how to dress for an interview without making it obvious to your coworkers

A reader writes:

I have a question for you about interview attire. My sister “Jane” and I both work in the finance department for a large tech company (different managers/sub departments). She is currently interviewing for a position at another company, similar to ours. Our company has a very lax dress code (almost none at all, really), and we wear jeans and t-shirts to work almost every day. Some people dress up a bit more, and some people come in looking like slobs, honestly, and most people fall somewhere in the middle. She did some research and it looks like the company she is interviewing at is business casual, but she is having a hard time gauging the exact dress code and culture there based on her research.

She has worked at our company for nine years, so she does not have a dressier work wardrobe to pull from for this interview — nicer blouses, slacks, blazers, etc. She is trying to decide if she can get away with a (appropriate length) casual dress, with a cardigan over it, and tasteful jewelry and appropriate shoes. The overall result is cute and polished, but not really in the “business casual realm.” She is willing to buy a different outfit to wear, but the problem lies in our casual environment at work — if she shows up at work in a silk top and black slacks, and leaves mid-day for a “doctor appointment,” it will be VERY noticeable that she is going off-site for an interview. I find that, especially with women, it’s very easy to tell when someone has an interview that day. It’s even easy to suss out whether it’s an internal or external interview (based on the degree to which the person is dressed up vs their normal attire).

I have been in this situation before, albeit just for an informal lunch interview, and I chose to go the “cute but not business casual” approach, and head off any concern by leading with “I apologize that I couldn’t dress up more for you! My office’s dress code is very casual, so I would have been advertising that I have an interview today,” to which the interviewer assured me it was no problem, and it genuinely seemed like it wasn’t.

This is a long-winded way of asking this question: do you think that sort of tactic described above would be appropriate? Should she bite the bullet and dress up, and not worry if our coworkers notice? Try to find a way to change before the interview? I am sure others who work in casual offices have faced this before, and I’d be curious to know what your readers think as well.

Well, the choices aren’t just to make it obvious to your coworkers that she’s interviewing or show up in something insufficiently dressy. There’s a third option, which is probably the one she should take: to change clothes on the way to the interview. If she can duck into a coffeeshop or somewhere else with a public bathroom, she can pretty easily change in there. (There are more creative options too. I’ve changed in my car before.)

Another option is to wear part of the outfit to work — either the pants or the top but not both — and then it can be easier to add the rest after she leaves your office.

But I wouldn’t wear a dress that she isn’t confident is appropriate for the place she’s interviewing, even with a cardigan over it. The caveat that you gave your interviewer about not being able to dress up more would work on some interviewers, but would be a minus with others who will wonder why she wasn’t resourceful enough to allow an extra 10 minutes to change her outfit.

If you’re thinking that that’s overly rigid or stodgy, maybe it is. But we still have a culture that mostly expects people to dress up for interviews, and it’s not going to change by the time of her interview. And it’s not worth risking her chances when she has the option of changing into a safer outfit before she gets there.

{ 299 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Rincat

    Depending on the weather/office temps/etc, I have worn black slacks, my interview shell, and then thrown a loose, casual pullover sweater on top of it. This hides the shell enough so that it just looks like a regular tank underneath, and the overall outfit looks like a plain pair of black pants with a casual sweater on top. Of course, if it’s super warm inside your office this might not work, but you could experiment with a lighter top layer, like a chambray or denim button down.

    Also, shoes – I’ll wear my sneakers or casual sandals with the black slacks, and that makes it more casual as well, and then keep my dressy shoes in the car to switch into.

    Reply
    1. TCO

      I’ve totally done this and changed from my cardigan to a blazer in my car, on the train, or in a bathroom. Switching shoes also helps, as you mentioned, as can adding or changing other accessories (tie, jewelry, scarf). I have a large professional-looking purse than can easily hold the pieces of the outfit I’m swapping. It’s worked really well for me.

      It’s tough if your office is very strictly jeans and even dress pants would be noticed, but in that case get a big purse and change pants somewhere en route. (This is probably harder for men, though there are plenty of professional-looking masculine bags out there that could probably do the job and not look really strange in an interview.)

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      1. Drew

        The last time I had to deal with this, I got away with khakis, reasonably nice shoes, and a short-sleeved button-down shirt – a little more dressy than typical for our office but not so dressy that it occasioned comment – and left my blazer and tie in my car. I put them in a dry cleaner’s bag in case anyone got curious.

        If car wasn’t an option, I probably would have skipped the blazer and just kept a tie rolled up in my bag. It was summer in the south, so a short-sleeved dress shirt wouldn’t have looked too out of place.

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      2. Linzava

        I’ve worn leggings under my jeans, then changed in the parking lot next door. If you’re wearing pants or shorts under your pants, there’s little risk of embarrassment if someone walks by.

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        1. Natalie

          I used to wear my full interview outfit but swap the suit pants for jeans, and then change pants quickly before the interview. If you roll the pants up they won’t wrinkle.

          I actually once had an interviewer offer me their bathroom so I could change back into my jeans before returning for work.

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      3. A.N.O.N.

        I have a go-to interview dress, and when I worked at a very casual workplace, I would wear a light (and very casual) sweater on top of it. I’d also bring a large bag and change shoes outside of work. So even though the skirt part of my outfit was a bit dressier, the overall look wasn’t much different than my normal day-to-day.

        Also keep in mind that a slightly-dressed-up outfit might not trigger “Interview!” in everyone’s minds. There’s lots of other reasons why someone might be more dressed up than normal. In fact, I’ve had plenty of times where I had an event after work for which I wanted to look nice, so I dressed up more than usual for work. It might not be as big a deal as you may think.

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      4. Badmin

        I’ve done the 3rd option many times. There have also been times when I’ve been a little overdressed than normal at work and people will comment. Generally I will overdress because it’s laundry day for my regular clothes, so that’s a possible excuse if it works for your office. But again, I also don’t leave int he middle of the day if I look nicer than usual.

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        1. ss

          A few times when I’m mad at my boss or the office is getting overly stressed, I’ll deliberately overdress for a day or two just to make them nervous that I might be looking. :-)

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          1. Dolphins Need Their Feathers Back

            I’ll overdress when I’m suffering from lacking sleep and soon exhausted; really just to make me feel more confident. Lol

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            1. Whatchamacalllit

              I do this, too. Really, any day I need a boost of confidence/energy I feel a bit better if I’m dressed up somewhat and/or take a bit of extra time on my hair, etc.

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          2. Katie Sewell

            I heard about someone who decided to start dressing better. After six weeks of wearing nicer outfits 2-3x/week, she got a raise and a promotion because her employer was afraid of losing her!

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        2. Mandy

          Lol Yup, sometimes I’ll overdress because it is time to do laundry…

          Other times? Sometimes I just feel like wearing a dress or something a bit more dressy.

          Sometimes I’m attending an event that is a little dressier without time to go home after work. (Going straight to a symphony concert after work or something.)

          People just never ask me now why I’m dressed up. They just are used to me sometimes dressing less casual and more business or dressy.

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        3. nutbrownrose

          I like to dress up occasionally for literally no reason other than I like that outfit, so I would just tell people it’s a dressy kind of day for me. This requires some advance planning and/or just being a person who dresses up for no reason/laundry day/whatever, but if there’s time, just go in a couple times before the interview weirdly dressy and people will stop asking questions.

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      5. Green

        Solution: Betabrand yoga dress pants. If someone says anything to you at work, you can be like “I bought these work yoga pants, and they’re SO comfortable!”

        They also have a lot of convertible clothing. I wore the suiting style jacket for an interview, but it has these unfoldable thumbhole things you could pull out to make it casual.

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        1. The cake is a pie

          Wow, I’ve never heard of this brand but the pants are really intriguing. I never thought I’d be sold on work yoga pants but I might have to order some of these.

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    2. peachie

      I was going to say something like this–I agree with Allison that changing is best, and would say an approach like yours that incorporates as many double-tasking pieces as you can to make changing easier (and to avoid having to bring your entire wardrobe with you). It’s amazing how much a big sweater and some sneakers can totally change the look of an outfit. (Ditto blazers in the opposite direction!)

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      1. Rincat

        Agreed! I’ve changed the entire vibe of an outfit just by changing the shoes. A good guideline for formal vs. casual is to think of it in terms of structure. More formal outfits have more structure – crisp pants, structured blazer with defined lines, tailored shoes. The fabrics are usually stiffer. To decrease the formality, decrease the structure – pick more fluid fabrics, less tailoring, etc. So throwing on a big, drapey cardigan and casual shoes can change a lot!

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      2. designbot

        yes, leaving a blazer and nice shoes in the car is key. I can literally wear black slacks and a black t-shirt that nobody will notice, and a blazer and heels turns it into an interview outfit.

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      3. babblemouth

        That’s why LBDs are magical. I have one with which depending on what shoes and cardigan/blazer I wear, I can fit in a formal occasion, a casual lunch, at the beach, or even at a funeral.

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    3. DecorativeCacti

      That’s what I do. Keep the blazer in the car and swap with a cardigan.

      If the OP (or anyone) can get away with it, I’ve also employed the following: wear a casual skirt and a top with a camisole underneath. You can add dress pants under the skirt and swap the casual top for something nicer plus a blazer. You can make these changes without getting totally naked so they can easily be done in the car or grocery store parking lot.

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    4. HR Recruiter

      I’ve done this too when I worked in a business casual environment.

      When I worked in a very causal (jeans) environment I would swing by McDonald’s around the corner and throw on my suit.

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    5. Anon Accountant

      Me too. Wear black pants, nice shell and a sweater overtop. Swap a suit jacket for the sweater on the way in, add earrings and change shoes from my casual shoes.

      Reply
    6. AliceBD

      Something else — for people who wear makeup, don’t wear a lip color or where a very, very low-key lipcolor at work. On your way to an interview switch to a more noticeable lip color. I’ve found that people think you look much more put-together when you’re wearing a visible lip color so it’s good to have on for the interview, but not having it at work will help disguise you.

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    7. Annonymouse

      I work in a casual industry and have had to dress nicely for interviews without raising suspicion. The way I normally deal with this is:
      1) Always dress up fancy business every few weeks / once a week “just cause I feel like it today”. So if I’m dressed up it isn’t as suspicious as if my coworkers do it.

      2) Have an excuse about why you’d dress fancy but not job searching related. I.e looking for a new apartment so I dress nicely to impress the realestate agent.
      (I actually do that and have had to leave early/come in late for apartment viewings.) If you sync your job search up at the same time or let that be the excuse without moving you get more leeway.

      Or “I have a big date/event later and don’t have time to go home before hand to change”.

      Reply
  2. Jack

    Ditto to Alison. She should bring clothes to change. And the OP was very lucky her interviewer didn’t mind that excuse. If I was interviewing someone who dressed casually and gave that excuse, I would eliminate them from consideration. That comes off as very unprofessional.

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    1. OP

      OP here- the “interview” I went on was a “getting to know you” lunch date – I was set up with a contact who didn’t currently have a job open, but wanted to meet with me because she knew one would come up shortly. I dressed much nicer than I normally do, but no slacks/suit- it went over just fine and they were still interested in me when the job actually came available.

