All over campus we hear the phrase “Dress for Success.” It is an excellent goal and obviously a good idea, but perhaps a little vague?  We all know we should dress professionally and that our clothes help paint the first impression picture that will forever be printed in an interviewer and future employer’s mind, but many students are unsure exactly what looks appropriate, what should be left off, and what will make us stand out.

The most important things to remember about dressing for an interview apply to both men and women:

1. Before you pick the perfect outfit, make sure you are well groomed.  Employers connect how you treat your work with how you treat yourself.  If you show up to work or for an interview with messy hair, dirt under your fingernails, a sunburn, chapped lips, or any other imperfection, you are telling an employer that the details do not matter and you are not willing to go the extra mile on your projects.  Your appearance signals to clients and to coworkers that they can trust your taste.  Think about your appearance from their point of view: would you want to work with someone who looked like you?

So take some time to pamper yourself the night before an interview when you are going over interview responses in your head.  Clean those fingernails.  If you have any chipped nail polish, either repaint or remove it.  Wash and style your hair appropriately.  Ladies make sure to apply some make-up but keep it minimal –no unusual colors, light eyeliner if any, and keep the foundation light.  Get a good night’s sleep so there are no bags under your eyes and they do not look droopy or bloodshot.

2. Clean, pressed, and polished.  Whatever you choose to wear to an interview, it better be in good shape and fully laundered.  Absolutely no holes or runs in your socks or tights.  If you are able to afford a trip to the dry cleaners, this is a great investment.  Make sure your coats are at least spot-cleaned and that everything looks sharp.  A simple once-over with the iron will go a long way to freshen up your outfit and overall look.  Your closet may be the floor of your bedroom, but your business clothes should never know life off the hanger.

SHOES –many students in Corvallis fall victim to dirty, muddy, wet shoes, but your work shoes should never look like they lost the battle with Oregon weather.  If conditions are bad, bring your shoes in a bag and change when you arrive for the interview.  Every professional website says to polish your shoes.  It may seem like a big chore, but it will make a difference.

3.  Make sure it fits.  Many students have to borrow professional attire or hit up discount stores, even the Goodwill.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being resourceful and we understand you are on a tight budget, but there is no excuse for wearing clothes that just do not fit you right.  If something is too big, you will look childish -not big enough for the clothes equals not grown up enough for the work place.  If your clothes are too small you will look as uncomfortable as you probably feel and for women, you will look uncovered or worse – risqué.  Whatever the season, high waters, ¾ sleeves on men, short skirts for women, and the baggy look are never in style in the workplace.

Now if you have these three things down, you can begin to think about what clothing you will actually wear.  This will depend on the place in which you are applying and your industry if you already have the job.  The best thing you can do is to dress according to what you see current employees wearing.  If you are new to a company, be observant.  If you are heading into an interview, do your homework.  If the company is close, drive over and watch people walking in and out.  If they are far, look up pictures on the Internet taken during events, meetings, public relations, or anything else you can find.

Another thing to consider is whether or not you hope to move up in the company –dress for the job you want, not the job you have.  When looking for people to imitate as far as clothing role models, choose your boss or your boss’s boss, not your coworkers.  Also, when in doubt, go over, not underdressed.  It is far better to be overdressed than underdressed.  Studies have shown that your attire can actually impact your salary offer, so dress for what you want or what you feel you deserve.


If you are getting ready to enter the workplace, you really need to have a good suit.  You do not need to spend a ridiculous amount of money.  No one is expecting a college student to show up in Armani, but this is one of the most important investments you will make in your career so now is an appropriate time to splurge.  At the very least you need to have a nice pair of slacks (not khakis), a collared button up shirt, a tie, and a blazer or sweater to match.

Consider these tips:

–          The best colors for the work place are blue and black.  Darker shades in any color look the most professional.

–          Stick to solids and pinstripes –plaids are sometimes considered unprofessional.

–          Choose your tie wisely.  Silk is the best tie material.  Make sure it is a good quality tie.  Many people think because it is your main accessory, it should represent you.  This is a dangerous statement –keep it appropriate and professional, and make sure it matches the rest of your attire.  The tip of the tie should end near the center of the belt buckle or an inch or so above.

