do I still need to wear a suit to a job interview?

A reader writes:

I read your blog religiously and am excited to have some interviews coming up! Looking back through your archives, like these posts in 2015, 2012, and 2008, you have me convinced that my best option is to wear a suit for these interviews. But when it comes to actually shopping for a suit, I am at a loss! At my go-to workwear stores (Ann Taylor, Banana Republic), blazers/jackets are sold separately from pants, whereas I thought I needed to buy them as a set to ensure the color/fabric are an exact match. Plus, when you buy these pieces separately, I’m looking at something like $300 – $400. I’m also not sure what to do in a situation where I’m called back for multiple interviews — surely, people don’t have three suits that they plan to wear pretty much one time only?

So, my questions are practical ones:
• Where should I be shopping for a women’s suit?
• Am I correct that what I’m looking for is a suit set, meaning a blazer and pants that are sold together?
• A sheath dress would likely be cheaper. Can I wear a sweater with a sheath dress, or must it be a blazer?
• Any recommendations for those of us who want to impress, but don’t have $300+ to spare?

I am so excited to say this: This convention has changed!

In all but a handful of conservative fields (think: parts of law and finance), it’s become normal to interview in something a step down from a formal suit. You still need to dress up for most job interviews (not all — some fields, like IT, can be an exception), but for women that no longer needs to mean a traditional suit where everything is made of the same fabric in the same color.

Things you can wear now wear as alternatives to suits:

* a jacket and pants that aren’t made of identical suiting fabric
* a reasonably businessy dress on its own, no blazer
* a dress and a cardigan (the dress should still at least somewhat businessy; not a casual sundress)

You also don’t need to buy three separate outfits. You wouldn’t want to re-wear the same highly memorable outfit (like a bright dress in a bold pattern) to multiple interviews with the same people (no, I can’t defend this but it’s the convention nonetheless) but you could re-wear a basic black blazer and pants but change up the shirt and accessories, for example. In addition to your go-to workwear stores, you can try department stores (which, depending on the store, could be less) or consignment/thrift stores (although some sizes can be easier to find there than others).

As always, this is general advice. Some fields have their own conventions (either more or less formal), as do some geographic regions. So adapt for your field and location.

{ 365 comments… read them below }

  1. bennie*

    FWIW OP, i bought my suit at h&m and it definitely didn’t cost nearly that much. that being said i stand by alison’s advice that i’d hardly classify it as required these days, based on what i’ve seen

    1. r*

      H&M is great for “I won’t wear this often” blazers/skirts/pants. And their stuff actually wears pretty well – I have a skirt/blouse that I’ve worn for four years now (granted, its three Covid years, so it hasn’t gotten worn much).

      1. Things are getting better*

        I have a couple of dresses from H&M that I wear with different blazers/shoes/accessories depending on the occasion, it´s been 7 years and still like new.

      2. H2*

        I got my teenaged son a dress shirt and blazer from h&m and they are gorgeous, and were quite inexpensive. They have little extra design touches that make them look very lux. They probably won’t hold up super well but it’s not like they get heavy wear so it’s perfect. Highly recommend!

    2. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

      The H&M I shopped at had a whole section for business clothes. I have a handful of knee-length black-and-white dresses, which all match the same black suit jacket (I’m not sure if it’s considered a blazer or not) and black shoes. They also had matching pants. I think all told, the cost for the whole bunch was somewhere around $100 about 4 years ago.

    3. k*

      When I worked in a business casual office I had 2-3 H&M pencil skirts (black, grey and navy) that I roated daily for several years. They held up really well! It’s been a few years so I can’t speak to if their quality has changed, but they were a great resource for buisness basics at an affordable price.

      1. Starbuck*

        Yes, don’t know what their quality is now but I still have several items that I bought over a decade ago in college that have held up to regular wear. A decent option if you are budget-constrained.

    4. I am Emily's failing memory*

      Tip: you can really extend the life of cheap clothes quite a bit if you wash them inside out and hang them dry instead of putting them in the dryer. So much of the damage clothing takes that pushes it to the end of its life happens in the dryer. Get a drying rack and your cheap clothes won’t fall apart nearly as fast.

      1. deesse877*

        And wash COLD if there is any Spandex or elastene present! Even an elastic waist.

        oxy clean helps if you find that odors linger when washing cold.

      2. Worldwalker*

        My house is currently full of my fanciest T-shirts hanging all over the place to dry, so I’m getting a kick out of this.

        Weather forecast busted and instead of being sunny and breezy yesterday, it poured instead.

      3. Marion Ravenwood*

        My best purchases of the last couple of years have been my heated airer (drying rack) and dehumidifier (I paid around £50 for each of them). You can buy covers for the airer as well but I find a sheet or duvet cover over the top does the job just fine. And as a bonus the airer doubles up as a room heater – useful in the current cost of living crisis!

  2. Callie*

    If you are going to buy a suit, you can look at the fabric descriptions. Ann Taylor and BR and the like generally will have multiple suiting options in the same color and

    1. Callie*

      Whoops, somehow hit send too soon. Anyway; they’ll have multiple options in the same color and fabric that you can mix and match. So if you seen black tropical wool in a skirt and a blazer you like, they should match. (It may not be 100% but it will be the vast majority of the time). These are still a more expensive option but they will often have stuff 30%-40% off which will bring the price down considerably if you can buy in advance and then save it until you need it instead of shopping last minute.

      Department stores like Macy’s still sell suits as a set and these will often be cheaper so that’s usually where I’d look for a last minute suit.

      If you’re plus-sized, Eloquii has good basic suiting options at a reasonable price. Universal Standard does too but more expensive. Macy’s and the like will probably have something too.

      Personally, I would err towards a dress and non-matching blazer rather than a dress on its own or a cardigan. You can always take the blazer off. An alternative is a structured knit blazer that is comfortable like a cardigan but reads as more formal. The MM LaFleur Jardigan is a good example albeit usually expensive if they don’t n have a rare sale on them (you can buy them used too though.)

      1. AngryOctopus*

        I believe Quince and J. Crew sell blazers in a jersey material which are 1-structured looking and 2-less than $100. It’s not exactly cheap but I saw my blazer as an investment piece I could wear to a more formal event, over a shirt/pants combo, or over a dress.

      2. Lady Ann*

        I love a knit blazer, especially as someone with wide shoulders, normal blazers make me look like a football player.

      3. WillowSunstar*

        I’m plus-sized and have a couple of suits that I purchased at Lane Bryant, that were around $100 at the time. The other place I bought an interview suit from was Talbot’s, but I’m not sure if they still sell plus business suits. Everything was bought before COVID and only 2/3 fit me now, so I’d probably have to go the separate dress slacks and jacket route.

        1. iliketoknit*

          Talbots still does plus suiting – it’s where I buy a lot of mine – although they’re on the more expensive end. They do run a lot of sales, but I find that by the time suiting is marked down significantly, it can be hard to find two matching pieces my size. Nonetheless still a good option over all!

      4. Miette*

        All great advice, and speaking of cost, knowing when to buy is useful. This time of year (right after Christmas holidays in the US), and early summer (after July 4) are when most stores offer steep markdowns on in-season clothes. So shopping now is a good time for warmer weather options, especially lined pants, which are useful in colder climates.

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Coming to say this. Stores like Ann Taylor, etc. sell the pieces separately so you can pick the pants/blazer combo that fit you best. So, I might look better in a slim-cut pant, but in a cropped/curvy blazer. The fabrics and colors will be the same because their product lines are intended to be mix ‘n’ shapes that all coordinate together to suit your body type.

      1. Medusa*

        Not to mention that not everyone wears the same size top and bottom. I’m quite small but busty, so I need to have a jacket that I can button which requires buying a larger size than in pants.

    3. Bee*

      Ann Taylor & BR & JCrew etc all do sell suits, they just sell them separately so you can buy different sizes or styles for the top and bottom. (Same reason they sell bikinis separately!) JCrew, for example, will usually have the other half of the suit in the “suggested products” section on the same page, but if they don’t, you can usually figure out which go together by the descriptions, yes.

      But also, seconding that you probably don’t need to wear a suit to interview in any industry where you don’t have to wear a suit to work!

    4. kitryan*

      Yes, agree w/Callie and others – they do this at these J Crew/Banana republic level stores so you can pick different top/bottom styles. Matching the overall style name/color should be sufficient to ensure a match – like, right now BR has a ‘Lido’ blazer that should match up with 3 styles of ‘Lido’ pant (wide leg, straight, and cargo) and one style of ‘Lido’ skirt, and so forth. Depending on the store and specific items, you may also be able to match across those named style groups – like I’d feel pretty safe mixing the black Lido blazer with bottoms with other style names that were also described as being ‘luxurious Italian wool’ like the Siena pants, to give a specific example, but you are more likely to run into differences in weave/exact color matches that way.
      I’d also say that since things are more relaxed mostly, better to visibly not match than to nearly match. I’d rather do a black pant/skirt with a gray blazer or a patterned blazer or vice versa than to have a reddish black blazer with a subtle herringbone weave with a bluish black plain weave bottom – near matches look like accidents but obviously coordinating non-matching stuff looks intentional.

      1. Aerin*

        I learned that lesson when I pulled a black blazer and black slacks out of my closet, and when you put them together they magically turned brown and navy. No good. Things from the same store generally shouldn’t have that issue, especially if it’s something like White House Black Market where their stuff is designed to be mix-and-match.

        Black slacks/grey blazer was my go-to when I was interviewing. It looked sharp and a bit less severe than all black. I got the blazer either from a thrift store or the clearance rack at a mall department store. I doubt I paid more than $20 for it since this was my “broke as hell” period. Even now that I enjoy dressing up a bit at work, I still don’t own a “suit,” just interesting jackets and dresses.

        1. kitryan*

          My background’s in theater and the issue of blacks not staying black/not matching each other is totally a thing. It’s worse under colored light (i.e. pretty much all theater light is gelled in some color or another, if subtly) and it makes all your blacks ‘unique’. I once had to try (futilely) to dye a black sweatshirt with blues to see if we could neutralize the red undertone (that came out in the light) so it would better match the pants. As I predicted, it did not work.
          The other issue that comes up which is similar in that something can be fine on its own but not when compared to a similar-but-subtly-different thing. My prof’s example was from when he dressed the whole cast of Brigadoon in polyester blend plaids, for cost reasons, and it looked perfectly fine… until the hired bagpiper, who had his own fully authentic wool kilt, showed up late in the dress rehearsal process and was next to the cast on stage. Suddenly all the poly blends looked like crap. They were fine before, when there was nothing to throw their cheapness into sharp relief when compared to the authentic article.

    5. annabanana*

      Those stores also usually have a Factory or Outlet line, too, that often has mix and match suiting for lower prices than the original retail stores. The quality is often in-line with the price difference, but they’re still reasonably nice suits.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        BR Factory sales can be a goldmine of business casual/business formal clothes for relatively cheap. My stuff from there has held up very well over the years.

      2. Shopaholic*

        I’ve had good luck with Ann Taylor Factory. A BR Factory suit I ordered online had weird fabric, so buyers may want to order well in advance in case it doesn’t work out. I also found a black Halogen blazer for about $100 for Zoom interviews.

    6. Random Dice*

      I buy higher end (but not couture) wardrobe staples from eBay and ThredUp. Talbots, Ralph Lauren, and even eShakti tend to be well made with reliable sizing.

      My approach for an interview is to have neutral clothes, and a boldly colored statement necklace to focus attention.

      1. Radical Edward*

        I used to swear by Uniqlo for basic neutral blazers and cardigans – inexpensive, structured, and /very/ consistent sizing. I haven’t needed anything new in a while, but I used to buy a pile of their shirts and a blazer or two every few years. In the US they have some larger sizes available online (not always a wide range of plus sizes, but it really varies depending on the items), and in my more recent experience their size charts are reliable. They almost always have lots of petite sizes left in sale items. I’m on the tall side and I don’t have much luck with their trousers, but their shirts and jackets do run longer in the torso which can be hard to find!

        Their clothes are also easy to care for – I loathe dry clean only labels, and have found over the years that a mesh bag, cold water on gentle with a good delicates detergent (like Ecover’s) does well and keeps my nice things looking pristine.

      2. Miette*

        I’m glad you mentioned Talbots, because they’ve got a plus-size (and tall!) line that I really like. GRANTED, I am 40+ so ymmv OP.

      3. DivineMissL*

        My standard work uniform (which I also wear for interviews) are plain, usually sheath dresses in black or grey, and then I match them up with various blazers to give the appearance of a “suit” without being quite so formal. Wearing a dress eliminates the need to worry about finding a suitable blouse (and makes me look taller). I shop at Goodwill and consignment shops to find name-brand or designer blazers (just have to get them dry cleaned); frequently I’ll find whole designer suits there too for under $20 and end up tossing the skirt/pants just to get the jacket.

  3. Eulerian*

    As a plus-size woman who can’t find decent suits anywhere (and also based in the UK) I like Sumissura – they’re not über cheap but not groundbreakingly expensive either, and they’re tailor made so you can customise them exactly to how you like them, and to your measurements too.

    1. Llama Identity Thief*

      I’d recommend iTailor for similar reasons. I’m a man so I don’t know if their women’s collection is nearly as strong, but it was easy for me at my rather large size to pull together a custom suit and pants set that fits like a glove in the $200s.

    2. NewJobNewGal*

      Thank you for this! I’ve been following Sumissura for a year and haven’t been brave enough to order. Now I am!

    3. Silmaril*

      Many thanks, had never come across this site but it looks spot on – it’s so hard to find tailored plus sized clothes.

    4. wordswords*

      I love Sumissura! I haven’t bought a ton from them — I work from home in a relatively casual industry — but a few years ago I splurged on a purple suit to wear to friends’ weddings, and was super pleased with it. It was definitely a splurge for my budget, but much less so than I’d thought a tailor-made suit would be, and the quality and fit were really worth it.

