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Business Casual vs. Business Professional: What to Wear to an Interview

Six professionals leaning up against a wall talking and working

We’ve all been there before. We show up to the event, interview, meeting, or dinner and are clearly underdressed. Or maybe you were overdressed. Whatever the occasion, there’s no denying that dressing differently than everyone else in the room can be a bit awkward. That’s why it is so important that your attire is appropriate for the occasion. But how do you determine what kind of attire is appropriate for a particular occasion?

This article is a resource we recommend you save and reference for any special occasion in your life. There is no way to predict where you may be invited, so it is essential to know what to wear in every situation.

What should you choose and when?

First, to know what to wear, we need to know where you are going. Below we will break down a few standard settings where you might wonder what to wear.

Please keep in mind that our recommendations are for those who have not yet been advised on what to wear. If you were asked to wear a specific attire, you should wear that attire. It’s also worth noting that you can always ask your host or primary point of contact to clarify in advance. Taking the initiative and covering your bases is always a safe option.

In-person interview

Recommended Attire: Business Professional

While some interviews specifically recommend that you wear business casual attire, a practice occurring now more than ever, you are better off being overdressed than underdressed. If your recruiter or HR contact didn’t explicitly tell you what to wear in your interview, go with professional business attire.

Video conference interview

Recommended Attire: Business Professional

Just like an in-person job interview, making a great first impression on the recruiter(s) or hiring manager(s) interviewing you is essential. Dress to impress, and unless otherwise stated, wear professional business attire.

Review our checklist, how to prepare for a zoom interview, to ensure you make a lasting impression on the interviewer.

Phone interview

Recommended Attire: Business Casual

If you have a phone interview coming up, you might think it doesn’t matter what you wear. While it’s true that the person on the other end of the phone won’t know what you are wearing, studies show that one’s physical appearance can affect their state of mind. If you choose to dress down for your phone interview, ensure you are mentally “dressed for success,” even if you aren’t physically.

Use this checklist to impress the hiring manager: How to prepare for a phone interview!

Business lunch or dinner

Recommended Attire: Business Casual or Business Professional

Whether you have been asked to attend a business meal with your colleagues or it’s time to wine and dine with a client, wearing the proper attire is a must. In most cases, your company should advise you on what to wear. If they didn’t, we recommend contacting the venue where you will be eating and asking what the dress code is (if any).

Company event or party

Recommended Attire: Business Casual or Business Professional

Company events range from quirky Halloween parties where a wide range of costumes and clothing is acceptable to formal black-tie fundraising events. Since the attire can vary so widely, it’s more important than ever to check with your colleagues to determine what to wear. Ask those who have been there before, and make sure you gain a clear understanding of what to expect.

Business attire for women and men

Both The Balance and Notre Dame University provide some great images explaining how to dress appropriately in a business professional and business casual setting. Take a look at these images below and keep reading for some additional tips. The image below is from a great article written by The Balance.

Business Attire #!

The image below is from the University of Notre Dame’s Meruelo Family Center for Career Development.

Buisness Attire #2

Business professional attire for women

Business professional attire for women can be simplified with a few generalizations.

What to wear for women:

  1. Wear dark colors
  2. Wear a matching suit
  3. Wear closed-toe shoes or a low heel
  4. Wear a formal blouse

What not to wear for women:

  1. Do not wear open-toe shoes
  2. Do not wear khaki pants
  3. Do not wear short sleeve jackets
  4. Do not wear low-cut clothing

Don’t forget that your professional appearance goes beyond your attire. Make sure your hair is done, your nails are presentable, and your makeup is applied conservatively. Also, while this is likely unnecessary to point out, ensure you are clean and that your body is not the source of any foul odors.

Business casual attire for women

Business casual attire for women can be simplified with a few generalizations.

What to wear for women:

  1. Wear blouses or shirts with a conservative cut
  2. Wear solid color sweaters or cardigans
  3. Wear twill or cotton skirts, pants, or dresses that fall below the fingertips
  4. Wear closed-toe shoes or peep-toe shoes

What not to wear for women:

  1. Do not wear ripped clothing or pajamas
  2. Do not wear gym or athletic attire
  3. Do not wear jeans or shorts
  4. Do not wear flip-flops, sandals, or sneakers

Although business casual attire is much more relaxed than business professional, it’s still important to look beyond the clothes you will wear. Be conscious of how you smell. Are you wearing too much perfume? Were you sweating after a hard workout? Did you just drink a large cup of coffee? It’s important to be aware of how you present yourself beyond what the eye can see.

Business professional attire for men

Business professional attire for men can be simplified with a few generalizations.

What to wear for men:

  1. Wear a solid color, fitted suit
  2. Wear a long-sleeve button-up shirt
  3. Wear a conservative tie without excessive graphics or colors
  4. Wear dark-colored socks and black or brown dress shoes

What not to wear for men:

  1. Do not wear jeans or shorts
  2. Do not wear short-sleeve t-shirts or athletic attire
  3. Do not wear khaki pants
  4. Do not wear flip-flops, sandals, or rundown sneakers

Business professional attire for men is pretty standard across the board. A suit, button-up shirt, tie, dress shoes and socks, and maybe a nice tie clip or watch are all you need to look professional and impress your future employer. Continue to be conscious of your body odor, breath, and other vital factors while preparing for your interview.

Business casual attire for men

Business casual attire for men can be simplified with a few generalizations.

What to wear for men:

  1. Wear khaki or dark pants with a black or brown leather belt
  2. Wear cotton long-sleeve button-down shirts tucked in
  3. Wear a professional-looking tie (optional)
  4. Wear leather shoes in black or brown

What not to wear for men:

  1. Do not wear jeans or shorts
  2. Do not wear short-sleeve t-shirts or athletic attire
  3. Do not wear a tie with unprofessional images
  4. Do not wear baggy or loose clothing

Business casual attire for men offers a vast variety of customization and typically allows for much more comfort than business professional attire. As always, remember that your presentability goes beyond your clothing and extends to your physical cleanliness, smell, hair, and more. Make sure you are clean-shaven, showered, teeth brushed, and when all else fails, run to the store and grab some deodorant and mints before your interview.

Tips beyond attire

While your attire is important and undoubtedly one of the first things that will be noticed, there’s a lot more to a person than their clothes. The most crucial thing is to be confident in whatever attire you choose.

Suppose you are interviewing at a company that requires you to wear a suit and tie every day, but you absolutely hate dressing in professional business attire. In that case, you may want to reconsider whether that company is a good fit for you.

All in all, remember that you are unique. If you were advised to dress a certain way that contradicts this article, by all means, go with the recommendations you were given by a representative of the company you are interviewing for.