There was the woman with three-inch bright yellow nails interviewing for a data entry position. There was the man with so much dog hair on his pants he triggered the interviewer’s allergies. Ask around, and you’re sure to hear more than a few hair-raising (and hair unbrushed) stories of bizarre interview attire. But more and more you’ll also hear stories of people who are simply confused. What do you wear for an interview at an office where those doing the interviewing are in pajama pants? What do you do when given the advice to dress “upscale slutty” for an interview in the fashion world? Yes, it’s a true story.

With today’s office wear running the gamut from shorts and flip flops to full suits, what to wear on an interview can be a complicated choice. Yet many interviewers desperate to find something to distinguish between two qualified candidates fall back on clothing choice as an expression of interest in the job, or even character.

A few basic pieces of advice, such as found in articles like this, still apply. The most important being:

  1. Grooming is important. Brush your hair, make sure your clothes are clean and free of pet hair and holes. Limit the amount of perfume or cologne you wear.
  2. Expensive doesn’t equal appropriate. Different things are appropriate for different occasions. Just because your pre-ripped jeans cost more than a suit, doesn’t mean they’re appropriate to wear on an interview. What you wear to a mimosa-filled brunch on Sunday is not the same thing you wear to a job interview on Monday.
  3. Research the office culture, and consider the position. If you’re interviewing for a client-facing position at an office with a formal culture, you’ll want to keep your tattoos hidden. On the other hand, if you’re interviewing for a creative position at a casual office, you don’t want to show up in a grey suit. Use the company’s website and “about us” photos to get an idea of office culture, and don’t be afraid to ask the person scheduling the interview.
  4. Accidents happen. We’ve heard stories of people who spilled food just before an interview, broke a heel in the middle of a day-long interview, or got a huge run in their hose. If the mistake is obvious and distracting (a large stain on your shirt, hobbling in broken shoes), your best call is to explain it in a joking manner and show your grace under pressure.

Those on the other side of the desk may also want to remove some of the anxiety by being upfront about office culture and clothing expectations.  Make sure to tell the candidate ahead of time what the office attire is like.  If a candidate does show up inappropriately dressed, before ruling her out, take a moment to consider if it’s reasonable to assume that her clothing choice is a misunderstanding, as opposed to a lapse in judgment or an expression of disinterest in the job. Especially for entry-level candidates, who may not own a nice interview outfit, you may want to place more focus on how the person handles themselves versus what they’re wearing.

Do you have an interview outfit dying to be worn? Check out our job board.

Looking for a few sharp-dressed candidates for your open positions? We’d love to hear from you.