how do I find clothes that look businessy but not stuffy?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I have a final job interview tomorrow. My previous interviews were virtual. I asked the recruiter (male) what to wear because I noticed my interviewers were wearing jeans and t-shirts. He said, “Oh, whatever makes you comfortable. Not a blazer. Most people here wear jeans and sneakers.” This ended up sending me into a four-hour venture of trying everything in my closet on (I mostly wear business dresses or blazers to work so was struggling to find something that looks sort of effortlessly businessy) while my sister sat and gave her opinion on literally everything, trying to find the right mix of casual but professional, and landing on what was still a jacket but less formal than a blazer with a cami and some leggings and flats. And now blow drying my hair so I can start from scratch to make it the appropriate amount of waves and everything so that it looks like I just woke up that way (but more polished).

I feel like this is a female problem in a lot of ways. I’m trying to hit the right note of interviewing for what is actually a very senior leadership role in this organization (a role is actually very outwardly focused) without trying to look stuffy and old and like I can’t adapt to a younger environment. I’m a young-looking mid-40s woman in leadership and trying to hit the right vibe of being taken seriously as a senior leader and also not being too “old.” I feel men don’t have to go through this same crisis of trying to figure out how to be taken seriously but also be relevant, based on literally all my guy friends giving me feedback, but maybe I’m wrong?

What do other people do? Is this just me? I know from reading the stories of trans people on your blog that there are clearly different expectations between women and men. Even if no one really realizes or acknowledges them. But I feel like “oh, wear whatever you’re comfortable in” is a very well-meaning but difficult response.

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 450 comments… read them below }

  1. Tio*

    This is why I love sweater Season. Is a sweater dressy? Casual? It’s both. Pick up the first one I find and decide if it’s a jeans day or a dressier-pants day.

    That said, I have a variety of random print shirts that I wear for weather where a sweater doesn’t fit. Just generic patterns, nothing too causal or too flashy, and I can dress them up with jewelry or accessories if I feel like I need to. That’s my go to in straddling causal and dressy. Think NY&co, Gap, etc. And never underestimate the versatility of a plain, solid color, long sleeve shirt.

    1. Anonys*

      Yes, I think a nice wool or knit sweater is perfect for this! I would go with “polished” jeans that are not super skinny but also not baggy and a sweater/jumper if I had gotten the same advice as OP. If it’s hot, then a really thin one or formal ish looking long sleeved t shirt or a collared shirt.

      That said, the recruiter’s advice is slightly odd to me. I can see that that a full pantsuit might be overkill in that environment, but if other people in the office are wearing jeans and sneakers I don’t feel like a blazer would really stand out, even if it’s not something people in that office commonly wear, particularly as an interviewee (I find the person being interviewed is often dressed more formally than the interviewers).

      If the office is super casual, aka average person in the office is wearing a graphic tee with shorts/distressed jeans and flip flops (rather than just plain jeans/t shirt/sneakers), then a blazer might look a bit formal, but otherwise it just seems like normal variation to me. In my office, there is quite a lot variation – from people wearing a full suit to chinos with a jacket to casual jeans with a hoodie. There are also many ways to “dress down” a blazer. I wear blazers to non-work events (dinner, drinks, etc) too!

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yeah, I thought that was odd as well. A blazer over a graphic tee with dark jeans and flats (or even trendy sneakers) would be a good interview outfit for a senior leadership position at this type of company, I’d think.

        1. Viki*

          I’d disagree with the graphic tee for an interview. I’m in senior leadership in tech, and a nice shirt under a blazer with dark jeans and flats would be perfect.

          Graphic tee is a bit too informal/casual for an interview. That doesn’t mean you don’t wear it when you have the job. But just not for an interview

          1. amoeba*

            I wouldn’t wear it for an interview normally – but if they explicitly tell me to dress casually (and it’s more on the artsy side than, say, a band shirt), I think it would work!

            1. amoeba*

              I’d also add – I assume they’re thinking more of a “formal-style blazer”. One of the more “fashion-type” ones I’ve seen a lot of this summer (think boyfriend cut, bright/pastel colours) would read very differently and less formal!