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      1. DoubleBigLaw

        For that I think it’s fine and wouldn’t care, but for a real interview, you’ll definitely want to find a way to dress the part– obviously employers understand that you don’t want to broadcast your interviews to your current job, but they also want to see that you’re making their company a priority.

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      2. Huntington

        A “getting to know you” lunch date, though, really isn’t a job interview — you indicate there wasn’t even a job open — and even then you apologized!

        I would just add, as I’m sure you must know, that finance is traditionally conservative (even though your office sounds amazingly not rigid in dress requirements anyway). If you were uncomfortable enough to apologize for dressing down during a getting to know you lunch, I’m nearly certain your sister would be very uncomfortable choosing such an outfit to actually interview in.

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        1. OP

          The term “finance” covers all manner of jobs. We’re not investment bankers- our department covers a manner of things, but that includes AP/AR, payroll processing, and other financial admin duties (im in accounting, she in project management”. The job she applied for directly mirrored a job she used to do here, but would be a manager role, so that played into her decision making. So a blanket statement of “finance jobs are traditionally conservative” does not quite apply, since that term applies to such a huge swath of roles. Also, finance is not the main function of the company- we are a tech company. That fact supersedes the fact that we are “finance”- it’s a very laid back culture.

          I think the reason I gave that disclaimer back then (several years ago) is because I was young, relatively new to the workforce and unsure in my decisions. I realized it was totally fine to wear what I did after the fact, and would make the same decision more confidently now.

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    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I don’t know if I’d eliminate someone, but it would certainly be a strong negative if they’re someone with any professional experience. Understanding appropriate workplace attire matters. If someone’s newer/younger or coming from a notoriously informal environment, I’m often willing to work with them, but in general it helps to match the prospective employer’s level of formality (or to be slightly more formal) and to look polished. Even the nicest jeans/t-shirt ensemble is not going to look appropriately polished in most circumstances.

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    3. Chicken Superhero

      Me too! ‘Oh, hey, you think a sundress and cardigan is an interview outfit, instead of a business suit. How quaint.’ (Trash)

      At my workplace, the official dress code is casual (not business casual) and I’ve actually seen people roll in in PJs, like as if it were an 8 am college bio class. But a suit is still what one wears to an interview.

      But I don’t work in tech, so take that with a grain of salt. As much of a grain of salt that ‘PJs at work’ requires, which actually seems like not much.

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      1. OP

        I dressed up much nicer than I normally do at work. I wore a nice, heavy weight knee length dress from Lands End- definitely not a sundress. The business contact works from another city but happened to be in town for the day, so we met for lunch. When they were ready to go through the formal interview/hiring process many months later, they contacted me to see if I was still interested.

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        1. Solidus Pilcrow

          I wouldn’t call that situation a job interview. Sounds like an informational interview/networking contact at best, which isn’t on the same level.

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          1. Green

            Agreed; default for most formal professional job interviews (i.e., you apply, they call and invite you in), *regardless of what their dress code is* is suits. If they specifically tell you another dress code, that’s when you default down for suit.

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        2. Sans

          I just want to say I’m amazed how this is a deal-breaker for so many. Sure, if you looked sloppy that would be bad. But a normal dress and cardigan? Sounds fine to me. I’d be much more concerned with your qualifications and how well you’d do the job.

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          1. AwkwardKaterpillar

            I’m surprise too. To me, a dress and a cardigan and perfectly dress. Of course, assuming they are nice pieces. A yellow sundress with a cropped cardigan wouldn’t fly, but a plain dress with a business appropriate sweater and accessories? No problem.

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            1. Meg

              My impression from the letter was that this was closer to the sundress end of things, not a Michelle Obama type sleeveless shift dress. If others are picturing the same that’s probably why they are balking.

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              1. BF50

                We all skim from time to time, but you are actually replying down the chain to a post where the OP states “heavy weight knee length dress from Lands End- definitely not a sundress.”

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                1. Floundering Mander

                  Oh, I thought that referred to the OP’s outfit for their own lunch meeting, not the outfit the sister was planning to wear.

          2. AdAgencyChick

            I’m with you. Especially if the candidate walks in and says, “Please excuse my outfit — where I work now, a suit would be a neon sign that says ‘I’m interviewing!'”

            I think interviewers should be aware that there are other reasons besides not understanding norms of office dress that a candidate might not be dressed as you’d expect for an interview.

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          3. Barefoot Librarian

            I couldn’t agree more with this. There are definitely outfits that scream unprepared/unprofessional, but a nice dress and a modest cardigan is fine, especially if they wore dressy shoes (not flipflops or sandals). Clothes do matter, no doubt about that. You want to know that your interviewee has a sense of professional standards and some self-respect, but they aren’t the biggest deal in the world. If nothing stands out as highly inappropriate (such as too much skin, obvious stains or wrinkles, or something else wildly inappropriate) I am honestly not likely to notice what they are wearing. Me personally, I’ve always preferred over-dressing to under-dressing for an interview.

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            1. Fiennes

              Agreed with this surprise. Honestly, I might be more impressed that the interviewee hadn’t taken extra time away from her other job purely for fashion’s sake.

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          4. MashaKasha

            We interviewed several people recently, three of them women. One came in wearing a suit, the other two were each wearing a sheath dress and a blazer. Both looked quite professional. Personally when I saw them, I felt relieved about what I assumed were new, relaxed standards for interview attire. I haven’t interviewed in five years, have outgrown my only suit, and was not looking forward to dropping big bucks on a new one, just on an off chance that may I someday have a job interview. What are the standards these days on sheath dress + blazer? Yea or nay?

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            1. Breda

              Frankly, in my field (children’s publishing), dress + blazer or cardigan would be MORE appropriate than a suit. I’d go for a straight or pencil skirt rather than a swingy one – like a sheath dress or wrap dress – but a suit would come across bizarrely formal.

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              1. MashaKasha

                The dresses our two candidates wore were straight. I’d post a link to a similar outfit, but I fear that my comment will never go through then. Looked really formal to me, yet more comfortable than a suit!

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            2. TheAssistant

              I was previously in non-profit fundraising; now I’m a data analyst (still non-profit). I’ve always worn a sheath dress + blazer, and either flats or boots depending on the season. Sometimes I go crazy and wear a skirt, blazer, and blouse – not a suit, just conservative-ish pieces from my closet. I have a very high success rate with interviews.

              My head-argument for this is women’s suits were not made for the curvy – the pencil skirts are much too tight/obscene in the hips/rear, and the pantsuits make me look frumpy.

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              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                I am a huge fan of the dress suit. I know that makes me kind of old school/stodgy, but finding great suit dresses has been much more flattering to my curvy body type. :)

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              2. Viva

                Absolutely agree. I’m a plus sized x-shape and occasionally there are nice suits to be found that work on me – but they *always* need tailoring to make them work well. I factor in an extra 30-40% on top of the price for getting things taken in on the waist and sometimes let out on the bust.

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              3. Floundering Mander

                I look absolutely awful in a traditional suit. Just not right for my body size and shape at all, especially if I had to tuck in the top. *shudder*

                But a plain dress and a jacket I can handle. Then again it’s rare that I need to dress up at all. Most of the time I’d be working outside in my field and even the senior management normally wear jeans to meet clients, as we’re all in construction.

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            3. MCMonkeyBean

              When I was in grad school we had a million “what is appropriate” discussions and I have never thought a sheath dress + blazer was anything but perfectly professional. My understanding was that a sheath dress on its own is business casual, but paired with a blazer it becomes business professional.

              That’s what I wore to all my interviews, but my dress was the style that is solid black on the bottom with a printed pattern just on the torso so when paired with a black blazer it looks like a skirt suit.

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            4. Viva

              IME, perfectly acceptable for peon admins like myself. Full matched suit would be okay too if it’s a large publically listed company. If it’s a small-ish private company, then dress or nice pants + blazer has always seemed more appropriate for my level.

              For management positions, especially at director level, then a full suit is best.

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            5. Blue

              I work in higher ed, and wearing a sheath dress + blazer to interviews has always been totally fine. We just went through a round of hiring, and most of the female candidates wore dress pants/skirt with a shell and cardigan and no one had an issue with it. However, my work within higher ed tends to have a more informal culture – there are offices that would expect a suit.

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            6. SS

              I think I’ve worn a dress + blazer to literally every interview I’ve ever had, all in fairly corporate environments, and I’ve always felt appropriately dressed (and the interviews have generally gone well). Once a contact I had in the company even reported back that the interviewers commented on how well dressed I was – as well as on my actual performance and fit for the role of course.

              Until recently I was an EA for a very successful senior executive and she almost always wore a dress and blazer, particularly on days when she had an interview or a big meeting – and this is in a conservative industry (along big law/finance lines). I actually think dress + blazer outfits often look more professional than suits.

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            7. sap

              There are some sheath dress+blazer combos that are basically suits–as in, instead of a skirt of same material as jacket +jacket + shell, it’s a dress of the same material as the jacket + jacket. I wouldn’t bat an eye at that in BigLaw, but I’d bat an eye at sheath dress + different blazer.

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            8. Specialk9

              What a fascinating question. It sounds like in your mind a sheath dress + jacket isn’t a suit. In my mind it definitely is, I almost always interview in a dress suit… though I guess a casual blazer wouldn’t count as a suit. It does have to be a suit quality jacket that goes perfectly with the suit quality sheath dress. So a grey and black colorblock sheath with a black suit jacket is good. A grey jacket of one shade with a different shade/grain grey dress? I wouldn’t wear it.

              But, I mean, realistically I think I wouldn’t be that picky as an interviewer. “Did candidate know and adhere to the suit as interfere attire rule? Check. Ok next.”

              I think one of my very favorite candidates, who I enthusiastically recommended for hire and am still just as enthusiastic about after working together for years, wore a kinda cheap suit that didn’t fit great, and a foot cast and a sneaker. Still a suit, and the sneaker was medically related, so all good. Check. Now on to what an awesome candidate you are.

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          5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I think it’s really field dependent. This wouldn’t be a dealbreaker at any of the nonprofits I’ve worked at, but it would be a dealbreaker at my current job (academia) and my last job (feds). Even with stricter interview attire norms, once hired, the outfit described would be completely fine unless it were a strapless dress (with no cardigan).

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      2. Optimistic Prime

        I work in tech nobody wears suits to our interviews, although if someone did that wouldn’t be a bad thing. People here tend to wear slacks and a dressy top. I’ve seen people wear dark jeans with a blazer and button-down and while that’s a bit too casual, for a really outstanding candidate we overlook it (partially because understanding what to wear at our interviews is a bit difficult).

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        1. MegaMoose, Esq.

          I’ve always been curious if they tell candidates interviewing for their legal department that, too. I’m pretty sure not wearing a suit to an interview would make me so uncomfortable I’ll blow the whole thing. The suit is my lawyer armor!

