The general rule of interview attire is to dress a level or two better than you would at work.
Your goal is to look more professional and more conservative than you would at any other time on the job. It helps prevent looks from costing you the job offer and forces the hiring manager to focus on your skills and experience. Here are some tips for dressing the right way for your next interview:
If the job you're interviewing for is in an office:
Wear a suit.
This rule applies to both men and women. Navy blue, black, and dark grey are the most conservative colors, so choose one of these. Please note that a sports coat or blazer and pants do not make a suit. Both pieces should match.
Make sure your suit fits you properly
The pants have been hemmed, and it's clean and free of wrinkles.
If you're a woman wearing skirt, it should be a conservative length, usually around the knee but not more than two inches higher. Wear pantyhose or stockings too. Some people disapprove of bare legs in the office, and you won't know if your interviewer is one of these people until it's too late. Stash a spare pair in your bag in case you get a run on the way to the interview.
If you're a man, your button-down shirt should be white, and your tie should be a conservative color like red or blue. It should not have cartoon characters or any other sort of "theme" on it, just a solid color or a simple design. Your shirt and tie should both be clean and free of wrinkles. If you're a lady, you can take more liberties with your shirt selection. Just don't wear anything that looks like lingerie, like a lacy camisole. Any other type of button-down shirt or dress blouse is fine.
Shine your shoes, and make sure the soles aren't too worn down. Men are expected to wear black dress shoes, and women are generally expected to wear conservative dress shoes with a medium-height heel. If you are cannot wear heels for whatever reason, basic, professional-looking flats will not cost you a job offer. Under no circumstances should you wear open-toed shoes to an interview. Even if they are nice dress sandals, some people disapprove of open-toed shoes in the office, and you won't know if your interviewer is one of these people until it's too late.
Ladies are generally expected to wear makeup, and gentlemen are generally expected to shave. Facial hair will not necessarily cost you a job offer, but clean shaven is the safest way to go. The biggest problem faced by ladies in this situation is when they are unaccustomed to wearing makeup and either skip it altogether, which can make you look less professional and polished, or wear makeup that stands out awkwardly. If you do not usually wear makeup, find a friend who does and have her show you how to apply it a few days before your interview. It should be basic makeup that helps you blend into an office setting like good camouflage, rather than anything bright or overdone. Choose whichever friend you have who looks most like a pretty bank teller.
Comb your hair and wear it so that it is out of your face. This rule applies to both men and women.
If you're interviewing for a non-office job, such as in a factory, as a laborer, or in a food or retail business:
Dress more formally and professionally than you would for the actual job. While a suit isn't expected (unless you're applying for a management position, in which case it's not a bad idea), you can't go wrong with dark pants and a button-down white dress shirt. Make sure they're clean and free of wrinkles. Ladies should wear a dress blouse and dark pants or a skirt that falls within two inches of the knee. Essentially it's the same dress code as the one listed above for an office job interview, but without the suit jacket.
For men, unless employees where you are interviewing wear jeans a t-shirt to work everyday, add a tie too. A tie can make you stand out from other candidates as looking more professional. The rules given above about novelty ties apply here too. Choose a solid color or a simple design.
All of the other rules given above for interviewing for an office job apply here too. Use these tips when applying with a temporary agency as well. You never know when you'll meet someone who can give you your next job.
Carissa Doshi is a business writer and the president of Gen Y Media Group. She gives career advice and blogs about her experiences on www.carissadoshi.com. You can also follow @CarissaDoshi on Twitter.