How to Dress for an Interview: The Good, the Bad and the Frizzy

Ginger Burr
Ginger Burr

By Ginger Burr
In a recent article for Real Simple, entrepreneur icon Barbara Corcoran discussed an evolving error made by interviewees every day: missing the mark on what is acceptable; either wearing too much of the right things (“too much makeup and jewelry or impractical shoes”) or too little of the right things (i.e., inappropriate things like “stretchy pants, oversize tops, and sneakers”).

So with the Spring bringing in new opportunities for so many, let’s discuss three commandments to getting an interview outfit right in a way that will ease your mind and make a positive impression.

Tip One: Know Thy Audience, But Also Know Thy Common Sense

When reviewing your closet for your upcoming interview, make sure you’ve done your research. Know with whom you are meeting, consider what they are looking for and how they want a candidate to be portrayed. Unless the interviewer is a fashion designer, he or she probably won’t be impressed by excessive jewelry or shoes that are very fashion-forward but make your feet feel (and look) like they are in a torture chamber.

In fact, while presentation is key, so is looking comfortable and confident. Two reasons for this: 1) You are already going to be nervous, why add to it?, and 2) No company is looking for an applicant who is not even comfortable in her own clothes. The last thing you want to do is project your discomfort when you have more important information to impart.

Tip Two: Even if the Job is Informal, the Interview is Not

Let’s face it, we live in an informal business casual-type world these days, but even if the company or job for which you are applying has an informal dress code, that doesn’t mean your interview attire should follow suit. For one, you don’t have the job yet and not only will an outfit that is too relaxed look presumptuous, it will look unprofessional. A human resources expert once told me that a company expects someone’s dress to decline by 30% once they get the job. If you show up already underdressed, that does not bode well for your expected professional attire of the future. Whereas if you wear an outfit that includes a jacket you can always remove the jacket to create a more relaxed feel.Barbara Corcoran in fact had an example in the article of a young woman whose attire was below the mark for a babysitter interview. After all, she was theoretically going to be entrusting her daughter to this person and wanted to feel comfortable and safe with her decision. Being too casual does not inspire confidence. If she was taken aback by the look of potential babysitters, imagine the reaction when you wear an inappropriate outfit to a company?

To make sure you hit the mark for any job interview consider this before choosing your outfit: “How I look provides the first impression I will make to this company. What do I want that impression to be?” Then, keep in mind that your appearance includes more than the clothes you wear. If you have unruly hair or hair that requires a little extra maintenance (I can speak to this because that’s exactly what my hair requires!), be sure you allow enough time to style it in a way that allows you to breathe a sigh of relief when it’s done (again, I can identify!). If it helps, have your stylist blow it dry the day before. As a friend once said to me, “When you’re having a bad hair day nothing else matters.”

Perhaps that’s a bit of an over-statement, but I can attest to there being at least a smidgen of truth to it. The last thing you want to do during an interview is fuss with your hair or worry about it. And, of course that is true for the outfit you choose as well. In each case, take preemptive steps and you will be happy you did.

Tip Three: Remember to Be Yourself!

Remember, you are the person they selected for the interview, which means they want to meet you. Make sure the outfit you choose truly reflects your personality and doesn’t just meet the mark of acceptable. This will help you stand out in a good way. It is only then that you will fully resonate the confidence of an individual that can take on any task and job. (This is a very big topic and one I address in depth with each of my clients. For more on this [and to get the ball rolling], check out my book, ‘That’s So You! Create a Look You Love with Beauty, Style and Grace.’)

You can also take a cue from Diane. Except for a few fit issues, her ‘before’ outfit is okay. It’s gray and black which work well in a more conservative field, but the outfit does absolutely nothing to express who Diane is—what makes her unique. I work in depth with each of my clients to find her 4 inner beauty words that express what makes her special. A few of Diane’s inner beauty words are ‘delicate, natural beauty’ and ‘independent.’ Do you see anything in the before picture that expresses that? No! But, in the after picture, she is still professionally dressed AND exudes self-confidence because she is being true to herself. It’s a win-win.

Bonus: If you Must Get Something New, Then Get Comfortable

If you must get a new outfit, consider wearing it around the house before the interview, this will allow your body (and spirit) to get used to the new outfit before you walk into that conference room. In fact, this simple exercise will make you increasingly more comfortable on the big day as well as give you a phenomenal boost of confidence as a new outfit should. Plus, you will avoid potentially embarrassing situations such as a skirt being a bit too short when you sit down or wobbling in heels that are too high or a bad fit.

Bottom Line: Know Thy Audience but also Know Thyself

While an interview is definitely not a time to wear that T-shirt that feels to you like a security blanket, it is just as much not a time to try anything new that your body or skin has not yet had the chance to get used to. Anything too foreign has the potential to make you feel out of sorts or like an imposter or cause problems (such as a skin reaction) that will not help your composure and self-confidence the day of the interview.

Just as you prepare for what you will say during the interview, feeling confidently prepared for how you will present yourself visually will give you a competitive edge. The ultimate purpose of an interview is to put your best foot forward in all ways and to do so with confidence and in full expression of who you are. Go in with no regrets and allow the best of you to shine through.

(Ginger Burr is a fashion stylist and personal shopper serving clients worldwide from metro Boston. Visit


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