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As a consultant, I’ve been in hundreds of locations and need to dress accordingly for each one. Over the years, men frequently ask me what to wear to an interview.
I recently came across this fantastic infographic from our friends at T.M. Lewin on “What to Wear to Work” based on dress code. This graphic got me to thinking about all the questions I get from men on how to dress for an interview based on organizational culture.
As a supplement to this graphic, I answer the most frequently asked questions I receive about interview attire for men – right down to whether you should wear boxers or briefs.
Let’s do this!
Should I Wear a Suit to an Interview?
Always wear a suit to your interview, unless told otherwise. Don’t ask the recruiter what to wear to an interview either. Unless the recruiter gives you specific guidelines for the interview dress code, wear a suit.
A friend was recently interviewing with a very casual tech startup. He naturally assumed he should dress casually. When he indicated he hadn’t received any guidelines, I immediately told him to go with the suit. When he arrived, the person interviewing him was wearing a suit. You can imagine his relief.
What Color Suit Should I Wear to an Interview?
As a general rule, I advise men to avoid black for an interview. I have one black suit and one black tuxedo. I wear the former to funerals and the latter to weddings and black-tie events. That’s it.
Blues, grays or even an olive green are great choices for men. My advice is to stay away from stripes unless it’s a three-piece suit. The only three-piece suits I own all have patterns, and that’s deliberate on my part. I don’t want them confused as a tuxedo.
Lastly, wear a genuine suit. Don’t mix and match a blazer with similar color pants. It might look passable in the dim lights of your bathroom, but trust me – someone will notice and not in a good way. The pants and jacket should come together.
As you are putting your interview attire together, try and add a pop of the company brand color. It does wonders for connection and recognition.
Should I Have a Suit Fitted?
I cringe when I hear a guy say,
“I’ve got an interview tomorrow, so I’m going to look for a suit.”
Dude, it’s too late. A suit must fit properly to your body which never happens when it comes off the rack. I won’t go into all the ways it needs to fit properly, but get a tailor for a fitting. Great interview attire for men requires a well-fitted suit.
I Can Only Afford One Suit but Have Multiple Interviews with the Same Company. Help!
Don’t panic. Suits are not cheap but with the right strategy, they are very versatile.
My advice is to pick a dark navy suit and then mix it up during different interviews with various shirt colors and tie patterns. Nobody will notice it’s the same suit.
Stay away from stripes or patterns on the suit, as both make the suit more recognizable.
Continue below with more advice around shirt and tie advice.
What is Appropriate Business Casual Interview Attire for Men?
What to wear to an interview labeled as ‘business casual?’ Unless told otherwise, nothing less than a blazer. When recruiters mention specific dress guidelines, then they’ll likely be more specific than just ‘business casual.’
If they provide no more details, I would wear a nice blazer, with no tie. Ere on the side of caution with slacks instead of jeans. Wear nice jeans if told specifically told appropriate, especially if more fitting to the culture.
Just make sure that the pants – whether slacks or jeans – have enough contrast with the blazer. Otherwise, you risk looking like you are wearing a mismatched suit.
Depending on the culture, you have a ton of options with blazers. Blazers, in this case, can have stripes or patterns. Just don’t go overboard. You can dress it up with a nice vest or pocket square as well.
Also, avoid linen blazers for interviews – you’ll look like you rolled right out of bed before you even arrive.
Can I Wear a Suit Jacket as a Blazer?
Although you can get away with it, I don’t recommend doing it often. That suit you paid a lot for and had tailored? Eventually, the pants and jacket have slightly different wears and colors if you wear them separately too often.
What Type of Tie Should I Wear to an Interview?
I get more compliments on my ties than anything else. A tie makes a statement if you do it right.
There are many different types of ties – wide, slim, skinny, patterned, textured. It can make your head spin.
Generally, I tell men to wear a silk and patterned tie. This depends on the rest of the outfit. It’s ok to be bold with a tie, just don’t be obnoxious. That line is a personal taste.
