Office culture transformation means widespread change across a high volume of variables, but when it comes to fashion, dressing for interviews in the post-Covid workplace has its own set of rules.
Whether virtual, hybrid or in-person, potential candidates and employees are dressing a bit more casually all across the board. To start your job search, you can create a free profile at ZipRecruiter.com to apply for jobs with just one click. Yet, the “Casualization,” or the concept that “dressing has become much more casual,” was a trend already underway pre-Covid, according to a McKinsey & Co. report, and the pandemic accelerated a sentiment that had been steadily brewing.
That means consumers have demonstrated an increased interest in athleisure, and as more casual office wear is expected, the athleisure market is set to reach $551 billion by 2025, growing by 25 percent, according to GlobalData.
While it seems we’re all leaning into this mass casualization both in the workplace and at home, it doesn’t necessarily extend to prospective new employees, or those within the interview process.
“When I started my agency in 1997, it was such a different time,” says Elizabeth Harrison, CEO and founder of H&S, who estimates that she’s interviewed hundreds of people at all different levels of management, from SVPs to interns. “I would say the expectation of how people show up for an interview has evolved. Being neat and well put together is still very important, but what’s changed is what connotes neat and put together is a lot wider now.”
This evolution of business casual, as well as our societal shift towards greater inclusivity, means that many offices, from corporate to creative, have thrown out a lot of the outdated rules in favor of new ones that reflect our collective push for awareness and acceptance.
“As bosses and CEOs, we’ve had to help educate our junior managers who are hiring for the first time about expanding their preconceived notion of what the “right” look is because it’s changed,” says Harrison. “Not everyone has access to a designer bag or they might be wearing something interesting by a designer that you’ve never heard of. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money to interview well, either; you can go to Zara or H&M for more affordable options.”
Casual Interview Outfits vs. Formal Interview Outfits
One of the first rules to nailing your interview outfit with a prospective company is not to look inside or rummage through your own closet, but rather try to gain an understanding of how the company views itself.
For example, take Harrison’s PR agency, which represents a mix of luxury fashion, spirits and lifestyle brands, and where creativity is not only encouraged, but seen as an asset.
“If you walk in and you look cute, chic and pulled together, and you’re wearing a cool baseball cap or streetwear, at least in advertising, marketing or PR, that would not be held against you,” she explains. “Now, if you were interviewing to work on brands that are very corporate, it might make me pause to think not that you don’t have the right style, but that you might not be the right candidate or have the right style for that particular job.”
To help guide your research, Harrison recommends taking a look at the company’s social media pages, especially their Instagram, but also their profile on ZipRecruiter.com is a great place to learn more about what they’re looking for in prospective new hires. Plus, candidates who are invited to apply to open positions are nearly three times as likely to get hired.
“I would start by checking out on Instagram what people are wearing at that company. What’s the CEO wearing? Or the creative director? Is their style corporate, business casual or casual?” she says, adding that you should be looking up not just the company, but their top execs, too, for an accurate snapshot of their workplace style. “Take your cues from what the culture is, because if they don’t wear jeans, then don’t show up to your interview in jeans — even if it’s jeans paired with a great blazer or jacket — because that shows you’re not paying attention to the culture, or who they are as a brand.”
From formal to business casual, this guide will help you navigate the world of dressing for an interview with tips of what to keep in mind, key pieces that mean business, and other helpful notes for dressing across roles and industries — plus all the “don’ts” to avoid. And once you pin down the dream interview wardrobe, head to ZipRecruiter, ranked the #1 job site in the U.S., to help you find your next opportunity.
What You Wear Reflects Your Personality
As our home and office lives merged during the pandemic, many employees and prospective new employees began to dress in a way that reflected their authentic selves, while still adhering to and respecting their workplace culture.
“First of all, you probably don’t want to work somewhere you can’t show up as who you are,” says Harrison. “I think you should show up as yourself, but you should think about how that is going to reflect on your personality and style.”
She recounts a recent faux pas made by her creative director, who wore a fashion-forward outfit of tailored shorts and a matching blazer, paired with a button down. “He looked super chic and appropriate for someone in his role of creative director, and we went to the client meeting, but the feedback we got was ‘how could you bring somebody to the meeting in shorts?’” and I couldn’t fault him for it; it was my judgment call.”
Virtual Interviews Are Still Interviews
Many interviews are still being conducted virtually, including at Harrison’s agency. Yet, that’s not an open invitation to take your attire down a notch on the style scale — it’s still important to show up as you would if it were an in-person meeting.
“I think as a result of Covid, people have gotten a whole lot more casual,” she says. “But I don’t think it’s a great idea to dress more casually for an interview just because it’s on Zoom. You can still tell when somebody’s put in a little bit of effort.”
Even if you take the business on top, party on the bottom, approach to dressing for virtual interviews, it’s crucial to continue to match your attire and style to what you believe the company expects of you.
The point is that you still made the effort, and it’s a sign of respect towards the person who has taken the time out of their day to interview you.
Dress for the Season
It can be difficult to know exactly what to wear to an interview if the temperature skyrockets to 95 degrees in the summer — or if you find yourself in the middle of a snowstorm the morning of your big meeting.
“Luckily, there are so many cute snow boots or other seasonally-appropriate and weather-proof accessories,” says Harrison. “I’m also a huge coat person. I think you can rock a great coat and always keep it on; a coat is a great statement piece that you can really make work for you.”
And while it may seem like there’s nothing to wear when it is an unforgiving 95 degrees outside, Harrison disagrees, saying that there are “plenty of linen dresses that are lightweight and chic,” and you could even wear a top that shows off your shoulders for your commute, but throw a blazer on right before walking in for a bit more of a conservative feel.
“Just don’t wear flip flops in summer — there are beautiful sandals and other options — and no one is really going to fault you for being weather-appropriate,” she says.
Wear What You’re Confident In
“If you’re interviewing for a creative or art director role, you can go crazy,” laughs Harrison, but usually, she argues that “an interview is probably not the best place” to try out something new. Just ensure that whatever you wear fits you properly and is tailored to your body, as bagginess lends itself to an overall sloppy look. This means that cuffs shouldn’t run past your wrists and shoes should be fastened securely.
“Wear something you feel super confident in, and it doesn’t even have to be expensive, because if you are dressed in something that you know you look great in, you come across as confident,” she explains. “You’re likely not going to be playing with your hair in the interview. You’re not going to be sitting or shifting uncomfortably in your clothing, and you can focus on what’s really important, which is answering the questions correctly and listening to what the person interviewing you is saying.”
‘Smart Casual’ Dressing is Booming
“Showing up to an interview is not like showing up for coffee with your friend, and it shouldn’t look that way,” says Harrison. “It’s a big deal, it’s a tryout.”
If you’re not quite sure what to wear, leaning on the ‘smart casual’ category is helpful. For men, that could mean a neutral button down shirt — no blazer needed — paired with ironed chinos and loafers, while women can rely on a long-sleeved blouse in a subtle pattern and neutral-colored pants (never jeans) with a ballet flat or low heel. It’s a light and fun style, but still professional and put together. Harrison suggests keeping the makeup looking clean and nail polish neutral to play it safe.
“I think dressing how you want to be perceived is great and dressing for the next job you want to get is awesome because I think that’s going to make you show up polished and looking great.”
Meet the Expert
Elizabeth Harrison is the co-founder and CEO of the New York City-based communications agency H&S, formerly known as Harrison & Shriftman. She’s worked with global lifestyle brands, including Jimmy Choo, Alice + Olivia, Wilson Apparel and Remy Martin, and believes the secret to professional success is hard work, tenacity, and the ability to pivot and change.
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