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The Compass  /  Personal StyleSuits  /  Office Style 101: What to Wear to an Interview

Office Style 101: What to Wear to an Interview

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Note: This story has been updated to include what to wear for all sorts of job interviews. Check out the new story.

Unless you’re intent on working for Mark Zuckerberg, your collection of hoodies and jeans probably aren’t going to cut it for that job interview.  As the great Barney Stinson once said, it’s time to “Suit Up!

We show you how…

Conservatively Sharp

For an interview, your goal is to dress conservatively while looking as sharp as possible. Save your pinstripe suit for that client meeting and leave your purple paisley shirt at the cleaners (and don’t go back for it). You want to look smart, attentive to details and unpretentious.

Dressing for your Job

“Wear something neutral…Nothing too flashy and nothing that makes you look as though you’re trying too hard. If you’re going into a bank wear a suit, but if you’re doing something creative, wear what you expect you’re going to wear doing the job. Start as you mean to go on.” – Kim Jones, Dunhill Creative Director 

Be mindful of the culture of the company you are applying to. Is it a fairly conservative company where everyone is rocking a crisp suit? Or is it more of a lax dress code where polos, casual shirts and chinos are your bread and butter? If you’re still lost, don’t hesitate to ask the interviewer ahead of time on the suggested dress code for the interview. If you’re not comfortable with that, ask a friend or acquaintance who works in that field.  When in doubt, overdress.

The Safe Bet Interview Suit: 

  • A well-fitting solid navy or dark gray/charcoal single-breasted suit.
  • A white dress shirt (long-sleeved of course!) with a classic collar and single-button barrel cuffs.
  • A solid or conservatively patterned tie such as a solid navy or gray tie
  • Brown or black plain or captoe oxford shoes that are nicely polished.
  • Socks that match the color of your suit.

Avoid These Interview Suit Mistakes: 

  • Pinstripe suits and shirts. Unless you’re interviewing with Patrick Bateman at Pierce & Pierce, avoid coming off overtly flashy and leave the pinstripes for the boardroom after you land the job.
  • A black suit. “I only like to wear a black suit in the daytime for mourning.” – Glen O’Brien, GQ Style Guy.  Enough said.
  • An oversized, ill-fitting suit and/or dress shirt [see Bad Fit Disease].
  • Overly wide or skinny ties with loud patterns. Keep your ties between 2.5 to 3.5 inches wide.
  • Flashy cuff links. This is not the time to be wearing your Decepticon cuff links.
  • A lavish, bright colored pocket square. If you wear a pocket square, take a cue from the men of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and wear a white, simple square fold pocket square.
  • Scuffed or dirty shoes. Like bad grooming, dirty shoes will be an instant red herring to any discerning interviewer that you’re not paying attention to details.
  • A bad haircut/grooming. Get haircut a few days before your interview, shave and make sure your finger nails are trimmed. Your grooming should be congruent with the rest of your impeccable self.

We Recommend: The Black Lapel Charcoal Gray Custom Suit

Solid Charcoal Suit

  • Slim or Tailored Fit
  • 2-Button Jacket
  • Regular Notch Lapels
  • Single or Double Vented
  • Straight Flapped Pockets
  • Flat-front, No Cuff Pants
  • Skip the Ticket Pockets, Accent Stitching and Vest

If you are entering your final year of school, send us your questions on the professional world!  We may select one lucky reader to help us pilot a campus brand ambassador program.  Benefits will include personal discounts, bonus products and exclusive first looks at new products.  Email us now at concierge@blacklapel.com.

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23 thoughts on “Office Style 101: What to Wear to an Interview”

  1. When you wear a hoodie, you are not just keeping yourself warm,
    you are producing a statement.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Sure. Like we said, Mark Zuckerberg might appreciate that statement, but more traditional corporate and professional environments will laugh you out the door.

  2. What about coloured shirts with white collars? Are they too flashy as well?

    1. We know you want to make a good impression, James, but we would recommend avoiding the sartorial bells and whistles like contrast collars for the interview stage.

      You can still show your personality and your personal style, but before you get dressed, ask yourself what you want the interviewer to focus on when he/she asks you a question, your answer or your shirt? Play your cards right in the interview and you’ll have five chances a week to show off all your mad outfit-picking skills when you get the job.

  3. Hi, I absolutely LOVE these articles that you guys put out, but I am a tad bit regretful to say that I am overwhelmed by the terminology and specifics of the discussion. For someone new to the “suit up” lingo, is there an article that more clearly describes the parts of a (good) suit/shirt/tie/shoe/etc., to which a greenhorn, such as myself, might refer to?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Don’t worry too much about the lingo, James. It’s like wine, you don’t have to know everything, just know what works for you. For a primer on all things suits, start with the articles in our Suits category on The Compass. Those will give you the groundwork. Take a look at How to Build Your Dress Shoe Wardrobe for what to look for in a good pair of shoes.