As I recommend you do with your resume, try and incorporate subtle brand colors either in the tie or tie clip. Yes, if you are wearing a tie, I advise wearing a tie clip as it is both functional and adds a touch of class.
How Far Down Should a Tie Go?
Once tied, the end of the tie should hit just about the middle of your belt buckle. It’s an art and sometimes takes a couple of tries to get it perfect, so give yourself some time.
Can I Wear a Suit Without a Tie?
Just as you can wear a clown suit, you can also wear a suit without a tie. I wouldn’t recommend either of them as good choices for interview attire for men.
Should I Wear a Tie With a Blazer?
I don’t normally recommend a tie with a blazer. It’s too similar to a suit and there is a difference between a suit and blazer.
I would wear a sharp collared shirt and open one button (in most cases).
Which Buttons on a Suit Should I Fasten?
The same rules apply for both blazers and suit jackets.
- One button – button it.
- Two buttons – button only the top button.
- Three buttons – button only the middle button. The top is optional but I don’t recommend it. Just a personal preference.
If you are wearing a vest under a jacket, fasten all buttons on the vest except for the bottom.
When Do I Unbutton and Button My Jacket?
Always button your jacket when standing. Unbutton your jacket when sitting.
If you are just standing to greet someone or shake their hand, you can keep your jacket unbuttoned. If you need to stand and walk to greet someone, try and fasten your jacket button if possible.
Should I Take My Jacket Off During the Interview?
No, not unless requested or some activity requires it. I can’t think of an instance of either happening.
But remember to unbutton your jacket while seated.
What Type and Color Shirt Should I Wear to an Interview?
Most important is to find a shirt that fits properly. If it simply has the size of small, medium or large, run away from it.
Shirts come in different types of fit. The choice depends on occasion and body type. For interview attire for men, I recommend a well-fitted but not too fitted shirt. If you have trouble bending your arms or if the buttons don’t lay flat on your torso, then it’s too tight.
Regardless of if a dress shirt or more casual, make sure the shirt has a collar. For an interview, I normally recommend a collared dress shirt, although organizational culture can dictate otherwise.
Unless you are wearing other really bold colors and patterns (for example with your tie), avoid white. To me it’s boring and anything that drops on it shows. For an interview, I recommend a more neutral color with no or light patterns. Keep the patterns and boldness for the tie.
Should I Wear an Undershirt?
When helping select interview attire for men, I always advise them to get undershirts for a few reasons:
- Helps smooth body contours (yes, men have those too)
- Makes the shirt lay better on the body and stay in place
- Undershirts absorb perspiration during those heated moments during the interview
What Type of Undershirt Should I Wear?
There are two types of undershirts – crew neck and v-neck. If you are wearing a jacket and tie, ALWAYS wear a crew neck undershirt. Why? If you have a tan or darker skin, the differences in color might show through a v-neck.
If you are wearing a blazer with an unbuttoned collar, then ALWAYS wear a v-neck undershirt? Why? You never want the undershirt to show.
Undershirts fit tighter than regular tee shirts, so be prepared if you aren’t used to wearing them. Always wash them before you wear them for an interview.
What Types of Shoes are Good Interview Attire for a Man?
I go with the rule that if you wear a tie, then your shoes should have laces. If you aren’t wearing a tie, then don’t wear shoes with laces.
The exception is monk strap shoes. These shoes are incredibly versatile and can be worn with suits, blazers and casually.
Regardless of the type of shoes, make sure they are well shined and free of scuffs.
PRO TIP: Traveling for your interview? Keep your shoes shaped by stuffing them with your socks and underwear before throwing them in your suitcase. Ideally, also put them in shoe wraps.
What Color Shoe Should I Wear?
This is always a huge debate in deciding interview attire for men. Most just wear black shoes. I have two pairs of black shoes – one for my black funeral suit and one for my black tuxedo.
