What not to wear for an interview

Top-to-toe tips for professional women

This article is for women who haven’t been to an interview for a while. Women have more leeway with clothes in the workplace than men, which is good in one way, but leaves you with many more options to weigh up. An impending interview can bring out the image-conscious in all of us. The most confident woman in the world can be found on the phone asking ‘Peep-toe wedgies? What do you think?’

Not many of us can put our hands on our hearts and say ‘I really don’t care’. If you don’t, then you won’t be reading this. Most of us do care, and with good reason. Like it or not, the first impression you make is visual. That image is an expression of yourself, and it takes some shifting if you present yourself badly.
Appropriate interview-wear changes as fashion changes. Twenty years ago, a professional woman wouldn’t go to an interview wearing a round-necked top under a suit. Anything but a blouse with a collar seemed daringly casual. Yes, it’s true!

Decide in advance

There are three things to consider carefully when you’re deciding what to wear:

  • What is appropriate for the position you are being interviewed for
  • What feels right and as comfortable as possible for you
  • The image you want to present.

The trick is to balance them. The result will be unique to you, so you may decide to disregard some of the tips here. Six-inch heels may be perfectly in keeping and comfortable for one woman but agonising, if not dangerous, for another.


Get the whole outfit ready the night before.  Make sure everything is clean (including footwear) and ironed. Don’t be tempted to chop and change on the day – a classic stress response – you have too much else to think about. Remind yourself that you made the decisions while of sound mind!

  • Underwear

Don’t wear anything too tight. Body-sculpting all-in-ones are great if you’re used to them, but if you’re not, you may be uncomfortable, fidgety, breathless and hot.

  • Hair

Have it cut and styled beforehand if it makes you feel good, but don’t change your style. Ten to one you won’t like it! Make sure the back looks as good as the front and take a brush and mirror with you.

  • Makeup and perfume

Make up as you normally do and don’t change your brands. Nerves make your skin extra-sensitive and you could break out in a nasty rash. Not a good look!
Don’t give yourself a confidence-boosting squirt of perfume just before you go in. You won’t be able to smell it as strongly as other people can and you risk overpowering the interview panel.

  • Jewellery, accessories and piercings

You can express your personality with jewellery and accessories to some extent, but stay within reasonable limits. Too much jingle-jangle-dangle can distract the interviewers. You’ll be referred to as ‘the one with the jewellery’ and not much else. It’s also as well to remove face piercing jewellery, if you can. Don’t wear sunglasses on the top of your head and remember to remove headphones.

  • Tops

Avoid plunging necklines and never show your midriff. Cleavages or a bare stomachs, however gloriously toned, are no-no.

  • A suit or a jacket?

Always wear a jacket. Nowadays it’s not necessary to wear a suit if you’re a woman, although a good suit is a safe option. Just don’t imagine that the beautiful mauve silk suit with a peplum that you wore for a wedding last summer will do. Wear it in an office environment and you’ll look like a birthday cake. It must be businesslike.

  • Skirt or trousers?

Either is fine. Make sure the skirt is not too short or too see-through and floaty. Trousers need to be smart and not too tight or too low-slung. Your interviewer does not want a view of your thong as you bend to pick up your bag when you leave. Avoid clamdiggers and pedal pushers and don’t even think about shorts unless they are part of a culottes-type tailored suit. Just say no to denim of any kind – either as a skirt or trousers. Step away from patch pockets and wild patterns, too.

  • Tights or bare legs?

There was a time when bare legs were frowned on but there’s nothing wrong, now, with flashing a good pair of tanned pins in the summer. Tights are a must in the winter with a skirt, but give bold patterns a miss. Take a spare pair in your bag. And you can never get away with wearing pop socks. However long your skirt is, you can only hide that unpleasant elastic-flesh-knee combo if you’re standing still and upright in front of your mirror at home.

  • Shoes

Boots?  Wedgies? Ballet pumps? Open toes?  The choice is endless, and it’s up to you to decide what looks best with your outfit. If it’s an issue and you want to play safe, go for the plainest, most comfortable pair of shoes or boots that you have and avoid open toes, mile-high heels and espadrilles.

  • Put it all together

Once you’ve decided what to wear, put the outfit together and ask yourself:

  • Is this the image I want to present?
  • Does anything leap out and overshadow the whole look?
  • Am I comfortable with it?

If you aren’t sure, ask someone you trust.