What Your Clothes Say About You:
In an interview (and in life) your attire plays a supporting role. Appropriate attire supports your image as a person who takes the interview process seriously and understands the nature of the industry in which you are trying to become employed. If you are primarily remembered for your interview attire, this is probably because you made an error in judgment! In some industries, customer contact and image presented to the customer are the most critical element. In such industries, your attire will be judged more critically.
Your attire should be appropriate and most importantly, well-fitting. It should not take center stage. Dressing nicely and appropriately is a compliment to the person you meet, so if in doubt, err on the side of dressing better than you might need to. Even if you are aware that employees of an organization dress casually on the job, dress up for the interview unless you are specifically told otherwise by the employer.
Changes in fashion may change some things, like the width of lapels, the cut of pants, or the colors of blouses available in the stores. Basic professional attire does not change with the whims of fashion. A good suit should last five to ten years, depending on its quality, how hard you wear it, how well you care for it, and if it continues to fit you well. You can express fashion's whims in your off-the-job clothes, and to some extent in your accessories.
Cost / quality: You are not expected to be able to afford the same clothing as a CEO, but you should invest in quality that will look appropriate during your first few years on the job. One good quality suit is sufficient for a job search if that is all your budget allows. You can vary your shirt/blouse and tie combination.Attire Specifics for Men:
• Always wear a 2-piece suit in a conservative color. No double-breasted. No suit jackets with different pants. This is NOT a suit.
• Color/Pattern: Solid Navy or Dark Gray. (I would never deviate) Very subtle weave patterns or plaids (the kind that look solid across a room) are sometimes ok. Although commonly worn by many, black for men is considered overly formal (weddings, funerals, clubbers) or for the hospitality industry. Avoid Bold pinstripes.
• Fabric: Wool, NEVER polyester or anything that is a blend (typically add too much sheen and look cheap)
• Lapel: Standard notch, not peak or skinny lapels (too fashion forward)
• Ties: Select good quality silk ties. No Mickey Mouse or Corporate/university logos. This is also not the place for wool, knit, or skinny ties. I would go with 2.5" or wider. Stick with four-in-hand or half windsor knot. No double windsor (screams pompous).
• Shirts: Long-sleeved shirts, even in summer (you shouldn't even own short sleeve unless you were a missionary). Choose white or light blue solid cotton, that is it! No silk or fancy fabrics. Button-downs are less formal and inappropriate. Go with a simple straight collar, not spread unless conservative.
• Cuffs: Barrel cuffs, no French/double cuffs. Do NOT wear contrasting cuffs/collars. They scream executive, which you are not. They also scream Michael Douglas circa 1980s.
• Socks: Dark, matching socks, mid-calf length so no skin is visible when you sit down. No crazy colors or patterns.
• Shoes: Shined and clean Leather lace-ups. No slip-ons. No synthetics. No rubber soles. Black, dark brown, or cordovan. Plain toe, split toe, and cap toe are fine. Brogues and semi-brogues are typically more casual. Invest in a good pair; even if you don't wear them daily on the job, you'll need them for other occasions and you should expect to get lots of years out of good shoes. Your choice in footwear says a lot about you as a person in a very subtle (or not so subtle) way and is the most judged thing about you. This rule applies beyond just interviews, i.e. dates, meeting your girlfriend's family, meeting clients, etc.
• Belt: Leather and reasonable slim. Should exactly match your shoes. No crazy belt buckles. No suspenders/braces. (Again, 1980s)
• Accessories: Wear a conservative watch. Wedding ring is the only other piece that can be worn. No ear or face rings for men (duh). No tie bars. No cufflinks. Cufflinks are fine in everyday business wear, but I would NOT wear them for interviews at b-school or otherwise. Same goes with pocket squares, flashy socks, etc. I think cufflinks would be fine for something like an information session or something more casual. If I did, I would go with something like fabric knot links instead of flashy metal generally. No pocket squares. They scream fashion forward, not conservative.