              1. JustaTech*

                Yes, “blazer” is a shape, like pants, but pants can be sweatpants or wool trousers.
                Most of my blazers are unstructured and made of sweat suit material (knit) and I consider them to be on par with a cardigan (but with pockets).
                For formal meetings and stuff I have structured blazers of a woven material that look more like a suit.

                In general clothing made from knit material reads as more casual than clothing made from woven material, even if it is the same cut, because knits tend to be softer/drapey-er/less structured.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          I think blazers read more formal for men than women, which is where this recruiter may be coming from (going with a men’s benchmark of formality that doesn’t translate 1:1 to women). I know lots of women who wear blazers (with a casual-reading cut and/or material) to privately get coffee with friends or whatever in a definitely not professional context.

      2. Csethiro Ceredin*

        Agreed. We have no dress code at all (not public-facing) and many of us wear blazers sometimes. I am wearing one right now with a denim shirt under it.

        1. Lydia*

          That’s what I thought when I saw that part. Blazers can be casual, too. In fact, a pair of jeans and a nice cami or top under a blazer with some flats would have been my go-to for somewhere in between casual and business casual. Being told no blazer would have sent me into a similar tailspin as the OP.

      3. Abogado Avocado*

        I second the sweater advice. I personally like a “sweater blazer” — you know, the kind that is knitted, but also buttons. They look just the right kind of business casual with jeans or khakis. I got two from ThredUp for almost nothing (shout out to Alison for letting us know ThredUp exists!).

        1. Tad Cooper*

          I had a friend who called this article of clothing the Power Cardigan; it looks great over a button up and dress pants or dark jeans, and might be a great option in this scenario!

          1. Marna Nightingale*

            I am also a fan of the regular-but-nice cardigan. They just look grown-up.

            I have several merino and a few cashmere ones, all thrifted, and they work extremely well over everything from jeans and a plain t-shirt on up to add polish without looking stuffy.

          2. JoAnna*

            T-shirt dress, colorful thin cardigan (or thick if it’s cold), tights if it’s cold, fun jewelry.

        2. Betsy*

          I just bought my first sweater blazer while visiting my folks – at Target of all places. But it’s soft and thick, so it’s actually warmer than a regular cardigan, and it looks great with almost all my pants.

          I second the thanks to Alison for telling us about ThredUp. I’ve been shopping there for several years now, and I “window shop” on the site when I’m waiting for files to transfer or otherwise doing something that needs very little attention from me.

      4. amoeba*

        I’d assume it was meant more along the lines of “a blazer isn’t necessary/don’t feel obliged to wear one”. Not put the best way though, I agree!

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      I agree with the “random print shirts.” For work (when I went into the office) I had a number of stretchy, pull over short-sleeved blouses designed not to be tucked in that I wore everyday. Geometric designs, color patterns, floral designs, etc. There was a variety of collar types too. I wore them with jeans or with dressier pants and with comfortable flats shoes (Clarks).

      For what it’s worth, I was not a blazer wearer, but I think you can wear a blazer over most of them.

      I would not wear a t-shirt to an interview, but I think jeans and this type of blouse is not too stuffy.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        That’s my go-to for a very casual environment, when I want to go a little more polished than a t-shirt and shorts/jeans. A random print tunic in a stretchy fabric that comes down over my butt, paired with plain jeans or a pair of comfortable slacks, and funky pattered running shoes. The tunic top lies well without being too tight or too baggy, and
        handles boobs without gaping.

    3. another fed*

      I have a couple of no iron patterned (swirls, not plaids or paisleys) collared shirts that I like to wear under sweaters and usually a khaki skirt or jeans. I’m a lawyer that has practiced in the Rockies, Great Plains, and Midwest, and that seems to work in all three places for a pulled together look that isn’t too stuffy. I was gently teased for skirts and dresses in Wyoming, but that was more comfortable than jeans as my weight changed. But also, I would think that a nicer, plain shirt under a cardigan or other sweater works well too. I just now that a collared shirt helps me feel a bit more pulled together and formal during an interview but that’s probably due to my age as Casual Friday was still not universal when I joined the workforce.

