Importance of Professional Dress
First impressions DO COUNT when we are evaluating someone,
particularly for a professional position. Professional dress is an
important component of that first impression. People make assumptions
about professional credibility and potential performance based upon
appearance during a first meeting, and it is difficult to overcome a
first impression, regardless of your knowledge and expertise.
As an interview candidate, you have your foot in the door, but so do
all of the other candidates. An interview can distinguish between
qualified candidates and the “perfect match.” Professional dress is part
of that match.
Professional dress is not just about clothes, but an overall
professional appearance. You want an employer to be impressed with your
look; however, your clothes should not upstage you in an interview. All
attention should be on your interview presentation, not on your clothing
The following are dress requirements needed for formal interview
attire, as well as suggestions on how to achieve an overall professional
Men should wear a well-tailored suit
in traditional colors such as navy blue, charcoal gray or black, in
solid or subtle stripe patterns (e.g., pinstripe). The shirt needs to be
a long-sleeve and button-down, preferably in a solid color such as
white or a light blue. The tie can have a small print or color; however,
its overall appearance should be conservative. Socks need to be a dark
solid or a small pattern. Shoes need to be leather, and in a wing tip or
Women should wear a well-tailored
suit in colors such as navy blue, charcoal gray or black. Possible
shades of green, maroon or purple can be worn if the color goes well
with skin and hair coloring, but be cautious of wearing non-neutral
color pallets. While more conversation workplaces or industries may
still prefer that women wear a dress suit (i.e., matching suited skirt
and blazer), a pants suit is now also appropriate for the majority of
settings. Skirt lengths always need to be knee length or slightly below
the knee. Blouses should be cotton, silk or a nice looking artificial
fiber in a conservative color that goes appropriately with the suit.
Wear low to medium leather, heeled shoes. Never wear open toe shoes.
Always wear pantyhose (even in the summer!).
For Men and Women
While nearly every
industry calls for formal interview attire it is also important to be
aware of the norms of your profession.
In creative fields such as advertising and the arts, for example,
while a suit is always a safe bet you may have some more leeway in
selecting a bright colored top. However, when in doubt, ALWAYS err
towards formal and conservative dress. It is better to be overdressed
Keep hair nice and neat.
There is no specific hairstyle recommended, only that your hair is clean
and well groomed.
For men, beards and other facial hair should be neatly trimmed. Also
aware that some industries and organizations may frown on long hair or
Women, wear natural looking makeup that will flatter and
compliment, not overpower, your outfit.
Nails should be clean and
manicured. Women do not have to wear nail polish; however, if polish is
worn, make sure that it is a natural, conservative color and not
Do not wear perfume or cologne
as many people have strong, adverse or even allergic reactions to it.
Wear only a conservative amount
of jewelry. Also, wear jewelry that flatters but doesn’t overpower. For
example, a pair of stud earrings versus chandelier earrings or a gold or
silver band versus a large turquoise ring would be appropriate
choices. Obey the thirteen rule: no more than thirteen accessory pieces
– this includes accessories such as earrings, rings or a watch, but
also accessories we don’t typically think about such as buttons on
If you have any type
of tattoos or body piercing, consider how it will be perceived during a
first impression. In fact, there are some career fields and
organizations where having a visible tattoo or body piercing is
unacceptable and may eliminate you as a candidate.
While you would never
bring in your backpack, it is fine to bring in a professional looking
purse, briefcase or attaché to an interview to carry necessary items.
Women – only bring in a purse or a briefcase, not both. Never take a
cell phone into an interview.
Professional Items Can Include:
A tablet or some type of notebook to take notes or jot down
Many students like using a portfolio notebook
that includes a notepad, penholder, file pocket and business card
A good pen or pencil
The last thing you want is
an ink spill.
At least one copy of your résumé
and list of your references
This can be a formal portfolio or
samples of your work that you can share with the interviewer(s).
Personal Items Can Include:
Wallet & Car Keys
If your car keys are on a
ten pound key ring take your car key off; or, if your wallet is the size
of a bag itself, just bring in your drivers license and a little money.
Leave the rest at home or in the trunk of your car.
Dressing on a Budget: Helpful Hints for College Students Wanting to
Look Professional with Limited Funds
Looking professional does not necessarily mean expensive. Of course
there is some expense to buying professional interview attire, but you
can learn some easy lessons to shopping that can save you a considerable
amount of money while still looking good.
