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Professional Attire Webster University | Career Planning & Development Center

Appropriate professional attire can help you make a positive first impression in an interview or networking situation. Whether you shop at a department store, a thrift shop, or in your own closet, plan your outfit well in advance of an interview or other special professional event.

Occasions for Professional Attire

Most individuals put some thought into what they wear every day, but you may want to pay extra attention to your attire when you have an internship, job, or graduate school interview or when you're attending a networking event such as a career fair, professional association meetings, informational interview, or speaker event.

Levels of Formality

In the workplace, dress code standards vary widely. When attending a networking event or interview, align your attire to the careers, organizations, or industries you're pursuing.

For an interview, a general approach is to ascertain the day-to-day dress code for the organization's work environment and then dress a bit more formally for the interview. For example, if the organization's daily dress code is casual (jeans and t-shirts), you can wear business casual attire to the interview. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and dress more conservatively.

Business Casual

Business casual clothing usually includes dress pants or skirts, collared shirts or modest blouses, and closed-toe shoes. Because business casual dress is frequently selected by organizations as the day-to-day dress code, individuals can be flexible with the type of fabric, color, and patterns of the clothing selected.

Examples of business casual attire

Business Professional

Business professional usually includes a two-piece suit, collared shirt or modest blouse, and closed-toe shoes. Business professional attire is recommended in more formal professional settings and when interacting with organizations that favor this dress code.

Examples of business professional attire

Completing Your Outfit

After selecting the main components of your outfit, choose functional, complementary pieces to polish your look.

Accessories

Accessories should be limited but could include a tie, a scarf, a watch, or other small jewelry. If wearing a belt, choose a simple style and color that coordinates with your outfit. Avoid jewelry that makes noise so as not to distract from your conversation.

Examples of accessories

Shoes

Shoes should be clean, polished, and comfortable. If wearing pumps, choose a lower heel. Select a color and design that coordinates with your outfit.

Examples of shoes

Portfolios/Bags

If applicable, carry a professional portfolio or padfolio to hold pens, paper, and copies of application materials and work samples. If you carry a bag, choose a subdued color and design that coordinates with your outfit.

Examples of portfolios and bags

Other Considerations

Grooming

Keep your appearance professional through neat grooming, natural hair and nail color, and toned down makeup. Make sure that your outfit is free of wrinkles, stains, holes, or tears.

Body Modifications

Consider whether to cover exposed tattoos or piercings based on the situation. For instance, if interviewing at an organization with a more formal work culture and business professional dress code, you might choose to cover tattoos or remove piercings.

Fit

Your clothing should fit comfortably for the pace of the event and should not require you to make adjustments. Test the fit of your clothing while standing and sitting. It should neither be too loose nor too tight. Select your attire early so that you can have it tailored if needed.

Value

If you want to get the most out of your professional attire, invest in basics like pants and a jacket in a classic style and color (navy, grey, or black) that can be worn in a variety of situations and can coordinate with many other clothing items. Mix in different shirts and accessories over time to build your professional wardrobe options.

For additional resources, explore the Career Planning & Development Center's website.

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