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          1. Different name

            There is a prestigious law firm that I used to work for that tells candidates not to wear suits to the interview. I spent probably 3 hours picking out an outfit for the interview, because in law school I didn’t really have any clothes that weren’t “ripped punk shit” or “a suit.” I still turned into one of the attorneys who rolled their eyes at candidates who showed up in a suit, because, like, if you can’t follow directions you are not the lawyer I want to work with.

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        2. NW Mossy

          This poses a really lovely idea for hiring managers who don’t expect a suit – they can clue interviewees to that when they set up the meetings.

          Totally back-pocketing this idea for myself, since if I end up hiring for my current team, it’ll almost certainly be from internal candidates. It’d probably be a load off their minds to hear “Hey, feel free to dress as you normally would for work if you’re nervous about starting gossip.”

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          1. Catherine

            Also for hiring managers who do expect a suit. I once interviewed for an entry-level position with someone who had lovely manners, and when he sent me an email with a schedule of the interview, he included a line something like, “Our usual dress code is business casual, but for this important occasion, I’ll be wearing a suit.” It was such a kind way to clue me in to the environment, and I’m surprised more interviewers don’t share more about what the norms are for their interviews. Then again, I remain surprised how few people have mastered the simple phrase, “Please call me ____.” So much energy gets wasted on trying to guess expectations or in condemning others who guessed wrong. If you just let people know, you can save your frustration for those who knew but still failed to comply.

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            1. Specialk9

              That is a real kindness. When I was new in business, I often asked, especially if I was talking with HR and not the hiring manager. “I know suits are standard for interviews and that’s what I’m planning to wear, but I wanted to check that was a good cultural fit with Company.” I still got those jobs, mostly, so I think that was ok.

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      3. plynn

        I’m really bothered by the word ‘trash’ here – not everyone considers “White Trash” to be a slur, but I totally do.

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        1. NDC

          I read it as shorthand for “application materials going into the trash can”, not as a label being applied to the applicant.

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          1. Chicken Superhero

            Oh my gosh, no! I was doing a visual of the resume going in the trash, not calling a person trash for just not knowing how to dress! But I totally get why that bothered you – that would be a horrible thing to say!

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    4. caryatis

      Yep. Changing outfits is the easy, obvious solution. Same thing you would do if you work out before/after work, or if you have a social occasion after work. Bringing an extra outfit shouldn’t be any harder than bringing lunch or remembering your wallet. I would wonder about the planning ability and general competence of someone who couldn’t handle this.

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      1. AdAgencyChick

        “Bringing an extra outfit shouldn’t be any harder than bringing lunch or remembering your wallet.”

        Isn’t it, though? It takes up an awful lot more space than lunch or your wallet. Not everyone has a car or a good place to hide something like this in the office.

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        1. MashaKasha

          Yeah, without a car, I don’t know how I’d even handle this.

          I’ve changed in/behind my car several times (including in the dead of winter in the Midwest/Northeast). But I really wonder about the logistics of bringing in an extra outfit when you take public transportation. Isn’t walking into your office carrying a suit just as big of a neon sign as walking into your office wearing one?

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          1. MegaMoose, Esq.

            When I took the bus regularly it wasn’t that unusual to show up with a larger-than-usual bag from time to time. If you roll a suit loosely enough (and the material isn’t too cheap) it shakes out fine.

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          2. mugsy523

            I think if I had to rely on public transportation, I’d probably end up taking a sick day. Or, if that’s not possible, I may stop off at the gym, leave my stuff in my locker there and change and prep at the gym. Or maybe schedule the interview first thing in the morning and stash my dressier clothes in a gym back so I could show up at the office in my “regular” clothes.

            I”m so fortunate that I work in an office where work from home is very common, even with little notice, so I can just text my boss and say “If’m staying at home today” and not worry about the whole changing thing.

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    5. AnotherAlison

      I wouldn’t say the emoji tie was the sole reason we eliminated a particular candidate from consideration earlier this year, but it certainly contributed. He was interviewing for a role with client-facing duties, and we’re not a quirky, individualistic company. There were other signals that this was not the guy you would send solo to meet with clients.

      In his case it was a deliberate choice, rather than trying to skip a tie or jacket, which could have been to conceal his interview from his employer, but it is still proof that clothes matter more than you may think.

      Reply
    6. Former Hoosier

      I think it would depend on the company whether it would be a negative. At the company where my husband works this would definitely be a negative. At my current company it would not. If the company was business dress and very formal in that interpretation, it would definitely be a negative.

      I do emphathize. I have been in this situation and have used many of the other options including changing in mty car as ways to handle this.

      Reply
      1. SarahTheEntwife

        But is that loyalty or just not wanting to get fired? I find the entire idea of employee loyalty kind of weird, but if I’m actively interviewing, that pretty much already says that I’d like to not have to be loyal to this company anymore.

        Reply
  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    Hard agree with Alison. I’ve changed in the bathroom near the location of my interview (or in the lobby, or in the airport post-flight) numerous times. If she can wear a nicer top and hide it under hoodie, etc., without wrinkling, then she’d only need to switch her shoes/pants. Or she can bring an appropriate dress, which is easier to change into than a multi-piece ensemble. It’s even easier if she uses her own vehicle to commute.

    Reply
  4. Rachel in Minneapolis

    Totally agree with bringing an appropriate business casual outfit and changing on the way! The extra 15 minutes are so worth the reduced stress of 1) knowing you are within business norms for the place you are interviewing and 2) wearing your normal clothes to your current job.

    If you have a car and are driving to your interview, this should be fairly easy to do. If you take public transportation, I suggest wearing the slacks and appropriate shoes and finding a ponte or similar blazer and shirt to keep carefully folded in a tote bag.

    Reply
  5. Samiratou

    I agree with the advice to change on the way. People make jokes here when someone dresses up if they’re going to an interview, so it might be obvious, despite her efforts.

    At my company it’s usually men in suits who get that question vs. women, usually when they have a big presentation or something, but still. Anyone normally in jeans & a t-shirt who is more dressed up is bound to stand out.

    Reply
    1. Cercis

      Admittedly, the place I worked was more business casual than casual, but when I knew I was going to start looking, I’d occasionally dress up more than usual, including wearing a suit. I’d say “oh, my mom went shopping for me and it seems a shame not to wear it” or “laundry day” or even “I slept in and this was already put together so I grabbed it because it was easier” (which was sometimes actually true – and proven so as I was putting on make-up in stages during the morning). So when I actually did interview (a couple of months later) no one even raised an eyebrow when I wore a suit, they’d gotten used to it.

      Reply
  6. arjumand

    How close is this interview?

    What I mean is this – if she has a week or more before her interview, she could start varying her wardrobe, one item at a time, in a “I’m changing my style because after 9 years I feel I needed a change”.

    You said that “some people dress up a bit more” – she could have decided to join those people. Then when the interview comes along, it won’t look like such a drastic change – it’ll be a more gradual progression.

    I’ve done that in the past – not because of any interview, but because there were drastic changes to the dress code at my place of work.
    It would be different if everyone at your workplace is determinedly casual, but as some dress up smarter, it won’t be so obvious.
    If she doesn’t get the job, she can always go back to her casual wear with a simple “Nah, tried it – wasn’t for me”. Or she can keep it up to camouflage future interviews.

    Reply
    1. OP

      When I say “a bit nicer” that means a non-tshirt, non-ratty jeans, cute shoes- hair is done, maybe some jewelry, etc. When I say no one wears slacks, I mean literally no one- my senior manager is currently wearing a polo and jeans and sneakers.

      Reply
      1. Fiennes

        Sounds like maybe the answer is a cute blouse and jewelry, then switching to pants/skirt (and maybe a blazer if appropriate) just before.

        Reply
      2. Newlywed

        Try to wear pieces that you could easily dress up on the fly so you’re not having to change more than one piece in your entire outfit. (Ex. nice top with jeans and interview-appropriate shoes that can be switched out for the skirt or slacks you have hanging in the car and blazer you also have hanging in the car). If you are only having to change one piece of clothing, that piece can easily fit into an attache case or similar that you can take with you on the go. I am also a big fan of slacks/skirts with a stretchy waist that you can pull on and off very quickly in a pinch (knit skirts and pants with drawstring waist are great for this and look professional as long as you “blouse” your shirt so you can’t see the waist). One thing I did while I was looking was start dressing a little bit more professionally overall and it quickly became my new norm, so wearing a blazer or pair of slacks didn’t stand out as much on those days when I was interviewing. If you’re a makeup person, I also recommend you get in the habit of wearing minimal makeup that you can touch up right before the interview so it’s not obvious that you left with no makeup and all the sudden you come back from lunch and your face is done.

        Reply
    2. TCO

      Another excuse could be, “I have to go straight to a board meeting/church event/etc. from work today,” if OP can come up with something that sounds plausible for her to be involved in that could require dress pants, at a minimum.

      Reply
      1. Kelsi

        Yeah I was thinking of the last time we teased one of my bosses about “what, you have an interview?” and she was like “no, I have a date!!” (to be fair she actually did have a date)

        Although it is a little suspicious to dress up + have a “doctor’s appointment” in the middle of the day, even with a prepared excuse.

        Reply
        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          Last time I was in that situation I said I had a meeting at a bank because I was thinking of buying a house.

          Reply
          1. SS

            I was going to give exactly this advice. If changing isn’t possible, just use a cover story that explains not only your absence from the office but also your reason for dressing up: applying for a home loan, looking at a rental property, meeting with a lawyer or judge about something you were a witness to or victim of (something minor like someone rear-ended you or withheld a security deposit they should’ve returned), meeting the priest at a church where you want to get married, lunch date at a fancy restaurant, interview with an adoption agency… Some of these would raise more questions than they answer so obviously choose whatever is least suspicious for you!

            Reply
      2. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

        You can’t get away with this very often, but a funeral or wake is also a valid cover story for wearing a formal suit to work.

        Reply
      3. Overeducated

        Or “laundry day.” I dressed up when I ran out of casual clothes in college and grad school so much that a couple of my friends would joke about it. (As an adult I would say this only works in a place where it’s common to use laundromats/shared machines though, I feel like if everyone lives in single family homes with their own washers it would come off weird.)

        Reply
        1. Paquita

          Someone where I work actually CALLED IN on a Monday because she ‘didn’t have any clean clothes’. She had been camping that weekend. Who wears their work clothes camping?

          Reply
          1. Bagpuss

            I would assume that she left straight after finishing work so had not done the laundry for the previous week’s work clothes, not that she wore her work clothes to go camping.

            But yeah, it’s poor planning. If you normally do your laundry at the weekend and you know you’re going to be away, move it forward anddo the bulk of the laundryu on Thirsday night instead!

            Reply
    3. Teapot Librarian

      This is what I did when I was job searching from a pretty casual office. I just started dressing up more regularly so that a suit didn’t stand out on the rare occasion I had an interview.

      Reply
      1. Jstar

        Agreed! I actually like dressing up so this isn’t hard for me. Even though my office is casual, I’ll basically use any excuse to dress up once a week or maybe every other week. It might be because I have a meeting with higher-ups or have to give a presentation, or even just because it’s a special day (e.g. the first day of classes since I work at a university). But since I do it randomly anyway, I can get away with it on an interview day without any questions.

