How to Dress For Interviews

How to Look Professional

Businessman or groom getting dressed
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In today's world, where casual dress is the rule and where too many people's sense of casual has crossed the line into slovenly, many people, especially young people, show up for white-collar job interviews dressed in a highly unprofessional fashion.

The Experts

Here fashion expert Roger McKenzie and executive interview coach Trisha Scudder offer their views. Both are based in NYC and are consultants to SYMS, a leading discount retailer of brand-name clothing, especially business attire, in and around NYC.


What rules of thumb do you offer regarding dressing for interviews for white-collar positions? In particular, what do you tell women, who do not have a business "uniform" as well-defined as a man's conservative dark suit, white shirt and tie? Indeed, many women show up at interviews dressed in too flashy or revealing a manner.

Roger McKenzie 

Since women have many more options in their fashion attire, they have to be even more careful about what they wear to make sure it is appropriate.

  • If a woman chooses to wear a skirt, the length should be at her knee, and slacks are welcome also.
  • In general, a woman should stick to dark colors for the shell and earth tones for the under layer of the suit.
  • It is acceptable to wear short sleeves, but it should be paired with a jacket or cardigan. A twin set is a good way to put this look together.
  • Women also need to be aware of the way their top fits; of course, cleavage is a big no-no.
  • When it comes to accessories, it should be kept at a minimum: nothing too flashy, heel height should not exceed 3 inches, and makeup should be very clean and natural.

Trisha Scudder

A woman should always wear a suit. It demonstrates respect for the interviewer, the company, and the position. For any job in financial services, wear a suit.

Other tips that one should remember are:

  • If you're a guy applying for a creative position in a creative industry, then you might drop the tie, but still, wear a suit jacket.
  • For women, a suit also. And watch what you wear under it. Often women (of all ages) wear a business suit with a V-neck or low-cut blouse revealing cleavage during an interview. I can't say that backfires every time but most times that will send the wrong message whether you are interviewed by women or men.
  • It is no time to make a fashion statement. Be conservatively dressed so that the attention is on your resume, your qualifications and your response to questions. Anything distracting about your clothes, shoes, jewelry or hair will only cause the interviewer to "vote" on it, and you lose.
  • At conservative companies, bare legs would be inappropriate for an interview. Wear pantyhose if you are wearing a suit with a skirt.
  • Dental work. If you chipped a tooth or had one extracted, reschedule the interview for a time when your teeth are all accounted for! Seriously, I've had to tell two clients to get their teeth fixed before they proceed with interviews.
  • Clean shoes and clothes, freshly pressed.
  • Women, clean out and organize your handbag prior to the interview. If you have to find a pen or get a Kleenex you don't want to rummage through a rat's nest.
  • Create an attractive, professional way to carry and display your resume, references, work samples, etc.
  • Practice your handshake. Ask a friend for feedback. Is it too soft? Too aggressive? Too limp? Are your eyes down? Are you solemn or smiling? Be sure your handshake is firm and enthusiastic and brief. You do not want a memorable handshake!
  • Go to the restroom prior to the interview and look in the mirror. Swig some mouthwash or brush your teeth again. Wash your hands from the subway. Practice your smile. Stand tall. Stride in, chin up, and have a great interview!

What basic tips do you offer for putting together a wardrobe in a cost-effective manner after understanding what are the norms of attire in the workplace that one is joining?

Roger McKenzie

You should have plethora of top options to pair up with a bottom which you can repeat a number of times.

Remember when at an interview you are sitting across a desk so more than likely you won't see your lower half.