Do Not Buy Interview Attire When You Need It
you start shopping for your interview clothes the week of your
interview, guaranteed you will pay more for something you really don’t
like and possibly not the best quality. Plan ahead and buy clothes
during sales seasons. At the end of a season you can typically find
clothes 30% - 75% off original prices. Also, the more time you have, the
better your options are – rather than picking the first blouse that
fits you because your interview is the next day, you can wait until you
find that perfect blouse. This has an effect on interviewing, since the
more comfortable you are in your clothes, the better you will interview.
Buy “Seasonless” Clothing
As a student,
you are going to have one suit, possibly two, but not much more than
that. You want to buy a suit that you can wear in the winter and the
summer, and also travels well. Do not buy the heaviest wool suit
imaginable, even if it is on sale. Instead, buy lighter wool, or a
combination of wool and another fabric, such as cotton. Look for clothes
that are advertised as “seasonless.”
Invest in the Right Pieces
If you want
to invest in a piece of clothing, it is better to invest in a higher
quality suit than any other item. Shirts, blouses and shoes can be
easily changed out, but you will only have one or two suits. Also, a
formal suit can easily turn into a business casual outfit by pairing the
suit jacket with khakis or the suit pants or skirt with a nice sweater.
Good for Birthdays, Holidays, Graduation, etc...
family and friends know that if they want to buy you a present, they
can help chip in to your “interview suit fund.” If you can’t keep a
money fund without breaking into it, ask them to get you a gift card to a
department store or have them go shopping with you, and you can pick
out an item with them.
Many students get confused by the difference between formal,
interview attire and business casual. Defined, business casual is
professional clothing that is not as formal as the interview suite. Many
times an organization will state that an event is “business casual;”
however, if you are unsure of the dress, ALWAYS err to the more formal
For men, a pair of khakis or slacks and a button down shirt or
sweater define business casual.
For women, business casual can be
slacks or a skirt paired with a blouse or sweater. As always, wear
appropriate shoes. No sneakers, sandals or open toe shoes.
Remember, the key is to look polished and professional. You should
not draw attention to a specific area of clothing or accessory; thus,
the same rules for hair, makeup, jewelry and all accessories apply to
business casual just as they do with formal, interview attire.
Frequently Asked Questions
I have never bought a suit or professional dress wear
before and do not know where to even start.
place to start is the UofL Career Center to discuss what professional
dress is and get information such as this handout. As a professional
candidate, you will do a mock interview at the Career Center, which can
include a critique of your professional outfit. Also, alumni are good
sources to get information and suggestions on professional dress,
particularly tailored to the specific field and/or company you are
interviewing with. For the actual shopping trip, take friends and family
members you know will offer you sound advice on clothing choices. Use
the professional department store staff to get ideas, suggestions and
their knowledge of the merchandise.
I am interviewing with a very casual company that
typically does not wear suits as a standard of dress to work. Should I
still wear a suit or should I wear something more casual to blend in?
the suit. There is no need to feel uncomfortable or overdressed if you
are a candidate. Once you are hired, you can wear clothing that blends
into the organization’s atmosphere. The key is you are not hired yet,
and as a candidate you do not have the right to dress in the casual,
company style. As a candidate you are putting your best foot forward,
which means you are dressing more formal than normal. Remember, it is
ALWAYS better to be overdressed than underdressed.
However, it is appropriate to dress less formal if the company
specifically tells you not to dress formally. For example, in arranging a
dinner interview, a company representative may let you know that the
dress code is business casual, which is your signal that it’s okay to
dress in business casual.
I just got my interview agenda and I am scheduled to stay
and interview all day at the organization. Is this going to have an
effect on what I wear?
Yes and no. No matter how long
an interview takes, a candidate always needs to look professional.
However, if you are doing a day long interview you need to wear
something that will wear well all day and will be comfortable. For
example, if you know you will be doing a large amount of walking, make
sure you shoes are comfortable as well as professionally appropriate.
For a day long interview, chances are you will take off your suit
jacket, so wear a blouse or top appropriate to wear alone.
I have an interview and the weather forecast is snow.
What should I do?
If an interview is scheduled on a day
of bad weather, be realistic and don’t wear your brand new leather
shoes in the snow or get your brand new suit completely soaked. For the
trip to the interview, wear appropriate shoes and outer wear and bring
your professional items in a bag. Get to the interview a little earlier
than planned so you have time to find a bathroom and change items. Don’t
be afraid to ask the receptionist or front desk attendant for a place
to store your items since it is appropriate, due to weather, that you
would be bringing these additional items. Always be prepared for
inclement weather. For example, bring a small, compact umbrella on a
cloudy day. This will showcase you are someone who thinks ahead and
prepares for unexpected events.