• Details: Clean and well pressed. Suits typically have tacking stitches to hold vents — on the jacket back and on sleeves — in place before the garment is purchased. Cut them off if your retailer / tailor doesn't. If you buy off the rack, that tag stitched on the outside of your sleeve is not meant to stay there. Carefully inspect clothes dangling threads, etc.
Attire Specifics for Women (not absolutely positive on the rules here):
• Don't confuse club attire with business attire. If you would wear it to a club, you probably shouldn't wear it in a business environment.
• Suit: see above
• Suit - pants / skirts: Tailored pants suits are appropriate for women. Pants suits can be an excellent choice for site visits. If you wear pants, they should be creased and tailored, not tight or flowing. If you are pursuing a conservative industry and are in doubt, observe well dressed women in your industry on the job, at career fairs, at information sessions, etc.
• Skirt lengths: Should cover your thighs when seated. Showing a lot of thigh makes you look naive at best, foolish at worst. A skirt that ends at the knee when you're standing looks chic and professional. Longer skirts are professional too; just make sure they are narrow enough not to be billowing, but not so narrow that you can't climb stairs comfortably. Don't purchase a skirt or decide on a hem length until you sit in the skirt facing a mirror. That's what your interviewer will see. Ask yourself whether it will be distracting or reinforce your image as a person who looks appropriate for a business environment or gathering. High slits in skirts are not appropriate. A small back, center slit in a knee-length skirt is appropriate. O n a calf length skirt, a slit to the knee to facilitate walking and stair climbing is appropriate.
• Color / fabric: Navy, dark gray, brown and black are safe. Solid or very subtle weave pattern or plaid (the type that looks solid across a room). Women generally have more options with suit color than men. For example, while a women could look conservative in a slate blue or light gray suit, these colors would be inappropriate for men. Wool, wool blends, and high quality blends and synthetics are appropriate for women's suiting.
• Shirt / sweaters: Underneath the suit jacket, wear a tailored blouse in a color or small print that coordinates nicely with your suit. A fine gauge, good quality knit shell is also appropriate underneath your suit jacket. Don't show cleavage.
• Jewelry / accessories: Wear a conservative watch. Jewelry and scarf styles come and go. Keep your choices simple and leaning toward conservative. Avoid extremes of style and color. If your industry is creative, you may have more flexibility than someone pursuing a conservative industry.
• Cosmetics: Keep makeup conservative. A little is usually better than none for a polished look. Nails should be clean and well groomed. Avoid extremes of nail length and polish color, especially in conservative industries.
• Shoes: Should be leather or fabric / micro fiber. Shoe styles and heel heights come and go. Choose closed-toe pumps. Regardless of what is in style, avoid extremes; no stilettos or chunky platforms. Make certain you can walk comfortably in your shoes; hobbling in uncomfortable shoes does not convey a professional appearance.
• Hosiery: Should be plainly styled (no patterns), sheer is most conservative (not opaque), and in neutral colors complementing your suit. Avoid high contrast between your suit and hosiery color.
• Purse / bag: If you carry a purse, keep it small and simple, especially if you also carry a briefcase. Purse color should coordinate with your shoes. You may choose to carry a small briefcase or business-like tote bag in place of a purse. Leather is the best choice for briefcases; micro fiber or fine wovens are also acceptable. Avoid purses that look like beach/pool totes, partyish, or little-girlish.
Tips for everyone:
• Hair: Should be clean and neat.
• Details: No missing buttons, no lint; and don't forget to remove external tags and tacking stitches from new clothes.
• Hands: Clean fingernails.
• Fit: Clothes should be clean, neatly pressed, and fit properly.
• Smell: Perfume or cologne should be used sparingly or not at all. Remember that some people have allergies/sensitivities; you'd hate for that to derail an interview. No odors in clothes. Don't smell like smoke.
• Pad folios: Preferred over a bulky briefcase. A small briefcase is also appropriate. But if you have no reason to carry a briefcase, don't; you risk looking silly.
• Book bags: Absolutely not. Leave it at home.
Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any specific questions or want advice or examples.
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[JB's Guide to Dressing for Interviews]
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