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How to Nail Your Interview Look

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If there’s one question we get around Black Lapel a lot, it’s “What are the best suits for men to wear for a job interview?” In the past we showed you how to play it safe with a charcoal suit. We stand by that advice for guys interviewing for jobs where doing things “by the book” is a good quality (read: any field where you handle large sums of other people’s money like banking, real estate, accounting, etc.).

But what about men pursuing other kinds of jobs in fields like, say, marketing, communications, the arts or nonprofit work? What about the jobs where “creative” is preferable to “conservative” and a dark gray suit is associated with stuffiness? How do you loosen up your interview suit look without breaking the unwritten rules of interviews?

Interview Rules

We know you love to rock a fly suit (you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t), but what follows is not a scheme to dazzle a potential employer with your style acumen. Neither is this a guide to dull dressing that will not offend but is completely unremarkable. What follows are smart looks for all types of jobs.


3 Looks for 3 Different Job Types

1
2
3

DO . . .

DON’TS . . .

1-do copy

Do make sure your shirt is clean and pressed, no one likes to see sweat stains in and around the collar.

1-dont copy

Don’t wear a French cuff shirt and flashy cuff links. This is not the time to be wearing your Decepticon cuff links.

2-do copy

Do wear modest colors- you don’t want to seem like you’re all about frills.

2-dont copy

Don’t rock a pinstripe suit. Unless you’re interviewing with Patrick Bateman at Pierce & Pierce, leave the pinstripes for after you land the job.

3-do copy

Do wear a suit that fits you today, not six months (and 16 pounds) ago.

3-dont copy

Don’t wear an oversized, ill-fitting suit. Baggy looks sloppy and “sloppy” is the last word you want to be associated with in an interview..

4-do

Do break up grays and whites with a hint of color so that you look like you know how to take care of business but you also enjoy taking care of business.

4-dont

Don’t wear brightly colored, ornamentally folded pocket squares. Take a cue from the men of Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Pryce and wear a simple square fold.

5-do

Do keep your shoes simple. Dark brown or black cap toes or brogues will do the trick.

5-dont

Don’t wear scuffed or dirty shoes which instantly signal to any discerning interviewer that you’re not paying attention to details.


Got an interview coming up or just want office style tips sent right to your inbox? Enter your email address below for more advice on mastering your look once you get the gig.

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27 thoughts on “How to Nail Your Interview Look”

  1. I had my first interview at a branch office (where I expect to work) a few weeks back during a hot weather spell and wore an Italian styled ventless tan suit with single pleat cuffed pants. The suit fits me well. It was casual Friday so I outdressed everyone but that did not seem to detract from me getting a second interview scheduled for next week at the main office.

    I have a dasrk navy center vent suit with pleated cuffed pants that is likely a tad big on me because I’ve lost 10 pounds since it was last tailored.

    I have four new suits on the way (two charcoal with minimilist strioes and patterns) but they won’t be ready in time. So which of the two, tan or navy, would you suggest?

    I work in engineering which tends to be satisfied being boring attire.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Killin’ it! Congrats on the second interview. It’s probably safe to bet that the main office is even more satisfied with conservative attire. That being so, go with the navy suit. Although it might not fit like a glove, you won’t want to out dress your future bosses this time. Plus, a navy suit never stopped anyone from getting a job. And in case the heat returns, check out these hot weather interview tips.

  2. I have a question about proper pant length. In the picture of the shoes under the Do column in the “Do & Don’t” section, quite a bit of the model’s socks are visible. Is this typical? I like the silhouette generated when there is no break, but should the pants reach the tops of the shoes, at least when standing still? I ask because my suit pants seem to end just barely above my shoe tops (not as much as the pic above) and I wonder whether I should have them taken down slightly.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Since that photo was there to show off the shoes we pulled the pants up a bit so that you could see them, so don’t go by that.

      Pant length is a matter of preference. If you like a full break, go a little long. If you’re looking for a more modern, sleek look, go without a break on the shorter side so that they just touch the tops of your shoes.

      Whatever you do, avoid the pants puddle that poorly dressed guys go around wearing. A full break doesn’t mean your pants should end three inches below the tops of your shoes and bunch up around your heels. But it sounds like you already know that, Kevin, so we’re probably preaching to the choir.

  3. Macklyn Mosley says:

    I have an interview in two days. My suit is a charcoal gray. My shirt is a white button up, while the tie is between a green and navy stripe or red stripe. What color shoes should I go with? I have some nice dark brown shoes I wanted to try.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      This sounds like a smart outfit all around, Macklyn. Slip in a solid folded pocket square and you’re good to go. Dark brown shoes are the perfect choice. We say go with them.

  4. If I have an interview for a resturant how should I dress? Because I don’t believe it’s a very formal setting.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Interviewing at restaurant is a tricky one, Xavier. Partially it depends on the job you’re applying for. For a customer-facing role it would make sense to check out how the current staff dresses and match their formality. For example, if you’re looking to become a host, and the hosts at the restaurant suit up, you should wear a suit to the interview. If the team is more casual a white dress shirt, no tie, a blazer and chinos (like the look you see here) is a smart way to go.

      Knock ’em dead, Xavier!

