People holding shopping bags

Let’s be honest, “formalwear” doesn’t have the same meaning to it now as it did ten years ago. 

The new generation that’s coming into play seems to have let their hair down and the guidelines on what’s smart and what’s not have become blurred.  However, let me just say this: the people with the hiring power tend to have a very strict and traditional opinion on what attire should be worn in an office and to an interview. So that’s definitely something you need to keep in mind. And you may be thinking “but I’m not going to be working in an office”.

Okay fine – say you’re working on a construction site or in a care home, the interviewer still wants to know that you look and that you are professional so that when you’re representing the company offsite, you can show that you take pride in the company as well as your work.

Looking professional does wonders for your credibility. Anyway, let’s dive straight in, shall we?

Let’s take it from the top

And I mean that literally. Choosing a strong top is essential to standing out.

No T-shirts, no vest tops, no hoodies. You need to play it safe and wear a shirt or a blouse. For me, the safest colours to go for are whites or blues. Boring, right? Not at all.

You need to consider the fact that you need to fit in and look smart; if you look confident and feel confident then you’re bound to radiate confidence too. 

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t stand out, because you should. But you can stand out with things such as accessories that’ll help you dress your outfit up a bit (we’ll get to that later). 

And gents, I definitely advise that you wear a tie. Not doing so will make you look relaxed, and like you’re potentially not taking things seriously. A tie can do so much, it’s almost like it holds your appearance together – similar to finishing a present with a ribbon. It’ll help you to look sharp, confident and most of all like you take pride in your appearance. 

Ladies – you might be thinking “what if I want to wear a dress?” and that is a great question. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to wear a dress, but I think it can be depending on what kind you choose to wear.

Let’s keep it traditional – just above the knee, tailored and plain. You might do well to look in shops such as Next for dresses that are suitable for an interview, or for work in general (if you’re working in an office).

To anyone wearing menswear, Next do some pretty decent, fair-priced suits too so perhaps get yourself into your local one and try a few on.

The lower half

No jeans. Absolutely no jeans.

You should be dressing to impress in your interview, not dressing to sit casually and hope for the best. Both men and women I’d advise to wear suit trousers. Again, try to wear the tailored kind so that they fit your body image a bit better, but try on different types and see what looks best.

You’re not there to flaunt your assets, so don’t get any that are so tight you can’t breathe – you need to be comfortable enough to spend from an hour up to a full day with your interviewer.

Plus, if you’re wearing trousers there is less chance that you’re going to nip to the loo and get the back end of your dress/skirt caught in your knickers… That’s never a good look.

If you do decide to wear a dress or a skirt, again just keep it plain and simple. It’s better to be too long than too short and just keep in mind that if you do go to the toilet then you should be cautious about walking around with a bit more on show than you thought.

Trousers, though, are weatherproof and are great for hiding any tattoos that you might have on your legs (yes, still be cautious about this, I know it’s 2019).

Slipping on the socks and shoes

Right, it’s almost never a good idea to wear socks when your legs are exposed (apart from those skin coloured tight-like things that women can get specifically for smart, flat shoes).

So if you’re not wearing a suit, you can skip over this one.

If you are, then you need to match your socks with something such as your shirt, jacket or tie. This is because whenever you sit down your trousers ride up, leaving your socks exposed to the world. That means you don’t want to be wearing your best Christmas trees on your socks when it’s the middle of June. Keep it simple. That is of course unless you relate to this story, but the odds of that are kind of slim.

Now, shoes are a similar story.

You don’t want to be wearing anything funky, and you most definitely shouldn’t be wearing trainers. Did you get that? NO TRAINERS. You should be wearing smart, comfortable shoes that you can walk around in happily.

I’d actually advise wearing a pair you currently own (if in good condition) or breaking a new pair in a little bit so that you know you’ll be comfortable should you have to go on a tour around an office or a site.

Flats are a good shout, but if you do choose to wear heels then make them sensible. Oh, and if you do decide to wear a pair you already own, make sure you polish them! There’s nothing worse than spotting a grubby pair of footwear trudging through the office.

The finishing touches

Let’s go through a few things here: makeup, hair, jewellery and tattoos.

First up – makeup.

Do not cake yourself in foundation, don’t “contour” (is that what they call it?) the life out of your face, don’t wear bright eyeshadow, and don’t wear crazy lipstick.

Like the rest of your outfit, you want to look nice but you also want to look professional. 

Make sure your foundation matches your skin tone, and make sure you blend it into your neck because streaks are extremely off-putting. The rest of your makeup should be minimal and natural – you’re not going on a night out.

Next – hair.

For those with short or shaved hair, don’t use wet-looking wax. The last thing you want to do is go into the interview looking greasy. Consider using hairspray instead and keep your hair kempt. 

Medium to long hair you may want to consider wearing down. Again, just make sure you keep it tidy and not with strands flying everywhere.  Try a couple of different styles and ask for feedback from your family/friends.


As I said, you can jazz your outfit up a bit to make yourself stand out. The way to do this is to wear a fancy tie or perhaps a nice necklace if you’re wearing a blouse. 

I’d recommend wearing a watch in case you need to check the time, but maybe keep it digital/analogue and not a SmartWatch. Smart Watches can be quite off-putting if they go off, and in my eyes it’s like having your phone out during the interview… It’s best just to avoid that situation.

If you’re going to wear earrings then keep them as small studs, don’t go walking into an interview with huge hoops swinging either side of your face. Let’s be honest, they don’t really scream “professional”.

Lastly – tattoos.

Finally, tattoos. I’m a business owner and we have multiple people plastered head to toe in intricate tattoos – it makes absolutely no difference to us. However, that’s not to say that others would feel the same.

A good friend of mine is very stuck in old, traditional ways and thinks poorly of tattoos. He will not hire someone if he sees a blatantly visible tattoo, and although it’s a poor way of thinking, that’s just how he is. 

With that in mind, it’s best to keep all tattoos covered as much as possible, you really don’t want to run the risk of not getting the job just because of an opinion someone else has on them. Also, if you have any offensive/graphic tattoos then definitely cover them up. You never know who you might offend and you really don’t want to be burning any bridges at this stage.


Overall, you’re looking for a plain, smart and professional look. And remember, comfort is just as important as anything else.

Just to completely throw everything I’ve said out of the window, though… if a company approaches you and tells you what to wear to an interview, then definitely follow their guidelines. As more and more Millennials are starting their own businesses, it’s much more common to be invited to interview in casual clothes.  Just keep in mind that if this does happen, you don’t want to wear t-shirts with offensive logos and you should still aim to look clean, sharp and professional.

Apart from that, the next thing that you need to consider is how you’re going to answer the interview questions. 

Honestly, the best thing I can recommend is to watch this video: The 10 Most Common Job Interview Questions And How To Answer Them. Or check out the interview tips here.  Hopefully, it’ll hold you in good stead for your interview and you’ll be ready to tackle any questions they throw at you.

Best of luck!


Mark is one of the founders of Coburg Banks and heads up the permanent recruitment division of the business.  Every day he helps companies with their recruitment projects, sourcing the very best individuals for their vacancies.  He understands recruitment and job seeking inside-out.

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