Dressing for Success

by A Guest

Whether you like it or not, books are judged by their covers

You may resent having to misrepresent who you are to get a job; this is quite justified. This is exactly how some people feel about dressing up for an interview – that it can be perceived as a misrepresentation. They are, however, mistaken.

While the rules of formality are slowly softening, you no longer have to wear a tie to a wedding, for instance, it is still important to project an air of professionalism at a job interview. The best way to do this is through your choice of clothing. People do make judgements based on appearances, even if they do not realise it. In Blink Malcolm Gladwell explains beautifully how, when it comes to making decisions, the subconscious mind is miles ahead of the conscious mind. So, when you see a man in a suit the thought “successful professional” has already been embedded before you even get the chance to consciously remind yourself not to judge by appearances.

Err on the side of formal

It is preferable to arrive for an interview dressed more formally than your interviewers. If you arrive in jeans and a button up shirt and they are wearing suits with ties, the entire interview is excruciating. If they are wearing jeans and shirts and you are wearing a suit at least you still look and feel professional and they know you are taking this job seriously.

For men, suit pants, a collared shirt and a jacket are generally the best option. If you are entering a more formal environment a tie is a good idea, as well. For women, formal slacks or skirt with a collared blouse and a jacket are wise. High heels are a good idea but not too high, there is a fine line between professional formal and cocktail formal. For both sexes a jacket is a good idea. Keep your colour scheme simple; stick to dark and neutral colours. This is generally true for both sexes but the rule is a bit more lenient for women.

The dress code will differ depending on what industry you are entering. It is not a bad idea to scout out the offices a bit before the interview and check out the general dress code. Then arrive at the interview dressed slightly more formally than expected.

If you are straight out of university, it is probably best to go shopping for an entirely new outfit for your first job interview. The chances are good that nothing in your wardrobe will be formal enough.

You are looking for a job not a husband

Fortunately for women, the office no longer resembles the set of Mad Men. Women are, theoretically, hired for their expertise and not their looks. Sexual harassment in the office is taken very seriously, but that doesn’t mean that women aren’t still treated according to the men perceive their attire. Professional women's clothing designers have not quite caught onto this yet, so it remains difficult to find professional clothing that is flattering but not sexy. Test out a few outfits before making your final decision. If you are wearing a blouse, bend forward and check to see how low down the blouse drops; you do not want to lean over to pick something up only to realise the entire interview panel can see you are wearing Victoria's Secret. Wear your blouse around the house for a few hours; some smaller buttons have a tendency to undo themselves with body heat and movement. This is not something you would like to discover mid-interview.

If you are wearing a skirt sit on a couch and chat for an hour, try to move as much as possible, crossing and uncrossing your legs. Check where the skirt is sitting by the end of the hour. If it has crept up to your crotch, find another skirt.


Ensure that your interview clothes are professional and comfortable. It’s important that you feel confident, professional and comfortable in what you are wearing. This is not an excuse to wear anything. If you are only comfortable in T-shirts and jeans but you want to be a lawyer, you’d best start upgrading your wardrobe and learn to love suits.

This post was written by Natalie Simon, a Cape Town-based freelance writer. Natalie enjoys writing on a diverse range of topics, including the art of creating resumes and seeking job vacancies online.

This post was written by A Guest

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