Clearly, I’m not a huge fan of black shoes, but you can wear them with about any color suit except for brown.
My go-to shoe colors are variations of brown, oxblood, gray and blue.
If you are wearing a dark blue or gray suit, you can’t go wrong with a great oxblood color lace or monk strap shoe (the monk strap shoes below are an oxblood color). The lighter the color of suit or blazer, the lighter you can go with the browns or gray.
The most important thing to keep in mind with shoe color is that it matches your belt. Brown is not just brown. Blue is not just blue. There are many different tones.
Your belt does not need to match exactly, but it should appear the same color from a relatively close distance. When in doubt, take a picture and look. You’ll see a belt in many of these pictures and that was what I was doing – getting a feel for the match.
What Color Socks Should I Wear to An Interview?
They are socks – have fun with them! You’ll see a million different rules. If you are interviewing in a conservative environment, keep the socks solid or a light pattern that generally matches the color of your pants.
Otherwise, have fun with them! Believe it or not, when you cross your legs, they can be a real conversation starter. Don’t go too crazy but have some fun with patterns and colors.
Functionally, make sure the socks stretch to about mid-calf and make sure the elastic holds. You might have nice legs, but it’s not good to show them when you cross your leg.
To keep static out of socks, I give them an extra rub with a static cling dryer towel. Yes, on more than one occasion static cling caught my pant leg. It’s embarrassing especially if you are presenting.
Should I Bring a Briefcase or Laptop Case? Does the Color Matter?
I always recommend bringing a briefcase of some sort to carry resumes, business cards or bring out anything you may receive during your interview.
I have two, leather laptop cases. One is dark brown and the other is black. Much like matching shoes to the belt, I use the brown case when I’m wearing brown shoes (or sometimes gray)and the black case for about every other color shoe.
It may seem extreme, but these are the subtle differences that set apart interview attire for men. Simple matches of a laptop case present a more polished appearance.
When in doubt, just bring a black case.
What Do I Wear if I am Interviewing in the Winter?
Wear a professional overcoat that goes down to at least your mid thigh. Please don’t show up in a bulky, ski jacket with a suit. It ruins your entrance and there is an awkward silence when someone offers to take it and then retrieve it for you after the interview.
Also be sure to practice putting it on and taking it off with your suit on – it can take a bit of practice to do it gracefully.
If you don’t normally live in a winter climate but have an interview in cold weather, try and borrow one from a friend instead of buying one you might not use again.
Should I Wear Cologne in an Interview?
This is really a personal preference. If you decide to wear cologne to your interview, wear the right one and in the right way.
Even the lightest of scents can be overdone. So how do you put the right amount of cologne on for your interview? Apply it like a woman applies her perfume.
Steps to properly applying cologne:
- One generous spray on one wrist,
- Rub your wrists together and down about three inches of your forearms,
- Rub your wrists gently on and around your neck, behind the ears and then on your torso (shirt).
Remember, it requires the right scent (light), the right amount and the right application method to get cologne right for any occasion.
Save the musk-type of cologne for night time and never for an interview.
Now for the last and probably best advice I give to men when they want to know what to wear to an interview.
Boxers or Briefs?
Yes, it’s the age old debate of boxers or briefs but this time in the interview attire for men.
Play it safe guys and go with briefs. You get it.
Above the ‘security’ briefs (or boxer briefs) provide, boxers can bunch and cling depending on the cut and material of pants. Nobody wants to look like they’re wearing a diaper, and you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve seen it happen.
There you have them. The most frequently asked questions I get about what to wear to an interview. Before your next interview, be sure to reference this list and the graphic at the top of the post for everything you need to know about great interview attire for men.
Above all else – NEVER wear what I decided to wear during an internal meeting. This is a poster child for what NOT to wear to anything – especially an interview.
If I missed something or you have any questions as you are getting ready for the big interview, I’ll be listening over on Twitter and Facebook. Would love to hear from you.
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