    4. Green Goose*

      This was my go-to throughout my 20s/early thirties but now that I’ve had two kids and my body has changed a lot, sweaters don’t make me feel that great about myself. What used to look like a flattering mix of business and casual now makes me feel heavy and frumpy. I actually went to a fancy sweater store over the weekend trying to find something for work but it was hard to find something I liked.

      I miss wearing sweaters!

      1. another fed*

        Duster style sweater cardigans are back sufficiently that you can find them again and I do a lot of long sleeved shirts under such which might work better. Plus layering so that helps with temp regulation and the duster style helps create vertical rather than horizontal lines.

        1. Sewist*

          I’m 5’10, short-waisted, and normally a size 20 with a42DDD chest. Duster-length cardigans are so flattering that I have a whole stack of summer and winter-weight fabrics just waiting for me to cannibalize a pattern and recreate. :)

          1. Emmy Noether*

            On the off-chance you see this so late after the game: the Helen’s closet Blackwood cardigan sewing pattern is great!

      2. catlady*

        FWIW coming from a mid-30s plus sized gal (especially if the tum area contributes to your self-perception of frump, like me): I don’t wear sweaters with pants anymore, because sweaters are not made to cover bellies that are not super flat– they either look boxy and unflattering or are too tight and ride up over my stomach. I save my sweaters for days when I wear skirts and tights, and stick to blouses/tanks in a flowy fabric like rayon or silk over jeans with a cardigan or blazer on top (I tuck the sweater into my tights so I don’t get that weird sweater bunch under my waistband)

    5. Zelda*

      Yes to cardigans! The other key is structure. My company’s dress code is business-casual-for-all, but forbids t-shirts. So I wear, ahem, cotton jersey shells with set-in sleeves. I get mine from LL Bean, but whatever. The neatly bound neckline and structured shoulder does a lot to bridge “this is unfussy and totally comfy” with “this looks clean and professional.”

      Same with sweaters, actually; if you can find sweater-jackets with more structure, that can give polish without fuss, e.g. On the flip side, an actual jacket, but in a slightly offbeat color/pattern/texture like or can be worn open with dark jeans and that plain, solid color, long sleeve shirt Tio was talking about.

    6. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Ditto this. I have a long sleeved shirt that is all black. Its can be very dressy with the some accessories and a skirt or dress pants. Or it works great with jeans.

    7. llama librarian*

      Same – absolutely the same. Sweaters work for just about every work situation, even a suit if you get a sweater jacket that is formal/structured enough. And I always match them with black pants – think semi-casual, pockets but not too structured.

      Such an outfit has allowed me to feel comfortable on a 4-interview session day that included a a whiteboard presentation I led, a meeting with a group in jeans and hoodies, and a one on one with the CEO in a suit.

    8. Butterfly Counter*

      Yes. My immediate response to this letter in my head was: CARDIGANS!!!

      They look both classy and casual. And depending on what you put under them, can be dressed up or down. And they can dress down something more formal. A loose cardigan over a dress makes it look comfy and casual.

      1. SongbirdT*

        +1 for cardigans! They complete an outfit, and I normally pair mine with a print blouse or knit top. Then slacks & loafers/oxfords for a work meeting or jeans and nice sneakers for something more laid back.

        Some “shackets” might fit the bill on this too.

    9. WoodswomanWrites*

      Ditto to the sweater. If you’ve got a plain pair of pants that aren’t jeans, that’s great. No heels. Good luck with the interview!

    10. lilybeth*

      Yep, a trouser jean and a sweater is great for feeling polished but not stuffy. Also a trouser jean and a patterned blouse (my go-to is Loft usually).

      TBH I also like a blazer with jeans. As long as it’s not an actual suit blazer, it looks appropriately relaxed but polished. Sneakers or flats keep it chill, too.

  2. Annie*

    I am actually not sure there is a female equivalent to a man wearing jeans and t-shirts. It will be the exact same clothes but on the man it will be neutral. It is so odd. And frustrating.

