I've been on my fair share of interviews. And yet, I always find myself sitting on the floor beside my closet, a pile of clothes slumped over my lap, utterly stumped as to what to wear. I'm usually huffing and puffing about how ridiculous it is that women are expected to meet these unattainable standards of "pretty" but "not too pretty." Because, you know, you don't want to give the wrong impression — since our skirts say so much about our skills.
Why do interview outfit rules exist?
Listen, I'm all about adhering to professional standards and fitting the company culture. And I'm happy to comply; I've got a wardrobe of work-specific clothes that I enjoy wearing. I feel confident in them, and they give me the look of the professional I I want to be. But I'm not thrilled that women are expected to abide by some rules that are just systematically sexist. There, I said it. I'm talking about everything from the color of my nail polish down to makeup I put on my face — why that stuff matters as much as it does is beyond me. And I'm frankly tired of hearing how distractive women and girls can be — why aren't the distracted held to the same standards of professionalism and expected to, you know, stay focused on their work?
Perhaps it's because of my very first interview, when I wore my mother's (very conservative) dress and my interviewer told me I looked "naughty," that I'm forever plagued by the thralldom of "what if my outfit kills my chances?" And thanks to that, if I'm honest, at 26 years old, my mother is still usually on FaceTime going back and forth with a girlfriend sitting on my bed. They both help me narrow down the almost identical few black dresses.
After sometimes hours of deliberation I, nine times out of 10, go with the same dress. And then, at last, I get in bed and get back to researching the company, studying up on my interviewers and rehearsing my answers to common interview questions.
If you're like me, you could benefit from saving some time on trying on a million different outfits — time that could be better spent actually preparing for your interview. So I've rounded up six interview outfit "rules" you probably didn't know. I'm not saying you should abide by these rules (after all, it upsets me that some of them exist), but I am saying that they are worth knowing about in the often image-obsessed (and sexist) professional world we live in.
What is appropriate to wear to an interview?
So you're wondering about what to wear to your interview.
Can you wear jeans to an interview? No. Can you wear leggings to an interview? No. Those ones are more obvious than others.
So here are some lesser-known, unspoken rules of interviews of which to stay abreast.
1. If possible, wear all black.
Wondering, what is the best color to wear to an interview? Like I'd figured, black is a good go-to color. According to 2017 research from SmartRecruiters, in tandem with Hiring Success, black was the safest choice of the surveyed 180 applicants who got hired. In fact, 70 percent of the hired candidates reported wearing mostly black outfits to interviews, while just 33 percent of the rejected candidates wore black.
Here's an all-black interview outfit, for example:
- Black midi dress (like this one from ASOS)
- Black blazer (like this one from Zara)
- Black pumps (like these ones from DSW)
2. Avoid orange and red.
It's safe to assume that since black is a successful interview outfit color, bright colors like oranges and reds have quite the opposite effect on interviewers. In 2013, CareerBuilder and Harris Interactive asked hiring managers and HR representatives about the best color to wear to a job interview. Orange topped the list for the absolute worst color to wear, as 25 percent of respondents said that they associated the color with someone who is unprofessional.
Likewise, a wealth of research suggests that red sends a message of power, but not necessarily a good one. Not only do perceptively powerful women break prescribed gender norms and, as such, make others uncomfortable, but red is also associated with sexuality. And because we live in a society in which all too many people judge a woman's sexuality on her outfit choices (which, might I add, is incredibly unwarranted), wearing red in the workplace might not go over so well for you.
Wear makeup... just not too much of it. After all, you want to look "attractive," since attractive people earn roughly 20 percent more than “average” people. Perhaps this is because women who wear makeup are reportedly considered more "competent" than those who don't.
But you don't want to look too "unprofessional" or "untrustworthy" by wearing too much makeup — because that's a real consequence that science has found. So use makeup sparingly, and avoid bright, distracting lip colors and eye makeup.
Here's some interview makeup, for example:
- Lightweight Foundation (like this one)
- Powder Bronzer (like this one)
- Pale Pink Blush (like this one)
- Natural Mascara (like this one)
4. Don't paint your nails — unless you do this.
As with makeup, you want to keep your nails groomed but not too over the top.
"A nice polish will never work against you," Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, told US News. "That one little detail says, 'OK, that means she took some time.'”
Gottsman recommended going with a subtle polish, like a neutral hue, and she advised to avoid chipped or multicolored nails that boast any nail art. Flashy, bright or even dark colors might distract your interviewer... and we already know that women are told time and time again that being "too distractive" is a "them" problem in the workplace.
5. Do your hair, but don't use hairspray or gel.
Gottsman also recommends to do your hair (as in dry it), because overly gelled, moused, sprayed or scrunched hair is not a good look.
Likewise, Tonya Wells, author of What to Wear to Your Job Interview and president and executive recruiter of Ally Resource Group, adds to be mindful of your dandruff.
"It’s really distracting when you’re interviewing someone, and every time they move their head around, there’s a little puff cloud coming out from around their head," she told US News. If you can't get rid of your dandruff overnight (If you can, please comment how exactly you've done it!), she suggested camouflaging your dandruff by wearing a light suit.
6. Forgo the jewelry.
Statement necklaces, dangling earrings and bangles can also be distracting for an interview. According to Wells, you're better off sticking with simple jewelry.
Here's some interview jewelry, for example:
About the Career Expert:
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist for a gamut of both online and print publications, as well as an adventure aficionado and travel blogger at HerReport.org. She covers all things women's empowerment — from navigating the workplace to navigating the world. She writes about everything from gender issues in the workforce to gender issues all across the globe.