        Reply
    4. NW Mossy

      I inadvertently started doing this a few years ago when I decided that I really liked dresses – now, I wear them almost every day and even jeans are a rarity for me. It definitely makes interviewing internally way easier, because the slight up-level required is barely noticeable – it worked out beautifully for the last round I did earlier this year (and I got the job).

      It also had the knock-on effect of making people perceive me differently in terms of my career trajectory – I’m told I come off as much more of a senior-leader-in-the-making, which is very much where I want to go. As slightly icky as it is to think that presentation influences perception of whether or not you’re serious, capable, reliable, competent, etc., it really does. Consistently being a step up from those around you in how you dress can give you a level of perceived credibility that you can then back up by being generally amazing at your work.

      Reply
      1. MyInnerDemonLikesCookies

        I’ve done this, too — I occasionally dress up a little more (sometimes because I have a meeting and sometimes, just because). I have noticed that in some outfits, I feel a bit more confident — so if I have a meeting I’m dreading, I pull out one of those “power dresses” and a cardigan or jacket.

        Years ago, I did work in an office that was casual and when I did occasionally wear something other than jeans, my one boss would always snip something like “Oh, going to an interview?” Uh, no. Usually, it was — going out after work later, or, at one point, getting a loan to buy a house. But, I used to like to think that by dressing up a bit once in a while kept him on his toes.

        Reply
        1. Master Bean Counter

          I used to do this when I worked for the government. I found that if I dressed up a bit more when going to the meetings I’d get heard and my counterpart in another office didn’t get taken so seriously because he was there in business casual. Worked really well with the software consultants. I got everything on my wish list out of them. My counter part, no so much.

          Reply
      2. Specialk9

        This, exactly. I noticed early in my career that my entry level peers wore jeans, but the bosses wore business attire. Ok, got it. I then – and still to this day – only wore jeans on rare occasions. I think it helped my career. People had fluid roles on many projects, and I think people assumed I was more senior than I was.

        Reply
    5. AlexandrinaVictoria

      I did this with makeup so it wouldn’t be obvious that I was wearing it for one day for an interview. Just started wearing it about a week before, said I felt like a change.

      Reply
  7. Noah

    What if you’re walking to the interview? Furthermore, what if you’re walking to the interview and you are a man, so you can’t reasonably show up with a bag big enough to hold your extra clothes?

    Reply
      1. babblemouth

        Didn’t we have a letter once from someone whose coworker completely changed her look, including haircut, over lunch on a regular basis? I feel like this is who we should reach out to in order to solve this problem :)

        Reply
    1. Chriama

      Men can’t carry messenger bags or backpacks or laptop bags or briefcases? I feel like this is getting into “not everyone can have sandwiches” territory.

      Reply
    2. Amtelope

      Backpack? Gym bag? “I’m going to hit the gym after work” seems like a reasonable enough excuse if you need one, although frankly I don’t think people are going to ask. I don’t pay attention to what kind of bags my coworkers do or don’t bring to work.

      Reply
    3. caryatis

      A gender-neutral shoulder bag or tote bag would work, and an extra outfit is not too heavy to carry while you’re walking.

      Reply
    4. SG

      I recommend repurposing a laptop bag or something similar if you have it to store the change of clothes. You can swap out everything except the dress shoes, which you can probably wear with either outfit unless you usually wear sneakers.

      Reply
    5. Callalily

      This is why you need to wear something you can transition with minimal additional pieces… you can always leave nice shoes under your desk and only change them at the end of the day.

      If you need a suit then you can stash one at a nearby dry cleaner (or other business) or even have a friend willing to be waiting nearby with your second outfit and can grab your old clothes.

      Reply
    6. Noah

      I’m sorry, but it is not appropriate to bring a gym bag to an interview.

      My clothes won’t fit in a laptop bag or a briefcase, especially if I need them to stay in decent condition so I can put them back on and go back to work.

      Reply
      1. Susanne

        Then you use common sense and you ask the receptionist if there is a place you can store your bag. Just like when you travel and have a bag or suitcase and you ask the receptionist to store it. It’s just not all that difficult. We don’t need to make things more complicated than they are.

        Anyway, what’s more “not appropriate”? Bringing a bag to the interview and storing it with a receptionist, or showing up wildly underdressed?

        Reply
      2. AnotherAlison

        I have an overnight small roller bag that would be perfect for this, and a few of my coworkers bring similar roller bags to work daily as their briefcase/laptop bags. If you were worried about it, you could get such a bag and bring it to your job regularly beforehand. I realize this could be an extra expense, but if you travel at all, it’s useful.

        Reply
      3. SheLooksFamiliar

        Corporate HR here, Fortune 100 company so I’m very ‘corporate.’ And it is absolutely not a big deal for our candidates to bring a bag to their interview. They leave bags in a closet in the reception area, or with the receptionist if the closet is full. We understand that candidates can’t give themselves by wearing interview attire to their casual workplace – it’s all part of the interview process, and a little empathy goes a long way towards a good candidate experience.

        OTOH, it would be inappropriate to judge them for doing it or, worse, declining their candidacy.

        Reply
    7. sap

      Almost any office you’re interviewing at that has a receptionist will let you leave your bag there. The receptionist isn’t going to tell on you, unless you are interviewing at an office with terrible culture and wouldn’t want the job anyway

      Reply
  8. Emily

    I also work in a very casual office, and it is for this reason that I mix up my dress level randomly so that any one time I dress up more for an interview, it will go unnoticed.

    I’ve come to work wearing jeans and a sweatshirt (which is fine in my workplace), or pants and a blazer, or one of my nicest dresses.

    To get the job I have now, I folded up a blazer and put it in my bag, and slipped it on along with a fancy scarf and jewelry, on the way. So, I wore nice slacks and a blouse to work that day, but wore nice slacks, a blouse, blazer, and accessories to the interview.

    Reply
    1. Tish the tester

      Yes! This is what I do…I used to mostly dress up on Fridays and when questioned, I’d point out we were so casual that there was no way to go even more so on Fridays, so I went the opposite. Once people got used to seeing me dressed up, they stopped noticing on other days.

      Reply
    2. Elizabeth

      I think this is a good strategy. My office is super casual, but I fluctuate my personal dress all the time, not because of interviews, but because I have a life outside of work! I go on dates, I go to the theater, I meet out-of-towners at nice restaurants. There are many reasons people could be dressing up. Good to remind yourself of that if you need an excuse for nosy coworkers!

      Reply
      1. Catherine

        Yes! I know some people really, really love casual offices, but when my office went casual, I felt like it made it obvious that some people had important places to go, and work didn’t think it was one of them

        Reply
    3. Optimistic Prime

      I mix it up a lot too – more because that’s my personal style, but few people have ever commented on my level of dress relative to other days.

      Reply
    4. Christmas Carol

      I agree. There are dozens of “reasons” to dress up randomly, I’m having lunch w/my fella, who lovoooes me in skirted suits and pumps, I’m on stand-by to serve as a witness in a court case, I’m having dinner with my broker, my family is being stalked by the paparazzi, I’m being investigated by 60 minutes, ……the key is to start to vary your wardrobe early in your tenure

      Reply
    5. perpetual searcher

      This has been my strategy! I work at a very casual nonprofit and used to wear jeans and tshirts all the time to work. When I decided to start searching I began dressing more nicely in general – more business casual, I guess. And I would occasionally wear even nicer clothes to work for no reason other than “just felt like dressing up.” So now when I have interviews my more formal attire isn’t notable (though I’ll usually still stash my blazer in my bag and wait to put it on until the interview).

      I’ve been job searching for an embarrassingly long time, so what I thought would be a short-term ruse has become habit, but I’ve found that I actually like having a stylistic separation between work and the weekends.

      Reply
  9. The IT Manager

    #1 Buy an appropriate outfit.
    #2 Change on the way to the interview

    Generally you should dress one level nicer than your interviewer so your sister should dress better than business casual if she knows that their standard. If she can’t confirm, she should definitely dress formally. It’s expected the person interviewing is going to be dressed to impressed and they will often be better dressed than their interviewer. That should not be considered a mistake. As an interviewer I would view it as a mistake for someone to show up in jeans even if that’s what many of my co-workers wear.

    Reply
  10. Afternoon Sugar Cravings

    One of the few times, I am happy to be a woman…. skirts are perfect for this…. I’ve worn jeans into work with a nice top and then just thrown an interview skirt on in the car and slipped off the jeans. Add a blazer, and boom you can go from casual to professional very quickly.

    Reply
  11. Rachel Green

    I don’t think “cute” is the kind of look you should be aiming for at an interview, or in the office. I agree with Alison that she needs to find a way to change clothes before the interview. And if she’s hesitant to spend the money on “professional” clothes, maybe it will make her feel better to look at it as buying an interview outfit that she can wear at any future interviews. A lot of people, I think, have a suit or outfit that is their designated “interview” suit or outfit.

    Reply
    1. Floundering Mander

      I think the definition of “cute” is quite flexible, though. To me it just means “actually looks flattering on”, not “makes me look like an adorable child”.

      Reply
  12. beanie beans

    In regards to the part about not having more formal business attire already in the closet – I’ve borrowed blazers and/or nice dresses from friends before for interviews!

    And yep changed at a coffee shop on the way. It’s a pain to have a bag of clothes but if you plan it right, it doesn’t have to be a gigantic bag.

    Reply
  13. Kelly L.

    Become infamous for overdressing every few weeks or so, and blame it on needing to do the laundry. ;)

    (At least that’s me.)

    Reply
    1. SheLooksFamiliar

      Years ago I worked in a very casual office and actually did run out of jeans and sweaters because I hadn’t done laundry for a while. I wore a suit to work, and got teased all day about interviewing. I brown bagged my lunch and stayed late with my project team because we were on deadline – it was obvious my schedule was the same, only my clothes were different. Even so, my boss admitted that he was concerned I was job hunting. Those suits, I tell you, they send a message!

      Reply
  14. Fiennes

    I’d probably cook up another cover story — like, “I’ve got a big date after work” or some such. Maybe even arrange to go out with SO/friends that evening so it’s 100% true. Why not get double the mileage out of a classy outfit?

    Reply
    1. saminrva

      I was going to suggest something like this too! Dress up and if anyone asks, your answer will be that you’re going to a networking event or something after work. Here’s a true story you could use: I once went with a friend (as her guest) to a women-in-leadership networking group at her POW, which was a fancy NYC finance place. I’m a librarian, so the pants suit I wore that day looked really out of place when I got back to work afterward, but I just told everyone why I was dressed like that and it was no big deal.

      Reply
  15. Callalily

    I’m in this predicament right now…

    My best interview outfit is a simple black dress with a gray blazer. But my office dress code results in me always wearing skirts, jeans, or old dress pants with business casual tops.

    I don’t have a vehicle so I don’t have the option to change that much before I arrive.

    I am leaning towards putting my normal fun skirts and a black t-shirt on top of my dress and folding my blazer in a borrowed oversized purse. When leaving I can pop in a shop to shove my skirt and shirt into my purse and throw on my blazer… this also protects my dress from any stains during the day.