    1. ArchivesPony*

      It’s wearing Jeans and tshirts. That’s what I ware unless I have to meet with a donor or go to an event.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        I don’t think this is fully true because what kind of tshirt? A form fitting shirt? You look sexy. A baggy shirt? You look unkempt. A V neck? Could be too low. A crew neck? Could be too uptight. Women’s tshirts have a lot of nuance that men’s do not.

        1. The Person from the Resume*

          I agree. Plus women have much more variety of jean types that create a greater variety of looks than men do.

          Side note: What is up with women’s “jeans” that are not denim and are some sort of stretchy material designed to be totally skin tight and sexy. Although men have skinny jeans, most men’s jeans are just jeans and not skin tight.

          1. SpaceySteph*

            I just listened to a fascinating podcast about fabrics, including addition of stretchy material to things that used to be pure cotton (like denim) and why (spoiler: the reason is money).

            Men’s jeans still seem to be mostly denim (although their other pants have a lot of polyester creeping in), but I don’t think I’ve found a women’s denim pant that was only cotton and not polyspandexwhatever in a long time.

            1. Dulcinea47*

              because it’s cheaper to make clothes out of plastic than out of natural fibers. It’s actually a problem for me as I can’t stand fabrics that don’t breathe, and it’s even harder than it was to find things that are mostly cotton.

              1. stratospherica*

                Yeah, I’m very careful about not buying clothes that are entirely synthetic fibers. A natural/synthetic blend will do in a pinch, but 100% polyester or polyurethane is a no-go for me.
                If you want a really good breathable fabric, then I can’t recommend Tencel/Lyocell enough. It’s semisynthetic and made by extracting cellulose from wood pulp (Tencel is made from eucalyptus in a closed cycle, I believe, which doesn’t need much water and grows really quickly) and it’s super breathable, is durable, doesn’t wrinkle easily and drapes beautifully. It’s more expensive than cotton, but a lot of more sustainable fashion brands carry it.

            2. sparkle emoji*

              Sorry if this is off-topic, but I hate stretch fabric jeans and have had luck finding just cotton ones from classic(?) jean brands like Levi’s or Wrangler. Anywhere that isn’t primarily a jean company gets tricky.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                Old Navy, especially at sale time. Last September, I picked up several Wide Leg jeans, sizes 16 / 18, $25 ea at a BOGO sale, 99% cotton.

                Old Navy has a *ton* of different styles, colors, sizes (0 – 30). Scanning their website, stretchiness / cotton % varies by style.
                99%: Wide leg
                80 – 95%: Straight, Flare
                80ish%: Boyfriend, Curvy
                60 – 75%: Skinny, Boot Cut

                I love my four jeans, and they were my mainstay until I found Nordstrom Rack’s “Sleeveless Racerback Maxi Dress” (Melrose and Market), which is the most comfortable piece of clothing I have ever worn in my life. ($20, 1x/2x/3x).

              2. Lou*

                I wear a brand called Rollas that are mostly just pure denim. Their Sailor Jean is THE BEST and I get so much wear out of them. And lotsa lovely comments from people too.

            3. Hannah Lee*

              I have been really frustrated trying to find jeans that are not overly “stretch fabric”-y (because they sag pretty quickly after wearing them for just a couple of hours – and product descriptions can be vague or wildly inaccurate RE fabric content) or consistent sizing.

              Because I’m curvy and short, my size is almost never found in stores, so I with often try to buy online. So many times I’ve either reordered a style, color, size that’s worked well, or ordered 2 of the same item (same size, style, color from the same brand) direct from the brand’s website (incl name brand’s like Levi’s) and received jeans that were wildly different … sometimes the length would vary by inches, or the other dimensions or cut or fabric or stitching would be completely different.

              I’ve worked in production, procurement management, so I can understand how that might happen (likely comes down to sourcing items from multiple suppliers and having poorly defined/too broad product specs or bad/non-existent QC) But it’s incredibly frustrating as a consumer. I’ve got to check and double check return policies before ordering, because there’s a good chance clothing I order online will have to go back.

            4. jeans*

              I’m a man, but I like men’s jeans with a bit of stretch SO MUCH more than the old denim-only jeans. Denim-only feels stiff to me and has no give and is a lot harder to move around in. The ones with like 98% denim and 2% stretchy are just stretchy enough to make them so much more comfortable.

