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What Not To Wear To A Job Interview

What Not To Wear To A Job Interview

Figuring out what to wear to a job interview can be a tricky thing. There’s the standard advice of “dressing for the job you want,” always wearing a suit, and never being underdressed. However, in this day and age of cool startups and relaxed dress codes, it can be equally off-putting for your interviewer if you show up overdressed. A suit in a sea of jeans and t-shirts can make everyone a bit uncomfortable, and it can also make the company feel like you wouldn’t be a good culture fit.

Obviously, there are some lines that just shouldn’t be crossed. Even if a company has the most lax dress code in the world, I’d still never advise showing up to a job interview in a crop top and short shorts. There’s casual, and there’s inappropriate.

As a general rule, here are lines we wouldn’t recommend crossing in an interview:

-Yoga pants, hot pants, cut-offs, short shorts, or miniskirts
-Flip flops
-Crop tops or any midriff-baring shirts
-Shirts that show a bunch of cleavage
-White tank tops (usually known by a much more colorful name)
-Clothes that are obviously stained or ripped
-Sheer tops (unless there’s a tank top under it. No one wants to see your bra.)
-Shirts or dresses that reveal a lot of your back
-Torn, wrinkled, or dirty clothing

Some of these are acceptable when you’re hired (if your company’s dress code allows), such as wearing a hoodie. However, for a job interview, please err on the side of caution. In the words of a very smart man: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

If you’re stuck on what to wear when your interviewers tell you not to overdress, there are some good compromises to be had. Think ‘smart casual’:

-Wear a t-shirt or white button-down, nice jeans, and a sports jacket on top.
-Wear khakis or dress pants with a button-down dress shirt, no jacket, no tie.
-Choose a nice polo shirt, and pair it with slacks.
-Layer a sweater over a dress shirt, and throw on some nice jeans.
-Dress shoes. Always dress shoes. Please don’t show up in sneakers or flip-flops.

Smart Casual - What Not To Wear To A Job Interview

For women, there are good options as well:

-A more conservative dress (ie, longer sleeves, longer cut – think: knee, not thigh).
-A blouse or sweater with a longer skirt or pants.
-Jeans, a nice blouse, and a blazer on top.
-Dressy flats, boots, or heels – no flip-flops.

Smart Casual for Women - What Not To Wear To A Job Interview

I asked the recruiters here, and some of my friends in hiring positions, what the worst job interview attire they’d ever seen was. While some are hilarious, they also beg the question: How on earth did these candidates think this was appropriate dress?


1. At a prior position, I once had a candidate do a video interview with me. He was wearing a very nice pressed suit, black tie, and a 6 inch mohawk. I asked him “Do you normally have that?” and he said “Yeah, it’s part of me.” We loved him – he was very sharp. Unfortunately, he was not a good fit for our conservative client. -Brandon F., Full Stack Talent

2. I had a candidate show up to an in-person interview with me, after I had told him to dress up, in a hoodie and jeans. He argued with me for about 20 minutes about whether he considered this appropriate interview dress, only to finally admit that he dressed like this because “his friends work here and that’s what they wear.” The highlight of that interview was when I point-blank asked him “is a hoodie ‘dressing up’?” and he responded “IT’S A DRESS SWEATER!” -Matt V., Full Stack Talent

3. I had a candidate show up to an interview at an emergency monitoring station wearing jean cut-offs. They weren’t short shorts, but you could definitely tell they were homemade. As horrible as their attire choice was, we still decided to give them a shot. Turns out they were just as unprepared for the interview. -David S.

4. I interviewed a candidate for an Advisor position at an online school. He wore a long-sleeved button-down shirt and tie, that was not tucked into… his gym shorts. Straight up gym shorts. I honestly think he was doing the interview to make someone happy, but wanted to blow it. -Ryan M.

5. A remote candidate I sent in for an interview for a well-paying job wore clogs and carried a Hello Kitty backpack. At the time, I was a commissioned tech recruiter, and was mortified by this incident. In person, at my conservative Corporate America company, I have seen: someone who had just done lawn work (complete with Fresh Cut Grass smell), rumpled clothes that looked like they were picked up off of a frat house floor, and band t-shirts with cargo shorts. -Kristie S.

Hello Kitty - What Not To Wear To A Job Interview

I bet it was this one…

6. A candidate I sent to a professional firm showed up to his interview in a very sweaty grey tracksuit. He aced the technical assessment we had sent him, so we were a bit surprised when the client told us that. Needless to say, he did not get the job. -Anonymous

7. I invited someone to interview for an entry level customer service phone job, and they arrived wearing a full tracksuit. -Chris S.

8. I had a candidate show up to their job interview in a tank top and flip-flops. This was for a customer service position at Publix. They did not get the job. -Celine D.

9. I interviewed a woman for a teacher position at a local school. She arrived in yoga pants and heels. Yoga pants and heels. Yoga pants and heels. For a teacher job. -Jennifer S.

10. For real, worst I saw was torn-up, used shirt and pants… basically work clothes as if he already got the job and couldn’t afford fresher, more respectable clothing. Guy got the job because we were desperate, ended up working less than an hour and left. The job was in transportation. Tow truck driver. He didn’t even get to actually drive the truck. -Jason G.

I guess something is better than nothing

11. I did a remote interview with someone over Skype. The poor candidate was under the impression it was audio-only and was shirtless. I asked him if he knew I could see him. He freaked out and quickly put a shirt on, apologizing profusely. Candidates, please make sure you wear something to your interview. -Brandon F., Full Stack Talent

From the other side

1. I once wore a ridiculously oversized suit to a job interview. Not as a joke or anything, I just really wasn’t aware of how ridiculous it looked. Still got the job though, so I guess it worked at the time. -Ryne P.

2. Once I stopped at a gas station for coffee or something while on the way to a job interview. I snagged my pant leg on a shelf inside the gas station and ripped a half-foot tear down mid-thigh. I did not have time to go home to get another suit. I went to the interview and always kept kind of turned away from whomever I was speaking to. They were none the wiser, however, I was passed over for another candidate because I was overqualified. -Lance O.

It’s all fun and games til a tracksuit gets hurt

Firstly, what’s with all the tracksuits? And why?!

Secondly, as I said before, err on the side of caution. Sure, if you get hired, you can go full casual if your dress code allows it – but even if you’re told not to wear a suit at the interview, don’t show up in gym shorts quite yet – or in a tracksuit. Go smart casual. First impressions do matter, after all.

Roxanne Williams is the Marketing Director at Full Stack Talent, a technology staffing agency in Tampa, FL. Find her LinkedIn here.