Knowing how to dress for an interview can be tricky, especially since remote work has relaxed dress codes—fewer employers expect job candidates to show up in a suit. Formal business wear may be less common than before, but you only get one chance to make a good first impression.
How you dress can send a subtle message about your understanding (or lack thereof) of an organization's mission and your potential fit for the culture.
Here's what you need to consider when selecting an outfit for your next interview.
Suit or No Suit?
It depends. Organizational dress codes have become more lenient. For example, banking/financial institutions and professional services firms that serve those industries still mostly expect interviewees to wear suits. However, it also depends on the company.
Bryce Cuttler, vice president and business banking manager for Capital Bank, A Division of Chemung Canal Trust Company, located in Albany, New York, has seen dress codes becoming more relaxed in the banking world.
"That said, I would expect anyone interviewing for a job in my industry to at least wear a collared shirt and tie," he said.
Conversely, according to Hillary Ephraim, head of talent acquisition and marketing lead of SourceCode Communications in New York City, creative agencies and tech-driven companies embrace business-casual-apparel interviews.
"Unless you're interviewing at a more traditional company, like a bank or financial institution, a suit is actually inappropriate," she said. "Fashion brands expect the candidate to dress in a polished, personality-driven way that reflects the brand's aesthetic. For instance, the way a candidate dresses for a brand like THEORY should be different than for a brand like Rag & Bone."
Context is key when it comes to selecting an outfit for an interview. For business casual, Ephraim suggests:
Candidates who wear male-presenting styles should pair dress pants with a button-down shirt. A sweater is optional, while a blazer is unnecessary unless the position is for a traditional, client-facing role.
Candidates who opt for a more female-presenting style have options. A dress can be paired with a blazer or cardigan. High-waisted dress pants can be matched with a blouse. A conservative jumpsuit with a blazer is also acceptable.
"True denim is always a no, but beautiful black denim with the right top can absolutely work," she said.
According to Chris Wessell, principal and co-founder of People Wise, a talent strategy agency located in Albany, New York, dressing one notch above the organizational norm is the safest approach. If the company dresses in casual attire, wear business casual. If they are business casual, wear business attire, he said.
"Website photos, social media photos and news articles can give you more insights into how people who work at the organization dress so you can dress accordingly," he added.
Recruiters can also provide insight into organizational expectations. These professionals also have an inside track on the company culture, including the dress code.
"Asking the recruiter/point of contact what is most appropriate in their office environments is smart," Ephraim said. "In my opinion, it shows an awareness of wanting to be a team player and the company culture. From a recruiter's point of view, I expect more junior candidates to ask these questions—and I want them to."
Prioritize Comfort and Fit
Business attire can get expensive, but there are many options for dressing professionally on a budget. Choosing a neutral-colored suit in black, navy or gray can be appropriate for years to come. Some secondhand stores specialize in reselling quality professional clothing at budget-friendly prices. Regardless of where you shop and what you buy, prioritize fit over fashion.
"Be sure you're wearing clothes that fit," said Anne Sinopoli, owner of Rebutia Consulting, a change management firm in Schenectady, New York. "If you don't have a proper suit that fits, it's better to wear something professional but well-fitted."
Ephraim added the importance of wearing shoes you can walk in. She once interviewed at a fashion brand with a male hiring manager who decided to walk up two steep flights of stairs, and she could barely keep up.
Read the Room
Preparedness is the key to a successful interview. That can even apply to having a few extra items easily accessible to dress up or down as the situation dictates.
"There's always a tie, a comb, a toothbrush and my legit dress shoes in my truck," said Cody Rule, lead sales and marketing specialist for CheckWise Payroll LLC. In Albany, New York "It's amazing what a nice pair of dress shoes and a tie will do to a button-down-and-jeans look in terms of professionalism."
For men or women, adding or subtracting a suit jacket can dramatically shift the perception of any outfit.
"Keep one in the car, arrive early, and make a judgment call based on other people entering the building," Wessel said. "If you're taking public transportation, most places have a coat room where you can leave it if needed."