  Have them professionally cleaned and pressed or learn how to use an iron yourself!
  • If the meeting location call for it, a professional black, brown, or navy padfolio completes the outfit.
  • Purses should fit the overall look of your outfit and not be too casual.
  • No backpacks!


  • Hair should be well-groomed.
  • Facial hair should be trimmed and presentable or removed entirely for the interview.
  • Fingernails should be clean and trimmed.  Nail polish is fine as long as it is subdued and not chipped.
  • Avoid cologne, perfume or hygiene products with strong scents.  Your interviewer may be sensitive to these scents or they may just not like it.  You don’t want scent working against you!
  • Be sure to shower.  (Strong body odor is usually perceived negatively in the US.)  If you wear deodorant, be sure you apply it. Interview anxiety often causes perspiration! 
  • In U.S. culture, visible piercings or tattoos are often viewed as distracting in an interview setting.

If you have questions, concerns, or are unsure about interview attire, please contact or visit us in the Piper Center.  We are happy to help discuss specific cases with you to determine what is most appropriate and comfortable.

Practice: How do you practice before your interview?