      For more detail, there are some classic books (yes, even at online publications like this, we still love ink on paper) like Alan Flusser’s Dressing The Man that will fill your head with all the terms you need to understand any threadhead in the world.

  4. from a new fan of this site: solid and straight forward advice. not to mention some excellent comments. thanks for pointing out the fact that a well cared for pair of shoes says as much about the wearer as any other part of the outfit. i cannot count the times i’ve seen men in a decent outfit only to be derailed by a pair of cheap oxfords that look like they went hiking in them! good lord!!

    being older AND old school i am partial to 3 button pleated and cuffed suits, french cuffs, and either club or spread collars. while i really love the new slim look it just looks odd on older men to me(me included).

    a word of advice to those that buy barrel cuff dress shirts off the shelf(yes i do too occasionally). take the time to eliminate the extra buttons and move the one that functions to a well fitting comfortable position. nothing worse that a barrel cuff on someone that looks like two arms could fit in there! besides, it’ll give the onlooker the impression it just might be custom.

    1. Thanks Joe! We hope all the young ones out there were paying attention because you just dished out some great advice on OTR barrel cuffs! We do urge you to give a slimmer cut suit a shot however. It can have a slimming effect on the overall frame and make an older gent look younger without losing any style points. Let us know how you like it if you ever get the urge to try one out!

  5. Has the three button suit run it’s course?

    1. We think the 2-button suit is just more versatile and classically stylish(and hence our recommendation for an interview suit). That being said a 3 button suit with a soft lapel roll can still look really nice with just the middle button closed!

  6. Does sit have to nbe “single-button” barrel cuffs ? Whats wrong with “double-button” barrel cuffs??

    I actually prefer double button because it keeps the cuff fiued in place (single button allows the cuffs to rotate a bit).

    Also, what about French cuffs? Would that be a no-no considering that you are trying to go for a “safe-bet”?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      John, double-button barrel cuffs are absolutely fine! =)

      French cuffs should be avoided for interviews unless you’re already familiar with the workplace culture and they are commonly worn.

  7. Thanks for posting this! It’s officially the new, must-read for our college interns. I’m willing to bet it will save me some awkward “wear this, not that” conversations!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Glad you liked this man! Keep sharing it with the young ‘uns coming out of school and the grown men who don’t know better!

      1. PrimerGreyBlog says:

        Great post. This is an often neglected issue for job seekers.

        Only thing I’d add would be to not shy away from a subtle pattern in your shirt. It definitely depends on the culture of the office, but a subtle gingham paired with a solid tie can make a nice impression. It plays off the charcoal well without being overly flashy.

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Very good point! Subtle and finer patterns like a micro check, light gingham, or herringbone are all in play for interview shirts.

  8. Why no ticket pocket or slanted flapped pockets? Are they too flashy?

    1. Ticket pockets are, slanted pockets aren’t.

      A ticket pocket calls attention to itself because its an idiosyncratic anachronism. An uncommon feature on suits nowadays, it’ll be fine professionally down the road, but lacks some of the modesty one should have when interviewing or working in a junior position. Personally, I don’t think you’re missing out on any major sartorial benefit granted by a ticket pocket. The fit of the suit far outweighs another pouch, and the cut and drape are what you want people paying attention to.

      Slanted (“hacking”) pockets, on the other hand, remain a common enough occurrence that their presence won’t raise any eyebrows. I think they provide a better look, as they avoid the significant horizontal visual break caused by square pockets. If you specify that you’d like hacking pockets on your jacket, you should also seriously consider getting side vents–historically the two have gone together. The pocket is slanted to provide easier access when mounted on horseback. Similarly, double vents were cut so that the drape of the jacket wouldn’t be disrupted by riding. These are moot points in the office, but the traditional associations remain.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Black Lapel says:

        Ethan, that’s an incredibly educated and well put response! Bravo!

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Not too flashy if you own them already and if you wear them with confidence. We obviously love the ticket pocket and slanted flapped pockets (they’re all over our site)! But we definitely wanted to help put together a conservative outfit for the young men coming out of school or for those just starting their collection of suits.

  9. Jovan Gauthier says:

    Good advice, but what’s wrong with pleated or cuffed trousers? They’re classic.

    1. Nothing wrong with pleats or cuffs, I think it’s a matter of stylistic preference. I personally prefer flat front and no cuffs for a classic look that works well with my body type, but if you’re comfortable with the pleats and cuffs, then rock it as long as the suit fits!

      I’d suggest avoiding anything too fashion forward such as a flat front or single pleat with 2 inch turn-ups.

      Like Reply

      1. Black Lapel says:

        Glad your liked the post man! There’s nothing wrong with pleats or cuffs. We’re just partial to flat front and cuffless trousers for a cleaner silhouette.

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