    If it turns out to be freezing I may need to find a baggier pair of pants that I can slip my dress under.

    I’m also keeping my makeup in jewelry in my purse so no one comments on why I am wearing better makeup and jewelry during the day and turn me into a blushing mess.

    Reply
  16. H.C.

    Another who’s changed in the car before (I wore dressier-than-usual slacks to the office, and changed tops in my car just before I got to the interview site.)

    Alternatively, I’ve requested start of day interviews and then “changed down” to my more casual work clothes afterwards (which is easier than changing up to interview clothes.)

    Reply
  17. LAC

    Seconding Allison’s suggestion to find a coffee shop to change in before the interview. I have had success changing in Starbucks bathrooms either before interviews or before meetings I had to travel long distances to. Starbucks have the benefit of being ubiquitous, their bathrooms are single occupancy so you have some privacy, and they’re generally clean. But really any place with a modicum of privacy should do in a pinch.

    Reply
    1. Jessa

      Yep, I was changing in Panera when I was interviewing last spring (I was also doing full extensive wardrobe changes but I’d gotten it down pretty quickly). My old office was very casual–everyone wore jeans–but I was interviewing at much more traditional law offices. It worked pretty well. And I was able to grab a bagel.

      Reply
  18. OP

    OP here with an update on how the situation played out, since the interview was a couple of weeks ago:

    “Jane” is very happy at our company, but a recruiter contacted her with this opportunity, so she decided to just check it out, and ended up getting offered an in person interview with short notice. She was unsure if she really wanted to move to this company even if they offered her the job, hence her reticence at buying a whole new outfit for the interview. She decided to buy a pair of black slacks, and wore a nice top to work and changed in the bathroom on her way out ( we have a large multi-building campus so she did this in another building). No one at work noticed, and she decided she wasn’t interested in the job, and thought, based on what the employees at that office were wearing, that her original outfit would have been appropriate.

    Reply
    1. Solidus Pilcrow

      I’m sure it’s been said repeatedly in the archives, but interview dress is a separate category above everyday office dress. Most office jobs expect a suit for interviews even if they allow basketball shorts and flip-flops in the office.

      Reply
      1. JeanB in NC

        I just don’t think that’s true any more. I’ve worked in accounting my whole career and I have never worn a suit for interviews, just a nice pair of pants and dressy top, a work dress with blazer or cardigan, or a nice skirt and shirt. It’s never been a problem.

        Reply
        1. Optimistic Prime

          I agree that it’s true that you don’t necessarily need a suit – although it varies by industry – but I also agree with Solidus Pilcrow that interview attire is a separate category from everyday attire and you can’t go by what people in the office are wearing. Here many (most?) people wear jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers to work but that wouldn’t be appropriate for an interview.

          Reply
        2. Specialk9

          A suit is mandatory in the regions and fields I’ve worked in. (Big cities with lots of businesses and universities, up and down the East Coast, and abroad.) Even when actual day to day attire isn’t suit.

          Reply
        1. OP

          I agree with that, Alison. Our geographic area is definitely known for being a bit more laid back and most employers in the area are at least somewhat similar to us- I don’t think I know many people who have to wear a suit to work. This, coupled with working in such a casual environment for a long time, can cloud your judgment of what you need to wear to an interview! But she went the safe route and wore slacks, and now she’s got a pair in case she interviews externally again (which I doubt she will for a long time after this experience!)

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Keep in mind, though, that there are a lot of places where people don’t wear suits to work but still expect candidates to wear a suit to interview. In general, what’s expected for interviewees may not correlate to what they’d be wearing day to day.

            Reply
          2. tigerlily

            Agreed. My geographic area is so casual we as an entire community had to come up with our own version of Casual Friday because Casual Friday for us is just…Friday.

            Reply
      2. Cercis

        It’s definitely a “know your industry” thing, though. I interviewed one place and the feedback (through a friend that worked there) was that I wouldn’t fit in because I wore a suit. Even though they’d all seen me in action in various levels of dress (even jeans). They were really that turned off by a simple suit. It then happened again at another employer – there the feedback was that it appeared I was aiming for management and wouldn’t be happy in the mid-level role. So for my industry, apparently, the right thing to wear is slacks and a nice blouse with a coordinating, but not matching blazer. And even then it could be too dressed up.

        Reply
      3. Quirk

        Not in tech. In fact, I’d say wearing a suit is on the borderline of hurting you in tech, particularly if you’re on the senior side; it makes you look old-fashioned. Wearing a tie is definitely a big no-no. When I am being interviewed I wear business casual now but that’s still usually more formal than my interviewers, and when I’m interviewing I don’t see people in suits very often.

        That said, I think business casual is still safer than jeans and t-shirt even for places where the dress code is very relaxed.

        Reply
    2. Former Hoosier

      Thanks for the update. The general rule of thumb for an interview is that you dress better than the norm if the company dress is business casual.

      Reply
      1. OP

        I see people in our lobby wearing suits occasionally, and know instantly that they are an external candidate here for an interview. I chuckle to myself because they are going to walk past hundreds of people in jeans and tank tops and flip flops and stick out like a sore thumb. Of course no one would dock you for that- that’s interviewing standard operating procedure, but it is so outside of our office norms.

        Reply
        1. Janelle

          Office norms or not you laughing that they dressed appropriately is silly and immature. You really think they should show up in a tank you and flip flops to an interview because that is the office norm??

          Reply
          1. OP

            I don’t walk up to them and laugh…… it just amuses me because it’s so different from our culture. I notice it and keep walking.
            If I knew someone interviewing at my company, I would encourage them to dress nicely and look polished but not to wear a suit- I think that choice would show that you researched enough to find the appropriate level of dress for this interview, rather than just saying “oh I have an interview, better wear a suit” without regards to where you’re interviewing.

            Reply
            1. Annie

              Unfortunately, there are still enough places that would dock you (consciously or unconsciously) for not dressing in “standard operating procedure interview clothes” that I always dress nicer than might be the norm at any given company. And, from the hiring side, I would probably take the person who dressed nicely more seriously than the guy/girl who showed up in a sundress or (to take it to the extreme) basketball shorts, just because that’s so out of the norm for job candidates who want to make a good impression.

              Reply
              1. Quirk

                Yes, but bear in mind that overdressing can take you out of “standard operating procedure interview clothes” just as underdressing can. Most interviewers would exhibit amusement if a male candidate turned up in white tie and tails. In tech, the suit is gradually beginning to encroach on that territory.

                IMO the best results come from being slightly better dressed than your interviewers. Too little is a gaffe; too much is also a gaffe.

                Reply
                1. SarahTheEntwife

                  Yeah, I had an interview with a tech company (not in a tech role, though) and my skirt suit was about three levels more formal than what my interviewer was wearing. It was awkward.

            2. BadPlanning

              For the record, the description of your company is so close to mine that I could have written this letter including having this feeling: “Oh look, a suit, totally a new person. Possibly a visiting exec.”

              Reply
            3. NaoNao

              I think one possible challenge, especially for women, is that outside of a suit “proper” it can be very challenging to walk that fine line between dressed up *enough* and not too overdressed. I had an interview with a company owned by Twitter (so, basically Twitter) and they specified “no suits”. I wore a black silk tunic over a draped gray skirt, black tights and gray booties, all very minimal and artsy. My interviewer were in jeans and tees. I did feel dressed up, but I’m also into fashion and clothing and own a clothing store as a side gig. So, for those that don’t love fashion…it can be hard to know what to wear that reads as pulled together, professional, and elegant without being a suit. Especially for very casual or tech environments!

              Reply
        2. the gold digger

          I had an interview at Harley Davidson. I wore an orange skirt with a black cinched-waist jacket and thought I looked professional but not a slave to little navy suit.

          Except – every single person I saw at the HQ was in jeans. Every. Single. One.

          So really, they were the conformists, not me. Which meant I did fit into the culture. :)

          Reply
  19. Not Today Satan

    Is changing possible for people who take public transit to work? A blazer/suit jacket really needs to be kept on a hanger.

    Reply
    1. Susanne

      Of course changing is possible for people who take public transport. Heavens, plenty of people work out in the mornings, bring a dressier outfit, and take public transit to work.

      Reply
    2. Parcae

      You can get suit separates in ponte knit, which (at least in my experience) really resists wrinkling. It doesn’t look as nice/formal as wool, but if I needed to execute a wardrobe change in conjunction with public transit, that’s probably what I’d wear.

      That, or find somewhere to stash a garment bag. I bet the clerk at the corner store would hang on to it for a few bucks.

      Reply
    3. Jstar

      Does it? Every time I’ve had an interview, I’ve taken my blazer folded up in a large shoulder bag, then pulled it out on the way to the interview. Never had a problem with this.

      Reply
    4. RR

      Regular public transit rider here. One approach that worked well for me, but only in the winter/colder months, was to wear my interview suit (skirt + blazer) with a cardigan, and my large winter coat over the entire ensemble. I got to my office at toxic job, hung up my coat *with the blazer inside it* and wore the cardigan. Removed cardigan, put coat/blazer combo back on and left midday for interview. Also swapped out shoes — they fit in my large hand bag. Once I arrived at interview office, took off outer winter coat, kept blazer on.

      Reply
  20. Anon for Sure

    I typically stop at a gas station or a Starbucks (or some other place where the restrooms are kept reasonably clean) and change into a suit.

    And I do believe a suit is what is most appropriate to interview in, unless you are certain that it would a strike against you (which in some creative fields it may well be).

    Reply
  21. TheCupcakeCounter

    If sis is looking for another Finance position a suit is a must. Buy the outfit and find a place to change. Here is what I would wear to each on interview day:
    Current job: black leggings, a nice shell/cami, and a cardigan
    Interview: slip a pair of suit pants on over the leggings and replace the cardigan with a jacket.

    Have her start wearing nicer tops/outfits now so it isn’t so noticeable.

    Reply
  22. Nervous Accountant

    OH! I started thinking about this during the summer. My office is the same in that everyone wears what they want. The guys get away with it bc most of them usually wear slacks and a button down and can just put their tie in their bag and put it on later on. I wear a variety of things through the week, from leggings, to jeans to slacks, and these days a lot of skirts/dresses.

    What I did was I slowly started changing my dress to be a little dressier. A button down once or twice a week, a pencil skirt twice a week etc. It also helps that I wear makeup on a regular basis so it wasn’t a huge change. ther’es always a few wink wink nudges but nothing crazy (or job threatening).

    it also helps that it’s an open secret that we’re looking, and I also love to shop so

    Reply
  23. k.k

    I have an outfit suggestions that are variations of “wear part of the outfit to work”. These involve buying new clothes, and some creative layering. But if she’s not able to find time/place to fully change, it can work.

    Black or grey pencil skirt, with a casual t-shirt (graphic tees are even more casual), hoodie, and casual shoes (I’d go with some Keds or Converse sneakers). A dressy tank shell under the t-shirt. Then she just pops off the hoodie and tee, throws on a cardigan or blazer, and switches shoes. You could replace the skirt/shell combos with a simple sheath dress. Either way the only dress things the coworkers will see is a basic skirt.