          2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

            “Side note: What is up with women’s “jeans” that are not denim and are some sort of stretchy material designed to be totally skin tight and sexy. Although men have skinny jeans, most men’s jeans are just jeans and not skin tight.”

            this is why I’ve just resorted to buying men’s jeans. I am not especially curvy, so this works well for me. The quality for the price and fit is so much better it’s absolutely infuriating.

            1. Ashley*

              And you get to walk in and basically know your size and not play the game of you could be a range of 4 different sizes depending on the brand.

            2. Guacamole Bob*

              I am also a woman who is thankful for the availability of slim-cut men’s jeans (non-slim cut read super baggy and like I’m trying to dress in men’s clothes, while the slim-cut ones are less noticeably “men’s” when I wear them). The fabric is so much sturdier, and I can actually fit my phone in my pockets! And my keys! And I’ve even put my kindle in my back pocket on occasion. It’s amazing. Infuriating that I have to wear men’s jeans to get that, but amazing.

            3. Wednesday*

              For curvier women, try to find men’s jeans/pants in an “athletic cut.” They have extra space for butts/thighs.
              I completely agree about the superior quality–my $30 men’s dress pants from Target have deep pockets, taped seams, and a rubbery strip around the waistband that keeps your shirt tucked in!

              1. Hannah Lee*

                The pockets alone are such a bonus with men’s jeans.

                I hate that women’s tend to have those little coin size pockets, and at an angle to boot, so that even if you had something that fit in them, it would likely fall out when you walk around.

                1. thedude*

                  I hate when I see phones sticking halfway out of someone’s back pocket of tight jeans. I’m worried for them that they will fall right out.

            4. I Have RBF*

              A number of years ago I bought two pair of jeans on the same day – one pair of women’s jeans, one pair of men’s jeans. The women’s jeans were nearly twice the price of the men’s.

              Less than two years later the women’s jeans fell apart – the seams gave out. I was still wearing the men’s jeans ten years later. They finally wore out a few years later.

              I now seldom buy’s women’s anything. It’s too shoddily made for the price. Fast Fashion just sucks.

            5. Admin of Sys*

              This. And even if you are a bit curvy, if you’ve got a tailor in your town, for an extra $20 or with some basic sewing skills, you can buy a size up and then get the waist taken in.

              1. I'm just here for the cats!*

                I wish I could do this. I’ve tried going up a size but then its all baggy everywhere else. I have odd proportions so if it fits at my waist a lot of time it will be baggy in the groin or too long and the knees of the jeans are half way to my ankles.

          3. Starbuck*

            It’s also because off the rack sizing is a limited range that doesn’t accommodate all body types – so they compromise and try to get more people to fit into their pants by making them stretch. Obviously they don’t do this out of altruism but to make more sales.

        2. random transmasc*

          Yes — as someone who’s experienced both, women’s tshirts are way more complicated (for no good reason) than men’s/”unisex” tshirts. Men’s/”unisex” often look baggy/loose on women, because they’re not designed to accommodate breasts, and thus any women with non-flat chests end up going up a size or two to make them fit.

            1. Marna Nightingale*

              What I really resent is that they’re also way too long, resulting in a situation where if they’re anywhere in the range of a fit on my chest and waist they will catch around my hips, at which point not only do they look terrible, they try to throttle me at random moments.

          1. AceInPlainSight*

            Or, alternatively, small breasts + hips lead to ‘unisex’ shirts that are either massively oversized at the shoulder or too tight around your stomach/ hips. (I like ‘men’s’ flannel shirts and button-downs, and of course am expected to wear company provided ‘unisex’ clothing and look professional doing so. I just want a basic shirt made out of decent fabric with hip spring.)

        3. Katherine*

          And women’s bustlines also have an impact. A scoop or V neck t shirt can show cleavage on a woman with larger breasts, which will be interpreted as her trying to look sexy, even if she literally just threw on a plain boring t shirt and is just, you know, existing in the body she has.