    5. fantomina*

      Hopping on this thread because as a plus-size woman, I find my biggest difficulty to be size variability. I can’t buy/wear super tailored items and know that they will definitely still fit in a few months. My strategy has been to lean heavily on high quality ponte knit for blazers and business-y dresses. They’re not so stretchy that it’s like you’re wearing jersey, but the give you a bit more margin for error than traditional business-wear fabrics. I’m in higher ed, so slightly less formality is required and I can get away with a slightly slouchy/drapey blazer; for those who can’t, look at TJ Maxx and Marshall’s for fully lined ponte knit blazers. They have plenty of structure while still giving a bit more give (as the size of my upper arms tends to change without my noticing, super tailored blazers are my actual nightmare and ponte knit blazers have been my savior!)

      1. Smithy*

        Also plus sized, and I also recommend styling blazers without ever planning to button them.

        I’m in the nonprofit world, and true suits aren’t exactly mandatory. As we get out of Covid – I’m trying to steer my overall woredrobe into the territory of having enough “business formal” dresses I’d feel good wearing to 2/3 interviews or also a multi-day conference.

        However, for my shape blazers that fit well enough to button end up looking far too big overall and I never need them enough to bother with true tailoring. That being said, I could use discount options for blazers (or old ones that I owned) that were “too small” in the sense of not being able to button them – but they would help make certain sleeveless looks look more polished/business formal. I think of them like “work shrugs” and spend accordingly. Where I choose to spend more of money are those dresses that I feel I’ll get more use out of at work conferences, external meetings, and also potential interviews.

      2. WillowSunstar*

        Well and if you’re plus-sized and short, it’s even harder. Luckily, I know a good tailor who works out of her house and is affordable. It drives me up the wall to no end that many clothing stores seem to equate petite with skinny. No, petite means short. Spend some time in the upper Midwest, and you will see many plus-sized, petite woman who also probably have the same issues finding dressy clothes.

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          Solidarity at the other end of the spectrum. 35 inch inseam and size 20 / 2x = either choose length and don’t breathe or live in high waters forever. I can’t stand high waters!!! At least when you’re petite you can whack a few inches off the bottom? But I feel ya!! Yes, designers, women can be both fat AND tall or short! Geezzz…..

          1. Storm in a teacup*

            I have the same issue as Willowstar and unfortunately whacking a few inches off the bottom of anything rarely works as the proportions are all wrong. The crotch on trousers will still sit in the wrong place for example.
            I actually always make it a point to shop for petite range clothes when I visit the US as so much better than in the UK which is quite frankly dreadful for petitewear

      3. Random Dice*

        Ralph Lauren dresses are perfect. They’re stretchy, ruched, and look so professional. I buy them used or on sale on eBay.

      4. iliketoknit*

        oh my god YES this is why suits are the bane of my plus-sized, fluctuating-shape existence. And yes, I’ve invested in ponte everything that I can find in ponte.

      5. Jonquil*

        So much of this! I’m also different sizes top and bottom, so buying an “all in one” suit isn’t an option. I need a different size blazer vs pants/skirt.

  4. Jane Bingley*

    Second-hand stores are a GREAT option for finding these business-y clothes, especially the more formal ones. Because people often only wear them a few times before needing a different size or wanting a different style, you can find really high-quality, good-condition items with some hunting!

    1. Tinkerbell*

      This! You can also start at the second-hand or thrift store and get a dress or blazer that fits you well but maybe is a bolder color or print, then pick up some plain-colored clothes (there or elsewhere) to round out the look. In my experience (and at a larger size) the things in the thrift stores that tend to be in the best shape are the ones that were too loud to match someone’s existing wardrobe :-P

    2. NewJobNewGal*

      And people like me went form in-office to work-from-home and have been thinning our closets. I have donated loads of office clothes to Goodwill in the last 2 years.

      1. Just Another Cog*

        I just donated a ton of work clothes and shoes, too!

        When I started working many years ago, a few local thrift stores were great places to find business wear. I got to know a few of the people working at one favorite place who would tell me when they’d get shipments of stuff from their store in a nearby tourist town of part-time residents – (think movie stars). There were often really good labels mixed in with the regular clothes. Though much of the good stuff was tailored to fit someone else, I could occasionally alter things I’d find to fit me.

    3. just another queer reader*

      Seconding this!

      I had a friend in college who claimed she could find anyone a complete interviewing outfit for $50.

      I didn’t ever take her up on that challenge, but I did find myself lots of nice dress pants, shirts, and blazers at Goodwill. It takes longer than going to a “firsthand” store because the selection is hit-or-miss, but the price is right.

      1. PoolLounger*

        I could do this when I was a size 6. As a size 16/18 it’s so, so much harder, often impossible.

        1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          Yeah, I found that size 14 was the magic tipping point at my local thrift stores — for the brief period that I was size 14, it was easy to find workwear, but 16 and above is MUCH harder, and somewhere in the low 20s the selection is pretty close to nonexistent.

    4. Samwise*

      Just make sure to sniff really hard under the arms/at the crotch. Yeah, I know, but you do not want to walk into an interview with a bad odor. A lot of second hand places launder the clothes with a scented detergent and you may not notice a bad odor when trying them on. Guaranteed you will once you launder them yourself…

      1. Corporate Goth*

        I worked at multiple donation centers years ago and the clothes were NOT laundered. I was the sorter, and would go through giant piles of clothing to determine saleability. It included ladies’ suits with the tags still on…mixed with used diapers in the same container. I was shocked to find out there was no giant bank of washers and driers. The overwhelming scent that makes people think there was laundering was from the insecticide spray used on the furniture. PLEASE launder any clothing.

        Also, Nordstrom Rack is a great option if you want something new but more affordable. Plus, a basic black suit with three different blouses and maybe jewelry? No one will notice it’s the same suit, especially if the interviews are spaced out over time.

        1. Kate*

          A soak in water mixed with white vinegar is helpful in removing BO as well as that “thrift store smell.” After that, wash as usual but know it may take a few tries. I’ve found that “wicking” fabrics never seem to want to give up their odors, but this is unlikely to be an issue with workwear.

          1. kitryan*

            You can also try ‘wardrobe spray’ which is water/cheap vodka mixed about 50/50 in a spray bottle. Spray in pits and other smell holding areas and let air, repeat a few times if needed. It’s what we used in profesh theater to carry us through the week on things that were dry-clean only, since you can usually only send them out once a week.

            1. Random Dice*

              This is my strategy to lengthen clothing wears. It’s to protect clothes and to reduce my microplastics load on the world… without smelling bad.

          2. LadyVet*

            You might have heard this already, in which case I don’t know what else to try, but if you’re using fabric softener on workout clothes, that might be why the odor isn’t going away. The fabric softener prevents them from wicking the moisture efficiently.

          3. deesse877*

            Oxy clean can often work on synthetics, even in a cold wash. In desperate cases, I might try the enzyme cleaner marketed for pet accidents.

        2. Critical Rolls*

          The selection at Nordstrom Rack has really gone downhill in the past few years, at least in my area. There’s increasing amounts of cheap fast fashion made for the Rack, as opposed to remaindered higher quality items from actual Nordstrom’s. You can still get suits and separates, but many of them aren’t better or cheaper than elsewhere.

        3. Beth Jacobs*

          Well, launder anything from anywhere. Brand new clothes generally contain some sort of chemicals meant to keep them from wrinkling in transport, as well as occassionally rat droppings and such.

      2. Just Another Cog*

        This is excellent advice, Samwise! The sniff test is essential. Even though I wash or dry clean everything before wearing, I once got a really nice silk blouse only to notice the stinky armpits wearing it one day. The smell was embedded in the fabric. I was sad having to toss it out.

      3. Scentsitive*

        Second this. I love shopping thrift, but have an allergy to fragranced laundry products; it often takes more than half a dozen washings to remove enough of the smells.
        A couple of casual items are draped outside in a rainstorm (on purpose!) as I write. By the end of this Pineapple Express, maybe enough will have leached out that I can get by with only one or two washings.

    5. Pauli*

      Aaaand this is why I own 4 nearly identical Ann Taylor sheath dresses that were “too good of a deal to pass up”!

      ThredUp and other online consignment kinds of shops are also good for this. You can’t try things on, but I’ve found the prices are good enough to buy a few options and return what doesn’t work for me.

      1. Emily*

        I love ThredUp! Usually I have a very specific item in mind, so it’s much easier to shop online where I can filter options than dig through consignment racks.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        I am obsessed with ThredUp. They sadly recently increased their return processing fee though ($3.99/item returned). But great options, easy search feature, favorites option which is so helpful for sales – which happen all the time.

        1. Pauli*

          Ooh that’s a shame. I usually use my “points” to waive the restocking fees on returns, but it looks like that’s costing more now too. Too bad!

        2. Sally*

          I have stopped recommending them because of that! It has come up ~3 times in the past month where I want to go “oooh, try ThredUp!” but I bite my tongue because $4 to return items is too much!

          (also because I have been using them for years and didn’t know they had changed to such a punitive policy, and so good a hit on a big order where nothing fit)

    6. The Original K.*

      I have a great business dress that I bought from a consignment shop in an affluent area. I’ve had a lot of good business finds there – those and designer jeans. (I don’t really need the business ones anymore since I’m mostly remote, but still – consignment shops can have great finds.)

    7. Warrior Princess Xena*

      The only trick with these is that you have to be patient & go a few times. Not the best option if you need a suit stat.

    8. Chilipepper Attitude*

      This will really vary by location. I visited thrift stores near my brother in Wisconsin. OMG, the quality and low prices were amazing!! I live in south Florida. Everything in thrift stores is pretty pricy, and the quality is pretty low.

      I once wanted to buy a turkey baster for my son for water play. It was literally more than the price of a new turkey baster, and it was very used! Same for clothing. I have found a few good deals but not enough to make the time commitment worth it and certainly not something I can do when I have a need coming soon, I have to search for quite a while to find something I can use for x event.

      1. Dahlia*

        And size for sure. I go to my thrift store a lot and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything plus size that’s formal – unless it’s a holdover from the 80s.

    9. AJ*

      Online marketplaces like Poshmark, Mercari, EBay, etc have tons of new and pre-owned clothes in a wide size range to check out.

    10. Not Australian*

      Heck yes. I bought a beautiful grape purple tailored velvet suit in a charity shop some years ago that was hands-down the nicest outfit I’ve ever owned!

    11. Attic Wife*

      I cannot recommend secondhand clothing stores enough! I have found some beautiful pieces for a song, great shoes too. I am a plus-sized, petite person who prefers looser fitting oversized clothing and have managed to find a decent professional wardrobe almost exclusively secondhand.

      1. Regular Reader*

        +1 All my interview suits came from thrift shops (charity shops as we call them in the UK). Often found I could find named brands to really step up an outfit at a very reasonable cost. But you have to keep looking regularly, not when you are called to interview, so you have that outfit good to go.

    12. Regular Reader*

      +1 All my interview suits came from thrift shops (charity shops as we call them in the UK). Often found I could find named brands to really step up an outfit at a very reasonable cost. But you have to keep looking regularly, not when you are called to interview, so you have that outfit good to go.

    13. Daisy-dog*

      Yes, I try to find anything that someone would normally “keep nice” secondhand. Workwear, dressy dresses, elevated casual items. Loungewear & activewear is where I usually buy new, but Poshmark can have some good options for someone who bought something and never/barely used it.

  5. Charlotte Lucas*

    For my last interview (in 2019), I wore coordinated separates: black pants, a black shell, a black & white patterned blazer (with zippered pockets), and black & white flats.

    I’m short & curvy, so I look better in outfits I have more control over the fits for.

    1. Baby Yoda*

      For my last in 2017, I wore a black wool skirt and a patterned blouse. They called me back for the next day so I just wore the same skirt with a different top and jacket. No problem.

    2. Storm in a teacup*

      Yeah my last interview around 4-5 years ago I was moving into a more corporate industry.
      I wore a smart, semi-tailored dress and a blazer and it was fine.

    3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Dittoing this–my go-to interview outfit is black pants, a black and white printed button down, a bright yellow cardigan, and simple hoop earrings.

      (possibly relevant: I mainly work in training and education for healthcare and call center companies)

  6. Professor Ronny*

    no, I can defend this but it’s the convention nonetheless

    Do you mean “cannot defend”?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Just an FYI, just above the comment box, there’s a link to report “an ad, tech, or typo issue here.” It’s a much better way to reach Alison than pointing out a typo in the comments. I submitted this typo via the link.

  7. Sister George Michael*

    Calvin Klein for Macy’s. Each piece is $59. I find that they’re good quality. (cheaper skirts show wrinkles if you sit down one time)

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      As a woman with an actual bosom, I would like to point out that CK doesn’t always seem to think they exist.

      1. Multi-tasking Ninja*

        I’ve noticed the same. I love CK work styles, but they never work on my hourglass body type. I imagine they could claim a much bigger market share if they offered a curvy line!

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          I am super curvy, and have had much good luck with CK? I don’t wear button-up shirts, but wear shells. I look for things that aren’t intended to be buttoned. (Also I haven’t done any major work-clothes shopping since the before times, so perhaps CK has changed?)

        2. AL*

          FYI CK has a curvy suit pant option. I also have an hourglass shape – I only fit in curvy pants. I have 3 pairs of CK curvy suit pants and they’ve lasted years.

    2. Artemesia*

      There stuff is oddly affordable while being high quality. I bought two CK coats this year — a short sort of black and white tweed and a grey full length wool coat — both are lined, have inside phone or wallet pockets (the way men’s clothes do) and look sharp. I was shocked at the low price for an item that is crazy high priced. I looked at wool coats at Max Mara thinking a couple thousand maybe i.e. big giant splurge with idea of something that would last the rest of my life — and the coat I liked was 7 thousand. I paid less than 300 for my full length wool lined CK.