    Reply
  24. B

    I dress up at least one day a week to work. For a lot of reasons, mostly because I like to change things up. It does avoid the problem.

    Reply
  25. OP

    Once when I was working at a casual office and was interviewing, I was very lucky that there was a huge hotel and convention center about two blocks away. I took my dressy clothes and changed in their bathrooms. And walking into a hotel, even the convention center part of it, with a small bag didn’t look strange in the least. Plus they had nice bathrooms.

    OP, I’d tell your sister to see if there are any hotels between your workplace and the interview location.

    Reply
  26. Bend & Snap

    She should change. And figure out where to change beforehand.

    I’ve done everything from changing in my office building in a bathroom on another floor and then sneaking out to my car, to changing in a building near the interview and putting my clothes in my (very large) interview bag.

    A black dress/jacket suit is my favorite for this because you’re not juggling a ton of clothing and it’s very versatile. Bring jewelry in a little bag, makeup for a touch up, a brush obviously, and heels and all set.

    Reply
  27. team sansa

    I had this exact issue for my last interview, which was internal and on the Friday before Labor day (so, even more casual than a regular day). I didn’t have the option to change mid-day, because I was on-site the entire time, and it would have been pretty weird to see my interviewer in the bathroom as I was changing into my interview outfit. I did wear a cardigan over the dress and swapped in a blazer 15 minutes before the interview… but it was still so obvious that I was dressed up for something special that the CEO quizzed me about why I looked so nice.

    The only upside was that over half the office was out that day, including all but one of my department, so only a few people noticed…

    Reply
  28. KR

    I think potentially the person could find another more fancy excuse for the job interview too – “I’m meeting with a financial advisor.” Or “A friend of mine has a court appearance and needs support.” Or “I have a networking lunch with [person] from [old job with fancy dress code] and it’s a nice restaurant. “

    Reply
    1. OP

      The problem with these “excuses” is that no one is going to come out and ask you why you are dressed up- they are just going to wonder and make assumptions in their head. To announce this would feel a bit forced and like you’re trying to cover something up (which you are). -At least that has been my experience here with MY coworkers. I can tell pretty easily when someone has an interview, but I don’t ask them about it- I just note it in my head.

      Reply
      1. Zip Zap

        Yes, but you will be saying something about leaving early. So you could say something that sounds un-interview-like but would explain how you’re dressed. I can’t think of any good examples right now, but I’ll let you know if anything comes to mind.

        Reply
      2. SarahTheEntwife

        It also seems like if you’re friendly at all with your coworkers or any of them are nosy, they’re going to ask about whatever it is you made up, and it sounds exhausting trying to keep up a consistent story.

        Reply
  29. MsMaryMary

    If working from home is an option, that could solve the “everyone will notice I’m dressed up” problem. I don’t have a regular work from home schedule, but I do it occasionally, like when I’m expecting a delivery or having work on the house. Working from home would fit well with the “doctor appointment” excuse too.

    Reply
    1. OP

      This is a good idea! We do have that flexibility in our work, so if I ever interview externally again, I may take this approach.

      Reply
  30. 2 Cents

    There’s a difference, though, between dressing to interview for a job and being a person already employed in that job. I don’t think it’s unusual to expect interviewees to fall on the “too dressy” side of the dress code norm for a given office, since the interviewee is trying to create a good impression that they’re taking the opportunity seriously and didn’t just walk in after a gym session (one person I interviewed looked like she’d pulled on her yoga uniform).

    Reply
  31. AdAgencyChick

    Reading the question and the answer makes me think, “Thank Cthulhu I don’t work in DC.” (I remember that story just a couple of months ago about the reporter who was kicked out of a press meeting for not wearing sleeves. That would never happen in my industry, never!)

    Thankfully, in advertising we all show up to work in jeans on a regular basis, and because this is NYC, people are pretty sympathetic to the fact that no one owns a car in which to stash an extra outfit. (Not to mention, as everyone’s desk space shrinks and shrinks with the adoption of open offices industry-wide, there’s nowhere you could hide it in your desk area either!) I have both interviewed and been interviewed in jeans, and no one bats an eyelash.

    In OP’s sister’s shoes, I would try and find a nice black matte jersey dress, either short-sleeved or sleeveless, and wear that to work, perhaps with some funky jewelry so it feels casual. Then for the interview, I’d put the jewelry in my purse and top the dress with a blazer so the whole thing feels suit-like.

    Reply
  32. EddieSherbert

    When I was interviewing LIKE CRAZY after college trying to land a job, I had a car with no A/C (and live somewhere where’s it’s too hot to drive very far in a suit jacket)… I totally mastered changing in the car. Hahaha. Omg.

    I was a huge fan of the suit jacket and scarf combo too – I’d wear a tank top there for the drive, and then throw the jacket/scarf on. Looked legitimate!

    Reply
  33. That Would Be a Good Band Name

    We are jeans and t-shirts here. I’ve been rotating in nice tops that become business casual when pants are switched to my regular wardrobe. This way it’s not a big sign advertising that I’m leaving for an interview when I wear something nicer. Today actually, I have on a shell, cardigan, jeans and sneakers. To go to a business casual interview, I’d just need to change the pants and shoes. I do still have to stop and do a change, but when you work in a super casual environment even a nice top and leaving in the middle of the day gets you a few sideways looks.

    Reply
    1. OP

      I’ve seen a few iterations of this comment, and I think the idea of slowly working in some more formal pieces into your daily wardrobe at work is a good idea for people who are actively interviewing externally, and may be spending the next weeks and months popping out dressed a bit more formally. In this particular instance though, she had about two days notice for the interview, so not really feasible.

      Reply
  34. Anon today...and tomorrow

    My husband works in a place where jeans and t-shirts are the norm. He’s been job searching for a while outside of his current field. He really believed that a pair of cargo pants and a polo shirt were appropriate for an interview as this was what he’s interviewed in for the last four jobs he’s had. In fact, at the interview for his current job he had a black eye from the work he does and nobody even commented on it.
    He now has an interview outfit I dragged him to the mall (torture for him!) and we spent an evening finding him something that worked on every level of professionalism. He looks gooooood! :)

    Reply
  35. Janelle

    I really don’t see the issue with just changing. Simple. Easy. Don’t make excuses about lack of dress, it will make her look like she couldn’t put ten minutes of simple effort in.

    Reply
  36. Zip Zap

    Allison has good advice. I’m a big fan of changing clothes between places (work / interview / after work professional thing / after work fun thing). If you’re concerned about wrinkles, you can get a small steamer and steam between places too. Or drop off the dress clothes at the dry cleaners and plan to pick them up on your way to the interview.

    FYI, there is a popular chain of coffee shops that has large single person bathrooms. Go to a few of the biggest chains in your area and you’ll know which one I’m talking about.

    Reply
    1. OP

      For me, the idea of having to drive to a coffee shop, change in the bathroom, then drive across town to the interview and then repeat the whole process over before I get back to work seems like a lot of work, and I would really have to want to job to do all that. That outlook is probably influenced by the fact that I’ve been at the same company for several years and love it here- the hoops you sometimes have to jump through to get a new job can be daunting if it’s not something you’ve done in a long time.

      Reply
      1. Janelle

        Wow. What a bad attitude for someone I’d interview. A lot of work. Better really want the job. Just a bad attitude to have going into any job interview.

        This all goes to why I despise overly casual workplaces. Seeing someone in an office in jeans and a sweatshirt or t shirt just is the worst. So unprofessional. Unless it’s manual labor I just don’t believe in any office allowing this.

        Reply
        1. the gold digger

          I don’t think it’s a bad attitude at all – it’s realistic. If you already like your job, the bar is really high to leave it for an unknown. I am positive that OP would not saunter into an interview rolling her eyes with an “Impress me” attitude. She would be professional. But – she would take the interview only if the new job really appealed to her, as would I in the same situation.

          Reply
          1. JD

            I just flat out disagree. I think that if you are taking someones time to interview you can have respect. Otherwise don’t waste their time even if don’t need the job. It is just professional and polite. I suppose when I interview I never know if that is someones thought process but if I found out I would be so put off.

            Reply
            1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

              Interviewees turn down jobs all the time. It isn’t disrespect, it is just part of the hiring process, same as interviewers not moving ahead with candidates. Sometimes a job piques your interest a bit, even if you are happy where you are and are not looking to move jobs. Sometimes that translates into changing jobs and sometimes it translates into staying where you are.

              Reply
            2. BuildMeUp

              It sounds like she isn’t taking up anyone’s time with an interview if she’s not interested in the job, though. I took from OP’s comment that she would only accept an interview if it was a position/company she was really interested in, and that otherwise she wouldn’t bother interviewing.

              Reply
            3. Torrance

              It’s not like you’re going to hire everyone you interview. You’re trying interviews out to see which one you like the best, interviewees do the same things with jobs.

              And, honestly, it’s so much more work for the interviewee– you are getting paid for your time, the interviewee is mostly likely paying for the interview in one way or another (PTO, a *sick* day, etc). I think it’s kinda sad how much of a song and dance interviewees have to put on. This letter is a prime example– lie to your coworkers (make up an excuse), put your current job at risk (because you have to be fancy for the interviewer), etc. Ugh.

              Reply
            4. the gold digger

              I didn’t say she (or I) wouldn’t have respect. I am saying that she (and I) would go through the hassle of interviewing only if she (and I) really wanted the job.

              Interviewing is a pain in the neck and there are only two conditions under which I will do it:

              1. I hate my current job (or am unemployed) so am desperate for a new job, so the bar is really, really low.

              2. I really like my current job so am going to go through the hassle of interviewing only if the prospective job sounds fabulous.

              Reply
        2. Anon today...and tomorrow

          Frankly I think that casual dress is fine for a lot of professions where there’s no face to face interaction with clients. I sit at a desk, on the phone all day. My voice is my interaction with our patients. I am professional, kind, and compassionate with every single patient I speak with. How I’m dressed has no bearing on my professionalism for my job function.

          Reply
        3. OP

          I think it’s a great thing. I get to dress in what makes me feel comfortable and not worry about impressing anyone. I am not client facing at all, so it doesn’t really matter what I dress like. We are a group of high performers at a great company, our jeans and sneakers don’t seem to be holding us back one bit :)

          And yeah, when you’re happy with your job, you’re more resistant to jumping through hoops to get a new job. If I was unemployed and really hurting for a job, I would be more than happy to hustle and do whatever it takes to get a new job- I have definitely been there, done that. But that’s not my position, nor “Jane”s, so that’s how we both feeel.

          Reply
        4. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          I disagree. My office is very casual unless we are interacting outside the building (then business formal). Today my boss is wearing shorts and her hippy sandals. I love it because you can always wear something that is weather appropriate and no need to change shoes if you walk or bike to work, something not always possible with more formal offices. 95% of the time we are sitting at desks and interacting with each other. Why wear out nice clothes?

          Reply
        5. BuildMeUp

          It sounds like OP is saying she would only be willing to do that for a job she really wants. Wouldn’t you want a job candidate who really wants the job? And not just because they’re desperate to escape a bad job, but because they’re actually interested in the position you’re hiring for on its own merits?

