What to Wear To An Interview In 2021

By Mike Simpson

What to wear to an interview; it seems like such a simple thing on the surface. After all, you’ve probably heard a ton of advice, like the classic, “Dress for the job you want” or to aim one-level above what you’d you have to wear in the position.

Easy, right? Well, no.

The thing is, a lot of advice on job interview outfits is ambiguous. Plus, every company is different, so anticipating the hiring manager’s can be incredibly tough.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should panic. With a few specific, you can figure out what to wear to a job interview fairly quickly. Plus, by understanding what not to wear to an interview, you can avoid some horrendous mistakes.

So, come with us on this journey, and we’ll show you the interview clothes ropes.

You Got the Interview, Now, What to Wear?

Alright, before we dig into the individual types of interview attire, let’s talk about how you actually make the decision. After all, everyone is different, so we can’t just say, “pair this top with these pants” and cover every professional on the planet. It doesn’t work that way.

However, there are certain universal truths in how to dress for an interview, and a few of them may surprise you.

First, you need to consider comfort and fit. Why comfort? Well, you’re going to be wearing this outfit during a critical moment. If you’re distracted by itchy fabric, do you think you’ll make the best impression possible?

Probably not.

Fit goes the same way. If you’re going to spend the entire interview pulling a too-tight top into place or go to shake the hiring manager’s hand only to discover that your suit jacket makes lifting your hand above your navel impossible, that’s a problem.

Your interview clothes need to feel good and function. Now, this a reason to wear sweatpants. Just that, if the outfit falls short in either of those categories, you should consider other options.

MIKE'S TIP: If you aren’t sure that the fit of your clothing is an issue, go through the motions, and then do a bit more. What we mean is, mime your interview. Sit down, stand up, and walk around. Pretend to shake hands and pick a piece of paper up off of the floor (hey, we all drop things sometimes). If your interview isn’t on the ground floor, climb a set of stairs. You can even be a bit extreme, using motions that you aren’t likely to have to make, but could happen. Raise your hands above your head or do a squat, for example. The idea is to put your interview outfit through its paces, ensuring it works no matter what position you need to be in.

After that, you should ask yourself, “What makes me feel confident?” When you feel good in your clothes, that impacts your mindset. Similarly, if you hate your interview attire, that’ll bring you down.

Ideally, your interview clothing should make you smile. Again, this isn’t license to go crazy and choose something inappropriate just because you think you rock it. Instead, it’s about factoring in your preferences the right way, ensuring you’re happy with your choice.

Generally speaking, interview clothing needs to err on the side of conservative when it comes to cut, color, and pattern. But that doesn’t mean you have to be devoid of personality. You just have to be strategic.

We’ll discuss how to do that here in a bit.

Types of Interview Attire

Here’s a great infographic from Business Insider that provide great tips on how to dress for your interview:

how-to-dress-like-a-leader-in-any-work-environment-infographic-professional-dress-interview-attire

Overall, there are only a few standard types of interview attire, the most popular of which are smart casual, business casual, executive casual, and business formal.

Now, we get it. You’re probably thinking, “What the heck do those terms mean?” Don’t worry, we’ll clarify.

First, smart casual is a fairly new invention. It’s nestled in-between two common options that you’ll see in the infographic: baseline casual and mainstream casual.

A classic example of smart casual is pairing dark, tailored jeans with a classic button-up shirt, a trendy blazer, and elevated sneakers or an upscale sandal. Essentially, you take casual elements, find the dressiest versions of them, and combine them with low-key business staples.

But what about business casual? Would that be the same thing? Well, no. Typically, with business casual, jeans are forbidden fruit. The same goes for tennis shoes or sandals.

Instead, you move more into classic office wear options. Think slacks or pencil skirts with button-up shirts, sweaters, and cardigans. For shoes, you’ve entered into relaxed dress, like a nice loafer, ballerina flat, or ankle boot. For women, open-toed heels may be okay, depending on the environment. It’s a step above smart casual.

Next, comes executive casual. Here, we are moving into “dressed up” territory, for sure. Dress slacks and skirts are staples. Formal shoes, like closed-toe pumps or oxfords, are the norm. So are jackets, sport coats, or blazers, though they don’t have to be part of a matching suit; they just need to coordinate with the outfit.

However, this isn’t quite into tie-mandatory territory. That comes next.

Once you get into business formal or, as the infographic calls it, traditional business attire, you’ve reached suit and tie land. Once here, patterns tend to be incredibly subtle. Additionally, color choices tend to start lessening, though you aren’t necessarily stuck with just navy, charcoal, and chocolate.

Now, it’s important to note that there can be other categories. For example, some companies focus on “boardroom attire.” This is the most formal option around. It’s not unlike business formal; it’s just that turned up to 11. Think classic dark suits coupled with crisp white collared shirts, like you see in the infographic.

