How To Dress For Your Job and Interview

A wardrobe guide for interviews and first days

After all of the prep you’ve put in for a job interview — or after you’ve landed that job offer — dressing for the office might seem trivial. And that makes sense: your aptitude, your attitude, and your experiences matter way more than the collared shirt you throw on.

On the other hand: dressing well for an interview or the first day on the job doesn’t just give the employer a great impression. Dressing well can empower you on that first day or that interview, giving you an extra boost of confidence and helping you feel like you belong.

But how do you know what to wear? Here’s a breakdown of a couple of styles most common in modern workplaces and how to figure out which is appropriate for your big day:

The interview: in-person

Unless you’re interviewing at a giant high-brow finance firm (which would require full business attire), you’ll most likely be dressing in “business casual.” This term gets tossed around a lot, but what does it really mean? Let’s break it down:

The top: no matter who you are or what style you’re into, never underestimate a well-fitting, collared button-up. Layered under a blazer, a collared button-up helps you look professional and feel comfortable. No need for a full suit or a formal sports coat with business casual, though. If button-ups aren’t your thing, try a neutral-colored, long-sleeved blouse.

The bottom: whether you choose a knee-length pencil skirt or a pair of slacks, stick with neutral colors and pay attention to fit. You’ll want to make sure your bottoms are fitted enough to feel comfortable, but loose or long enough to be professional in a workplace. Bright colors and patterns can be hard to match — if you’re looking to incorporate a pop of color, your top or accessories are a great place.

The shoes: closed-toed, comfortable dress shoes are going to be your best choice for footwear. Steer clear of sandals or sneakers, which usually look a bit casual. You’ll never know when your interviewers might want to take you on a tour of the office, or stop down the block for coffee, so towering heels are probably a no-go. Above all: make sure your shoes are clean and comfortable.

The interview: via video

Everything becomes a bit trickier when doing a video interview — the internet connection, body language, even tone of voice. But wardrobe choices? That’s easy!

The top: chances are that the best view an interviewer will have of you is from the shoulders up, the same rules apply here as they did for an in-person interview. Collared shirts, blazers, and accessories that don’t distract (or catch light/create glare) are all safe options. While a tie isn’t *necessary*, it can add a professional touch that might otherwise be conveyed by dress shoes or pressed slacks, which won’t be seen in a video interview.

The bottom: you’ll probably be seated during a video interview with the camera at shoulder-height, so no need to worry about what you wear on the bottom. Jeans, shorts or short skirts are all fine so long as the interviewer will not see your bottom half. I’ve even worn PJ pants on video interviews! But remember: the second you stand up, your interviewer can see what you’re wearing, so if you’re going to be walking around or standing to do a presentation you’ll need to pay attention to what you wear on the bottom.

The shoes: for a video interview, this is pretty irrelevant. Heels, flats, sneakers, sandals, slippers, even barefoot as long as you can still feel confident and professional. If putting on a pair of dress shoes helps you feel like the stakes are a little higher, or like you’re a little more qualified, then go for it!

The first day

At this point, you’ve hopefully gained a sense of standard dress practices around your new office. When you interviewed, were folks wearing short-sleeved blouses and black jeans? Or were they wearing ties and slacks? A good rule of thumb is to base your first day look on what you observed in the office during your interview, and for most, this means a “smart casual” look:

The top: you may have donned a blazer or tie during your interview, and you’re welcome to do the same on your first day! But if your office is smart casual, collared shirts without jackets or ties and casual blouses are just fine. Avoid obvious no-nos — think graphic tees, small straps, or anything distressed — but feel free to throw in a vibrant color or print!

The bottom: your choices are similar here to a business casual look, but again, bold prints or colors come into the mix. Keep skirts and dresses to knee-length or calf-length, and opt for khakis or dress slacks instead of black or blue jeans. You might find out later that the office has “casual Fridays,” or that jeans are generally accepted as part of appropriate workwear. Still: for your first day, you’ll want to go a bit more upscale.

The shoes: your first day might include an office tour, a 5-block walk to lunch with your new colleagues, or a lot of trotting back and forth from one desk to another. For that reason: stick with a comfortable, practical shoe choice. I’d still shy away from sandals this early in the game, but any kind of flat, unscuffed boot, low-heel, or oxford lace-up will work. You’ll want to avoid sneakers, though!

Fashion norms are always subject to change, but these standard guidelines should help you feel comfortable and look your best on an interview or the first day at a new job. Happy dressing!