    3. SuitMeUp*

      100% I have a couple of Calvin Klein suits. I work in the legal field so I guess I’ll keep adding to my interview collection :/

  8. Jolie*

    Back when I was interviewing, my go-to outfit (also worn, on different occasions, to the British and EU Parliaments) was: red a-line wool skirt black blazer, red lace blouse, strand of pearls, hair up in a bun with a red ribbon, professional black shoes with a bit of heel or platform.
    On other professional occasions I’ve worn navy pencil skirts with beige turtleneck and more summery pale pink blazer.

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      For some reason, the red coordination just set off my brain as = salacious.
      I’m sure I wouldn’t feel that way if I were interviewing you and it was a well-put-together outfit. It just struck me as interesting that I had such a reaction to a random color, and that I personally would feel the need to ‘tone it down’ with a more conservative cut. I suppose I’ve also avoided wearing pink to interviews, because I work in a male dominated field and try to tone down the girl aspect.

      1. Willow Pillow*

        This is why I wouldn’t wear red to an interview. I don’t have any issue with it myself, but you never know how strongly people will take to it being a colour associated with emotion and anger (consciously or otherwise). There are enough factors going against me! My formal interview outfit is a navy skirt suit, blue and white striped button down, pearls, and black kitten heel pumps. For a more casual place, I have a grey textured blazer, a blue/grey floral blouse, and I can either wear it with grey dress pants or dark denim.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        It’s not lost on me that this is a wool skirt; for some reason wintery weather makes red a lot more wearable, especially drizzly British weather (also the reason red postboxes and phone boxes look good here). British parliament and courtrooms often use red in the traditional robes so I felt massively smart in my red wool dress going to court. Summertime and less substantial fabric makes a difference in how red reads. Red always looks good paired with navy though, imo.

        1. Jolie*

          Fair point! The reds I had in the outfit were more towards the burgundy end of the spectrum.

          Also: I’m in a very female-dominated and non-conservative field (charities) so I don’t have the pressures on me that someone in, corporate audit/ finance law would. Also, in day to day life – I don’t wear neutrals much. My colours are red, burgundy, pink, teal and turquoise, and I’m a bit obsessed with florals. The only neutral I like is navy, and even then I wouldn’t wear it on its own.

          Funnily enough, the one time I REALLY had to tone things down was when I needed to go to court with a charity beneficiary. Then, I wore a navy pencil skirt, black blazer, shirt with white and pale pink stripes, and black opaque tights.

      3. Jolie*

        The blazer toned it down – it was a very classic structured one – and worn closed over the blouse

    2. Starbuck*

      I can’t imagine putting on a red lace blouse in a formal work setting, but I guess it depends on the styling and exact shade.

      1. iliketoknit*

        yes, I was going to say this, though I think it also depends on the industry. I’m in one of the stuffy formal fields that Alison mentioned and I can only think of one colleague who’d pull off a red lace blouse, and even then probably only under a layer where little of it shows. It sounds like a lovely outfit for the right context!

        1. Jolie*

          There was quite little of it visible under the black blazer (imagine equivalent to how much skin an average v-neck sweater would show?) and the field is charities, so not stuffy.

  9. Office Sweater Lady*

    Another good interview option for women is the sweater blazer with tailored pants. It is a little softer than the formal suit but a bit more structured than a cardigan top or blouse on its own. I’m a petite and always check places like Banana Republic (standard workwear), Boden (a bit more fun and feminine) and Talbots (more old fashioned, but sometimes have good stuff) for workwear to hit that spot between totally casual and formal suit (all three stores also have plus size). If you plan ahead, you can buy a lot of decent pieces (even the cashmere/merino wool stuff) for fairly reasonable prices in the winter sales that most of these places run right now (mid-January).

    1. kitryan*

      My version of this was a nice, new knit dress (like a drapey black or navy sheath style with a medium neckline) with a regular blazer over it. The dress had some give so I didn’t feel like a sausage (as a plus size person full suits tend to always feel like they’re binding somewhere) and as it was new there wasn’t any of the visible wear or pilling you can sometimes get w/knit weaves, and since the blazer is tailored, it adds that structure/formality. Nice jewelry, tights, shoes and it worked pretty well.

  10. Pop*

    My mom INSISTED on buying me a suit when I graduated from college in 2015. I wore it for my first job interview (at a tax firm) and I was more dressed up than the partners who were interviewing me. I am fairly certain I haven’t worn it since.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      That’s pretty common. Interviewers are typical just wearing whatever they wore to the office that day.

      1. MsClaw*

        I feel like a good rule of thumb is to dress one level above what you typically expect to wear to work. So you’ll look slightly snazzier than the people you’re chatting with, but not 3 levels up in formality.

        I work in the kind of field where jeans and t-shirt every day are just fine. But for interviews, I’m wearing a nice pair of pants and a blouse. Maybe a jacket or cardigan. (I also work places where showing up in a suit is so out of joint that you’d be sniggered about). Generally speaking, people aren’t taking a whole day off to interview, and there’s an expectation that you’ll make an effort to make a good impression but also an understanding that you probably are going to your current job after the interview or left your current job early to get to our interview so we don’t expect people to be dressed in a way that might be suspicious to their current workplace. (If a super casual person showed up looking snappy at my old job, people immediately wondered if they were interviewing somewhere later that day.)

    2. PsychNurse*

      Yep, my mom did the same in 2005! I looked, at the time, like a child playing dress-up in her mother’s clothing. I have not worn a suit since.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yep. I tried on a suit when I was interviewing for my first job out of college, and felt like it made me look 10 years younger because of the ‘dress up’ feel. IMMEDIATELY switched to wearing dress + blazer and never went back.

      2. k*

        I had a few of those in early days. I think a slightly less formal outfit that fits well and you feel comfortable and confident in is always going to give a better impression that one that is technically “fancier” but makes you feel foolish. Job interviews are stressfull enough without your clothes feeling uncomfortable.

      3. Generic Name*

        OMG, same. I’ve learned to ignore all fashion advice from my mother. I love her dearly, but I am not going to wear pearls and a twin set to work. I actually sold some jewelry a while ago, and the jeweler who bought them asked “What’s with all the pearls?”. Lol

    3. jobbyjob*

      As a heads up, it is super typical for the interviewee to be more dressed up that the interviewer. Since the interviewer is effectively in a position of greater power they are likely to be dressed more casually/comfortably. It is actually a good rule of thumb to target being dressed up one level nicer than the person interviewing you.

      1. Pop*

        They actually made a (kind) comment about me being overdressed! I grew up on the East coast and had recently moved to the West coast so hadn’t yet realized the different norms.

    4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Right out of college, I had a a weird combination of events that wound up with me getting interviewed at the interviewer’s dad’s house on the beach (the position was across the country, but the interviewer was traveling, so she offered an in-person interview instead of a phone one). I wore my brand-new black skirt suit. The interviewer was wearing capri pants, a tank top, and no shoes. At the end of the interview she asked me if I wanted to use the bathroom to change before driving the hour+ home!

    5. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

      When they scheduled me at my last interview (just last month!), I asked what was dress code, noting that it varies from company to company. That way, I wouldn’t be over or under-dressed.

      15 years ago, when I interviewed for my previous position, I was wearing a jacket and tie, and was severely overdressed.

      1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

        Follow up. At the interview last month, I was told, “You’ll be lucky if I’m not wearing shorts.”

        I wore a pair of docker-style pants and a nice polo. I was still dressed better than my interviewers.

  11. Dawn*

    Assuming you’re in North America, I have bought just so many formal-adjacent outfits at Winners/Marshalls for an absolute fraction of what they would have cost me elsewhere – shoes and accessories as well.

    1. Pauli*

      Was coming here to say this! I have a bunch of nice Calvin Klein sheath dresses that are my good interview clothes that I’m pretty sure I got at TJ Maxx. Those kind of “discount” stores can have surprisingly good workwear items!

      1. Pikachu*

        In my area, Burlington always has the best selection of business casual type clothing compared to TJ Maxx/Marshalls. Inventory at these kinds of places is so random and localized it’s worth having a peek everywhere!

        We used to have a Steinmart here too, which was a gold mine of business casual wear, but it’s since gone out of business. Not sure if they still exist in other places.

    2. whingedrinking*

      Seconding this. My partner put on some weight over the pandemic, and none of his jeans fit. There’s a Winners right next to our grocery store, and one day I wandered in and happened to find a pair in about the right size for a whole eleven dollars. I bought them because I figured that for less than the cost of a fast food meal, even if they didn’t fit it wouldn’t be a big deal. (They did. Partner was very pleased.)

  12. IEanon*

    For my last (virtual) interview, I wore a pricey-ish blazer from Macy’s, nice blouse and sweatpants. Another reason to love the Zoom interview!

    In the past, I’ve worn some of my usual blazers and pants purchased from Express or Loft. I try to wear black pants and black blazer, but if the tones don’t match, I’ve also worn a pink blazer, floral, navy, etc.

    I happen to like the business look, so I own something like a dozen blazers that I wear on a regular basis, but it’s definitely not a requirement in my industry!

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I always make sure I’m in my black sweatpants in case I have to get up from my seat for anything during the interview (dog, UPS delivery, etc.) because I’m paranoid, but I looooove interviewing in sweatpants. lol

  13. HMS Cupcake*

    I often get work pants and blazers at Kohl’s. They’re not too expensive (always offering some sort of discounts), which also means that I don’t feel like I need to wear it for years and years to get full value of my purchase. I agree that the formal suit (made with the same suiting material) isn’t generally necessary anymore. My standard is just lots of black pants, a variety of colored tops and black blazer when required.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I had to stop shopping at Kohl’s because I was spending too much money trying to take advantage of the multiple concurrent sales.

      “So if this dress is $49.99, but it’s 30% off, and I have a mailer with 15% of, and I have $10 in Kohl’s cash… What was I trying to calculate?”

  14. AnonyLlama*

    I’ve accumulated my whole work wardrobe (including suits) from Banana Republic and Ann Taylor and I have a couple of notes:

    1) Both sites have sections called “suits” and within that section you will find items that are made from the same fabric. Ex, right now on Ann Taylor, there is a dress, slacks, blazer and skirt in the same fabric “double knit” and the same colors. The items in these sections are intended to mix and match but the fabric and color will be the same across the “line”.

    2) 40% off is the common number to shoot for, and it’s available more days of a month than not. Sign up for emails and wait for a good 40%+ coupon.

    All of that said, though, Alison’s point stands that a formal suit is not a requirement any longer. I personally prefer to have the options in my wardrobe though, so that I can wear a matching suit or the pieces separately as I need.

    1. Damn it, Hardison!*

      Banana Republic also has a sister site, Banana Republic Factory, that sells separates (pants, jackets, etc.). The quality isn’t quiet as good, but it’s close enough and is often much less expensive (especially if you wait for a sale, which happens frequently).

  15. François Caron*

    If you’re being interviewed for a job at a mill, a factory, or any other place just as hazardous, you’d make a much better impression showing up with full PPE (personal protection equipment).

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      My dad was in a skilled trade. When he remarried, his new wife kept buying him ties. He had to nicely explain that he only wore ties to weddings, funerals, etc. And that a tie would either get ruined or be a safety issue at work. (He owns a suit for social occasions that warrant it.)

      1. Jonquil*

        My husband works in tech and is still wearing his wedding suit on the rare occasions he requires one. We’ve been married over a decade.

    2. just another queer reader*

      My aunt, an engineer, had a hard time interviewing at factories in the 80s because she was expected to wear a skirt and heels – and then they’d go for a plant tour on catwalks. Eek!

      Nowadays, standard interview attire as Alison described is smart (although I’d recommend pants over a dress or skirt). It would be weird for an engineer to show up to an interview wearing earplugs; the interviewer will be prepared to provide them.

    3. BubbleTea*

      I’ve never worked in a mill or a factory, but I can’t imagine this is true. If you’re interviewing, you’re not going to need PPE. Even if they take you on a tour to areas needing PPE, they’d surely have some for visitors. Do people wanting a job in a factory really have to go out and buy steel toe capped boots and safety goggles for an interview?

      1. Juniper*

        Not in my experience, and I’m EHS in a factory. I would very much question the judgement of someone showing up to an interview in full PPE. Standard interview attire (rather relaxed now, since we’re still interviewing virtually) is the norm.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        I mean, I have scored bonus points for showing up in otherwise dressy clothes and dressier-appearing steelies (I detest wearing overshoes), but no, we don’t expect all PPE at a factory. Half the time it’s not even quite the right PPE… i.e. where I work we require gasketed safety glasses, and no one (including contractors) ever shows up with anything other than plain (which they can’t wear). We have PPE closets for a reason.

        But, do know the field you’re interviewing in and attempt to follow norms. My normal interview attire is a nice blouse with no dangly bits (this is harder than you think), a nice pair of dress pants, a sweater-blazer thing, no dangly jewelry, and my dressy steelies. I am HSE and expect to walk through the plant, and want my image to be prepared to get in the field (hence no dangles) but also look professional AF aka I can easily talk to EPA/OSHA.

        (My dressy steelies are nice rounded cowboy boots. With boot cut dress pants, you can’t tell they’re not the men’s style leather w/cutouts dress shoes unless you look close. Super comfortable & secure and able to walk on the plant floor at any point. Highly recommend for those who can wear boots.)

      3. Not A Girl Boss*

        Definitely not, but I do think it scores brownie points if you think to ask about PPE rules before coming to an interview. At the very least, it sets you up for success once you’re there. Most sites have a good one pager on requirements they can send over easily.

