‘Dress for the job you want’, so the old saying goes. It makes a lot of sense – within certain parameters. Dressing appropriately for a formal interview really does matter, and there’s an art to getting it right. No sense bowling into a creative office in a double-breasted pinstriped suit, or wearing a louche Neapolitan blazer and chinos into a stiff corporate environment, either.
If you’ve got an interview on the horizon any time soon, I’d suggest keeping these three basic rules in mind:
1. Find out the company’s dress code and stick to it. It’s important you understand whether the dress code for your prospective role is formal business dress, or smart-casual. The former and you know you’re looking for a two-piece suit and tie, the latter, and you might be able to wear something more relaxed; say a navy blazer and tan chinos with an open-collar shirt.
2. Work within a traditional colour palette, even in summer. Your interview clothes should help you to look put-together, switched-on and sharp – but they mustn’t distract from you, or the impression you make. So, no loud colours, and absolutely no pastels. Stick to mid-grey and charcoal, proper navy, a white or sky blue dress shirt and quiet accessories in olive, navy or burgundy. Also remember to match your shoes, belt and watch-strap in dark brown or polished black leather.
3. For the same reason, avoid bold stripes or fruity patterns. If you want to look sophisticated, but understated, choose something tailored in a softly textured cloth. If you were paying attention last week, here’s hoping you absorbed my all-time golden rule: softly textured tailoring is more modern, wearable and infinitely cooler than anything in a bright colour, or featuring a loud pattern for the sake of it.
Let’s face it, no one wears insurance-man pinstripes any more – even in the city – so its time to get with the programme. These five further pointers should help, too.
1. Textured tailoring is in
Have I made my point yet? Look no further than this for a polished interview suit. A new season design from Gieves & Hawkes, this trim two-piece is cut in a smooth, lightweight virgin wool with the subtlest check you could wish for, so it’ll help you both look and feel cool under questioning. It’s half-canvassed, too, meaning the jacket’s chest is constructed using in the traditional fashion with carefully cut and padded layers of natural horsehair, to lend it a soft, natural, and supportive shape. The peaked lapels are sharp (but not too brash for an interview), and the cut is otherwise suitably classic. Plus, as you can see, when you’re interview’s over, swap shirt and tie for a crewneck and you’ve got yourself a mean evening look, too.
£995, shop now
2. Keep your shirt simple and make sure the collar’s stiff
The objective here is to look polished, so pulling an old, much-washed and worn shirt from the back of the closet isn’t a smart move. Instead, visit a shirtmaker that specialises in classic formal dress shirts – and pick something timeless. This mid-blue dress shirt from British shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser is perfect. It’s slim fitting, clean cut and the ‘end-on-end’ fabric has just enough surface interest. T&A’s collars are suitably stiff, too – so they’ll sit comfortably with a tie, or stay standing on the neck if you choose to leave the collar open.
£195, shop now
3. Choose a tie that’s dark and plain
A first interview isn’t the place to wear your favourite printed tie. Instead, stick to the rules and wear something dark, elegant and with a soft texture that’ll complement your tailoring. In a distinctive dark red, this hand-rolled silk tie from Drake’s is just the job. It’s woven from tussah silk (a Drake’s favourite), which brings with it a linen-like, chalky hand, and a slubby surface texture. It’s less brash and and more formal than a knitted tie – perfect then for making the right impression. It also pairs comfortably with both navy and grey suits. (Note the crisp white Charvet shirt, too, a smart alternative to the above).
£135, shop now
4. Cheap shoes are the ruin of a sharp suit
How many times have you seen an otherwise crisp look let down by naff footwear? I don’t care what anybody tells you, black patent winkle-pickers are not acceptable attire for an interview – or in fact in general. Instead, make sure you’re wearing some elegant English-made footwear, with proper welted soles. Also think about whether you should be in lace-ups, or loafers. Either can be appropriate, depending upon the formality of the office. If in doubt, opt for classic double-monstraps, which bridge the gap between formal and casual just so. Plus, if you buy a rather swish pair like these, from Crockett & Jones, they’ll show-off just a touch of personality, but in the right way.
5. Business-casual is a thing, but make sure you’re not too casual
Of course, if you’re not walking into a corporate environment, then the shirt and tie might be a touch too stuffy. Even so, when interpreting a ‘smart-casual’ or ‘creative’ dress code, it’s important to still make a composed first impression. This look (another hats-off to Mr Porter moment), ticks all the right boxes. This unstructured suit from P. Johnson is less formal than the above from Gieves & Hawkes, cut in informal cotton corduroy, and it works well as a blazer worn with chinos, too. Camoshita’s grandad collar shirt still feels reasonably smart in striped cotton poplin, but takes some of the tradition out of a classic dress shirt, and dark mahogany chunky brogues set the look off a treat.
When it comes to your own interview, keep these tips in mind and put something like this together, and you’ll have a foot in the door before you open your mouth. The rest, as they say, is up to you.