          1. SeluciaMD*

            This has been the bane of my existence since I was 13 years old. I hate super high necklines (I don’t like anything around my throat so I don’t do turtlenecks, or choker necklaces, or anything even remotely like that) but as I have an…ahem…ample busom, even things that would read as normal or even conservative on a woman with smaller breasts can end up reading “sexy” or “provocative” when that is not at ALL what I’m aiming for (and often trying to actively avoid). Sometimes tops are fine when I’m sitting up straight or standing but god forbid I need to bend over to reach something or even just lean forward slightly. It SUCKS to have to do that calculus on basically 90% of my tops every time I go out. It is one of many reasons I absolutely love being full-time WFH. So much less of an issue with a very standardized desk set-up and camera orientation!

            1. Pam*

              I can’t wear button-up shirts because what fits my bust and what fits my waist are totally different. I can either have bursting buttons or super baggy. My mom used to drill into my head that anything that showed a hint of breasts was inappropriate, but that’s simply not an option with my body. I’ve tried to put that out of my head (“my body is my body, and if people judge me for having a body that’s their issue”) but that calculus is always there.

                1. nnn*

                  Any advice on how to find a good tailor? (Online reviews tend not to be very robust in my area, and when I ask around, people keep saying “I dunno, maybe ask around?”

                2. AceInPlainSight*

                  @nnn try and find a tailor with a Facebook page and a terrible website, then bring them something low-stakes? I don’t really trust online reviews, but I’ve found at least with cobblers that the slightly sketchy/ hole-in-the-wall/ general air of being there Forever places are the best.

              1. Hannah Lee*

                I tried to go the “good tailor” route, but found that button shirts that fit my bust often have shoulders and arm holes that are too big for me, or placed wrong so that it’s either impossible or super expensive to alter the shirt in a way that will look decent. If it were just a matter of adding darting at the waist or letting out the seams, darting at the bust it would be so much easier.

                1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

                  I think the suggestion was more about finding someone who will do custom, made to fit clothing, instead of looking for someone who will do alterations on something pre-existing.

                  Custom clothes aren’t cheap, but they’re often worth the cost for those of us with non-model physiques.

              2. Sewist*

                This is part of the reason I’m learning how to see my own clothes. I’m tired of not being retail sized – too long arms and legs, too short torso, don’t forget the pudge, ample bosom, etc. I’m slowly figuring out which shapes flatter my body the most – primarily long verticals, so princess seams, skirts with gores to flare below the waist, fitted through bust and 3-4 inches below before floating out to show I DO have a relatively small waist, etc.

                It’s a journey, but a fascinating and rewarding one. :)

                Also, if you’re interested, Mariah Pattie has an amazing video called “One Rule, Eight Steps,” that’s a good overview of things to think about when sewing your own wardrobe.

        4. SheLooksFamiliar*

          SpaceySteph, I agree – and there’s more for women to consider:

          Are the jeans dark wash or indigo? Or over-washed light blue? Ankle length, straight cut, boot cut, or flare?
          Are they paired with boots, lug sole loafers, lace-up Oxfords? Saddle shoes for whimsy? Converse? White sneakers?
          Blazer? Cardigan? A belt?

          Women and men can look professional and polished wearing jeans, a solid T shirt, and a blazer, or they can look like they’re ready to clean out their garage. But for women, ensembles or ‘uniforms’ for women at work have long been more nuanced and sometimes difficult to get right.

        5. Jessica*

          For sure, and let’s not forget that women might have hips, and then you have to care about how long the shirt is and is it straight cut all the way down and does that cause it to fit on your upper torso but then come to grief at the hips…

          1. myfanwy*

            Agh, this. I’m a big fat hourglass and if a straight-cut T-shirt fits my shoulders and is vaguely sensible around the waist, it’s like sausage skin on my chest and hips. If I have room to move at the chest and hips, it looks way oversized in general. I wear them oversized like that around the house because it’s comfy, but I will never look work-presentable in one.

        6. Marna Nightingale*

          As a useful work-around, though not cheap unless you get them secondhand: merino activewear/baselayer tshirts often work really well.