–          Invest in a pair of professional shoes.  Do not wear tennis shoes.  Try and match your belt to your shoes as far as color and material.

–          Take off your rings and any other piercings or jewelry.  Wedding rings and college rings are okay to leave on but everything else should come out at least for the interview or your first day.  Try to cover your tattoos until you get a feel for whether they are accepted.

–          If you choose to go more casual, like with a blazer instead of a suit jacket, then the pressure is really on to look crisp and clean.


–          For the interview, stick to pant suits and skirt suits.  Dresses, sweaters, and other nice tops can be worn in more casual work settings, if your boss wears these things as well, but they are not appropriate for an interview.

–          Fitted silhouettes are the best.  Avoid looking frumpy, but avoid anything that is too tight or “hugs your curves.”  Yes, bando-skirts are very in style right now, but they are for going out, not going to work.

–          Absolutely nothing low cut or see through is acceptable in the work place.  Sometimes it is necessary to attach a hook and eye to close up the cleavage.  Bra straps should not be showing and neither should your shoulders or thighs.  Wear a cropped sweater over wide shouldered tank tops, and do not wear anything above the knee.  The fingertips test, where you put your arms straight down to make sure your skirt is long enough, is completely irrelevant in the professional world.  If your skirt or shorts are above the knee, they are too casual.

–          Shoe trends for the work place change with each season, but it is always best to avoid anything open-toed.  Stay away from sandals, stilettos, and outdoor boots.  Stick to flats, leather or suede boots, and low heels.

–          Hair and nails can be hard to maintain, but it is important to keep up on your self-maintenance. If your nail polish chips, just remove it, even if you don’t have time to repaint.  If you die your hair, you must maintain your roots.  Hats are not appropriate for the workplace.  You look shady and unapproachable.  If you have a bad hair day, try dry shampoo or a thick headband.

–          Pops of color are encouraged.  They make you look cheerful and positive, but do not go overboard.  It is okay to wear bold accessories to express yourself, but avoid anything that jangles or is distracting.  It is great to look stylish, but avoid looking too trendy –this is the workplace, not a party.  Coco Chanel always said she would look in the mirror before she left the house and then remove something from her look.  It is easy for fashion conscious women to go overboard, especially in a professional environment.

Here is a list of things you should never wear in the work place no matter where you are working:

  • Shoes: crocs, uggs, stiletto heels, or super high heels, and flip-flops, or any sandal without a back
  • Head: hats (unless it is part of the work uniform), scrunchies, heavy make-up, excessive jewelry, and sunglasses inside
  • Bottom: sweatpants, yoga pants, footless leggings (not even under a long top –go with tights instead for under skirts and dresses), short-shorts or skirts, wallet chains
  • Top: sweatshirts, message T’s, sports jerseys, tank tops
  • Materials: velour, patent leather, sequins (as more then an accessory), glitter, and animal prints

Zombie bandanas!  There were students who opted not to take these off during the Fall Career Fair and although it is great that you are a dedicated participant, the professional world will not understand.

Remember: your clothing should be efficient, sleek, and classic.  If you are unsure whether something is appropriate, just choose something else that you know is appropriate.  Do not take big risks when it comes to fashion in the interview.  If you like to be daring, save it for after you have secured the job and know the company environment.

Some final things to consider before you go into the interview:

–          Backpacks are less professional. Try to have a briefcase or a shoulder bag when you enter the workplace.  And make sure you have a bag, or at least find a place to empty your pockets.  Bulges in the shape of a wallet or cell phone will ruin a complete professional look.

–          Turn off your cell phone. Your teachers probably tell you this everyday, but this time we mean it!  You will not get a second interview or a job offer if your cell phone goes off or you are texting when you should not be.

–          Spit out your gum.  Definitely consider gum or a mint to freshen your breath, but be ready to smile and talk without distractions during an interview and while at work.

If you have questions, come down to Career Services and ask.  We will be more than happy to research a company with you and answer any questions!


Posted by Casey Anderson, Career Services Assistant

For more information and examples of dressing for the interview, check out our website.


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6 thoughts on “Dress For Success! What does that mean?

  1. As a wife, all I can say is THANK GOD. Most men do not know how to shop for suits. The tips you gave were spot on!

    Mommy, blogger and shopaholic

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