Dress for Success
Professional Attire for Job Seekers
What to WearDressing appropriately can mean different things for different situations. Know the field and organization you are interviewing for to better assess the appropriate attire. Keep in mind that even if employees dress in business casual, you want to impress - professional attire is appropriate for the interview. It is better to be overdressed than underdressed.
What is business attire?
There is some confusion around this as the words business attire, business professional attire, business formal attire, and formal attire are often used interchangeably. The first three mean the same thing. Formal attire is different and means a tuxedo. You will most likely not encounter “formal attire” requests in a job search or interview situation.
Whether the terms business, business professional, or business formal are used, you should be thinking about one thing and one thing only – a suit.
Next to the investment you are making in your education, the investment in at least one suit for interviews, office visits, receptions, etc. is imperative. For both men and women, a suit has two components: 1) pants (for men), pants or skirt (for women); 2) a jacket (both men and women). There are no exceptions to this – without both pieces, you are not wearing a suit, thus not adhering to the dress standard. There are several additional items that are required for business attire; a long sleeved dress shirt (for men), a dress shirt or blouse for women, a tie (for men) and dress shoes (both men and women), belts, etc..
Both Men and Women
- Suit: Conservative two-piece business suit (solid black, dark blue or gray is best).
- Shirt: Dress shirt, long-sleeved shirt/blouse (white is best, pastel is next best).
- Shoes: Clean, polished dress shoes, dark to match suit - no red, white, pink, yellow or funky shoes, no gym shoes.
- Coat: Dress coat or trench coat (mid to long length) – avoid leather, no short jackets, ski jackets or athletic wear.
- Hair: Well-groomed hairstyle - avoid colors other than natural hair color.
- Fingernails: Clean and trimmed.
- Avoid cologne or perfume – the best scent is no scent at all.
- Empty your pockets--no bulges or noisy keys or coins.
- No gum, candy or cigarettes.
- Light briefcase or portfolio case.
- No facial piercing (nose rings, eyebrow rings, etc.)
- Makeup should create a natural look avoid heavy (evening) eye shadow, wild colors, glitter, or trends.
- Hosiery should have NO RUNS, avoid wild colors or textures.
- Small purse or none at all; carry a briefcase instead.
- If you wear nail polish, use clear or a conservative color.
- Subtle jewelry; a dress watch (no sport watches), post or small earrings, and 2-3 gold or silver rings. Avoid wild styles or thumb rings.
- Hair color should look natural – if dyed, no pinks, purples, orange, blue etc.
- Necktie: plain or small pattern, subtle colors (i.e., maroon, yellow, gray, light blue, beige).
- Jewelry; No earrings or facial piercings, no necklaces or gold chains, one ring on each ring finger is appropriate (such as class ring, single stone), avoid additional rings.
- No visible tattoos.
- Dark socks (black is best).
- Hair; Shorter is better for men, natural hair color – if dyed, no pinks, purples, orange, etc.
- Shave; clean-shaven or well-groomed facial hair (i.e., mustache, beard).
What is business casual attire?
Business casual does not mean everything else. There are certain guidelines to business casual that one is expected to adhere to. Just because you see the word business casual, does not mean casual clothes are acceptable. In some corporate environments, business casual means a suit or pants/sport coat without a tie – not jeans and a short-sleeved shirt.
Business casual means clothing that is tailored, well pressed and professional at all times. A good philosophy is to dress to the next level or for the job you want to have.
Business casual attire comes down to three concepts:
- Show good professional judgment
- Exercise leadership and lead by example
- Always adhere to the norms of the company you are visiting, the presenter/speaker, the professional organization, etc.
On the other hand, examples of clothing NOT consistent with business casual attire would be:
- Denim clothing of any color or type (jeans, dresses, skirts)
- Tight-fitting or low-cut clothing
- Athletic attire, including sweat suits, spandex and leggings
- Inappropriately short skirts, skorts, Capri pants, or palazzo pants
- Sun dresses without a jacket
- Tank tops
- Running/tennis shoes
- Flip-flops, casual clogs, mules or sandals
Additional tips for interviewing etiquette and style
- Empty your pockets – no bulges, no noisy keys, coins, or phones.
- No gum, candy or cigarettes.
- Use a professional-looking portfolio and pen to take notes
- Have extra copies of your resume with you in case there are extra interviewers