There are all sorts of old-school rules out there about what to wear to an interview for men and for women. Once upon a time, men only wore suits to interviews (or it was suggested they did, anyway), even if he wasn't applying for a managerial position. It's also common to dress one step up from the job you're interviewing for – but that means interviewing in some pretty unprofessional garb depending on what you're applying for job-wise.

When it comes to what you choose to wear to an interview, men and women will want a few tips – and it starts with what you wear when you apply (unless you're applying online, of course).

What to Wear When Applying for Work 

You never get another chance to make a first impression – so you want to make sure that the first impression you make at a place you're interested in working at, is a good one. If you're not job hunting from the comfort of your couch, you need to dress nice.

While you aren't required to go all out and wear a suit to go fill out job applications, you should at least dress nicely. Nice can mean jeans, but not shorts. Don't wear logo t-shirts, wear a polo shirt or a button-up shirt. Women can wear slacks, jeans, or even a skirt or dress (no one should be wearing clothing with holes in it, even if that's the style).

Here are the β€œrules” –

1. Dressing One Step Higher

Dressing one step higher than the job you're interviewing for may be a confusing rule, but it really is an important one. That β€œstep higher” needs to be significant. Of course, if you're going to be wearing a suit to work every day, it may be difficult to come up with a higher step than that. You could try a more expensive suit.

If you'll be wearing khaki pants and a polo shirt, or even a uniform, you can wear a nice pair of slacks with a button up shirt – no tie. If you'd normally wear a button up shirt, add a tie for the interview.

There is one problem with this rule – if you didn't apply in person, how do you know how the people that work there dress? If you've shopped there or been there before, you can go by what you've seen. If you have no clue, don't hesitate to ask when you're scheduling the interview.

2. Wearing a Suit

There are times when a suit, or pantsuit (for the ladies), are the perfect garb for an interview. If you're applying for a career in a law office, in a bank, for a political position, or in some sort of executive position, a suit is a must. You don't have to invest in an expensive suit – it just has to be nice.

What to Wear to an Interview – Men 

When it comes to men's interview garb, there are different things to wear to different types of interviews. Here's the breakdown for what to wear to an interview, men. Make sure you have some similar items in your wardrobe before you get that interview call.

1. Executive Wear

When you're interviewing for an upscale position, you need upscale clothing. When your daily attire will be a business suit, you have no choice but to wear a suit to the initial interview. Make sure the suit fits you properly, and that it is a β€œnormal” color (powder blue and white suits are a no-go).

With it, you should pair a white dress shirt that also fits properly and has no wrinkles. Wear dress shoes (black) with socks that match your pant color. While you may want to wear a bright colored power tie, you should stick to something conservative for this type of interview.

2. General Business

If you're applying as a manager at an office or in retail, or something equivalent to this type of work, you still want to wear a suit, but you can have a little more fun with it. However, you still want to stick with a solid suit that fits well.

You don't have to wear a white dress shirt, but make sure that the shirt color is solid, and that it goes well with the color of suit you're wearing (dark gray, black, and navy blue are the best options). Stick with black shoes (make sure they're polished) and socks that match your pants.

You can have a little more fun when it comes to your tie but still, stick with a solid tie color. Feel free to enlist your β€œpower red” tie for good luck.

3. Business Casual

Business casual still requires a jacket, but you can get away with a blazer instead of a suit jacket. Unless you're interviewing for a job in which you'll play a huge nerd with taped up glasses – don't wear a jacket with elbow patches. A solid color is still suitable, preferably navy or black.

Khakis are still a no-go when it comes to business casual (save them for your casual interview). Pick a pair of nice pants (not jeans). Wear any kind of button-down dress shirt (it doesn't have to be formal, but it shouldn't be wrinkled or stained).

You'll still wear dress shoes, but they don't have to be as fancy as the ones you work with your fancy suit. Continue matching your socks to your pants. You can wear a more fun tie for this one since it is somewhat casual. Allow for a little panache, but not too much.

4. Casual

Drop the suit and the jacket (unless it's chilly out). This is casual, but don't show up in sweatpants or shorts.

You can wear khakis though, but still no jeans. Stick with a dress shirt, or at least a polo shirts. It's never OK to wear a t-shirt to a job interview.

You don't have to wear dress shoes – you want shows that will look good with what you're wearing. Don't wear your running shoes, but you can wear some canvas shoes. Loafers and nice boots are fine too. You can still wear a tie if it'll work with your shirt of choice. Otherwise, skip it.

5. General Laborer

If you're interviewing to be a grounds person, to flip burgers, or some other position wear what you're wearing doesn't matter or will be a general uniform, you can go with khakis, a polo shirt, canvas shoes, no tie, and no jacket. Keep it simple.

What to Wear to an Interview – Women 

women wearing formal attire

Many of the same rules can roll over into women's interview garb, just think women's clothing. If you're interviewing for an executive position, you need to wear a pantsuit. If you're interviewing for a retail sales position, a pair of khakis or a fun skirt will do just fine.

Some clothing you may want to have on hand for interviews include a nice sweater (black looks classy), a pantsuit (something in a dark color), a nice pencil skirt or a fun skirt for casual interviews, and nice dress shoes. Button-down shirts are nice if you can wear them. For women that have trouble with these types of shirts, a nice pull-over colored blouse will work fine. You may need a list of what to bring to a job interview.

What Not to Wear to an Interview – Ever 

Here are some things you should never wear to an interview, no matter who you are:

  • Never wear jeans
  • Never wear wrinkles, ripped, or stained clothing
  • Leave the v-necks for a night out on the town
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    Never wear short skirts
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    Unless you're applying to be a lifeguard or surfing instructor, never wear shorts to an interview
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    Don't overdo perfumes and colognes
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    Never wear something that is decades out-of-date
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    Never wear t-shirts
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    Never wear a hat
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    Keep accessories to a minimum

  • Take a shower.
  • Brush your teeth.
  • Keep makeup to a minimum.
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    Brush and style your hair.
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    Consider wearing your hair up if it's long.
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    Clean your hands – especially under your nails (handshakes are part of that first impression, and you want your hands to make the best impression possible).
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    Keep makeup to a minimum.

Final Thoughts

You're looking to get a job, so walk in there with confidence. Your wardrobe is only part of what will get you hired.

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