        For example, I was caught by surprise once that a site with a clean room did not allow makeup on the floor. Because I’d thought to ask, I got to go on a tour without weirdness of having to go wipe my face off in the bathroom, or just plain missing out.

      4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I don’t know about full PPE (boy has that definition changed during the pandemic) but if you are applying for a position where you will be required to wear such things, as opposed to say the Accounting Department, you might score points for wearing steel-toed shoes and having your own ear plugs and/or safety glasses, even if, as Environmental Compliance pointed out, the company may have different rules about what they allow onsite. It at least makes it seem like you understand the company.

        But if you want to work in a factory, you might as well have those things already purchased if you are going to need them. They actually might ask in the interview that if you’re hired do you have the right equipment.

        I worked for two manufacturing companies early in my career, although I was marketing staff, and only one required that office employees must adhere to the same dress rules as shop employees. That was written into the union contract and based on my experience there, I think the union did it just to be a pest because there was so much animosity between union and non-union workers. I had to run out and buy steel-toed shoes ASAP in order to work at a computer all day.

        1. cncx*

          I interviewed at two factories for an office job and in both places I was asked to wear steel toed shoes on the in house interview day because it would be required at hire because I would be out on the floor enough (IT). I had a pair for reasons already, and Birkenstock actually makes cute reinforced toe shoes, I have the ones that look like leather high tops.

    4. Not A Girl Boss*

      I work in manufacturing. My go to has always been closed toe flats (not heels) as that’s enough for most factory tours.

      I always ask about and/or bring with me steel toed shoes, but its weird to just be wearing them right out of the gate. I also bring my own safety glasses, because the visitor ones are super dorky and usually scratched beyond belief.

    5. Nesprin*

      Ditto scientific work- if you’d need to wear long pants and closed toed shoes to get into a lab, you should probably wear something compatible when interviewing so they can show you the lab.

      1. Mid*

        So, not full PPE, but dress in a way that is practical for the environment, but slightly elevated for the interview. Pants, closed toed shoes, blazer, nothing super long and dangly. Not showing up in googles and a hazmat suit.

  16. unlucky shopper*

    I’m glad that this is changing for everyone, but kind of hate it for my own silly reason: essentially my last pre-pandemic purchase was… a suit for all those in-person job interviews I was going to have! It’s never been worn and maybe never will, at this rate, which is kind of disappointing. Maybe I should make up an event for it.

    1. NewJobNewGal*

      I know the feeling. I bout 4 pairs of work shoes right before the pandemic and I haven’t worn any of them.

      1. Hotdog not dog*

        Solidarity! I have a gorgeous pair of pumps that I splurged on the first week of March 2020 to celebrate the fabulous job offer I had just received! (Rescinded 4 days later on March 16th.) I have yet to wear the shoes.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Now I’ve been wearing my house slippers (Vionics have good support) and Dansko clogs for so long, I can’t put my foot in any dressy shoes without my feet yelling at me. Shame, since I have a darling pair of Hot Chocolate pumps that I would love to wear. I just take them out of the box, look at them wistfully, and put them back in the box. Repeat every 6 months.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I wore nothing but Allbirds slip-ons or actual slippers for 2 years and joke that my feet have gone feral. Stuffing them into boots sucks now. I swear my feet actually got wider due to not being crammed into constrictive shoes for two years.

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              I’ll spare you the rant about how modern shoes are basically a more socially acceptable form of foot binding, and just say that if you search Anya’s Reviews, she has hundreds of reviews of wide toe box shoes, many of which are super adorable and office appropriate. I wear her branded Chelsea boots for date nights, and love some of the flats she’s recommended as well.
              I threw out all my heels (omg can you believe I used to wear them daily??) in 2018 and started my foot health improvement spree. My feet, knees, and hips are so much happier these days.

              1. BlueSwimmer*

                I gave up heels in around 2018-19 too! I kept putting them on to go to work and making it only as far as the front door when my knees said, “nope!” and I had to pivot to an outfit that would work with flats.

    2. Roland*

      > Maybe I should make up an event for it.

      Do it! I’m a software engineercon the west coast so even pre-pandemic none of my coworkers ever needed to wear a suit. One of my coworkers just started wearing a suit every X day of the month to have an excuse. Not even as a way to throw off people from interviews bc he’d never need to wear one to interview, just for fun.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      Right before the pandemic I was at a job that was mostly work from home but had occasional trips to client offices where we needed to dress up — think the more “business” end of “business casual”. So toward the end of 2019 I accumulated an entire business trip’s worth of business trip clothing.

      Then the pandemic hit, so no more business trips. Then I left the job and got a job someplace where I had no client contact and could wear whatever the heck I wanted.

      I need to find a women’s shelter or something that takes donations of business clothing, because I have an entire wardrobe of nice business outfits that have been worn 0-2x that I will never need. I’m keeping my one favorite dress, but the rest can go to someone who’ll actually wear them! (Last time I looked most places were temporarily not accepting donations due to the pandemic.)

    4. Gracely*

      You could try wearing it as separates so that it gets some use?

      Making up an event sounds like a lot of fun, too. I mean, why not?

  17. Beth*

    Don’t underestimate the power of alterations! A good tailor can work magic. So if there’s a cheaper option with a slightly off fit, they can make it look perfect. Too big is easier to work with but they can let out garments too, as long as there is a fabric allowance at the seams.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Serious question: I recently took something to a tailor, just to have it hemmed because I am a short person, and it was $100 just for that, let alone any other alterations for fit. Is this totally regional and more affordable elsewhere? I’m always confuzzled at how frequently I see recommendations for tailoring when part of a letter is about not spending several hundred on whatever it was because it seems like tailoring also costs hundreds.

      1. MaybeNotRidiculous*

        If it was just a simple pair of pants, that definitely sounds overpriced! If it was a big skirt, or lots of layers, or difficult fabric, or a cut with lots of flare at the bottom, then maybe not ridiculous.

        Of course these things will be regional, since they are mainly charging for labor, and it costs more to live in Chicago than it dies in Nebraska

    2. Marion Ravenwood*

      I came here to mention this. A good tailor can make a cheap suit – or any cheaper garment that doesn’t fit quite right – look a million times better. (Plus, as a sewist myself, alterations are really difficult so I’m quite happy to spend a few pounds for someone else to do that for me!)

  18. PsychNurse*

    You’ve named two pretty expensive stores! You can also check places like Kohl’s and Target– in addition to consignment shops. Consignment shops tend to be very dependent on where you live, but in my town, we have an amazing one, and I haven’t bought an item of clothing new in ten years.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I came here to add–check out any regional department stores if you can. I was outside of Philadelphia for a time, and Boscov’s was my absolute go-to for business-y stuff that I needed to wear to client meetings. They carried CK, Kasper, and Tahari at much less than the Macy’s at the other end of the mall, and frequently had good sales, too. I am on the cusp of regular/petite and plus-sized and had extremely good luck there. So if you have something like a Boscov’s, Bon Ton, Hothchilds, or similar near you, that’s a good place to look. (I realize I am probably dating myself with some of these stores, but you probably know what’s in your region.)

      If Lord and Taylor is around, they also have very good options in petite/missy/plus with good sales.

  19. CTA*

    You can always ask what the company’s dress code is. A few companies have actually volunteered this info when they set up an interview with me.

    As a woman, I feel it’s particularly hard for women to navigate interview clothes. There are so many subjective ideas about business, business casual, and casual.

    I had a mock interview once and I thought I was dressed business casual. This was for a software engineer mock behavioral interview. At the end, my interviewer (also a woman) told me to ask about dress codes when I schedule an interview. I was confused and a little embarrassed about why she was telling me this. I wasn’t sure if I was dressed inappropriately for her. Did she want me to wear a black suit like she was? Was it my footwear? It was a very hot June day, so I wore low-heeled strappy sandals. Did she think my pencil skirt was inappropriate? Did she think my cotton top was too t-shirt? It was a cotton top that had nice embroidery on it. Was I overthinking it and she was just offering general advice and there was nothing wrong with how I was dressed? Should I have just showed up in jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers because that’s the software engineer uniform? PS – It was a company that has some ethical concerns in the US, so it wasn’t a place I would have applied to on my own. I just did the mock interview to fulfill a graduation requirement. Not soliciting advice on what I did “wrong.”

    1. Trina*

      While the general advice of “ask before the interview” isn’t wrong, why wouldn’t the interviewer have specified why she was bringing it up? My guess would be that she was trying to (in her eyes) help a fellow woman in the field, or else she wouldn’t have said anything at all, but in not giving any context, of course you ended up just feeling confused! Even just a single addition like “While our field is very casual, in my experience I’ve needed to dress a level above my peers to be taken seriously” – though perhaps as an interviewer she was also wary of saying anything that might suggest discrimination in the hiring practice.

      1. Callie*

        Maybe she just genuinely thought it was a helpful tip to ask so you know what the company is expecting. And it’s even being repeated as a helpful tip now. Presumably the purpose of the mock interview was to get interview tips, even if this particular mock interviewee didn’t want them. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong in THIS interview. You can also ask whether you did if you care of course.

        1. Trina*

          Oh, I glossed over that it was a mock interview! In that case, the interviewer should absolutely have clarified why she was mentioning it, whether that was “this outfit would be fine for some places but not others,” “your outfit is actually fine but I tell this to everyone I mock interview,” “the individual pieces of your outfit could each be fine but worn all together they’re a little too casual,” or whatever else was on her mind. The whole point of mock interviews is that the person has little to no experience with interviewing (or at least interviewing in a specific setting), so you really can’t expect that you can give feedback in a vague way and the interviewee will understand what you were trying to imply.

          1. Callie*

            Sure and that would be a good thing to tell people you’re recruiting to give mock interviews. But to the person who is still worried it’s a slight years later, it probably wasn’t. It probably was just what she thought was a useful tip since different offices have different dress codes and the HR person who will usually be setting up an interview will be used to being asked that question.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      I work in tech and a LOT of companies I’ve interviewed at have specifically advised not wearing a suit to interviews in emails when we were working out the logistics. Like, here’s the schedule for your interview, here’s the address, here’s what to do/who to ask for when you get here, also don’t wear a suit.

      I have a black dress I can dress up or down with tights/accessories. Which is how I once did an interview with a ton of whiteboard programming wearing yellow tights and got whiteboard marker smudges all over my knees.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        (Because it turns out I put my hands on my knees when I’m nervous/thinking. My whiteboard-marker-covered hands, because I also erase mistakes with my fingers. I was A MESS.)

    3. NoIWontFixYourComputer*


      As I mentioned above, I asked for my latest interview, and found that I didn’t need to dress up too much. (Disclaimer, I’m a guy).

    1. Willow Pillow*

      That style is great, but I wouldn’t wear Karl Lagerfeld myself due to all the bigotry (sexism, fatphobia, Islamophobia, etc.).

  20. Charlotte Lucas*

    For women, a shift dress with a nice blazer/jacket is generally a very put-together and flattering look. (If you wear dresses, that is.)

  21. A Simple Narwhal*

    My favorite go-to piece of clothing is a high-waisted, knee-length pencil skirt. It’s so versatile! You can pair it with a blouse or a sweater or a jacket, flats or heels or boots, and (at least for my body) it’s super flattering and also super cute! More importantly I always look/feel put together when I wear it. Depending on what you pair it with it can be very formal, or it can be more casual, so it works great beyond interviewing. The pairing options also make it work well in hot or cold weather, so it’s also wearable year round.

  22. Trina*

    I was just thinking about this today, having run across a ten-year-old letter from the archives about interviewing as an aircraft maintenance mechanic. Several folks in the comments argued that wearing a suit to an interview for such a hand-on, blue-collar job could come off as not understanding what the job entailed. It got me thinking: okay, for a couple fields suits at an interview are still a must, for many they’re no longer necessary but still seen as neutral if that’s what you choose to wear, but for which fields out there does wearing a suit actively work AGAINST you in an interview setting?

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      In my retail & food service jobs back in the day, not wearing shorts or jeans would be the equivalent of wearing a suit.

    2. Jane Bingley*

      Tech for sure, especially in California – it’s considered a red flag for poor fit and a sign that you care more about appearances than the hard work of coding. (Which is ridiculous! But it’s a well-established convention now.)

      1. turquoisecow*

        Yeah my husband works in tech and I don’t think he’s ever worn a suit for work, except maybe once or twice when meeting investors for the startup he was involved in? But even then it was more likely to be a nicer shirt, tie, and jacket than a full suit. I think the CEO at that startup was fond of wearing jackets but no tie most days, but nobody else did.

        Of course now his team is distributed and all the interviewing he’s conducted has been virtual so who knows. I don’t think it would be an automatic no to show up in a suit, but it would look odd and a bit out of touch and he might assume the person was new to the workforce.

      2. Kitty Bennet*

        I wish I’d known this! I was WAY overdressed for an interview I had once for a job in the games industry. God, it was mortifying. It didn’t help that I was the only woman in what I came to find out was somebody’s apartment-turned-office. All the guys just stared at me like I was an alien. Never again. lol

      3. hellohello*

        Yeah, I don’t know that folks would consciously think “they don’t care about coding” but it definitely comes off oddly to wear a suit in the bay area. I’d assume you were a lawyer actively on your way to court, or, frankly, that you worked at a department store giving out fancy perfume samples or something :P

      4. talos*

        I (working in big-name SV tech) have definitely interviewed people who were wearing a suit while I was in a hoodie. It’s not a no-hire signal, and I’m not going to explicitly mark you down for it, but it’s certainly gonna feel awkward for both of us in a way that might impact your interview performance or my assessment of it.

        1. talos*

          I should clarify that this is at SV companies, but I’m not located in SV myself – it’s a companywide culture thing regardless of location.