  5. I cannot now, nor have I ever been able to wear flat front pants. I have too much in the seat for that if you know what I mean. Its to the point that if it doesn’t have pleats, I shouldn’t even waste my time looking at it because it won’t fit. Also, I wear a 42L coat but have a 34 inch waist and a 35 inch inseam. I have a hard time finding suits these days. Suggestions?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Not to sound like a sales pitch, but our suggestion is that you try a custom suit from Black Lapel. We’ve seen guys with just about every body type imaginable (including some NBA and NFL players who are, let’s just say, “out of the norm,” when it comes to finding clothes that fit and made them flawlessly fitting suits. All of the suits featured above are available from Black Lapel.

  6. Great men’s styles. Its true a good dressing sense can let go the whole day successful while a bad dressing can eventually turn harder upon the person wearing. Thanks for sharing the styles and the dress ethics for men’s outfits to wear about!!!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      The pleasure is ours, Joanna. Clothes don’t make the man but they can make the man look a hell of a lot more put together.

  7. Hermes ties are popular in the financial world but can the ties be pretty flashy; are they too flashy to wear to an interview, even if it’s a financial firm? Thanks.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Hermes ties can be pretty bold or pretty quiet, depending on the color and pattern. Some (like this one) may be pretty subtly patterned and a good look for an interview. We’re assuming you’re referring to the louder ones.

      Sadly, a lot of guys wear Hermes ties so that people know how much they spent on their ties. The fact that you’re asking this question means you’re probably not one of those guys, Asif. So, our advice for the interview is to keep the emphasis on you, not where you got your tie. Go with a simple, subtle tie.

  8. A little tip about the ticket pockets. I was afraid it might possibly jump out as “different”, so I tucked in the flap to make it less noticeable at my interviews. Others may try it if their only appropriate suit has a ticket pocket.

    Black Lapel continues being allergic to pleats and cuffs for some reason. 😉 Most everyone wears them where I work, for the record, and single forward pleats can still look quite trim while adding some comfort. Cuffs have advantages with today’s lightweight suiting as well.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Great point about the ticket pocket, Jovan! We love to do this with our flapped ticket pockets just to change up our looks.

      As for the pleats & cuffs, they definitely have their place and can even work for an interview suit as long as the pants fit.

  9. Im going to have a job interview soon and I was wondering why do you recommend a charcoal suit rather than a pinstripe suit.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      A pinstripe suit is a bit a bold look. It’s got board room written all over it. Are you board room material, Manuel? We’re willing to take your word for it, but a hiring manager can be put off by this kind of look. They may read it not as “this guys wants this job” but as “this guy wants MY job.” Ambition is good, but you don’t want to come off as full of yourself or threatening.

      All that said, we want to make it clear, we think the pinstripes make you look like a baller. So, go in with a more low key suit, nail that job and then blow them all away with your stylish stripes once you’ve locked up the gig.

  10. Larry Wolf says:

    Unless one is interviewing with a high-tech firm or an employer like that where no one wears suits, I must respectfully disagree with the no-french-cuffs rule. French cuffs on a plain white shirt are perfectly appropriate for an interview with a conservative firm. They are a tiny detail that demonstrate you are sharp, meticulous and take pride in your appearance. But the cuff links must be simple of course and not flashy. I actually do not own a single dress shirt that does not have french cuffs, and wouldn’t waste my dollars on a lovely Black Lapel shirt without requiring french cuffs. If you are going custom, go all the way.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We love cufflinks, Larry. We think they’re appropriate for all levels at most companies (see our Guide to French Cuffs and Cufflinks). But the interviewers we spoke with have consistently noted them as an interview no-no. Sadly, the cufflink has been deemed “flashy” by most people. We blame the dudes who go out there wearing audacious cufflinks and ruining it for the rest of us.

      It sounds like you know how to show a little restraint on your wrist. Keep representing the cuffed crowd, Larry. The cufflink wearing public (read: us) needs more guys like you!

  11. Any recommendations for shoes for men with small feet? (around Size 5.5 UK?).

    1. Black Lapel says:

      You are right at the cutoff for most quality shoe brands (size 6 US). That means that you can shop some of our favorite brands which you’ll find listed in our How to Build Your Dress Shoe Wardrobe story. Check it out…you won’t be sorry.

  12. Just had an interview yesterday. Wore my charcoal Black Lapel suit, though I left the vest at home. Wore cuff links as well — none of the other shirts really looked right with the suit. Also polished Allen Edmonds Park Avenues. The guys I was interviewing with were in khakis and button up shirts.

    The “never outdress the boss” rule might work for a more corporate environment, or as a day-to-day dress code in the office, but I don’t think it applies to interviews in less casual work environment. One step above the day to day dress code, but capped at a nice charcoal 2 piece suit, seems to be a better rule of thumb (don’t wear a suit if the employees are all wearing shorts and tshirts, but do wear a button up shirt and khakis, etc).

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Good point. The never outdress the boss rule is more for large corporate environments. For the record, we’re not sure we’re on board with that rule, but it does come up in some environments.

      Anyway, good luck with the interview/job, JC!

  13. Parrish W. says:

    You guys mentioned shoes… Double monk-strap shoes too flashy or should one just stick with lace-ups?

    Also, you guys know where I can buy decent dress shoes online that ship internationally?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Monk straps can call attention to themselves, so we wouldn’t advise them for an interview if you’ve got some more straightforward lace-ups. The key to the interview look is to look presentable and keep the focus on you, not what you’re wearing. Of course, once you land the job, we love the monk straps & suit look.

      As for where to get some dress shoes online. We built a whole guide to building your dress shoe wardrobe that’s chock full of links to great looking, well-made shoes that are available online and can be shipped internationally. Take a peek. There’s bound to be something you’ll like.

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