in the era of casual dress codes, what should you wear to a job interview?

Over the past couple decades, and the last few years especially, dress codes have been trending to the more casual side. Today ‘work appropriate’ is drastically different than what it was in the 90s. Slacks, blazers and shoes polished to a shine have been pushed to the wayside in favour of jeans, sweaters and crisp designer sneakers. Sometimes even T-shirts get a pass depending on the workplace. It’s a brave new world for those used to the business casual routine.

The change is largely influenced by tech companies and their ultra-casual approach to dressing for work. Think Steve Jobs’ famous work uniform which paired a black turtleneck with blue jeans. While many workplaces have adopted this more casual approach to work attire, it’s not universal. Some employers continue to hold on to more traditional dress codes. So when it comes time to head to a job interview, that raises the question: how exactly do you know what to wear? Here are a few good practices to follow when dressing for a job interview.

dress code casual what to wear to a job inbterview

be authentic to who you are

Interviews are a test of the fit between you and a potential employer. Wear something that makes you feel like the best version of yourself. If you feel confident in what you’re wearing, that will translate in the interview. The days of hiding your tattoos, wearing muted neutral tones to project professionalism and pressing a crisp line into your slacks are on the way out. People – hiring managers, included – want you to be your authentic self, because that’s who they’re hiring.

match your look to the job

If you’re interviewing for a job at a bank, what you wear will be different than if you’re interviewing to work at a bar. Similarly, what you wear when interviewing for an executive role is different than what might be expected in a junior role. Employers in fields such as law, finance or consulting are often more traditional, and that traditionalism extends to their dress code. If the role is client-facing, there’s also a good chance the dress code will be more professional (i.e. a suit and tie will be expected). Take into consideration what’s standard in the industry when selecting your job interview outfit.  

check out their social media

Most companies have an online presence and social media pages these days. Don’t be afraid to scope out their Instagram or LinkedIn pages to get a feel for the tone of their workplace. There’s a good chance you’ll see photos from company events (on LinkedIn especially). Check out what the employees are wearing and use that as a baseline for your own wardrobe choices.

prioritize comfort

Interviews are nerve-wracking as is. Don’t ramp up your feelings of discomfort by wearing something that makes you feel uncomfortable or like you’re playing a role to get the job. This is not the time to pull out the heels that pinch your toes, a pair of pants that are slightly too small, or an itchy dress shirt that makes your skin crawl. If you feel uncomfortable that might translate to your body language and demeanor during the interview. Stick with something you feel confident in so you can focus 100% of your attention on nailing the interview.

err on the side of dressy

While you don’t want to be drastically overdressed – think a tuxedo or a floor length gown – it’s usually a safe bet to dress up a little more than the average employee. Dressing up shows you respect the company and are invested in making a good impression. That’s something most hiring managers will appreciate, even if you’re slightly overdressed compared to their typical day-to-day attire.

business casual is the safe play

If you’re truly unsure about the appropriate balance between professional and casual, business casual attire is a safe bet in most workplaces. For men this means slacks, a jacket and a crisp dress shirt (tie optional, depending on the workplace). Women can also go with slacks, a blazer and a blouse, or substitute a knee-length or longer dress or skirt. Don’t forget to wear nice shoes to complete your look. Both heels and flats are perfectly acceptable; it’s your prerogative to choose whichever makes you feel most confident.

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