          Reply
        6. TootsNYC

          Janelle, this is the second time you have directly. attacked the OP and called her names or cast aspersions on her character.

          Not cool.

          Reply
        7. Alice

          Hmm. I suspect that the OP might not want to work in the kind of environment that you like, so it’s good that people like you and people like OP have interview processes as a chance to mutually turn each other down.

          Reply
      2. Elizabeth H.

        Is it really that difficult? Sure it is kind of a pain to do the process 2x but you ideally actually want the job! Also I change in my car (like change EVERYTHING) all the time. It’s not hard.

        Reply
        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          I think the OP is coming from the perspective of being happy at her current job, so any interview would be from curiosity rather than desire. In cases like that “more trouble than it is worth” makes perfect sense.

          Reply
          1. OP

            Bingo, Danger. I am very satisfied where I am, so any job opportunity right now I would approach with a “hmm let’s see if I’m really interested” mindset rather than a “please oh please I’ll do anything” one. For my sister who I wrote about, the whole process was so fast- one day, she gets a random LinkedIn message from a recruiter, and not a week later she’s going for an in person interview she doesn’t even know she wants to participate in. I would definitely “play the game” in terms of doing the research and dressing the part for an interview, but if they asked me to jump through a bunch of hoops (I’ve read some of the horror stories here!), I would be less inclined to do so. I actually think this attitude helps with my confidence- I’ve been desperate for a job before, and that comes across in interviews as me being panicky and not my best.

            Reply
            1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

              I’m in a similar position and know exactly what you mean. I might interview if I ran into an opening that was interesting enough and would put in a good faith amount of effort. However, I’ve no pressing need or interest in a new job, so I’d pull out of anything too onerous. I also agree that the poise/calm of interviewing when you don’t actually need a job is an added advantage.

              Reply
        2. Free Meerkats

          True, it’s not hard for most people. But it is very entertaining to watch from my work vehicles that sit high. It’s a demonstration of flexibility to watch someone change pantyhose at a red light.

          Reply
        3. Zillah

          I do want to note that for people who have difficulty with time management or just have limited time, it can be hard. It may be worth it and/or necessary – it often is! – but I think that dismissing the difficulty isn’t ideal.

          Reply
      3. Zip Zap

        I guess that could be a lot depending on where you live. I was thinking of a city where there are tons of coffee shops and it wouldn’t add much time. But in a more rural area, you could change in your car. Just offering suggestions.

        Reply
      4. Specialk9

        “For me, the idea of having to drive to a coffee shop, change in the bathroom, then drive across town to the interview and then repeat the whole process over before I get back to work seems like a lot of work, and I would really have to want to job to do all that.”

        So you wrote in to an advice columnist with an active commentariat, but didn’t really want an answer to your question? ‘But that’s haaaaard’ is really bizarre when a bunch of people chimed in to help you.

        Reply
  37. MsManager

    I interviewed someone who wore jeans and a tshirt and gave the “didn’t want my current employer to know” explanation. It definitely affected my decision. My first thought was “where are your problem solving skills if the only solution you can come up with is to make an excuse”. Since the job she was interviewing for requires that skill, she showed me she wasn’t suited for the job (no pun intended).

    Reply
    1. Bagpuss

      Yes, for me, someone making that excuse would be more of an issue than just showing up casually dressed. It give the impression that you are the kind of person who makes excuses rather than trying to solve a problem, and that would raise concerns for me.

      Reply
  38. not so super-visor

    I’ve definitely done the change in the gas station bathroom on the way to the interview and change in the coffee shop bathroom on my way back thing! I got some weird looks at the coffee shop, but at least I got a latte out of it!

    Reply
  39. Lauren

    I usually say – I’ve procrastinated doing laundry or say i’m going to a wake later, or just mess with my boss and dress up for all my dentist appointments and wink. The laundry one works the best, so much so, when I dress for meetings – someone always comments on my ‘laundry outfit’ as the default reason.

    Reply
  40. stitchinthyme

    I’ve actually changed in the bathroom closest to the exit door at my current company; there’s some risk that coworkers might see you leave and come back, of course, but it’s easier than trying to find a place with a handy bathroom (especially since I hate being “that person” who goes into someplace to use the bathroom and not buy anything).

    I’m just glad that nowadays it’s no longer mandatory to wear a suit to an interview (except for certain companies and certain positions, of course — but I work in the software industry, which tends towards the casual), because I’ve only ever worked for one company that required everyone to wear a suit (my first job out of college) — ever since, interviews were the only time I ever wore suits. The last time I wore one was in 2008, and that one doesn’t fit me anymore. For my last couple of interviews, I just went with business casual, generally black jeans and a nice top and the one pair of shoes I have that aren’t sneakers.

    Reply
  41. Serin

    Sometimes it’s helpful to own items that are casual in shape but formal in fabric. For instance, if your co-workers wouldn’t blink if you wore a tank or a tee made of cotton, they probably also wouldn’t blink if you wore a tank or a tee made of silk. If you could get by with leggings, you’d be OK with narrow dress pants.

    You could also put a great big note where your co-workers can see it that says, “Take Grandma out to lunch at Le Snoote,” but that’s probably veering into sitcom territory.

    Reply
  42. TootsNYC

    I’ve already sometimes started dressing more nicely now and then on days when I didn’t leave the office. And once I used to simply dress up on one day week, just to justify why those clothes weee in my closet.

    That was useful when I had an interview.

    Reply
    1. ThursdaysGeek

      Yes, this. Plan on dressing much nicer than usual, at least once or twice a month, perhaps weekly. Do this when you are not looking. When you decide to look, when an interview falls in your lap with short notice, then your co-workers won’t look at you twice, because you mix it up already.

      I had a co-worker who claimed he celebrated “Tie Tuesday”. It was a great excuse and no-one even noticed when he started interviewing, because he dressed up on a regular basis.

      Reply
    2. TootsNYC

      When I worked at a casual place, I did this even when I wasn’t interviewing.

      As a sophomore in college, I realized that I’d brought my “summer office job” clothes with me and never wore them. So I decided to wear them one day, just because. I mean, I liked them–so I figured, I’d indulge.

      A classmate asked me why I was dressed up, and his tone annoyed me. So I got smart-alecky and said, “Because it’s Monday.”
      Oh, do you dress up every Monday? he sort of sneered. And said he’d have to check.

      So from then on, I just did. Every Monday, I wore nice clothes.
      I actually liked it!

      Reply
  43. Miss Elaine e

    Just an idle question: if you do change for an interview and you don’t have a car, what do you do with the changed-out-of clothes during the interview? It seems to me that giving the gym bag to the receptionist is not a good thing. What to do, then?

    Reply
    1. Bend & Snap

      Just bring a nicer bag that will fit the clothes. I carry totes usually and some of them are roomy while still looking nice.

      Before I learned that trick, I may or may not have stuffed a pair of running shoes under a bathroom sink in the office building where my interview was, and retrieved them afterward.

      Reply
    1. Jolie

      Either that or the other way around : wear casual funky t-shirt with unassuming navy pencil skirt and colourful flats to work. Change into dressier blouse, slap suit jacket on top and heels.

      Reply
  44. Stop That Goat

    I have the luxury of living a quick 15 minute drive from work. So, I’ll take some extra time to allow me enough time to go home, change and then change back if need be. Usually, I try to schedule interviews towards the end of the day though and just take a half day.

    Reply
  45. Free Meerkats

    If you have a situation where changing would be a problem (no car to keep blazer in, no convenient coffee shop, or whatever) and you know you are going to be looking in the near future, start dressing up a bit a few times a week. Maybe slacks instead of jeans to start with, then nicer tops with the jeans. Gradually move on to become the dressiest one in the office while working your normal days.

    After a few weeks of this, no one will notice that you are “dressed up”, you’re just in what you wear much of the time.

    Reply
  46. Ann A. Mouse

    I feel like some of the comments in this thread have been more negative than usual for AAM; namely, assuming that the interviewee with the casual dress code has a poor attitude, and NOT assuming that the interviewee is just trying to find a sensible solution that allows her to maintain some discretion at her current workplace. I work in a “high business casual” environment, and even there it definitely adds a layer of complexity to my day to have to figure out what to do about an interview outfit, because I have zero privacy (I work in a large open-plan office) and don’t have a car.

    I like this site more when the commentariat assumes positive intentions and focuses on being solutions-oriented for the OP or, in this case, the person OP is writing about.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Thank you- I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt. I did in my letter suggest that finding a place to change beforehand was an option, it’s just a hassle and not ideal, so I wanted to pose a question about whether or not there is some leeway with the interview dress code. I do believe in our industry and geographic area we have a bit more leeway, so I would feel comfortable in a dress instead of slacks at an interview.

      Reply
      1. Student

        I admit that I’m struggling to think of anyplace I’ve lived where finding a public bathroom is a hassle. It doesn’t generally require a special detour. There’s gas stations, fast food, restaurants, public buildings, theaters, malls, grocery stores, parks. Maybe you’re not from the US? I know public restrooms are less common in some countries.

        If you’re out in some really rural area, you can probably get away with changing in your car in a discrete area out of line of site from major highways/buildings. I’ve done that on rare occasion; it makes me squeamish and I generally grab a blanket or something to screen myself from any possible eyes, but it works and it motivates you to change fast.

        Reply
        1. Yorick

          It might be easy to find a public bathroom (but not so much in a small town, suburban area, or any area where there are only office buildings), but it’s still a hassle to carry clothes with you, make a stop in between the office and the interview location, and change clothes there.

          I mean, that’s what I would do, but I can definitely see why someone would rather just wear their interview clothes to work and go straight to the interview.

          Reply
          1. Elsajeni

            Also, “finding a public bathroom” is not necessarily the same as “finding a public bathroom you would be comfortable changing in” — not even that they’re gross, although that is a potential issue, but like, I’ve used plenty of public restrooms that don’t have anywhere to hang anything or any surface I’d be comfortable setting clothes down on; it would be a challenge to change from jeans to slacks in a tiny stall without ever letting go of either pair of pants.

            Reply
        2. NaoNao

          I live in one of those areas. In the downtown core, every single restaurant and coffee shop, including 7-11 has large, angry signs NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS. You can purchase a water or a bagel or whatever and get the restroom key, but they are not kidding around. If it were me, I would have to change in my work bathroom or actually be a customer for the coffee shop.

          Reply
    2. TootsNYC

      Actually, two of the comments you cite were made by the same person. So it may not be that so many people are being critical–one person can have a big negative impact.

      Especially when they’re particularly unkind.

      Reply
  47. GymRat

    As a New Yorker, I don’t have a car. But I do have a gym membership at the gym near my office! It’s hectic, but I once left a bag in a locker the morning of the interview, headed to the gym before my interview to change, went back to the gym to change back after the interview, and then returned a final time to pick up the bag after work.

    Reply
    1. Bolt

      There is even the option of contacting a local gym and asking if there is a day pass or if you could even just bribe the worker into letting you use the facilities to change and store your stuff for an hour or so…

      Even public storage lockers could work (the very small ones) if the location is close enough. We have one right downtown where people actually do stuff like this… it sucks to have to pay but at least your clothes are stored.