When it comes to what to wear to an interview, executive casual or business formal tend to be the defaults. They qualify as the “when in doubt, go here” approaches.

If you’re interviewing for an entry-level job or a more relaxed industry, executive casual might fit the bill. If you’re well into your career, are in a formal industry, or have no idea about the dress code standards at a company, business formal is essentially a can’t-miss option.

However, that doesn’t mean other approaches may not be alright. Creative industries may be more open to deviating from those norms. So can certain tech companies, startups, and other organizations whose vibes may lean youthful. But if you don’t know that the environment is more relaxed, it’s better to overdress a tad than underdress.

Common Interview Attire Mistakes for Both Men and Women

When you’re deciding on what to wear to a job interview, you need to avoid certain mistakes. Luckily, when it comes to how to dress for an interview, figuring out what isn’t appropriate is pretty straightforward.

Now, we know that some of you may not see some of the points below as mistakes. Instead, they may be part of your personal style. In that case, you may be wondering, why should you change?

Well, here’s the trick. No one is asking you to sell out or change who you are. But here’s the fact of the matter, you have to impress during your interview to land the job. While most of us would like to believe that appearance doesn’t matter in the professional world, it certainly does. The hiring manager is going to make judgments about you passed on your outfit and style choices; that’s just the way it is.

By avoiding interview outfit mistakes, you can increase your odds of moving forward in the process. Then, you can find out about dress code restrictions, allowing you to decide if that’s the kind of workplace you want. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you get there!

With that in mind, here’s a quick look at what not to wear to an interview.

1. Clothing That’s Too Big

If your interview outfit hangs off of you like a wet potato sack, that isn’t going to make a great impression. When you’re clothing is too big, it almost makes it seem like you’re playing dress-up in your parents’ clothes. That’s no good.

Take the time to make sure each part of your outfit fits correctly. If a piece is too large, either have it tailored to fit or choose something else.

2. Revealing Attire

While you might be tempted to flaunt what you’ve got, don’t. Interview attire should always err on the side of being conservative. That means keeping your neckline, waistband, and hemline in the right places.

3. Flashy Outfits

While it’s fine to add hints of personality to your job interview outfit, don’t go overboard. Electric colors, busy patterns, and similar choices are distracting. Sure, you’ll be memorable, just not for the reason you’d hoped.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t add a fun pop here or there. A well-chosen tie, a sky blue pinstripe instead of traditional white, a joyful necklace… those can all work. The idea is to avoid anything overwhelming, so keep most of our outfit neutral and conservative and use only a hint of flare.

4. Words and Logos

Generally speaking, words and logos should be abolished from your interview wardrobe. Even if the message or image isn’t inappropriate, it usually isn’t very professional.

Stick with plain colors or classic patterns. In the end, you’re the only thing that should be doing any talking.

5. Accessory Overload

Over accessorizing can cause problems during your interview. Think about it; an arm’s worth of bang bracelets clanging around isn’t exactly subtle. Instead, it’s noisy and distracting, and that isn’t something you want during an interview.

6. Unconventional Grooming Choices

While it’s true that vibrant hair colors, facial piercings, and tattoos are increasingly commonplace, you may want to tone things down during your interview. Many workplace environments still discourage those choices and view them as unprofessional. As a result, it’s better to tone it down for the interview.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can never don blue hair again. Some workplaces don’t mind. The trick is, you want to make it through the interview. That way, you can ask about the dress code afterward, letting you find out what they do or don’t permit.

7. Video Interview Bonus: Anything That Looks Weird on Camera

Due to COVID-19, video interviews are increasingly common. If you’re getting ready to meet with the hiring manager virtually, then you need to make sure that the attire you chose looks good on camera.

What many people don’t realize is that certain colors and patterns don’t appear the same when viewed through a lens or screen. For example, white and black can actually be bad choices for video interviews, as well as many bright colors.

At times, patterns can also get a bit muddied with viewed on camera. It can cause some strange color shifts, some of which may not be flattering.

When in doubt, stick with neutrals that aren’t black or white. Navy blues, mid-toned beiges, deep greens, soft maroons, and similar hues can work well, along with many pastels. Once you have some options ready, test your outfit on camera before your video interview, just to be safe.

Interview Attire for Women

Smart Casual

Overall, smart casual is a relaxed look, but it has a level of polish. It feels tailored, even if some of the elements lean toward day-to-day. Some smart casual interview attire for women can include:

    • Tailored jeans in dark, undistressed colors
    • Tailored shorts
    • Chinos
    • Slacks or skirts
    • Blazers
    • Cardigans
    • Solid color tees (paired with blazers or cardigans)
    • Polo shirts
    • Crisp button-up shirts in a seasonal color or pattern
    • Chic blouses
    • Upscale sandals or sneakers
    • Ballerina flats
    • Ankle booties

The biggest trick here is to be stylish and put together. Have a little fun with color, but make sure the overall look is crisp. Your accessories can also be a bit bolder, as long as you limit the number of pieces you wear.

