Job Search Series – Nailing the Interview – Part 4 – What Men Should Wear

pixabay-businessman-2111649_960_720-interview suit

Vestis virum facit.” ~ Erasmus (c. 1466-1536)

“What a strange power there is in clothing.”
~ Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991)

Regardless of the century in which one has lived clothes have always been important to a man’s image. Erasmus and Singer both recognized the authority and influence that dressing well commands. (I recently discovered that it was Erasmus, not Mark Twain, who first uttered the famous sentiment about clothes making the man!)

As stated in last week’s entry regarding women’s interview attire, there are few more important occasions when the way you dress will help determine your future than the job interview. This requires an investment of thought, time and a little money in order to make that crucial outstanding first impression, even if the interviewer has “met” you already in a phone interview. Now you are face-to-face and your appearance will either make or break you in approximately seven seconds.

The savviest professionals dress in business formal, especially for the initial interview and until they can get a sense of the company’s dress code and practices. Therefore, the best approach is to dress on the conservative side to show your professionalism, seriousness about the position and respect for the company and interviewer. However, there are some industries for which a formal business suit might not be appropriate and business casual will be the best approach. If unsure, check with the company for guidance.

The Suit

When you select your interview suit, stick with dark navy blue or dark charcoal gray (dark colors are more serious than light colors) in 100% wool, regular or summer weight depending on the season. Avoid black unless you are in a profession where black suits are a kind of uniform. Also avoid synthetic fabrics. If you cannot afford a second suit right now (for a possible second interview with the same employer), changing your tie will provide a different look.

Other important considerations are the cut of the suit and the fit. The shoulders should fit well and you should be able to slip your hand in between the buttoned-up jacket and your diaphragm. Look at yourself in the mirror from all angles and ensure that the jacket falls well in the back; decide whether you look better in a jacket with a single or double vent. The jacket should be just long enough to cover your pants zipper, and your pant leg should cover the top of the shoe and upper parts of the laces near your ankle.

Your shirt should be a crisp cotton in white for a dark navy suit, or ecru for a dark charcoal suit. Wear a new white cotton undershirt, especially if you’re prone to perspiring. The amount of shirt cuff that shows should match the amount of collar that shows, about a half inch. Buy your suit from a store that has knowledgeable people to help you select the best style and fit within your budget and handles the alterations.

Those Jacket Buttons!

There are some very definite rules (listed below) regarding the buttoning and unbuttoning of men’s suit jackets. These rules are said to date back to King Edward VII whose large girth prevented him from buttoning the bottom button of his waistcoats, and so he left it unbuttoned. From that time, suit jackets have been designed to drape properly with the bottom button left unfastened.

  • The rule for one-button jackets is easy. Your suit jacket should be buttoned when standing. When you take your seat, unbutton your jacket. When you stand up, button your jacket again.
  • When wearing a two-button suit jacket, the top button remains buttoned when standing, but the bottom button remains open. When you sit, undo the top button and when you stand refasten it.
  • With three-button suit jackets, generally you can keep the top two buttons fastened or just the middle button fastened, unfastening and fastening the buttons as you sit and stand. One way to remember the three-button fastening rule is, from top to bottom: sometimes, always, never.
  • With double-breasted suit jackets, it depends on the configuration of buttons; but, generally, you will button the middle button on the six-button style and the top button on the four-button style, again unbuttoning and buttoning as you sit and stand.

Tie One On!

A man’s tie speaks to his taste, character and trustworthiness, all of which are important in a job interview. Ties might be the most important accessories in a man’s wardrobe. That said, it’s essential to select the right tie for the occasion and then wear it correctly. Following are some tips:

  • Fabric – 100% silk is the most elegant and attractive. You can’t go wrong.
  • Color – Red and blue ties seem to be the most popular for Presidential candidates, and they are good colors to select for interviews as well. Paired with the popular and effective dark navy blue suit, a coordinating blue solid, striped or subtle print (such as a pin dot) tie will convey quiet power, maturity, calm, responsibility and trustworthiness, while a red solid, striped or pin-dot will convey strength, boldness, creativity, excitement and leadership. A blend of the two colors combines these traits.  However, when in doubt, so with a solid color tie – it is the safest pick.
  • Width – While narrower ties are in vogue right now, the rule of thumb is that the tie at its widest point should equal the lapel at its widest point. The width should also make sense with regard to the cut of your suit. A narrow tie (not skinny, though – no less than 2 ¼ inches wide) looks good if you’re young and slim and if your suit is a narrow cut. However, the excellent 3-inch width, which falls between the standard narrow and traditional widths (3 ¼ – 4 inches), could be the perfect width. This width is harder to find, however; DKNY makes a 3-inch width (DKNY Slim Tie) and as of this writing Macy’s carries it in some colors.
  • Length – The tip of your tie should just touch the top of your beltline.
  • Knot – Learn the four-in-hand and you’ll be set with the perfect knot.
  • Tie Bars – A tie bar is not necessary but using one will help to keep your tie straight and neat by fastening it to your shirt placket. Just be sure your tie bar is no wider than your tie and wear it between the third and fourth shirt buttons.

The Pocket Square

Wearing a pocket square doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re square. They can be elegant when attending a formal affair or jazzy when used in an everyday situation or even in business casual dress. But, a delicate balance is required for the job interview, and my feeling is you should skip the pocket square. But, if you do decide to wear one, coordinate it with rather than match it to your tie. And, select a classic conservative fold, such as the pesko — AKA the Don Draper fold.

Shoes &  Socks

For a business formal look, black shoes work best with both dark navy and dark charcoal suits. The oxford style is a basic dress shoe that is perfect for an interview. Ensure a good, comfortable fit; shoes that pinch and hurt will distract you and throw you off your game. Buff them to a high shine. Select comfortable cotton dress socks that match your suit color, not your shoes, so pair dark navy socks with a dark navy suit, dark charcoal socks with a dark charcoal suit.


Your briefcase should be of good quality and in good condition – no scuffs, fraying or signs of wear. Like you shoes, it should be buffed to a high shine. The color can be black or another color, such as oxblood, cordovan or tan.

With jewelry, keep it simple. Wear a good timepiece. Sporting cufflinks provides an even more formal and polished look, and are often worn by executives, either with or without a tie clasp or pin. Skip bracelets and chains – those statement pieces may be worn once you’re on the job, if they make sense and are a solid part of the brand that you wish to communicate. The same is true of an ear stud, which some men wear. If you are applying to a law firm or financial institution you might do well to skip the ear stud; with any other company use your good judgment. Again, err on the side of conservative dress on the interview. Rings are fine, provided they are not too large and showy and you don’t wear too many.

What To Avoid

  • Body Piercing and Tattoos – Most corporate offices are not welcoming of body art and sculpture, so skip – or hide – these.
  • Extreme Hair Styles – Obviously, these are not in keeping with the “dress conservatively” plan.

Exceptions To The Above Rules

As stated in last week’s entry, in certain fields such as Technology, Arts & Entertainment and some smaller and blue collar companies it’s often permissible to wear more creative or casual clothing to a job interview. In the creative fields, a more colorful and fashion forward look might be appropriate. Research, inquire and then use your best judgment. But even in the most casual or artsy environments, looking put together counts. Business casual does not mean sloppy; it means wearing casual pants with a coordinating shirt and jacket and sportier shoes and case. Just as with more formal attire, your business casual clothing and accessories should be of good quality and in good condition. (See my entry, Dress to Impress – Men, for more on business casual dress, as well as how to build a capsule wardrobe.)

Join me next week for some chat on grooming and hygiene.

Until next time,


3 thoughts on “Job Search Series – Nailing the Interview – Part 4 – What Men Should Wear

  1. Jeanne Nelson says:

    Thank you for your great comments, Douglas! I'm so pleased that you found this information helpful. I wish you all the best in your endeavors and what appears to be a very promising career as a sommelier. If you have a chance please look at my dining etiquette series entires (archived), especially the one titled The Wait Staff (February 12, 2013), which includes a section on the sommelier. Thank you for reading, and for your interest in and pursuit of The Three E's!


  2. Douglas Trapasso says:

    Dear Jeanne:Thank you for this great article! I will keep these dressing tips in mind as I prepare for upcoming interviews. I'm studying to become a sommelier and pass my Level II exam, but I will need some moonlighting restaurant experience first!These wine exams are pretty hard! One young lady I took it with in March reminded me, like you mentioned, to button my suit during my stand-up presentation; I'm glad she pointed that out (I still didn't pass <sigh>, but at least I know my first impression was professional!)


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