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What to wear to an interview

Fashion aficionado Alice Tate shares her tips on how to dress to impress and beat the competition


Interviews are stressful enough already  without that age-old, lump-in-the-back-of-your-throat question of what to wear. Synonymous with nausea, it comes with a bout of follow up questions. How formal? Heels? A full suit? Should I polish my shoes?

Tutors and a quick Internet search are both great at giving advice on interview technique and egoistical drivel but, alas, there’s no textbook guide on what to wear to your interview. Most of the time it’s about person, place and time. With graduation edging closer, your ‘good impression shirt’ will be a regular feature in your wash load. Whether it’s a casual coffee meeting or a boardroom interrogation, you should always be aiming to dress to impress. While you may be able to steer the success of the actual interview,  you can’t have complete control over the first impression.

To tell the truth, there are no official rules on dressing. Besides the obvious concealed cleavage and evasion of any bum-grazing skirt lengths, a lot of it comes down to common sense and personal preference. I’ve never been one to wear cardigans and kitten heels, but I can see that my leather snapback might not be quite appropriate. Similarly, while I’d argue that dressed up black skinny jeans are fine (if not a corporate position), there’s a resounding taboo around blue denims and job interviews. They’re a no-go.

Work with what you’ve got. Don’t go out and buy a bland pinstripe grey dress just because Gok Wan’s curated selection for Tu told you it was "work-wear". Similarly, there’s no need to shop for shoes at Clarks. Team your day-to-day blazer, your smartest pants and your failsafe black heels for a win-win work-wear ensemble. Add a bag that’s big enough and smart enough to hold A4 files and they’re sure to take you seriously.

It’s not just a girly fashion dilemma. In fact, I’d argue it's more of an issue for guys. Usually its girls who are grappling with their wardrobes but in interview instances, it’s guys who tend to get hot under the collar. For us, there are numerous suitable straightforward options, and the odd tweak to any day-to-day ensemble can have us interview-ready. Guys face far more taxing decisions, the first being: is it a full suit occasion? Then there’s the issue of which shirt, cufflinks, ties, shoes, even socks. All difficult decisions and ones you don’t really need when you’re trying to finish your dissertation, revise for examsand stay calm and collected to score your perfect job.  

But do employers really take note? I like to think so, to a degree. They might not spot that they’re this season’s Alexander Wang shoes (unless your interview is at Vogue), but hopefully they'll notice that you applied lipstick especially and opted for heels of a sensible height. No amount of under-eye concealer or brightening eye drops will have the power to overthrow the residue of last night’s club stamp which shouts scrappy. You’ll never know if you didn’t get the job because you didn’t wear a tie, but why taunt yourself with that mystery. Opt for the tie.

We may not have all the answers or the official textbook regulations, but here are some tips on winning at interview style.  


Opt for neutral colours as a base. Think navy, blacks or greys, then go with something lighter and brighter up top. Fluoro cigarette pants are great for making a statement but might make you feel a fool if everyone else is in a corporate trouser suit.

Please go with a sensible choice of shoe. Yes, those new shoes might scream “employ me” but the ability to walk and not stumble is favoured by most employers.

When it’s a question of tights or no tights, go with your mother’s advice and wear the tights.

If it’s a fashion or media interview, it’d be fair to say you’ve got more scope to express you personality. This said, now isn’t the time to give your GCSE textiles creation its long-awaited debut, regardless of how much your grandparents raved about it.

Consider your overall look, and don’t forget about accessories or beauty. Lipstick is a classic power tool. Fine jewellery exudes class and elegance. Hats are a definite taboo.

Getting pernickety now, chipped nails are one way to wave goodbye to your dream job.

  1. Boxy Tux Blazer, River Island
  2. Cutwork Shirt, Warehouse
  3. Polka Dot Trousers, Miss Selfridge
  4. Bag, BoBelle London
  5. Mid-Heel Tassel Loafers, Topshop
  6. MAC Lipstick


Regardless of how much you paid for your vintage Nike sneakers, they’re not going to get you the job. Invest in a pair of good, old-fashioned, upper leather shoes, and your future paychecks will thank you later.

Ties are, in many instances, obligatory. For a professional or business firm, they’re non-negotiable. Whether it’s a skinny, classic, or kitschy knit one is up to you, but leave the novelty one at home, yeah? For a creative profession, a smart button-down such as an Oxford Blue is adequate.

Research would suggest a black suit was a bad choice for a first interview. Grey says go-getter. It needn’t be bespoke but consider it an investment. Made-to-measure is an affordable option and a sensible one too. An ill-fitting suit does nothing for your confidence while the perfect one exudes charisma.

Bags in interviews are more often than not superfluous. A simple folio case or a slick leather iPad case is far more here and now than sporting a full on briefcase.

To shave or not to shave. Sadly, your prized stubble may have to be sacrificed in favour of the all-important boardroom interview. Get in to the spirit of things and go for gold with a traditional barber blade groom.

  1. Ink Blue Tie, Topman
  2. Suit Trousers, Ben Sherman
  3. Plain Wool Suit Jacket, Ben Sherman
  4. Pocket Square, Topman
  5. Leather Brogues, Pied A Terre
  6. iPad Case, Knomo


Alice Tate is a freelance fashion writer, blogging at Flash Anthology and tweeting @ALICETATE_.