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Keep Your Self-Expression When Dressing for an Interview

Keep Your Self-Expression When Dressing for an Interview

All of these ties could work for an interview or professional setting with the right suit and shirt.

By Lauren Bayne Anderson

May 13, 2011

College is about finding yourself—about self expression and individuality. And for many, that includes the way they dress. Everything from hair color, to tattoos, to makeup, to clothes fit the bill.

But when you’re looking for work, self expression almost always gets tossed to the side, in lieu of professionalism. Everyone tells you that you must look professional, wear a (read: boring) blue, black or gray suit and most importantly, be conservative. Yeah…but not always.

While it’s important to appear professional at an interview, there are still ways you can maintain your self expression and still look the part.

While we’re all about individuality, we have to note that it’s important to keep your field in mind. If you’re in a more conservative field, a more conservative look is most appropriate. For example, if you’re in banking, it’s probably best to stick to something like a blue suit, white shirt and red tie. But for those in creative fields: think graphic designers, etc., creativity and professionalism can still go together and in some cases, may even give you an edge.

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If you go with a pony tail, keep it sleek with few accessories. A slight poof in the front can work!

Here, what you really should stay conservative on, and what you can spice up when it comes to dressing for interviews and professional settings:

What to Keep Conservative:


Hair: That means no funky colors or crazy gelled-up styles. Men: get a hair cut before an interview and keep any facial hair meticulously groomed or stay clean shaven.

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Houndstooth suit with fun yet professional neck tie combos.

Women are safe wearing their hair down (but styled professionally), or in an updo (a bun for example). Be careful with pony tails. They can look professional, but have to be done just right to achieve the appropriate look—just a simple black hair tie.
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This Glen Plaid suit Milla Jovovich is wearing works wonderfully in a professional setting with a more conservative shirt.

Tattoos and Piercings: Cover up tattoos and take out earrings, spacers, or any other body jewelry. The exception: women can wear conservative earrings—one on each ear.

Revealing or Funky Clothes: Blue, black and gray suits work great. But that doesn’t mean they have to be plain. Check out our other material suggestions below. Women: keep skirts at knee length or below, and note: now is not the time to show off your cleavage.

Men’s shoes: Make sure they’re shined and professional looking. No sandals. No sneakers.

Nails: Keep nails clean and short, for men. Women can wear their nails a bit longer and should wear a clear or neutral polish. Red is still considered professional, but stay away from designs and other crazy colors.

What CAN you get creative with?

Shirts and ties: Men have a lot of liberty when it comes to spicing up their wardrobe now a days. No, you shouldn’t wear crazy seasonal or character themed ties. But, a solid, stripped or polka dotted tie in bold colors can work. Some prints, like paisley, can work too. And shirts don’t have to be white. A blue, yellow, black, or even pink shirt can work when paired with the right tie. For women, a colored shirt works well to spice up your suit.

Suit material: You don’t have to stick with the basics ONLY. Again, take cues from your field. But tweeds can sometimes work. Even if you stick with the basic cotton or silk material, Glen plaid, Houndstooth and Herringbone prints can be very professional looking, but still add distinction. Also, even for more conservative fields, adding a suit vest under your jacket gives you a unique, almost retro look, but maintains the conservative style you’re going for.

Women’s shoes: The standard black pumps work with almost every suit. But women have so many shoe options; you can still wear something amazing and keep professional. For example, a Glen Plaid pump to spice up your black suit. However, don’t wear open-toed shoes, sling backs, wedges or heels that are too high. On the flip side, be careful when choosing flats. A conservative heel always looks most professional.

Finally, Get a second opinion: If you’re trying out a look for an interview, make sure to try it on for someone you trust to give you honest feedback. Remember, professionalism trumps self expression when it comes to interviews, but you CAN make your look your own if done correctly. The key is to mix self expressive colors, or subtle patterns into your professional look.