    3. Not A Girl Boss*

      My husband is a metal fabricator, and just elected not to hire someone because he came across as not being suited for the nature of the work. It wasn’t just the suit, but a combination of:
      -Zero experience in a physical job, all prior work was customer service type jobs
      -Couldn’t speak to hobbies that would indicate an interest in physical labor or creating things with his hands (exercise, outdoor stuff, woodworking, etc)
      -Wore a suit and dress shoes when work boots are required for a building tour
      -‘Soft hands’
      -Had very academic reasons for wanting the job, couldn’t make a case for why he’d actually enjoy 8 hours a day of physical work.

      The suit wasn’t really the problem, but it probably helped tip off husband that he needed to dig deeper into the guy’s ability to do a physical job.

      1. I heart Paul Buchman*

        Yeah this was my thought. Manufacturing. Any hint that you are better suited to an office job marks you out. In my world suits are for funerals and court. Lol

      2. Valancy Trinit*

        “Soft hands”? Wow. I’d be remiss to decline a candidate for a role in my office because they had hard, calloused hands. It may not rise to the level of discrimination against a protected class, but that is an obnoxious attitude.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          Its not about ‘soft hands’ but about a very comprehensive attitude conveyed by this person, which I listed out, including one piece of evidence regarding their hands that shows they have no history of physical work, even in a hobby sense.

          And, literally, you need calloused hands to be able to do some jobs. Waiting for someone to get up to speed on strength and callouses to handle hot metal is a big hit to productivity. One he might have been ok with if the guy had been able to express any interest in gaining those skills. But if someone values manicured hands, metalworking is not the job for them.

    4. Loredena*

      About 15 years ago my husband was interviewing for a junior dev role at a small gaming company. I said you can’t go wrong wearing a suit. Even that long ago I was very wrong! Not only was the hiring manager interviewing him in shorts, he commented that he should have had the receptionist let him know to do the same. It’s so variable!

    5. Filosofickle*

      Creative fields. Even decades ago, showing up in a suit — especially a matching suit in traditional suiting fabrics– for a design job tagged you as being way out of touch.

    6. Nesprin*

      Off the top of my head:

      Extremely casual environments- i.e. west coast tech, where you’d read as out of touch.
      Environments with PPE requirements- where wearing a skirt suit in particular would keep you out of labs/workfloors.
      Creative environments where personality/style is a selling point

    7. Captain Swan*

      Plus size woman in a reasonably conservative area/industry. StitchFix turned me onto NYDJ dress pants. Reasonably priced, extremely comfortable, and work well for interviews and the regular workday. Last interview I did in 2021, NYDJ pants, a colored sleeveless top, and a coordinating blazer. I think all the pieces were from StitchFix. Whole outfit was probably less than $150 but I don’t really know since I just pulled stuff from my existing work wardrobe.

  23. Nea*

    I’ve been doing classic-cut black dress and a blazer or nice cardigan for forever now. You can get nice ones with pockets from Eshakti (pay for the personal tailoring) or Svaha (off the rack fit but huge pockets and also some eye-catching cardis; if you’re working in STEM you can probably get one that applies to your field.)

  24. Bored Lawyer*

    Just wanted to pipe in that even if you are applying at law firms, you don’t need a different suit for multiple interviews. If your suit is pretty generically dark no one is going to really notice it is the same one.

  25. Paris Geller*

    So I completely agree that suits are not necessary for most industries anymore, but I wonder about this alternative (I agree with all the rest)

    a reasonably businessy dress on its own, no blazer
    This one I have trouble getting behind. I’m wondering if I’m not thinking of “business-y” dress right? For some reason, all the business-type dresses I have, I would still personally feel the need to wear a blazer or something with it–but then maybe it’s because a lot of the more business dresses I have tend to be sleeveless and it’s a matter of personal comfort for me. Interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this one.

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      I thought that was a little odd too. Most business dresses I’ve seen are sleeveless. Plus temperatures in interview rooms can vary so much, I want the freedom to remove or add layers. And also, wearing a blazer with a dress makes me feel powerful.

      I always felt like the big distinguisher of a business dress is that its a structured/thick fabric rather than a stretchy/clingy one.

    2. Wolfie*

      I read that and thought the same as you because my smart work dresses were usually sleeveless. So yes I sort of assume Alison means cap or short or long sleeves as I think a lot of people would have same reaction we are having. But I live in a cold country and feel even cap sleeves would be weird! I do now have a great work dress with long sleeves (and yes it has pockets too).

    3. Amber Rose*

      I always picture those trench coat dresses. They are often short or long sleeve rather than sleeveless, and worn belted/buttoned over a camisole or something.

    4. AngryOctopus*

      I would personally wear a blazer over a dress but my reasons are 1-warmth and 2-pockets.

    5. Callie*

      I’d only wear a long-sleeved dress without a blazer (or sweater on a less formal day). Offices are usually freezing anyway. But there are some long-sleeved dresses in heavier fabric out there that I think can stand on their own.

    6. Samwise*

      Sleeveless = cardigan or blazer

      Sleeves = with or without cardigan or blazer. I always feel more professionally buffed up with the card. or blazer, which helps my mindset in the interview. But it’s not necessary in most places

    7. Emmy Noether*

      I have a few business dresses with sleeves, which I prefer because I don’t do sleeveless at work but I also don’t like being stuck with my blazer/cardigan when it’s too hot. So they do exist. I’d probably still wear a blazer over most of those for an interview because it would make me feel more confident (something about shoulder padding…).

      I also own one dress with lapels, sort of a faux-wrap coatdress with long sleeves. I wouldn’t wear a blazer over that, because it already has like half the elements of a blazer.

    8. ecnaseener*

      I assume that wasn’t meant to include sleeveless dresses, because Alison has made her opinion on visible armpits known in the past!

    9. Fluffy Initiative*

      I think the type of dresses you’d typically see a woman on the news wear (anchors, meteorologists, etc.) would be appropriate for most interviews. There are a number of dresses that can look business-y without layering a cardigan or blazer on top.
      I do agree that when in doubt, if you’re more comfortable with something extra on or concerned that you’ll be cold, put a layering piece over a dress.

    10. BuffaloSauce*

      I searched business dresses for women on Google and Amazon and tons of options came up. You can always throw a black cardigan on over a sleeveless dress and call it a day!

    11. Wendy Darling*

      Most of my businessy dresses have sleeves. Blazers don’t fit me well without a prohibitive amount of alteration, so I definitely gravitate toward things I can wear either with a cardigan or on their own. My favorite has elbow-length sleeves.

    12. Random Dice*

      I think she meant a sheath dress. They can come with sleeves but the most traditional version is sleeveless.

    13. Jonquil*

      Agreed. Even with sleeves I find I add a blazer over a dress if I want to be read more formally.

  26. Sarah*

    I have a few blazers in different colors that I’d wear with black or gray pants for an interview or important meeting, but not day to day because most wore nice tops or sweaters with dress pants. It would’ve made me feel stuffy and overdressed. Dress code has changed to allow jeans, so now I wear blazers with my jeans – I feel very pulled together without feeling stuffy. I got most of my blazers from Ann Taylor or Banana Republic but always waited for them to go on sale.

  27. Intermittent Introvert*

    I like to wear tights with my business dresses in cooler weather. I like to match my shoes to my tights. Tights are fabulous. They have a broad range of sizes that fit nicely. I’m a 4X woman and the ones I get are very comfortable and durable. Their prices are quite reasonable.

  28. Not A Girl Boss*

    My go-to is a professional dress with a blazer. It makes me feel fashionable and put together, has never been under-dressed for me, but fits across a larger size range than dress pants do.
    For dresses, I tend to go for one with thick structured fabric. Not the super stretchy clubwear-doubling-as-workwear they always sell at TJ Maxx. I also always wear flats because there’s often a lot of walking involved in the interviews I’ve been on.

    I also have to give a shoutout to White House Black Market. The pieces are similar in cost to Banana Republic, but the sales ladies act as personal shoppers and have been so helpful in making me feel confident and get something that actually works with my body.

    When I was interviewing out of college, Kohls had a lot of good professional clothes at an affordable price.

  29. Millennial*

    I (she/her) have never worn a suit to an interview and have been hired anyway. I was hired suitless at a university, two think tanks, a major defense contractor, and a cool tech firm. For the first four jobs, I wore a high necked, knee-length plum dress, black pumps, pearls, and a black blazer. For my current job, I interviewed via Zoom and wore a nice sweater.

  30. David’s Skirt-Pants*

    I wear suits regularly (and I’m the only woman in my office who does) but A) I agree that a jacket + sheath dress is fine for interviewing and B) shop at Poshmark or similar consignment or second-hand apps. I’m wearing a Banana Republic suit right now that I got for $60. For both pieces and in excellent condition—probably because it’s prior owner wore it once or twice for an interview.

  31. to varying degrees*

    The Worthington line at JC Penney has great separates (pants, skirt, jackets, dress) and they color match perfectly.

  32. Lolllee*

    I work in aerospace in the pacific northwest and I’ve worked for two managers that refused to higher anyone who didn’t wear a suit to the interview no matter their qualifications. In one case, this resulted in the least qualified person got hire because he was the only one who wore a suit. Both managers were from the east coast. I had warned them that people in pacific northwest tended to be a little more casual, and every person interviewed was well dressed in slacks, dress shirts and sweater/blazer, but it made no difference to them. Part of this equation might be regional? I’ve also had companies invite me to interview same day and not care in the least when I show up in jeans straight from current job.

    1. Lolllee*

      Oh, and one of the managers insisted it had to be a black, gray or navy suit with white shirt. One well qualified woman in a beige blazer, blue blouse, and beige patterned slacks was disqualified for that reason.

      1. Generic Name*

        This reminds me of the major scandal (that’s sarcasm) during the Obama administration when he wore a beige suit.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      I once applied to an aerospace company in the pacific northwest at a national job fair, and they took my resume, curled their lip about how they “didn’t recognize my school” (which was ranked in the top 50 in my field, but somewhat of a small regional/Northeast school), and then threw my resume in the trash can in front of me (why not just hand it back to me?? they had a specific trash can for the purpose of discarding resumes in front of people).
      So, in my experience, said aersopace company in the pacific northwest has some truly out of touch / rude hiring norms anyway.

      I went to work at an aerospace firm in the northeast that was just as prestigious. Was hired after interviewing in a dress, cardigan, and flats.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          Answering a question with a question: Have you seen that cartoon where the plane bounces off the ground, and when it does it makes a *boing* sound effect… but the clever cartoonist has spelled the sound as “boeing”?

          1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

            Ha ha! And I’m guessing the referenced interview was post-merger, and the execs/management were from McDND?

    3. sb51*

      East coast tech is still a lot more conservative. Mine most interviewees are still in suits (or were pre-pandemic) with blazer+tie for men or blazer plus blouse/sheath dress for women also acceptable. Interviewers dress in normal day to day which can be fairly casual (HR dressier, technical casual) but for no real reason we still expect interviewees to snazz it up.

      Ask the HR contact or hiring manager setting up the interview; if they won’t tell you and want you to guess, you probably don’t want to work for them.

    4. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

      Got to be Boeing. After the merger, most of management came from McDND (midwest)

  33. Amber Rose*

    Back when it mattered, my wardrobe was: A pair of black pants, a pair of grey pants, and an assortment of nice shirts. That’s what I interviewed in and wore to work and that was all that I needed.

    For the job I have now, prior to the interview I was told not to dress up, so I showed up in jeans and a reasonably flattering sweater.

  34. Poorly suited*

    I have a recent women’s suit story. I’m six years out of college and work at a tech company in a tech-oriented city where everyone dresses casually. I have never needed a suit before. However, I applied to business school this year and was invited to interview in-person at a top MBA program. Wanting to make a good impression, I decided to buy my first suit.

    It was impossible to find anything in person, at least in my casual West Coast city (and in a world where many more people work remotely). I went to the nicest mall in town and tried every store I could think of that might sell women’s suits: Nordstrom, Macy’s, LOFT (all the regular Ann Taylors in my city have closed), J.Crew, H&M, Zara, and a few others I’m not remembering. Not a single place was selling a classic women’s interview suit.

    I ended up buying a suit online from a startup that literally sells just plain black interview suits for women (because apparently the founders faced the same problem I did in finding one).

    I could not believe how difficult it was to find a classic suit. It seems like most of the ones available these days are like meant for fashion over business – I can’t count the number of online models I saw posed with blazers with no shirt underneath (I’m sure that would go over great in an interview) or blazers paired with matching mini skirts. If you have a suit you like, I recommend holding onto it – it might be harder to find a good one nowadays.

    1. BuffaloSauce*

      Tech is so casual. I switched from Non-profits to tech and got wear a t-shirt, joggers and sneakers everyday. I threw on a hoodie in the colder months. I started a new job in a different industry and felt kinda good to dress up again. And by dress up I mean, sweater, heals and jeans. Lol!

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        *insert rant about the comparative salaries in those two fields and the comparative expectations about appearance*

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      Laughing at the photos of women wearing suits and underwear comment. Sometimes I peruse the Banana Republic and Gap “wear to work” websites just to howl at the idea of wearing the outfits into my work.

      Tube tops? Bras under blazers?? It’s madness!

    3. OP*

      I am the OP and this was *exactly* my experience — I went to basically the same list of stores you went to, and no one was selling suits. In the end, Ann Taylor (not Loft) was the only one with real suits. “Real” as in, not sweater-y, no sweatshirt-y, has a full, traditional collar, etc. If anyone’s wondering, I landed on a dress with sleeves!

  35. marvin*

    I feel like interview wear conventions are even more gendered than for regular work clothing, which leaves me a bit lost as a nonbinary person. Not to mention that it’s basically impossible to find any reasonably dressy clothes that fit someone with my proportions. I’m very glad not to be job searching at the moment.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Sadly this is true, unless you have the money for more boutique or custom pieces. :(

      Clothing is so complicated.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I feel this so much. I’m a plus sized enby, and so much is very gendered and/or just doesn’t fit me right. I’m glad I work (and interview) remotely right now.