Business Casual

Business casual is still a bit relaxed. The biggest difference here is that you want to stay away from jeans, sneakers, and sandals, as those tend to go a bit too far into casual territory. Otherwise, you may be able to choose options from the list below:

    • Chinos
    • Slacks or skirts
    • Blazers
    • Cardigans
    • Solid color tees (paired with blazers or cardigans)
    • Polo shirts
    • Crisp button-up shirts in a seasonal color or pattern
    • Chic blouses
    • Ballerina flats
    • Ankle booties
    • Open-toed high heels

If you’re going with heels, make sure it isn’t too tall. Usually, two to three inches should be your max, as they give you a bit of height while staying professional.

When it comes to accessories, taking those down a bit too. Think less “statement” and more “coordinating highlight.”

Executive Casual

Moving up another notch, executive casual means focusing more of your attention on formal options. Here are some pieces that could work for executive casual:

    • Button-up shirts
    • Sweaters
    • Blazers
    • Cardigans
    • Khakis
    • Chinos
    • Slacks
    • Pencil skirts
    • Close-toe dress shoes or heels

If you choose to go with a blazer, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to match it to your skirt or trousers. As long as the colors coordinate, you can mix it up a bit.

At this point, your accessories should be getting fairly subtle. Opt for classic choices over standouts.

Business Formal

At this tier, you’re getting into suit land. This can include a jacket and pants or jacket and skirt combo, depending on which you prefer. Additionally, you may have to look into hosiery, especially if the workplace is conservative

    • Suit (matching jacket and pants or matching jacket and skirt
    • Button-up shirt
    • Dress shoes
    • Hosiery (tights or pantyhose)

When it comes to the suit color, women can go with slightly bolder choices. However, if you want to err on the side of caution, gray or blue with a semi-bold shirt color may be a better choice. For accessories, you need to go with simple, discreet classics. Additionally, only choose one or two accessories.

Interview Attire for Men

Smart Casual

Smart casual is where relaxed and polished meet. It’s all about refinement and enjoying the lighter end of the business attire spectrum. Here are some items that may work for smart casual job interview outfits for men:

    • Tailored jeans in dark colors
    • Chinos
    • Khakis
    • Slacks
    • Blazers
    • Sweaters
    • Solid color tees (paired with blazers or cardigans)
    • Polo shirts
    • Crisp button-up shirts in a seasonal color or pattern
    • Chic blouses
    • Upscale boat shoes or sneakers
    • Loafers

You also have some room with color here. Look at options that work with the season, or consider what’s on-trend. A well-chosen pop of color can make a big difference. Just don’t go overboard.

Business Casual

With business casual, you’re taking things up a notch. It’s still pretty relaxed, but options like jeans and sneakers should largely go by the wayside. Here are some outfit pieces that could work for a business casual job interview:

    • Button-up shirts
    • Sweaters
    • Blazers or sport coats
    • Khakis
    • Loafers
    • Chinos
    • Slacks

Executive Casual

Moving it up one more rung, executive casual gets to a place where things like blazers may not be optional. However, ties aren’t a necessity yet. Additionally, you’ve got a little more flexibility when it comes to color and pattern. While you don’t want to be over-the-top, don’t feel like you’re stuck in the land of neutrals, because you aren’t.

If you’re planning an executive casual job interview outfit, here are some pieces to look for:

    • Dress slacks
    • Blazers or sport coats
    • Button-up shirts
    • Oxfords

Here, you’re getting close to formal attire land. In some cases, adding a tie can be a good move. It can bring together an outfit. Just keep in mind that you don’t have to be overly matchy-matchy. If your shirt, jacket, pants, and tie are all different colors or patterns, but they coordinate well together, you’re doing fine.

Business Formal

Once you reach business formal, you’re pretty much in suit and tie land. It’s the classic choice that’s guaranteed to work at this level. As a result, your core outfit will be made of:

    • Suits
    • Button-up shirts
    • Ties

When you choose a suit, don’t default to black. At times, this can look a bit too formal. So, consider a nice gray, navy blue, or even deep green.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, figuring out what to wear to an interview doesn’t have to be a challenge. With the tips above, you can head in the right direction. Just consider the standards for that workplace, and aim slightly above. Or, when in doubt, aim for somewhere between executive casual and business formal. If you do, you’ll probably be in great shape.

Good luck!

Please be kind and rate this post 🙂

About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.