“Dress for the job you want” goes the adage advising job seekers. That advice doesn’t take into account company culture and the job in question. Perhaps it ought to be tossed aside in favor of something more practical.

The rules governing proper interview attire rely on a few unchanging basics for both men and women. Fortunately, making a good first impression upon a hiring manager doesn’t depend upon investing in the hottest fashions and following the latest trends. Therefore, invest in a few good pieces that will withstand the test of time and you can wear them over and over without looking outré.

Proper business attire begins with deciding between business casual or business formal. If you don’t know the company’s dress code, use a few clues as to correct attire. According to The Balance Careers, “While interviews at startup companies or for non-professional jobs signify a more casual look, if you're interviewing for a professional position, it's important that you stick with a formal look.” If you don’t know the company’s dress code, use a few clues as to correct attire. According to The Balance Careers, “While interviews at startup companies or for non-professional jobs signify a more casual look, if you're interviewing for a professional position, it's important that you stick with a formal look.”

If possible, get a look at the office environment and check out how the employees dress. Or perhaps meet with an employee to inquire about the company’s dress code. If nothing else, ask the hiring manager whether formal or business casual attire is preferred. The hiring manager will likely view your inquiry with favor because it shows that you believe in advance preparation, that you do your research, and that you are serious about fitting in with the company culture.

Interview attire for men

These days, men have more options than ever. The range of options can boggle a candidate’s mind. Truly conservative office environments that practically mandate classic colors do allow for touches of individuality and discrete pops of color. Look for classy pinstripes or tonal patterns in the weave of the coat and trousers and even vest (i.e., waistcoat). Complement the classic look with statement of color in your shirt, tie, and possibly display handkerchief. Texture, too, can add interest and individuality to the outfit. Tweed adds both texture and visual interest while remaining within the realm of formal business wear. Regarding trousers, Forbes recommends flat front styles for a tidy appearance.

If you truly have little idea as to whether the company requires formal business dress or more casual attire, then job candidates can strike a happy middle ground with separates, such as coordinating a blazer with a light colored pair of pants. Pairing, for instance, a navy blue blazer with khaki pants, you can dress for business casual or add a tie to dress it up without looking overly rigid or stuffy.

Top off your outfit with a clean pair of dress shoes in good repair. Leave the sandals and sneakers at home. Make sure your shoes are polished, not scuffed and worn. Take care to ensure everything fits properly. That may require having your suit altered to fit. Properly fitting clothes not only concern fitting across shoulders, neck, and waist, but also take into account the lengths of sleeves and inseams. Iron the wrinkles from your shirt and pants. Wear nothing stained, torn, or frayed. Wear discretely colored socks that don’t draw attention. Your belt should be simple, made of leather, and matching the color and quality of your shoes.

Don’t ruin your good work with poor personal hygiene and unkempt hair and beard. A few days prior to the interview, have your hair trimmed. Beards and mustaches should be neatly trimmed or shaved off entirely. Men often forget the appearance of their hands. A fussy manicure may not be necessary, but neatly trimmed fingernails and an absence of engine grease go a long way toward maintaining that professional look. Go easy on the cologne or aftershave and use unscented deodorant: too much “stink-pretty” makes a bad impression.

Real Men Real Style advises adding business cards to your accessories: “[B]usiness cards will furnish additional professionalism to your image.” Other accessories that one might not normally consider part of the interview outfit include a leather briefcase. Never bring a backpack or gym bag.

Interview attire for women

The corporate world has evolved beyond expectations that women’s interview attire should resemble men’s business wear, except for the floppy bow instead of a tie. We can all give thanks for that. However, the change in standards does not indicate total relaxation of those standards. You’re interviewing for a job, not a date. Leave the body glitter at home and cover that cleavage.

The key words to remember with regard to correct interview attire are chic and simple. Remember the little black dress popularized by Coco Chanel in 1926? It’s a classic that looks good in any color and with any body shape. The Balance Careers states that women need not opt for an all-black palette: other colors are perfectly acceptable. Choose those that don’t scream for attention. Color, cut, and material should flatter your skin tone and shape and be appropriate for the season. 

Coordinate your shoes with the season, too. Sure, it’s old-fashioned, but keep the white shoes for summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day). Black, brown, navy, and taupe are appropriate all year long.

Skirts or dress pants paired with an interesting blouse or crisp shirt also work well for interview attire. Simple outfits, such as a dress pants and blouse or a classic A-line skirt and blouse often pair well with a blazer. Be reminded that a blazer doesn’t instantly turn any outfit into business attire: it must coordinate with the rest of the outfit. Experiment a little with texture. Cooler weather permits pairing a sweater with a wool skirt, pants, or sheath dress. Huffpost advises, “It’s always better to arrive slightly overdressed than underdressed.”

For those who wonder, don’t skip the stockings even in hot weather. Even though most companies don’t require women wear pantyhose or stockings and they do have air conditioning, don’t take that chance. Besides, stockings conceal any number of flaws revealed by bared skin. Heading toward the feet, stick with understated shoe styles. Wear something you can walk in without hanging on to something for balance or breaking an ankle. Opt for a closed-toe pump with a medium height heel.

Accessories for proper interview attire include a simple wristwatch, simple and discrete jewelry, manicured nailed polished in a neutral color—all the same color—carefully styled hair, and clean and polished shoes. Avoid ruining the tidy, professional look with heavily applied cosmetics—save the smoky eyes for evening socials and elect for a natural, polished appearance. As with masculine interview attire, conceal your tattoos and remember that less is better with regard to piercings. Use a light touch with perfume—or avoid fragrances altogether—and use unscented deodorant. If you dye your hair, make sure that your roots don’t show. Trim short hairstyles and split ends on longer hair a few days before the interview. Now is not the time to transition between hairstyles and grow out your bangs.

What to wear to an interview if you’re pregnant

Men never have to face this possibility; however, many women do find themselves job hunting while pregnant. From baby bump to beached whale, the rapid change of a pregnant woman’s shape and dimensions poses particular challenges to presenting a professional appearance in a job interview.

Although dismissal from consideration for employment because of pregnancy is illegal in the USA, it’s difficult to prove discrimination. Therefore, hedge the bets in your favor by presenting yourself as a professional, not as a pregnant woman—even if the bulge of your belly makes the pending blessed event completely obvious.

Wear darker colors to camouflage your pregnancy. Black and charcoal gray need not serve as the only options: you may wear navy, maroon, forest green, plum. Ensure a loose-fitting cut of whatever you wear. First, it’s more comfortable. Second, it doesn’t highlight the baby bump and helps keep the interviewing professional’s focus on you, not your belly. Wisestep advises wearing a dress for both comfort and propriety and adding an attractive scarf to draw attention to your face, rather than to your belly. Especially beyond the first trimester, avoid heels altogether and wear flats. Pregnancy throws off your balance anyway and heels aggravate that shift in balance.

Pregnancy while interviewing allows for some accommodations to standards of attire, but does not permit total dismissal of those standards if you wish to be seen as a skilled professional worthy of consideration for the position.

Masculine or feminine, pregnant or not, the rules governing interview attire change little. Invest in pieces that look good and fit well, observe proper hygiene, dress modestly, and wear jewelry and fragrance with discretion. Less is more.