    3. Web Crawler*

      I feel this. I’m trying to figure out what I want to wear to an interview now. I’m also torn between being comfortable and outing myself, and blending in so I don’t face discrimination in the hiring stages.

    4. marvin*

      Solidarity! I’m actually teaching myself to sew to get around this, but only time will tell whether I’ll get good enough to create anything reasonably professional. (And whether I’ll be able to resist using loud rainbow prints for everything.)

    5. hellohello*

      the proportions thing sucks a lot (I say as someone with chest for days, who really struggles to find dressy shirts that fit and I’m not busting out of.)

      That said I think you could get pretty far with a blazer or cardigan, slacks, and nice but plain shirt (button down/polo/sweater, depending on what you can find that fits) that would be appropriate for an interview for any gender person.

      if you have the same chest issue I do with button downs specifically, I’ve found that sizing up in a women’s cut and then tucking it it in and wearing a blazer or sweater over it works well. The shirt is going to be baggy outside of the chest, but the tucking and covering with a jacket hides the lack of fit/makes it look intentional.

      1. marvin*

        Sadly I’m in a place in my transition where I’m truly in the netherworld of gendered clothing options. Men’s shirts are too wide in the shoulders and chest, too narrow in the hips, and too long everywhere, so they would have to be fully restructured to fit. Women’s shirts look odd and gapey around the chest and are also too tight in the upper arms (and are still too long in the arms because I have little t-rex arms). Boys’ shirts are too tight in the arms as well. It’s truly an awkward place to be.

        1. Amber Rose*

          Feeling you on the t-rex arms. I wear all my shirts like a child in parents’ clothes: sleeves hanging down several inches.

          1. marvin*

            I just roll up all of my sleeves mostly. As someone who started out too short for most women’s clothes, trying to find any men’s clothes that fit has been an adventure.

        2. Random Dice*

          It’s actually very doable to make these alterations yourself.

          1) Turn a shirt inside out, fold triangles on both sides of your body, and put a few safety pins to hold the triangles. Turn it rightside, try on, and adjust until you’re happy.

          2) Inside out, sew a line along the triangle.

          1. marvin*

            Between the much too wide shoulders and the much too broad chest, the upper part of even extra small men’s shirts is just totally off on me. The armpits and shoulder edges come halfway down my biceps.

  36. Ann Onymous*

    If cost is an issue, see if there’s a chapter of Dress for Success located near you. It’s a non-profit that provides women with low or no cost professional clothing as well as other resources with the aim of helping women succeed professionally.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I donated a lot of my “when I was skinny” suits to them and a local woman’s shelter. Good suits and professional wear don’t go out of style as quickly.

  37. dedicated1776*

    I am an accountant. Since I left public accounting, all of my employers have been business casual (usually with an emphasis on the casual) but I expect my interviewees to show up in a suit. And I wear a suit if I’m interviewing. (Fortunately haven’t had to do that in a while–none of my suits fit anymore. LOL)

    Department stores are definitely cheaper than Ann Taylor, J.Crew, etc., and definitely just buy one suit and have different tops/accessories to go with it.

    1. OP*

      I think you make a great point that if you’re interviewing someone, you might dress up a little more than usual that day. I’ve done the same.

  38. get on the preowned train!*

    I’m surprised this hasn’t come up more as a suggestion–absolutely use Ebay, Poshmark, Mercari for this!! Poshmark is especially good for clothes. I am very short but know my general size in J.Crew, Tahari, Ann Taylor, Anthro, etc. (i.e. every place that sells petite clothes that isn’t just a square… sigh), and since suits especially are on their way out, you can definitely get a full suit set for less than $60 and often get it in 2-3 days. I haven’t bought a new piece of clothes from the store it is from in probably 7-8 years, but I still buy a lot of clothes with the tags on from those secondhand online places.

    1. Sharpie*

      Fourthing this!

      I would add, go by body/garment measurements rather than sizes. Especially if you’re looking at an item in a brand that’s new to you, clothing sizes can be a minefield!

  39. Coverage Associate*

    As a lawyer, a litigator, even in San Francisco, I need a few suits, including for interviews. A few because I might have court several times in one week, not because I can’t wear the same suit to different rounds of interviews.

    I like eBay for work clothes, especially suits. Even if not every purchase works out or is returnable, I find I save so much time, it is the best way for me. I donate what doesn’t work out and isn’t returnable.

    Before eBay, I got my suits from Pendleton and Macy’s. Macy’s was hit or miss, and is probably more miss as dress codes relax more. Half their stock was strange colors that wouldn’t work for an interview. And then there were all the usual problems with women’s sizing, like a 4” difference between sizes.

    But I concur with everyone saying that many brands sell suiting as separates so that you can get different sizes to fit, choose a skirt or trousers, etc.

    1. SpeckledBeagle*

      I’m a new attorney, and I go nowhere near courtrooms yet, so I’m curious: do women still need actual traditional suits for court (where both pieces match) every time, or is it becoming more acceptable to have separates in conservative/neutral tones? For example, today I’m wearing a knee length black dress with a white blazer.
      I know this can be highly dependent on both region and type of court, but since I presently work in an environment where I don’t get to see how litigators dress I’m trying to get a feel for what is too casual for court. (I would like to eventually be a litigator).

      1. Delta Delta*

        It depends on your court! I’m an attorney and I gained some covid weight that doesn’t want to budge, so all my good suits are kaput for me. However, I’m in a region where people tend to be a little less formal in court, and I also appear regularly in a docket that is even less formal. I get away with dresses and cardigans, dressy pants/sweaters/blazers. I’ve been known to wear a nice dress and a pair of Manolos (I have ’em, I might as well wear ’em!) but I’ve also been known to wear a pair of Vans.

        I should also say, though, that I’ve been a lawyer for close to 20 years and I am very good at it. You may need a few trips around the sun before you can wear Vans to court.

        And off topic – if you want courtroom experience, go be a prosecutor or a public defender for a while. You’ll get plenty that way.

        1. SpeckledBeagle*

          Thanks so much! I actually would like to do exactly what you suggested, but I need to wait a few years because I have some clerkships I’m working now.

          I definitely wouldn’t try wearing vans to court lol. Mostly I’m hoping I can get away with nice dresses or suit pants, fitted blazers in conservative colors, and professional heels. I am a petite, curvy woman so finding pants and blazers that look correct on me is…a challenge. Finding matching suit pieces has so far been a lost cause.

      2. Lily C*

        NAL, but a legal assistant at a firm that does litigation, also in SF. Our female attorneys usually wear sheath dresses to court, or trouser/skirt, blouse, and blazer combo. I’ve also seen them head out in nice, pullover cashmere sweaters. They all seem to keep a spare blazer in their offices for virtual appearances. The men still seem to default to formal suit/tie for in-person appearances, though. And the level of formality for all of them goes up at the beginning and end of trials.

        1. SpeckledBeagle*

          This is great to know; this is effectively already my business closet at the moment :)

  40. Former Retail Lifer*

    I manage a luxury apartment building and for years our dress code was suits. However, it’s really hard to find suits anymore, especially those that are affordable enough to buy several of (we needed five days’ worth) and those that are machine washable. They’ve finally lightened up since the pandemic and we can wear a contrasting blazer now, which makes it SO MUCH EASIER to shop. Dress pants, a nice top, and a contrasting blazer should be dressy enough for most interviews.

  41. Loch Lomond*

    I’m healthcare rather than one of those super conservative fields, but I’ve always interviewed in a blazer, non-matching gray work pants, and a patterned sleeveless top underneath. My go to top has birds on it and I always get a ton of compliments!

    I always mentally classed wearing a blazer in work pants as the exact same thing as “wearing a suit”, so it’s interesting to remember that it’s actually considered a step down.

    1. Loch Lomond*

      Which is to say, if someone asked me if I wear a suit to interviews, I would probably unthinkingly say yes, even though technically I’ve never owned a suit. But then again, I only wear the office pants and the blazer for interviews, so that’s why it’s filed that way in my mind.

  42. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    I just interviewed last week and did not wear a fully matched suit, though everything was in the same color. I have also worn dress slacks with a nice cardigan in lieu of a blazer. In summer I just wear the blouse. It’s much more relaxed now. In fact a suit feels over-dressed.

    I’ve never paid $400 for a suit! Yikes.
    Check sales. My local Boscovs has Kasper and Calvin Klein suiting separates in the $50-$80 range per piece. Sometimes much less. Thing is, you need to shop for the suit before you actually need one!

  43. AP*

    My go-to is a less structured blazer (I think the one I have is called “boyfriend fit”) with a nice blouse underneath, and then slim cut black pants. I work in digital marketing, so I think that look is the right mix of relaxed but professional. And, most importantly, I think it looks good on my body type and I always feel comfortable wearing it. Wearing something that makes you feel confident is huge.

  44. Anonymooose*

    Oh thank goodness. I have a body that no suit jacket/blazer will fit well, unless I sew it myself from scratch (muscular arms and shoulders, muscular midsection, small bust. But still curves!) Glad to know I can just go for blouses or wrap dresses that fit.

  45. Workerbee*

    I was so relieved when I decided to dispense with the suits for interviewing. I came up through the shoulder pads era, too. I had a three-piece suit for awhile – pants, blazer, and vest – and a button-down shirt. I didn’t always wear the vest with it. Regardless, I never wholly felt comfortable. Always felt like a stuffed sausage, overly perspiring on the inside, and second-guessing my cuffs and collar(s). Too much fuss for me.

    At some point I said, “F**k this” and now I just wear:

    -Black ponte slacks that are uber-comfortable, and a button-down shirt
    -A comfortable jersey dress in a lovely yet muted pattern, and flats.

  46. Selina Luna*

    If you’re a “bigger” woman, Torrid has some GREAT stuff that won’t break the bank.

    Also, if it gets cold in the winter where you live, make sure you wear something that covers your legs. This has nothing to do with modesty-interviews are often conducted in rooms where the climate controls are awful, and if you’re too cold, you’ll look nervous.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      +1 for Torrid. I ordered a bunch of stuff from their office line in 2019 (for all the onsite interviews I’d be doing in 2020. Hah!) and they fit really well. Their stuff does tend to be more fitted though, so trying on stuff is definitely recommended. I still have them.

  47. Rachel*

    I second the Thrift Store purchases. That is where I found all of my interview suits and first business / business casual clothes when I went from restaurants to office work. I had nothing besides very casual and work uniform in my closet and needed a cheap solution.

    After working in offices for 20+ years, I wear a uniform of sorts that works for me. Black slacks (with a slight stretch), button down and cardigan. Can be dressed up or down with jewelry and scarves.

  48. YRH*

    I am in a conservative profession in a region of the US known for having a more casual dress culture in general. My go to outfit for interviews is typically a sheath dress and blazer in case that’s helpful.

  49. Spearmint*

    Does the same advice apply to men? Is it ok to interview in a button down collared-shirt and slacks? Or do we still need a jacket and tie?

    I’ve been doing business casual on zoom interviews and it seems fine but if/when I have an in person interview I feel less sure.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes. Same basic guidelines: it should fit well, be clean and presentable, and it will vary by industry. But generally the comparable level of formality is fine.

      I’ve seen more hesitation about ditching the tie than the jacket but I think that’s more interview-anxiety than an actual expectation.

      1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

        If needed, I’ll wear either jacket or tie, but generally not both. If it’s really super businessy (note: not my field), I’d wear both.

  50. Kate*

    As a shorter, busty, US size 16-18, I’m a big fan of the pairing of sheath dress with a blazer not designed to close. Stacey Abrams wears this type of blazer often. They’re great for bustier bodies and also can be found at more price points because they don’t require as much precise tailoring or lining. Sturdy ponte knit sheath dresses can be found even at Target, or at thrift stores as many folks have said above. With one neutral colored blazer, you could pair two different sheath dresses and a skirt + top for three different interviews.

  51. Curmudgeon in California*

    I am a plus sized enby (AFAB). Suits are really hard for me to find that actually fit and aren’t too femme. When I do find something in my size it is insanely expensive, and still doesn’t fit right – bad fit for my shape in subtle ways like too little or too much boob room in the jacket, too short-waisted, pants are too short, etc. If I ever have to start interviewing in person again I may have to hand tailor a suit, because off the rack just doesn’t fit.

  52. voluptuousfire*

    +1 for Boscovs. They can have amazing sales. I got a great CK packable down jacket with a hood for $30 after the season with a store credit. Even without the store credit, it was still $60. I’ve had it 4 years and it still looks great.

  53. Lady Kelvin*

    Other options are TjMaxx, Ross, and Marshalls. I found a great Calvin Klein suit when I was in college for a fraction of the actual cost. For a few years I wore it to every interview, with a different colored shirt underneath. This was late oughts but they definitely have lower cost business clothes there still.

  54. A Case of the Mondays*

    I also always thought that I would someday need to buy a fancy business suit (or at least a blazer that complements nice dress pants) for interviewing or client meetings. I’m in environmental consulting. It turns out the overall interviewing atmosphere is a lot more casual than I anticipated – I’ve always gotten away with wearing a nice white blouse and black dress pants (a la elementary school choir uniform, ha ha!). For my most recent (virtual, so pants optional) interview, I just wore a nice knit sweater and still ended up getting the job! I’m pleased as I am not exactly a blazer person.

  55. BuffaloSauce*

    I am glad this was posted bc I have been wondering the same thing for the last 5 years. I only have 1 suit, that my Mother bought me in 2008 when I graduated college. I feel out of place wearing it on interviews.

    I also was working a fast-growing company, that brought its candidates on tours frequently. We hired a number of people in the age range of 22-30. Hardly anyone 28 and under wore suits. I was puzzled but I think conventions are changing!

