Appearances shouldn’t matter, but they often do when it comes to an interview, first day on the job, or other professional introduction. You will be judged to a certain extent by your attire, and a clean, polished look can be reassuring.
Types of Professional Dress
Business Formal: Typically, business formal is a matching pants or skirt suit (often a dark color) with a button-down shirt and tie or a blouse.
Business Casual: Business casual is more open ended. Think dress pants with a button-down shirt or a pencil skirt or dress pants with a blouse and a cardigan.
Business Remote: Remote work is often even more flexible for what is considered appropriate attire. For example, a plain t-shirt or button-down shirt with jeans or shorts. This can vary widely depending on the organization, your role, and even who you will be interacting with on a given day.
What To Wear: The Basics
Professional but Comfortable: Wear something you are comfortable in and that makes you feel confident and polished. Presenting yourself well is more than what you are wearing; it’s also how you interact with others, which is harder if you are uncomfortable or are worried about how you look.
What not to wear? Avoid sweats, pajamas, jeans, sneakers, or anything that you would wear in a very casual, hang-out, or party environment. You’re not going to the gym or on a date.
- Dress pants or skirt with a button-down shirt or a blouse. To make this more formal, you can add a blazer.
- A suit, pants/skirt with matching blazer
- A dress with a blazer or cardigan
- Remote: A blouse or button-down shirt with comfortable pants (jeans, chinos) or a skirt. Add a blazer if you are dressing for an interview.
Generally, darker colors and solid colors present a more conservative image.
What To Wear: Finishing Touches
Find a full-length mirror to appraise your final look.
Accessories: Well-chosen accessories (tie, scarf, etc.) can help you stand out and can add a splash of color.
- If you wear a tie, the knot should be centered under your chin. As for color/pattern, coordinate with the rest of your outfit so that it doesn’t clash. Ties with smaller patterns and darker colors look more authoritative and more conservative.
- If wearing jewelry and/or makeup, do what is comfortable for you. If you don’t usually, but want to do so for an interview go for minimal and conservative so that you don’t feel distracted and uncomfortable.
Scent: Be cautious about wearing perfume/cologne as many people have allergies and it’s easy to overdo.
Outerwear: Extend your polished look to your outerwear and the bag you bring. Consider a trench coat or a wool pea coat. Use a portfolio case, attache bag, or light briefcase for your resume copies, notepad, questions, etc.
Shoes: Make sure you can walk in your shoes and that they match or coordinate with your outfit. If you choose to wear high heels, we recommend they be no more than 2 inches.
Tips for Interviews
Research the organization’s dress code policy and their company culture. Remember that an interview often requires more professional attire than you might wear after being hired. Most importantly, you should wear something you are comfortable in and that makes you feel confident and polished.
Bottom line: You want to be remembered after your interview, but not for your outfit.
Dressing more formally for the interview than you would for the job itself is frequently the best choice. (After accepting an offer, ask about dress code if they don’t mention it.)
Planning: Plan out your wardrobe well in advance.
- Fit: Make sure everything fits, and there’s plenty of time for any cleaning or alterations.
- Ties: If wearing a tie is still new, learn a knot or two and practice.
- Dresses and Skirts: If you plan to wear a skirt or dress, remember that you’ll be sitting for at least part of your interview. We recommend that your skirt be no more than 2 inches above the knee.
Don’t Be Uncomfortable: Make sure you’re comfortable in your clothes.
- New Suit: If you want to wear a suit, but aren’t used to it, find some excuses to wear it so you feel comfortable the day of your interview.
- New Shoes: The same goes for shoes; if you get new ones, break them in so that you’re not distracted during the interview or get blisters from wearing them on your first day.
The same general principles apply to virtual interviews, but extend to include where you are as that will be part of what the interviewer(s) will see. Additionally, your body language is limited.
Your Posture: Sit at a desk or table and make sure your chair is comfortable but will help you sit up straight. Your posture will influence how you look and sound.
Good Lighting: Face a window or have a lamp near by to make sure your face is well lit.
Background: Make sure that what the camera can see is professional and tidy. For example, make your bed (if that will be visible), remove clutter, and remove provocative decor.
Tips for Looking Polished
Even if you won’t wear a suit regularly, it is a good wardrobe staple to have should you need it. Students can get a suit (and other professional attire) for free through the Professional Clothing Closet.
Don’t let an ill-fitting suit send the wrong message. Find a good tailor. The right one can make any suit look like it was made for you.
Don’t forget to remove the labels and any extra stitches on any new professional attire. Typically this stitching can be found on the pockets (pants, blazers) and side or back vents (blazers, skirts, dresses). Manufacturers add this so the clothing retains its tailored shape while people try it on.
If you’re wearing a button-down dress shirt, knowing your measurements (neck, sleeve length) may help make sure you’re getting shirts that fit you well.
Need professional attire? Check out the Professional Clothing Closet.