What To Wear To A Job Interview: Suit, Smart-Casual or Relaxed?


What to Wear To A Job Interview : Suits, smart casual and relaxed

You’d eagerly sent out your CV a few weeks beforehand, and you’ve just received an email, inviting you in for an interview. Congratulations!  The big day arrives; giddily, you open the wardrobe and as if on autopilot, reach for your trusty black suit and white shirt….but hold on hot shot!! Times are changing, and the expected attire for a job interview has changed at the same pace. But what is the unspoken dress code for a job interview?

Well….. this is where a number of different factors that come into play. Under dressing can cause immediate distaste with the interviewer.  Over dressing can make you stand out as over confident and above your station.
A nightmare scenario either way. Fear not however, this is what we do at Dobell, so here are some variances on the rule book, and what you should do the following interview scenarios.

Who are you meeting?
Is it a CEO or very senior member of the company? Perhaps a full suit and tie is the best option, as they will have day to day dealings with people of similar attire, and would thus take you seriously, if you are presenting yourself as someone on their level.

Make it easy for them to like you, and accept you as a strong candidate for the role.
Outfit Choice: Black business suit, with tie and subtle pocket square, in a presidential fold.

business suit with presidential fold
Don Draper Style: A simple folded pocket square with a business suit really finishes off the CEO friendly look.

If the person you are meeting, is an executive (non management), then feel free to dress in smart yet casual attire. You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot and make them feel like you already believe yourself above them, and threaten their position, so dress down a notch.
Outfit Choice: perhaps a blazer and  smart jeans coupled with a oxford shirt and tie or patterned bow tie.

Smart - Casual blazer and jeans
Smarten up a relaxed look with oxford shirt, tweed blazer and blue jeans, and perhaps a patterned bow tie.

Where are you meeting?
If it’s a pub, it may be worth considering a more relaxed look, as this is obviously what the interviewer is hoping for, in such a setting. The fail safe here is probably a dress shirt or v neck t-shirt and chinos. Wear suede desert shoes or loafers to ensure a smart impression was your intention.
Outfit Choice: White dress shirt and chinos.

White shirt blue chinos
White dress shirt with chinos looks smart, but not too over-the-top.

If the interview is to be held at their office, then the whole interview process should be treated more formally. This is where it gets tricky, as you want to appear smart and prepared, however, if you turn up in a black pinstripe 3 piece, but the company has a very relaxed dress code (i.e. flip flops and shorts is a regular occurrence in the board room), then you will stand out, perhaps alienating yourself from the company culture. But play it safe…
Outfit Choice: Go for a grey suit , partnered with a light blue shirt and slim blue tie.

grey suit blue tie and shirt
Add brown shoes and belt to complete a smart business feel without adopting a corporate black suit.

“Come in for an informal chat”
This request is a more relaxed, “initial impressions” interview, to give you and the organisation you have applied to, a chance to see if there is a good match. Sometimes, because it is presented as informal, turning up in a well presented, almost overdressed, can be an unexpected yet appreciated gesture.
Outfit Choice: Blue suit, brown shoes and white shirt.

blue suite white shirt brown shoes
Simple blue suit with a white shirt, is usually best combined with brown shoes and belt

Full on Interview
Easy response here…
Outfit Choice: A good old fashioned light grey suit, dress shirt, black shoes, and black tie.

Grey suit black slim tie
Simple yet effective. A grey suit, with slim black tie and white shirt.

CEO of Dobell Formalwear, Mike Dobell, who has sat in the interviewer’s chair more times than he can count (so knows what he is talking about) said:

“The first impression is what matters. The choice of outfit is what you are measured against, in terms of how serious you are about joining the organisation. Anything from shirt and chinos, up to a full suit, I’d say is what I’d expect to see.”

No No, NO!
No trainers, or any informal footwear. If you like wearing Doc Martins, now is not the time to show people your unique collection. The only acceptable footwear here, is either a leather or suede shoe, loafer or perhaps a boat shoe if you really wish to bring the summer vibes with you, but be careful about the time and place of that last choice.

No ripped jeans are invited to these occasions. These are never acceptable in an interview environment, and may cost you the chance of employment. Yes your charming personality and knowledge-base may be well presented during the chat, but the moment you walked in, you were potentially pigeonholed as a no.

No sunglasses. This is not an audition for a  rap video, and sunglasses have no place on your face, or head, during the interview. Humans judge other humans for levels of trust and engagement, though eye to eye contact, and you are robbing any chance of winning them over if they can’t literally see the passion and enthusiasm in your eyes during the interview.

The perfect one size fits all approach to adopt when you are unsure? A smart suit with unbuttoned oxford shirt, or plain white dress shirt, like these. By unbuttoned, we mean the top 1 or 2 buttons left undone, as any more and it’s verging on Chico time.

Chico open shirt
Job interview time and Chico time are not at the same time


Last tips:
Always make sure you outfit has been recently dry cleaned and pressed, or ironed.

Button your jacket in the only acceptable order:
Top: Always, Bottom; Never.

All set? Go get that job.


Author and men's fashion fanatic. As a modern man, I am no stranger to fake tan, male grooming and a fancy pocket square. Always over dressed. Still man enough to know my way around a shed, though! Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @TheWhiteGent

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