  56. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

    It isn’t a suit, but I bought some GREAT work pants from Abercrombie of all places. They are higher waisted and wider legged (which I was looking for) as well as machine washable AND came in different inseam lengths!

    (I am not especially tall but I do have longer-than-average legs which have NOT appreciated trend for cropped work pants. Cropped on “normal” people is basically capris for me)

    Overall I think the advice is to look in places you might not assume, because you can be surprised at what you will find. I also second the advice to thrift if you can; I’ve gotten some excellent workwear on Thredup recently.

    1. thrifty b*

      ThredUp rocks for workwear. I’ve gotten great pieces from classic workwear brands like Ann Taylor and Talbots on there.

  57. Elevated Learning*

    Others have given a lot of great recommendations for where to shop for affordable versions of interview clothes, but I wanted to add this note:

    Make sure that your clothes are clean, ironed, well-fitting, and that you are comfortable in them. You can spend $1,000 on a suit and still make a terrible impression if it has a coffee stain, your blouse is horribly wrinkled, and you’re obviously uncomfortable in your clothes.
    If stiff blazers make you feel awkward, don’t wear one. Find a blazer in a stretchy material. If you teeter precariously in heels, wear flats. If your skirt is too loose and you have to keep pulling it up, pin it, get it tailored, or wear something else. You don’t want your clothes to be a distraction to you or to anyone else during the interview process. In my experience it is better to wear clean, well-fitting clothes that are slightly more “dressed down” (assuming it’s not gym shorts) than fancier clothes that are clearly giving you trouble.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t think we emphasize enough how important it is that you are comfortable in what you’re wearing. Don’t wear heels you can’t walk in, a skirt you can’t sit in comfortably, a fabric that irritates your skin. If you’re overly aware of your clothes once they’re on, it’s distracting for you and other people notice.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*


        Test drive your clothes! Sit in them, walk up and down a flight of stairs (as able/applicable). Get in and out of the car (or whatever your mode of transport is). Hustle a bit to get into the next room, as if you’re late. Be in a room that is too warm or too chilly. Pay attention to the slightly irritating hook and eye closure or labels. What’s a little annoying in the dressing room can make you want to cry mercy halfway through a busy in-person interview.

        Obviously you can’t do all of this in a dressing room, but don’t just buy something and wear it next on the day of the interview. Leave the price tags on and gently wear at home. (Pls do not spill soup on or run a marathon in before returning, though….)

  58. Didi*

    Lord and Taylor, Lafayette 148, Theory and MM Lafleur are usually pretty solid sources for women’s workwear.

  59. TRVH*

    I am a size 16. I found pants at Costco, and loved them so much I bought several pairs: LVPL Women’s Knit Trouser, Item #1554791. They’re a standard, classic fit, ponte knit dress pant, with belt loops and actual pockets. They wash and hang to dry quite well. They’re not always in stock but worth trying, and fit true to size.

    I have several thrifted blazers, and find I can get away with a plain, dark fitted tshirt under the blazer – I hate wearing blouses, they always come untucked, as I have a long torso.

    Good luck in your interviews!

  60. AthenaC*

    If it helps you worry less about wearing the same clothes on multiple days, here is how I typically pack for a two-week business trip:

    – One blazer
    – one pair of pants
    – one dress
    – one pair of work shoes
    – one pair of fleece-lined leggings (if I’m going somewhere cold, which I usually am)
    – four different shirts (different colors, different styles, different textures)
    – different accessories that go with all five “outfits” I’m bringing
    – maaaybe one skirt and one extra shirt, if I feel like it

    I do end up repeating all five outfits from week to week but I lean on other people not looking too closely with the understanding that I don’t have my whole closet at my disposal.

    And THAT is how I go on a two-week business trip with only a carry-on bag!

    1. Aerin*

      I once started stressing that I was wearing outfits that were too similar too many days in a row. Then I asked myself, “What was literally anyone wearing at work yesterday? Even one person.”

      And I stopped worrying about it.

    2. jane's nemesis*

      I need this to be my inspo for my next business trip. 4 times a year, the “home office” pays me (fully remote) to come to HQ for 4 days. Last year was my first year doing this and I was so stressed about what I was going to wear that I was literally taking like 8 entire outfits for 4 days, just so I’d have choices, and then wearing barely any of it and feeling bad about myself.

    3. Lady Kelvin*

      I’m impressed that you can get away with one pair of pants for a two week trip. When I travel that long I bring at least 3 pairs of work pants and 1-2 pairs of not working pants (yoga, jeans, etc including what I wear on the plane). Inevitably I am going to spill something on my clothes and need a change, but also my clothes would start to smell after wearing it every day for two weeks.

        1. allathian*

          A skirt and a dress.

          In my 15 years at my current organization, my business trips have all been either same day return, or with one night in a hotel. I typically only take a second shirt and a change of underwear and socks, and get away with just taking my laptop backpack. I generally don’t wear accessories, although I got a gift card to a jewelry store from my manager/team for my 50th birthday, and I used it to buy a pendant. I rarely wear jewelry, so I feel dressed up with it. I even quit wearing my wedding ring a few years ago, because it gave me a rash in spite of frequent cleaning (gunk accumulates on the inside of the setting for 7 artificial diamonds).

          I have body image issues about my legs, so I’m limited to pants/slacks/jeans.

      1. AthenaC*

        Good question –

        1) I change underwear every day :)
        2) Pants are thick
        3) It’s always cold in the room so I’m never sweaty.

      2. AthenaC*

        Also to clarify – that’s just my packing list for work clothes. I do bring non-work clothes, so the work pants only get worn 6 or 8 days (depending on if I brought a skirt or not).

  61. Aerin*

    If you decide to go the mix-and-match separates direction, one big tip: figure out a color family and stick to it. Black vs. brown, and warm vs. cool. Before I had developed an eye for it, I actually had a swatch of fabric I carried around in a color I really liked (a vibrant bluish purple) and made sure everything I bought looked good with that color. That way all those items would also look good with each other. It was a great way to build a wardrobe from scratch.

    1. Random Dice*

      This is my top wardrobe tip. I an ruthless about only adding pieces to my wardrobe in 5 “pop” colors, and only specific shades. Then I look incredibly coordinated because I have things that match perfectly.

      1. Aerin*

        I call it the Power Rangers school of fashion and accessorizing. Also makes it pretty easy to buy gifts for me.

  62. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I hired 3 people in the last 2 years, and only one interviewee showed up in a suit and tie. Everyone else wore business casual such as a collared golf polo or a button-down shirt. Made me feel old since I’ve never gone to a job interview in anything but a suit and tie.

  63. Rosemary*

    If you don’t want to buy “interview-y” clothes that you might not need again – check out your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook. You can post an #ISO (in search of) clothes to be gifted or borrowed.

  64. Mbarr*

    I know I’m in the minority, but I work in tech. I definitely don’t expect people to wear a suit, but I don’t want them showing up in t-shirts with slogans/etc. At least put on a collared shirt and pants. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  65. kiki*

    Different industries, companies, and individuals will have different perspectives on this, but I honestly think well-fitting, high quality separates read just as nice, if not nicer, than a lot of cheaper, ill-fitting suits. So if you already have a neutral separates that you love and look great in, it makes a lot of sense to just wear those instead of running out to H&M and buying a suit just because it is a suit.

  66. too many dogs*

    I work at a public library. Appropriate interview clothes for coming here would be: a nice business-like dress, nice top and skirt; nice slacks & top (blazers are optional for all). You don’t have to wear heels, but no flip-flops. Really, a nice pair of black or khaki slacks and a decent shirt will look good without breaking the bank. Here’s what NOT to wear to meet with me: a lime green chiffon gown with black books; a tube top under overalls, unbuttoned (although she did offer to share her gum); spaghetti-strap crop top and shorts; your favorite T-shirt (holes & all) and favorite jeans (ditto).

    1. Valancy Trinit*

      I was really excited to hear about the book-print chiffon gown (how was that made!?) before realizing you probably meant boots. Amazing power outfit – not so much for an interview!

      1. Random Dice*

        Oh I thought books as well, given the library. I was imagining a Torrid / Modcloth / Svaha mashup.

        All of those interview outfits are hilarious.

        As a teen, I once applied for jobs (waitressing but still) in a skort, but it was incredibly short, like a tennis skort.

  67. Sharpie*

    Don’t be afraid to look at second hand stuff, either. Charity shops can have some really good stuff, especially if you look at places in the more expensive parts of town; from everything I’ve seen online, thrift stores in the States are the same kind of deal. And while I haven’t used it myself, ThredUp is a good online site where you can search for stuff by brand, fabric and/or colour.

    I have almost completely renovated my wardrobe with nice second hand clothing, some of it brand new with tags and a lot from brands I’d never be able to afford otherwise!

    1. too many dogs*

      Exactly! Most of my clothes come from those kinds of places. Many of them still have tags, because if they’ve been worn for a catalog shoot, or a buyers’ show, they must be sold as used. It’s a great place to look.

  68. Jessica Fletcher*

    I still wear a blazer or suit jacket, but I don’t wear or own a matching set. To my interviews in the last 5 years, I’ve worn regular black dress pants that I wore to work everyday, a regular business casual top, and one of my blazers. It’s fine!

    To a Covid era virtual interview, I wore sweatpants offscreen, a bus casual top, and a blazer that still had the tag on, but it wasn’t visible:)

  69. Lurker Cat*

    Eileen Fisher renew is a great site. Lightly used clothes. Formal enough for interviews but not so “business” that they can’t be used outside of work.

    1. RavCS*

      Eileen Fisher is the “go to” in my field (clergy) where there are work times when we need to be more “dressy.” Solid colors. Basic shapes. And if you’re lucky enough to live near one of their “Company Stores” (outlet) you can get them for less. Not the least expensive, but I’ve found that they wear well. And they will take your worn out (or, in my case, moth eaten) EF clothes and resell or recycle them. They’ll give you a $ 5 credit for each used item you bring back for this.

  70. Just Another Tired US Fed*

    J.C. Penney. Kohls. Penney’s has nice plus sized workwear especially, Worthington was my go-to in lean times. Smaller sizes may do well at H.R. Ross, TJ Maxx, and Burlington. I used to do well at Carson Pirie Scott before they closed.

    Definitely don’t have to spend hundreds for interview outfits or business clothes, I never did.

    I’m plus sized and don’t care for overly tailored clothes with stiff linings and no stretch. jut too uncomfortable. Black ponte knit is great!

  71. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    In case this hasn’t otherwise been covered, when shopping for suiting separates at Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and similar brands/stores, most pieces are sold as mix & match separates in identical fabric. Pay attention to the material and color, but as long as you are purchasing items during the same season, they’ll match if descriptions for items use the same name for the color and fabric (caution, this won’t be true in different seasons). The advantage for suiting separates is that you can often choose a skirt or different cuts of pants and sometimes even dresses that will match with one or more blazer styles. You can pretty much never go wrong mixing a black or navy dress with a muted color or neutral cardigan though!

  72. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I had my first senior role at a London HQ office which practically mandated suits so I have a lot of them in my wardrobe and personally feel more professional minded in them. Also as a fat woman over 6 feet tall these were not cheap to source and I want to get some use out of them.

    But, times and my job have changed and while I might wear them into the office or for interviews I’m aware I’m very much an outlier and try to not do it often. The old fallback of an entirely black wardrobe (black dresses are so useful) is more helpful these days, even for interviews.

    Truly casual wear – jeans and the like – I don’t own. A pull on non crease full length dress is my weekend wear.

  73. Sunflower*

    Throughout the decades, I went from suits with pantyhose and heels, to blouses/skirts, to business casual and flats. I wore black trousers and a nice top to my last interview about 5 years ago and felt overdressed.

    It also depends on the industry. I imagine lawyers and similar jobs still wear suits to interviews.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Yes we do. But even within law, in public service, we don’t spend $300 on a single suit. That’s madness. Just go to a department store (not Nordstroms, think more like JC Penney or Kohls) and buy separates from the same brand. The fabric color will be close enough. I literally can’t buy suits that are sold together because I’m a different size on top than on bottom, so I’m surprised this is causing LW as much stress as it has. Suit separates have always been a thing as long as I’ve been working (so at least 20 years).

  74. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I’m glad that Alison pointed out different geographic regions are going to have different conventions, even for the same type of industry. Los Angeles, and I would guess the majority of the west coast with few exceptions, is going to be MUCH more informal than I imagine NY or DC regions; so fabric, color, tailoring and styling of work clothes is going to lean more casual even if you do stick to a matching suit. I’m always aghast at advice about “no sandals!” Sandals are almost my whole shoe collection, except lately with the rain I’m wearing ankle boots. I would never wear flip-flops to work, but I haven’t owned a pair of pumps since the early 90s.

    1. Scandinavian Vacationer*

      Exception for sandals: some medical workplaces will mandate closed toe footwear, even if the role has no patient care responsibilities. I think it’s just easier for HR to have a blanket policy in these facilities.

  75. Lulu*

    I’ve been increasingly disappointed with the quality of both Ann Taylor and Banana Republic. They’ve both gone downhill significantly and I don’t think the quality warrants the price anymore. I’ve had good luck with White House Black Market, though, and Ralph Lauren is always a good way to go. Might also look at Boden and J Crew.

  76. Pricilla Queen of WFH*

    Can I add that for not interview clothes, collars make everything classier for women? When I was still in office I started buying shirts with patterned collars or just collared dickies in fun patterns. You can pair them with sweaters, and blouses and tshirts (depending on fit and style) and it’s an easy way to dress up a casual outfit so you can get away with being more comfortable in the office. They also look great on zoom which can make you look less formal than you actually are. And for me with a larger chest it means I pick a few basic blouses that actually fit and then rotate the collars.

