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Blog>Guides>Interview Attire | Tips to Avoid Overdressing and Underdressing

Interview Attire | Tips to Avoid Overdressing and Underdressing

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The average person spends $161 each month on clothing, researchers say. That means a huge chunk of our budget goes into the threads on our backs. When we open our closets, we should have plenty of interview outfits to choose from, but if you're standing in front of your closet feeling stumped on interview day, you're not alone.

Companies use three terms to define the clothes their employees should wear:

  • Casual: Jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes are accepted in this environment.
  • Business casual: Khakis, knee-length skirts, button-down shirts, and nice blouses fall into this category.
  • Formal: Suits are appropriate in this environment.

In theory, you could look at the company's website, see what employees are encouraged to wear, and follow along. Often times, companies tend to interpret dress-code terms in ways specific to their industry. Make a guess, and you could be wrong.

To help you really understand what to wear, let's dig into outfits by job sector.

Office Jobs: What to Wear

Within the last 25 years, employment within the professional and business services sector has risen by 81%, says the Pew Research Center. This is a big and diverse group that includes lawyers, secretaries, engineers, marketing professionals, and more. Anyone who heads to work in an office belongs in this category.

Few office jobs require manual labor, so most of your colleagues won't come to work wearing scuffed and stained clothing. But experts say few companies demand traditional business attire, meaning you'll most likely be be out of place if you arrive in the following:

  • Suit and jacket
  • Button-down shirt and tie
  • Long, slim skirt
  • High heels

Aim for a balance between casual and formal:

  • Women can consider dress pants or skirts that end below the knee. Clothing should be well-cut but not form-fitting. Low heels or flats are the most optimal choices of footwear.
  • Men can opt for collared shirts, khakis, or dress pants. Shoes with a sole are appropriate, but consider a pair that are more formal than tennis shoes.

There are exceptions to these guidelines, of course. You might choose to work for a high-powered law firm that demands suits and ties, for example.

If it's possible, ask an insider for advice on your outfit. In a pinch, you can ask your interview coordinator to explain the dress code, so you won't feel out of place when you arrive.

collared shirt

Service Jobs: What to Wear

In 2016, more than 70% of all non-farm employees worked in service-sector jobs, according to the Pew Research Center. Any position that involves helping other people could, in theory, be a service job, but when it comes to your interview outfit for a service job, we're focusing on specific types of positions. You might apply for a job as a:

If you are applying to any of the positions listed above, your outfit should highlight your ability to handle the demands of these jobs. This means you should wear:

  • Comfortable, sturdy shoes. Showing up in teetering high heels suggests you're not serious about hard work.
  • Clean, pressed shirts. You're the face of the company when you hold a service job. Your top should make a good first impression.
  • Clean, loose pants. Skintight jeans suggest that you’ll be uncomfortable, while long skirts might suggest you aren't ready to get dirty.
  • Few accessories. Jewelry and bangles can be a distraction when you talk, and they detract from your professional appearance.

Manufacturing Jobs: What to Wear

Working in manufacturing means making the goods and services your peers use every day. Your shifts will be long, and it's likely you'll get dirty, but you won't want to wear worn-down clothes to your interview.

Common manufacturing jobs, and suggested outfits, include the following:

  • Welder: A pressed polo shirt and clean jeans will work fine.
  • Warehouse Supervisor: You'll need to demonstrate that you are management potential. Consider a button-down shirt and khakis.
  • Machinist: A clean shirt with a collar, paired with clean jeans will work for you.

Retail Jobs: What to Wear

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says 15 million people worked in retail in May 2013. They typically held titles like stock clerk, customer service representative, and salesperson.

Working in retail means meeting with customers to explain why the company's products are best for them. If you're planning to work in clothing retail, it's wise to sport some of the company's clothing. That helps you demonstrate that you know the brand and believe in it.

If you're choosing a different type of retail job, you'll need to stick to business casual clothing.

  • Tops: For men, shirts should have a collar. For women, blouses should we well-cut, but not revealing.
  • Bottoms: Khakis work well for both men and women, but skirts that fall below the knee can work for ladies too.
  • Shoes: Low, or no-heeled shoes are best for women. Men should stick with leather-type shoes with a sole.

Health Care Jobs: What to Wear

The health care industry is the largest employer in the United States, says The Atlantic. Most people who work in this field have uniforms to wear each day. Working in health care means investing in plenty of scrubs, but you won't wear that to your interview. You'll need to get creative.

If you're hoping to work in a supporting position (nurses, receptionists, and janitors fall into this category), pull out your business casual clothing. Khakis, long skirts, blouses, and button-down shirts will be your best friends. You'll look clean and pressed, but you won't look so stuffy that you can't do the job.

If you're hoping for a management position — doctors, surgeons, and administrators would all fit into this group — you'll need to demonstrate your professionalism. Consider adding a jacket and tie if you're a man. If you're a woman, add a scarf or suit jacket to your outfit.

What You Should Never Wear to Any Interview

suit and tie

Clearly, appropriate attire varies from sector to sector, but what is considered inappropriate is remarkably similar. Some items should remain in your closet, no matter what job you're hoping to get.

Steer clear of clothing that is:

  • Wrinkled. Look at almost any job listing, and you'll see the words "attention to detail" listed as a wanted attribute. Showing up looking crumpled suggests you don't have what it takes to succeed in those jobs. derdressing
  • Revealing. Most companies have strict policies regarding employee dating and sexual harassment. Don't make your interviewers uncomfortable with clothing that is too tight, sheer, or low-cut. If you wouldn't feel comfortable wearing it in front of a priest or rabbi, skip it.
  • Promotional. We all have clothing plastered with logos and sayings. Those can be distracting in an interview setting.
  • Dirty. Nothing you wear should be stained. If you're a messy eater and you're at all worried about messing up your clothes before your talk, keep an extra set in your car.

Before you walk out the door, give yourself a final check in the mirror to ensure you look as good as you can. Then, get ready to impress!

If you don't have an interview lined up, but you know you need a new job, we can help. Search our website for the next job of your dreams. We have thousands to choose from, and we make searching really easy.


Average Cost of Clothing Per Month Will Surprise You. (November 2017). Credit Donkey.

The State of American Jobs. (October 2016). Pew Research Center.

What's Next for Business Attire in the Workplace? National Business Research Institute.

10 Facts About American Workers. (September 2016). Pew Research Center.

The Changing Face of Retail Trade. (December 2014). United States Department of Labor.

Health Care Just Became the U.S.'s Largest Employer. (January 2018). The Atlantic.

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