You’ve landed a job interview that you’re really looking forward to, but you have absolutely no idea what to wear. What do you do?
It’s a situation almost everyone has found themselves in at some point. You know you need to dress to impress, but after ransacking your closet, you come up empty-handed.
It can be pretty tough to know what to wear. No two job interviews are the same, so you have to evaluate them on a case-by-case basis. On top of that, the type of job you’re applying for will play a huge role in what you wear.
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To make things even more complicated, there’s a lot of vagueness when it comes to business clothing.
Terms like “business casual” and “smart casual” are often loosely defined, and they can be subjective from company to company, so getting any idea of what the hell to wear can be frustrating.
So where does all of this leave you?
If you don’t have a plan, you’ll probably panic and throw something on at the last minute.
But if you take some time to consider all the factors and plan your outfit accordingly, you can successfully dress well and avoid all of the anxiety. (Well, most of it.)
With that in mind, let’s talk strategy.
Table of Contents
Get to Know the Company
The first step is simple: Research the company.
This is probably something you’re already doing, and if you’re not, you should be. To know what to wear to your interview, you need to get a sense of what kind of company you’re interviewing for.
There are a few different things you should do when researching a company to put together your interview outfit.
First, see if you can find any pictures of employees on the job. Google photos and LinkedIn are both good sources for this. If you can find some, you’ll have a good idea of what the company’s dress code is.
If nothing comes up, then you’ll have to use some deduction to figure out what’s best to wear.
Start by thinking about the industry. Generally speaking, different industries usually stick to different dress codes.
For example, if you’re applying for a position in finance, you’ll probably want to wear a suit to the interview. Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, but this will at least give you a starting point.
Next, consider the company itself
Is this a hip startup with a pool table or an established business that’s been around for 40 years? It’s much more common for newer companies to have a more relaxed dress code, so the age of the business matters too.
You also want to get an idea of what the company culture is like.
Their website (if they have one) should give you lots of info here. Is the writing fun and snarky or polished and professional? Is the design colorful and bright or more reserved? All of this will help you determine what to wear to the interview.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to cover three types of dress codes: formal, business casual and smart casual. These categories encompass most companies’ dress codes and cover a wide range of formalities.
Let’s get started!
Formal Job Interview Style
TL;DR – Wear a nice suit.
Big surprise, right? Even though more CEOs are sporting more casual wear, lots of guys in professional jobs are still sporting suits. If you’re interviewing at a more traditional business, then a suit is a safe bet.
A two-piece suit will suffice unless you’re applying for somewhere really fancy (like Wall Street fancy).
You don’t need to drop a ton of money on an Armani suit, but you do want to choose something nice. Whether you go off the rack or made-to-measure, make sure your suit fits you well.
Keep it classy and conservative. You want to go with muted tones and avoid dramatic pops of color. Grey/charcoal and navy are great neutral colors. Grey is a little more universal, but you really can’t go wrong with either.
The same advice goes for your tie. Don’t choose any pattern that sticks out. Solid color ties or ties with simple patterns will both work well.
Here’s a classic grey suit that would be ideal for a formal job interview:
If navy is more your style, then you might choose something like this:
For a little added style, you can toss a pocket square into the mix. This won’t always be appropriate, so if everyone at this company is always dressed to the nines, you’ll likely want to omit any sartorial flair.
For your footwear, go with something like a pair of dark Oxfords or derby shoes. Again, you’re aiming for traditional here, so the more minimal the shoe, the better.
Brogues and wingtips are also potential options, but these are less formal due to their decorative flourishes, so they’re not appropriate for every formal interview. I’d stay on the safe side and go with Oxfords.
Business Casual Job Interview Style
“Business casual” is probably one of the most confusing terms when it comes to workplace dress codes. In fact, we made a whole guide about it, so go and check that out first if you haven’t already.
Since different workplaces will interpret business casual differently, the advice in this article will err more on the side of business.
In short, business casual is a couple of steps below business formal. It’s definitely more business than casual, so we’re not talking t-shirts or jeans here.
At the same time, you don’t need a suit and tie. You want clothes that are on the more formal side, but you don’t need to dress like a lawyer.
The “typical” business casual outfit is a button up shirt tucked into chinos or dress pants.
The type of button up also matters. Think Oxford Cloth Button Down (OCBD) shirts instead of fluffy flannels.
You have a slightly wider choice of patterns than you would have when putting together a business formal outfit, but don’t go crazy here. (Read: no Hawaiian shirts unless it’s casual Friday, and even then, double check before you go all tropical.)
Wearing a blazer over a button up is another common business casual look. You can also throw a sweater or cardigan on top if the weather allows. Sweaters are especially nice because they make your outfit even more minimal.
You can be a little more free with the colors you choose, but you still don’t want anything garish, so stick to solid colors and simple patterns.
Footwear-wise, go with slightly more formal shoes. Wearing shoes that are too casual is one of the biggest mistakes guys make when it comes to business casual. Yes, “casual” is in the name, but remember, you want to be more business than casual.
Smart Casual Job Interview Style
Smart casual style is the most relaxed of these three dress styles, and even today it’s still not incredibly common.
However, a lot of newer companies that have more laid-back, approachable branding will have smart casual dress codes. This is especially true of creative-focused companies like startups.
This approach can be even more confusing than business casual, so here’s a primer on what to wear to a creative job interview for men.
Smart casual usually balances smart and casual in equal measure. This can be tough to achieve at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty straightforward.
For tops, you can go with garments like button ups, casual blazers, polos, jackets, sweaters and cardigans. Most of these can be classified as business casual as well, but the way you wear them matters.
An easy way to think about smart casual is combining both formal and casual garments. For example, this outfit balances smart garments like a blazer, pocket square and double monkstraps with casual ones like a chambray shirt and slim corduroy pants.
On the more casual side, this outfit pairs a bomber jacket (smart) with a floral sweatshirt (casual) and tailored trousers (smart).
In terms of pants, chinos are hard to beat, but again, it all depends on how you wear them.
For example, if you’re wearing a casual top, you might wear dress pants. Jeans also fall into smart casual, but you’ll want to go with a pair of darker fitted jeans instead of something like a light wash pair.
You also have some flexibility when it comes to shoes. You probably don’t want to rock that new pair of Yeezys, but most
FAQs About Job Interview Style
Still have questions? Here are some quick answers to the most asked questions about job interview style:
What should you not wear to a job interview?
Unless you have a really good reason to think it’s appropriate, don’t wear: shorts, jeans, graphic tees, open toe shoes, hats or athletic shoes.
What should females wear to an interview?
This website focuses on men’s style, but women actually have way more options (and thus even more potential confusion!). Here’s a good article about interview attire for women from The Balance.
What should I wear to a job interview in 2021, 2022 and beyond?
The above tips are as timeless as it gets. Even 5-10 years from now, and even as offices get more casual, you can never go wrong with a full suit or business casual outfit.
What are best shoes to wear to an interview?
Any of these business casual shoes will work. Just avoid sandals, flip flops, athletic shoes and casual boots.
Hopefully this article has demystified the problem of what to wear to a job interview. It’s an important issue that every guy should think about, so you’re giving yourself an advantage by planning ahead.
Got any questions or recommendations? We want to hear from you in the comments below!