  77. AceyAceyAcey*

    Try also Express, and Macy’s. I’ve had really good luck with Calvin Klein brand sleeveless blouses, and black slacks, at Macy’s.

  78. DiplomaJill*

    Calling out that I did experience in 2016 that I did not a start getting callbacks from my interviews until I swapped my cardigan for a blazer.

    I had been wearing dress pants, blouse and heels with a cardigan, and switched to the same with a patterned blazer (suiting separates, not matching) and I immediately started getting second interviews. I was interviewing for digital pm positions.

    I got a Loft blazer from ThredUp.

  79. Squawkberries*

    I frequently see suggestions for plus sizes, but seldom for petite sizes, which are often just as hard to find good fits for (and have very limited selections at many places). Its often very hard to get good tailoring esp for women – its not as simple as just hemming cuffs and sleeves – the cut for hips and breasts, shoulder width, everything needs to be adjusted.
    Anyone have suggestions ?

    1. orchivist*

      my mom and great-aunt (both very well-dressed, petite women) both swear by talbot’s petites. my mom also shopped a LOT at chico’s when she had a job that required dressy clothing. I think she shopped there more for dresses/shirts/pants than jackets though, if you’re looking specifically for blazers.

  80. Academia*

    What about colors? Is it too much of a risk to wear a brighter color blazer – like Kelly green or pink with black dress pants and a neutral blouse? This is in academia in the south. Would love some input!

    1. Valancy Trinit*

      I have not worked in academia in the south, but I have done a lot of hiring from a grad school in the south, so I feel semi-qualified to answer. I regularly saw woman professors and students wearing bright colors in their professional outfits, more often than monochrome or business professional black/navy.

      (Since this was tech, the men mostly wore grey and black – I don’t wish to imply that bright colors are unprofessional for any gender.)

  81. Startup Survivor*

    Tech coda: wear anything as long as it’s clean and not offensive. A suit might make me a bit nervous unless it was someone right out of school.

    Director and above positions often interview in something similar to what was suggested, however.

  82. Looper*

    JC Penney’s Worthington brand has always been my go to. You can get blazers and bottoms in the same fabrics and colors but many different cuts (pleated trousers, ankle length straight leg, pencil skirt, etc) and coordinating tops for very affordable prices. All their stuff goes together so you can basically build a capsule wardrobe and add on year after year.

  83. Splendid Colors*

    I haven’t had time to read all comments on this thread, but I got pretty far and nobody mentioned my go-to stores.

    I just got some new business and “dressy business” (cocktail reception) outfits at Kohl’s. They had a fantastic sale at Black Friday, and I presume they’ll have other seasonal sales for other seasons’ styles. The timing of Black Friday instead of waiting for Christmas sales meant they still had my size (14-16, boots women’s 10), and they seem to have a wide range of sizes including plus sizes in most styles. They have a pretty good website with ship-to-store options for free, so if you can’t find the size you want at your local store, you can order it shipped there. One of the tops I ordered turned out to be a bit small at the hips when I tried it on in the restroom, so I went back to the service counter to exchange for the next size up. (Which turns out to need taking in at the bust, but under a blazer it wasn’t obvious.)

    Chadwick’s of Boston online has a good selection of feminine business attire in colors meant to coordinate. Prices are reasonable, everything I’ve bought there (mostly corduroys, though) seem to be well made and sized pretty generously. Lots of cheerful colors and prints to coordinate with solids if that’s your jam. They have a pretty good size range, too. Some styles may be a bit too “garden party” to project authority at work, though, if that’s what you need in your field. (I could see wearing a lot of this at luncheons or garden weddings, if I went to those kinds of events.)

    If you want very classic preppy kinds of stuff, Land’s End has a lot of 50% off sales and a wide range of sizes and colors with good materials and workmanship. If you are ordering pants you know will fit, they’ll hem to order. (Of course, custom hemmed pants would be non-returnable.) The Supima cotton knits feel almost like silk and are grown with less water than usual. I inherited a bunch of their clothes from my mother and wore the ones that I could pass off as grad school attire for years. I forget if it’s Kohls or JC Penney’s that carries Land’s End in-store (they’re both at the mall I go to) but you can return online orders there. They don’t have a lot of selection in-store.

  84. Asi*

    Thank you OP for asking the question and Alison for responding. I’ve had a personal rule for years that I won’t ever wear a suit to a job interview. If a job requires that level of formality and can’t look past my outfit to the rest of me (experience, words during the interview), then it’s not the job for me. But I’ve never been one to follow convention! Nice dresses, blazers, black pants, sure, but the fabrics have never matched or even always been a suit type material. I’ve received an offer from most interviews; the lack of suit hasn’t been an issue that’s held me back. I’m grateful to hear that suits have now gone by the wayside and I can safely continue on with my personal rule.

  85. londonedit*

    I work in a fairly informal industry (book publishing, UK) and I’ve never worn a suit to work or to an interview. I don’t own one and I’m fairly sure a business-type suit would look awful on me. We are business/casual most of the time, probably towards the casual end of business/casual. On a normal work day I’ll usually wear a midi dress (like ‘the’ Zara midi dress from a few years ago) with white trainers; if I was going to an interview, I’d wear the same dress but probably with leopard-print flats or black chunky boots. Other interview outfits I’ve worn have been things like smart black jeans with a plain t-shirt, coloured blazer and statement necklace. Basically one step up from what I’d usually wear at work, but nowhere near suit levels of formality.

  86. Apple Shaped*

    Hey folks, while we’re at it, what’s good for middle aged women, who are apple shaped?

    I’m so utterly tired of cross dresses, in a midi length, with a cardigan over the top.
    I’m also completely not enamoured with a symmetrical tunics over trousers, with everything in some kind of stretch fabric.

    What is smart, simple, elegant, but not predictably ‘apple shaped’ that works for you/have you seen?

  87. Marion Ravenwood*

    I used to have a dress I referred to as ‘the Kate Middleton dress’ (because it felt like something she would wear) that I wore to every interview from leaving university in 2009 up until a year or so ago. It was from Dorothy Perkins and had three-quarter length sleeves and a crew neck, was fitted in the bodice before going into a pencil skirt shape hitting at the knee, and was made of jersey fabric in a small blue and brown snakeskin print. The shape made it smart enough to wear to interviews but the fabric meant it was really comfortable and I liked that it had a bit of colour as well. I’d wear that with a navy Uniqlo blazer and black Mary Jane style shoes from Marks & Spencer.

    Unfortunately it was increasingly on its last legs even before the pandemic, so last year I switched to a long-sleeved shirt dress from Joanie, again in a jersey fabric, with a 70s-style terracotta and navy geometric print and a waist tie. I’m a big fan of shirt dresses for work anyway but this felt like a slightly smarter version of that, plus it was an internal interview so felt like it was in keeping with something my colleagues would see me in on a day when I needed to be smart but without feeling too different from what I’d wear to the office normally (we’re quite casual but I like the excuse to wear something nice!).

  88. SuitMeUp*

    Honestly I love wearing a suit for an interview – it is one less thing to have to prepare/think about. I have had a number of Zoom interviews in the past 3 years and every.single.time I stress about how to dress! It was so much easier when it was in person, put the suit on and get down to business.

  89. Regina Philange*

    I have never bought a typical suit (skirt/pant & blazer together). You can get so much mileage out of having a black blazer that you can wear w/just about any solid color or print skirt/pants. Add in a black skirt/pants and different color/print blazer and you have a ton of outfits. (OK, yes you need shirts for under the blazer but you can buy simple tops for CHEAP).

  90. Fluff*

    Work Blazer / jackets. I learned recently thanks to a coworker, that men’s blazers not only have those two side pockets. They have at least one usable inside pocket- in the lining! I could not find any women’s blazers in the stores that have that elusive pocket. You would have thought I asked for a dimensional portal sewn into the lining. I was thinking of those custom sites or having a tailor add an inside pocket. I also noticed the women jackets also do not often have the top breast pocket either (not sure what it is used for – maybe a pen?).

    Any one in the hive mind knows of any blazer brands for women that have the elusive INSIDE pocket which is standard for men’s? I have been searching for that unicorn.

  91. Elm*

    If you want an affordable suit, check both in-person and online thrift stores! If there’s no luck, then check Amazon.

    I know it’s not precisely a suit, but when I need to wear something like this, I tend to go for black pants and a gray suit jacket with a pop of color underneath. It always looks professional, and there are no worries about the shades being the same.

    I’ve never had an issue with not wearing a suit to an interview, regardless of job type. I usually wear a blazer-like jacket and nice pants or a skirt. Sometimes I wear a sweater or professional top. I’ve done heels in the past, but I’ve found company tours are common, so I do flats now.

    I think the key is to look at photos of the company as much as possible, especially on social media, to get an idea of what they wear day to day. If they’re all in hoodies, a suit could show you don’t know where you’re interviewing very well. Go up to a nice outfit in that case so you still look professional, but skip the big to-do. I try to never go more than 2 steps above what they seem to wear in the office.

  92. EmmaPoet*

    At my last three interviews, I wore the following:

    1. Cotton cardigan over a tee and a long cotton skirt (got the job.)
    2. A red buffalo check cotton shirtdress and cardigan (got promoted.)
    3. A green cotton turtleneck sweater and sweat pants (Zoom interview, got promoted. In person I’d have worn something different. And actual pants.)

    I think unless you’re in one of a handful of professions that require that level of formality, you have a lot more room to pick things. And speaking as someone who has never worn a conventional suit, I am pro being creative.

  93. SofiaDeo*

    If you are in the US, some of the cities have “Dress for Success” organizations/stores that help women select and obtain professional clothing. Since there are regional as well as industry specific differences, these places can help guide you towards what is considered “acceptable” in your region.

  94. HalloQueen*

    I’m still in a dressy position (Associate Director of a county government department), so I live on separates:

    * Black slacks from Express (curvy, bigger tummy, extra short or extra long legs – all work well with their styles and sizes)
    * CK Jersey Pleat Neck shells – wash SO nice, great for bustier shapes, stretchy but loose fabric, can be as loud (or not) as you want. I keep an eye on the discount retailers (TJ Maxx) or when I’m feeling fancy, splurge for them from a department store (Dillard’s has a nice selection)
    * Blazers – I’ve gotten them mostly from department stores, but can occasionally find them at the discount retailers, just have to keep an eye out. But getting one good black blazer is helpful for more than just the job search!

    I don’t buy any navy blue anything, so I never have to worry about mixing black and navy, and black slacks with a black blazer go with just about anything.

  95. Not Pablo!*

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but Poshmark has been a lifesaver for me to update my wardrobe without breaking the bank. I’m a CFO, which is historically a pretty conservative role when it comes to dress code, but my last employer was very casual (my husband joked about the “dressy sweatpants” I would wear for important meetings lol!). I recently switched employers and my new workplace is much more formal. I know my sizes in Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, JCrew, etc., and can find suits, blazers, skirts, shoes, etc. on Poshmark for a fraction of the price. I’ve literally bought dozens of items and only had a couple of things that didn’t look good so I just reposhed or donated. The CEO has had great experience using ThredUp as well.

  96. CLC*

    Ha now tell us how to dress if you wear a size 24 or greater. I gained close to 100lbs in the process of creating a child three years ago and thank god I’ve been able to wfh that whole time because all I can find to wear is athleisure.

  97. Side slow Bob*

    ALWAYS wear a formal interview suit and have a CV (resume)

    You are INSTANTLY on a better level than anyone equal to you that didn’t dress well. You are also received better than others with more qualifications that appear to not put in effort.

    Multiple times I have had employers tell me I presented well above the average of others, I’ve had coworkers tell me the thought I was an external manager when I showed up for my interview, and once I arrived for an interview and my nearest rivals were wearing only a collared shirt .. I was offered the managerial role after a quick interview and given my contract right in in front of the other applicants.

    Dressing is easy, not expensive, and shows you actually want the job .

  98. WearASuit*

    It’s not strictly necessary and hasn’t been for decades, but it can help. I’ve had two different bosses tell me that I stood out from other candidates because I was the only one who made the effort to wear a suit for the interview. Note that in my world many of the options Alison outlined as alternatives would be mentally filed as suits for women – basically if it has a blazer over a dress it’s a suit (I work in tech and almost always for companies where the normal dress code is you have to get dressed). Also, the prices you’re noting are insane; I recommend looking for alternate shopping options.

  99. Danielle*

    I’ve had a lot of luck finding relatively inexpensive secondhand pieces on ThredUP and I’m a weird size that’s hard to fit.

  100. Lifeandlimb*

    As always, tailor your interview outfit to the industry and the job you’re interviewing for. Do as much research as you can about that company and the field.

    I went for my very first internship interview in 2010 dressed in a full suit jacket, button-up shirt and skirt, and felt quite embarrassed when the woman who interviewed me was just wearing something like slacks and a casual top.

    Most coworkers I’ve had in the creative industry wear jeans to work almost every day.

    If you need, workwear can be found at Zara or H&M.

  101. Knitting RMA*

    My general guideline for interview clothes has become to aim for how I’d dress for a significant work event if I had the job. I’m in academia as an admin, so what that means can differ depending on what branch of academia I’m applying in, but I really try to show up in the same way I’d show up for a big meeting or such. For my current job, that meant black slacks and a pinkish-red blazer with a basic t-shirt. It means that I’m showing a realistic representation of myself, shows how well I align with the culture more than just always wearing a suit AND I wear things that I will actually rewear.

    And for those in Europe: I’ve had good luck with WE and Esprit for work wear, and have god experiences with eShakti for things I felt needed to be custom fit.

  102. Adrienne*

    ThredUp!!!! 100% the way to go. They have everything you need and very easy to filter by sizes, including petite. Variety of brands from low to high end. I’m a bit addicted…

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