      Reply
          1. AvonLady Barksdale

            In the lobby. I have used many a hotel lobby bathroom. In downtown areas, they’re almost always open to the public (I can think of one metro-area hotel with locked bathrooms), especially the nicer ones.

            Reply
          2. Floundering Mander

            I sometimes just walk in to a hotel as if I belong there and use the bathroom, or sometimes I ask at reception. Usually there’s one in the public area so that you can use it while you wait to check in. Especially if it’s busy or out of the line of sight of the receptionist it’s highly likely that nobody will notice you.

            Reply
  48. annuity

    My husband works in tech and he wore jeans and a nice shirt to his last few interviews – he got offers from all of them.

    Reply
  49. But you don't have an accent

    If I were in the same situation, I would go with the “wear part of your outfit and change the rest later option”. The easiest way to do this would be with the dress pants – you can wear the pants with a less nice shirt (like a polo or a summer sweater if it’s still warm) and wear a cami underneath. Leave your jacket and blouse in the car. Once you get to your car, you can throw the polo/sweater off, and then put the blouse on without flashing anyone and it’ll be wrinkle free!

    Reply
  50. Health Insurance Nerd

    “I apologize that I couldn’t dress up more for you! My office’s dress code is very casual, so I would have been advertising that I have an interview today,”

    I realize that this might sound unforgiving, but if a candidate started their interview with me with this line, I would be extremely put off. You’re looking to make a good first impression, but instead are starting off with an excuse for being inappropriately dressed, in addition to advertising your inability to problem solve and think outside the box (i.e., finding a way to dress appropriately while also not advertising that you’re interviewing).

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      , you’ve already admitted fault.

      You’d look better if you just acted as though you were perfectly fine in your attire

      Never let them see you sweat.

      Reply
      1. OP

        Where were you those several years ago with this advice? :) If I had an interview today, I would wear a dress and no blazer, and let the chips fall where they may- I am not really interested in working somewhere with a formal dress code anyway, unless I absolutely had to.
        That interview/get to know you lunch went great though- but they weren’t ready to hire until 9 MONTHS after the fact, and by that time I was 8 months pregnant and definitely not in a position to switch jobs.

        Reply
  51. nnn

    Advanced sneaky option: as soon as you start thinking about switching jobs, start introducing dressier pieces in your work wardrobe. Some days when you’re clearly not interviewing (e.g. at your desk all day without even a lunch break), wear a full-out suit for no reason. Advanced girl talk option: if anyone asks why you’re “all dressed up”, say “this is what fits best when I’m bloated.”

    Reply
  52. Friday

    The last time I had an in-person interview, I also worked somewhere casual. I wore a good blouse with a cardigan and jeans to work, then I changed into my suit pants and jacket in my car in a parking lot near the new employer’s office.

    Reply
  53. seashell

    I have an interview this week and because it’s almost 2 hours long I’m going to call out sick. Not sure how else to handle it, because it would be extremely obvious otherwise.

    Reply
      1. Student

        Plausible ~2-hour work excuses: You need to be at home to “have a cable TV repair person” over, or a similar utility/apartment/home repair. Or maybe you’re “expecting a furniture delivery”, where it’s very big and they just give you a delivery window, or you “have a doctor’s appointment”.

        Reply
        1. SarahTheEntwife

          You might even be able to get away with “I have an appointment”, which is technically true and people who aren’t hopelessly nosy will assume it’s just something you don’t really want to talk about.

          Reply
  54. AthenaC

    Here’s what I would do –

    1) Wear a cute, not-strictly-work-but-appropriate-for-work dress
    2) Closed-toed, professional shoes
    3) Accessories

    Wear those pieces all day. Mention to a couple coworkers that you have a date that night. (Date with a friend, date with a spouse, date with a new person – whatever) That will explain why you’re dressed up.

    4) Blazer that coordinates nicely with the rest of the ensemble. Store this in your car and then put it on before the interview.

    Alternatively, you can store your professional shoes in your car and wear your more casual shoes all day at your office. The point is, as others have said – keep it as easy as possible to switch out the pieces that will have the most impact on your appearance.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. OP

      This is exactly what her plan A was. She got nervous though and decided to just play it safe and wear slacks. I think what you described wouldn’t have raised any red flags at our office. A blazer or dress pants definitely would, though.

      Reply
  55. voluptuousfire

    Simple answer–just ask the interviewer! Ask what their business casual consists of. That can vary by office.

    You can never go wrong with a black shift or wrap dress and cardigan. Wear cute sneakers to work and change into dress shoes on the way.

    Reply
  56. Everything Bagel Fan

    I would probably request a vacation day. Then I am free to prepare and change into an appropriate interview outfit without having to make up a lie or feeling underdressed at an interview. It also allowed me time to do more job search on that day.

    Reply
  57. blessedbeauty

    Changing before the interview is the best option here.

    BUT, I have worked about this by dressing up here and there in my casual offices, so that if I do end up having to go to an interview, people in my current job won’t really notice because, hey, every once in a while I happen to be a little more dressed up than normal. I used the excuse that my past office was dressier and I had all the close and shoes anyway and I just worked them into my regular work rotation. So I may be in jeans and sneakers one day and then a dress and heels the next. If I know I am going to start looking, then I step up the random dress up days a few weeks beforehand so nobody really notices me dressed up on a specific day.

    Reply
  58. Master Bean Counter

    Changing for interviews is one of many reasons I’m going to miss my minivan. That thing had dark tinted windows in the back and room for days. I could hang a whole week’s worth of interview clothes in there and nobody could tell. Made an excellent changing room too!

    My advice in this situation is if you know you are going to start looking for another job, start dressing up randomly. That way it becomes no big deal when you have to dress up. When asked about it the first few times just say, “Just trying to class the place up, Bob.”

    Reply
  59. Mandy

    Honestly–I wouldn’t think anything of someone pairing a nicer blouse with jeans. Women do this often. Keep the slacks/shows whatever else in the car and change in a public restroom elsewhere.

    My job is definitely on the casual side but I personally never wear t-shirts with logos or images on them to work (unless it is a work branded t-shirt) so I always wear either solid color tees or nicer tops paired with jeans normally.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Thats pretty much my work uniform as well- flats, jeans, old navy solid color cotton tee. And a jacket at my desk because the office is so cold! My style has changed up a tiny bit since I am pregnant, but I try to go for “casual, but yes I brushed my hair today” ;)

      Reply
  60. MissDissplaced

    My “go to” when I don’t want to be discovered is this:
    Black or gray dress slacks
    Silk shell in black or cream
    Cardigan sweater (for the office)
    Flats or sneakerss
    Blazer & Black heels for the interview.
    I change in my car or you can throw in a big tote. It’s pretty stealth.

    Reply
  61. Ruthie

    Don’t make the mistake I did last week, which is wear your interview outfit minus your jacket and put it on in the bathroom before leaving your office. I ran into someone coming out of the bathroom! I have to wear a jacket to meetings from time to time, so hope my colleague wasn’t suspicious. Luckily she’s not someone I sent my “doctors appointment” email to.

    Reply
  62. Tim W.

    Better yet, don’t hide it at all! In fact, I’ve even come overdressed to work and then made a vague excuse to leave early. Makes your boss wonder if you’re looking for a better job.

    Reply
    1. Paralegal

      This only works if your boss isn’t likely to fire you if they suspect you’re looking for another job. Unless you’re absolutely sure (and you never can be), this is bad advice – you should always protect the job you currently have to the best of your ability unless you can afford to be unemployed for several months.

      Reply
  63. Jolie

    Unrelated – ish, but the discussion reminded me. A few months ago, I was invited by a British organisation I’m afraid member of to take part in a meeting with members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. My schedule was like : Tuesday morning take nearly 2 hours commute (with 2 train/tube interchanges) to airport the other side of London, flight to Karlsruhe, two trains to Strasbourg (change at Appenweier), do whatever sightseeing I have time for, go to accommodation late in the evening – then meeting first thing in the morning on Wednesday, spending the day in Parliament and returning home on Wednesday evening (same airport) So you can see why I wasn’t keen on packing anything more than a light backpack. But I still needed an outfit of appropriate Parliament formality.

    Luckily, I had a classy-looking long synthetic silk skirt that never gets crumpled no matter what – so that could go in the backpack. Sleeveless blouse that also doesn’t get crumpled – ditto. Strand of pearls – check. I even found shoes that were suitable for both Parliament and the journey, so I wouldn’t have to pack an extra pair (sandals with a bit of platform). The only problem is – I really really needed a suit jacket for the outfit that come together. And I had the perfect one – in pale pink – but that was DEFINITELY NOT backpack shove – safe. So I figured the best way to carry I was to actually wear it on the flight. On top of an off-white denim skirt and hot pink T-shirt. I totally looked like a Barbie doll.

    Then, on the train from Appenweier to Strasbourg, I counted at least four people, of both genders, dressed kind of like me : classy suit jacket (in very much NOT jacket weather – think 30°C, on top of very casual travelling clothes, with backpacks or big laptop bags. One guy even had a very dressy conservative jacket on top of cargo shorts.

    Figured out that’s the “I have stuff to do do a the European Institutions” and I don’t feel like carrying a proper suitcase “uniform.

    Reply
  64. jules

    This reminds me of a coworker I once had. He showed up to work one day at our extremely casual, startup-like environment wearing a full suit, and then he got mad when his boss figured out that he was job hunting. The best part is that this same coworker used to walk around barefoot in the office (gag), so it became a running joke after he left that on interview days, you go full-suit, no shoes.

    Reply
  65. Poster Child

    Just because some people can change in their car that’s not a reasonable option for most if your car is a sedan or sports car, you’re larger than 5 feet and 105 pounds, and you cannot park in a private area. Changing cardigan to blazer is fine but changing from jeans to pants or a skirt is not physically possible. Gym/coffee shop/hotel lobby are good options. In the winter in cold climates you’re able to put on a long winter coat which will cover anything you’ve changed into.

    Reply
  66. Paralegal

    I have definitely changed in my car for more than a few interviews. I’ll wear a sweatshirt over my interview shirt, which I then swap out for a cardigan once I get out of the car. I also always interview in a pencil skirt, which I’m able to pull on over my jeans first before taking off the pants. Swap out flats for pumps, add a watch and maybe swap out a necklace, and it’s basically a whole outfit. I try to interview at either the beginning or end of the day though so that I only have to make this change in one direction, but it’s fairly simple to manage otherwise.

    Reply
  67. bikes

    I would say your sister should take the whole day off and dress in the most appropriate outfit possible. Make up some of the hours later in the week if needed. If she’s been at the company a long time, getting a personal day shouldn’t be a huge problem.

    Reply
  68. RB

    I just saw this and wanted to add my method. On interview day, I would wear casual pants to the office (like Dockers), but with nylons underneath. For the top, I would wear a camisole with a casual cardigan over it. Then en route to the interview, I would change the pants to a suit skirt, and the cardigan to the suit jacket. I would usually find a place I could do this discreetly in my car (like parked on a side street behind a building).

    Reply

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