Many people wonder if dresses are appropriate for interviews when picking out an outfit for their big day, which is stressful enough without worrying what to wear.
As a former senior recruitment consultant, here is my best advice on wearing dresses for interviews, so you can be as prepared as possible to make a good first impression on your potential employer.
Are Dresses Appropriate for Interviews?
A dress is an appropriate clothing choice for an interview when tailored to the dress code of the company you will be interviewing for. For example, if the company has a professional corporate culture, wear a conservative, well-tailored suit dress of a good quality material, in a simple colour.
Dresses make an excellent choice for interviews of all kinds, as they are a versatile clothing item available in endless colours and styles. In this article I will cover which types of dresses work best for different interview styles, and what to look for when pairing your dresses to other items of clothing and accessories.
How to Choose an Interview Appropriate Dress
Here is what you need to take into consideration when choosing a dress for an interview:
- Dress style – what neckline does your dress have? Is it an appropriate style for an interview?
- Dress colour – bold colours or prints may be more difficult to style
- Dress length – you should avoid short dresses and opt for a more conservative length
- Dress sleeves – what style sleeves does your dress have, if any? Will you need to cover your shoulders, wear a cardigan or jacket?
You will also need to consider the time of year, and whether your dress is an appropriate choice for the season:
- If it is spring or summer you should choose a dress that falls below the knee if you are leaving your legs bare, but avoid maxi-style dresses as they may look too casual.
- In fall or winter you can wear a dress that falls to the knee if you like, as you can pair it with tights for a more conservative look.
The dress will need to pair well with office wear shoes, you may need to match it to a blazer or a smart jacket and you will need to decide which accessories will suit it best.
It is very important to understand the type of company you will be interviewing for, and how to dress accordingly to their specific dress code.
Some companies may let you know what their dress-code is when they invite you to interview, but if not, it’s always okay to ask so you can be as prepared as possible. If you are not able to ask, always assume the dress-code will be business professional, or at the very least business casual. It’s better to be overdressed and to show up looking smart, than to be under dressed and risk looking ill-prepared.
Here is a company dress-code guide, which may help you decide on which type of dress to wear for an interview.
Appropriate Dresses for Interviews Guide
Business Professional – Conservative, polished, professional
Choose a traditionally conservative dress that falls below the knee, is of a plain colour (black, grey, navy, brown, burgundy, a deep green) and is of a high quality material, e.g. suit material. The dress will need to look tailored and of a traditional silhouette. Avoid anything too form fitting, low-cut, brightly coloured/patterned or short hemmed or sleeved.
For bonus points add a matching blazer.
Business Casual – A mixture of polished and casual items
Choose a knee-length dress of a simple colour or pattern (avoid neon, but you can be more adventurous than plain black) and pair with a smart indoor jacket or tailored blazer.
Here is an example of how I style business casual, with a dress that brushes the knee, black tights, heeled boots and a polished tweed blazer:
Casual – Informal wear, but still polished
Depending on the dress-code of the company, opt for an informal dress, such as a relaxed shift dress or skater dress. Avoid overly short or low-cut dresses, and pair with semi-smart shoes, e.g. ankle boots.
You can get away with a lot more in terms of colour and print when dressing to a casual dress code, which is something to keep in mind when you choose your dress. A classy floral print, or a simple polka-dot would work really well. Avoid any overly eccentric prints or dresses that feature worded phrases, as these fall into the realm of ‘too casual’.
A good rule of thumb for choosing a dress that is the ‘right kind of casual’ for an office is to ask yourself the below:
Would I wear this to a beach?
Would I wear this to lounge around the house?
Would I wear this to walk my big, friendly (and sometimes muddy) dog?
If yes to any of the above, then the dress is ‘too casual’. Instead, if you would wear the dress on a nice daytime date, or to a nice barbeque with your significant other’s well-off family, then it should qualify as the ‘right kind of casual’.
Here is how I would style a casual, mid-length sleeved floral dress in an office environment, with tights, heeled smart boots and a simple handbag:
Zoom Interview – Formal top half, casual bottom half
Choose a dress with a conservative neckline and focus on the top half of the body that will be seen via webcam. Avoid distracting flashy patterns or bright colours when on camera, especially zig zag or grained print that may interfere with the webcam image.
If you are not going to be standing up during the interview then the bottom half of the dress won’t matter; for example if you have a beautifully smart dress with a tailored neckline that runs a little short on the legs, that will be fine to wear.
Adding a blazer will give your outfit a more put-together and smart edge, and will show your potential employer that you are taking the interview seriously, and dressing your best, despite it being over webcam.
As a former senior recruitment consultant that would sometimes interview candidates over webcam, you would be surprised when I tell you just how many people won’t make as much of an effort with their appearance if the interview is not in person. Once I had a lady show up in her pyjamas, although to give her credit I’m not sure she realised she would have to be on camera – always read your interview conditions!
Group Interview – Professional yet stand-out
Choose a professional, well-tailored dress of a good material and you will naturally stand-out from the group as a polished candidate. Avoid bright colours, instead keep it simple and focus on quality.
If you are in-front of a panel of interviewers, a well put together outfit will help you stand out in a group as an individual who takes pride in their appearance and understands how to dress for a professional job.
Top tip: always take a spare pair of tights with you to an interview stashed in your handbag, in case of any unexpected snags or tears made during the commute in the pair you are wearing!
Good quality fabric, such as suit material, tightly spun wool (hard wearing and expensive), tweed and more affordable yet polished looking nylon polyamide fibres, will always appear more expensive and professional when compared to cheaper fabrics. Keep this in mind when selecting a dress for a group interview, to ensure your clothing is a cut-above the other candidates.
If you’re a fellow pinner (hello!) I have included the above dress code guide in a pin format for you to share/save for later:
I hope you enjoyed this article on ‘are dresses appropriate for interviews’ and you now feel confident to choose a dress for any upcoming or future interviews you may have.
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Lorna is a footwear geek and the founder of Wearably Weird. She created a YouTube channel in 2021 for fellow footwear fanatics, dedicated to detail-rich footwear reviews and info. She has a fashion media qualification (awarded in 2011).