          They’re designed to be moved in and layered over so they’re fairly fitted, but they skim rather than cling and their necklines tend to be moderate.

          Also not cheap unless you can find them secondhand, there are a few companies who make, basically, travel-wear for travellers who don’t want to be obviously wearing technical clothes: Prana, Tilley, Royal Robbins, that sort of thing.

          Their stuff tends to be moderate in style, fairly size-inclusive, nigh-indestructible, comfy as heck, and replete with many pockets.

        7. Rana*

          I don’t really understand why this means that there isn’t a female equivalent of wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Yes, there are a lot of variations in women’s t-shirts, more than in men’s (though there is some variation there too). And yes, women themselves have more variation in their upper bodies than men do.

          All that means is that you need to find the t-shirt that you feel comfortable in. It means that the t-shirt one woman picks for her jeans and a t-shirt outfit will be different from what a different woman picks. And I can see how it could be tough to find exactly what you want to wear in a store, depending on your needs. But it is still wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I work in a jeans and a t-shirt type company (tech startup in San Francisco) and the women wear all kinds of different varieties of t-shirts, I assume based on what they are comfortable in (others wear mostly dresses, or other kinds of clothes, it’s not like it’s a required uniform). I have even worn the exact same shirt as the men in my office (company branded shirt that I get in the men’s version because I prefer it) and no one batted an eye.

          I know that there are unfair double standards around women’s clothing. But women can wear jeans and a t-shirt.

          1. Admin of Sys*

            The issue isn’t whether a woman can wear jeans and a t-shirt, it’s that the option of ‘jeans and a tshirt’ when mapped against women’s clothing, is like saying a man can wear ‘pants and a top’ – it’s so broad as to be useless. Yes, there’s a functional visual equivalent of women’s clothing that matches the style and feel of a guy in a t-shirt, but it’s dependent on the body shape of the woman, the makeup and jewelry choices, the fabric and style of the t-shirt and jeans in question, etc. Generally, I find that a woman in the exact same top and jeans as a man will be considered less put together than the man will, so threading that needle is difficult.

        8. amoeba*

          I’d say the current fashion has quite a lot of non-form-fitting t-shirts that don’t look unkempt, anyway! More on the a little bit boxy side. Or a bit oversized and tucked in.

          But honestly, I’d also wear a very simple unisex white/black/mono-coloured unisex t-shirt in that kind of work environment, without a second thought.

          (The problem is probably more that not all kinds of t-shirts work equally well on all kinds of female bodies, I guess? I’m lucky in that department, but otherwise there might be more work involved than for the average man to find something that works for you…)

    2. L-squared*

      I’m a guy, but I think “jeans and a t-shirt” is actually a lot more variety than you think.

      There is a big difference between nice fitting jeans and a v neck, and baggy jeans and a band t-shirt, but both are “jeans and a t-shirt”.

      The fit, style, color, etc, all make a big difference. I think a woman wearing darker jeans and a nice t-shirt is the exact same as a guy doing it.

      1. YouKnowWho*

        I think it’s interesting that you reached that conclusion when a bunch of women in this thread have discussed how their experience is that is not the same at all.

        1. Sled Dog Mama*

          Gross Generalization ahead:
          I think it probably says that women think a lot more about women’s clothes than men think about women’s clothes.

          1. mb*

            I think you’re right that women think about the specifics of women’s clothes more than men- however, men do think about women’s appearances overall and judge them differently from how they judge men. It’s an internalized bias that isn’t going away any time soon. Most men probably can’t articulate why a woman looks professional or stuffy or whatever, just that she does. It’s like eyebrows – most men don’t look at a woman’s eyebrows and go ‘she’s got great eyebrows’ but the size, shape, etc of eyebrows will absolutely make a difference to how your face looks without someone being able to pinpoint the eyebrows as the reason why.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              It’s this. Most men don’t analyze women’s clothes much, but they do judge.

              It’s like those guys who tell you they prefer women to wear no makeup, but the day you actually wear no make up, they ask you wtf is wrong with your face (generally more politely phrased, but still). They truly believe what they like is unfussy and natural, but what they actually mean is a carefully curated simulacrum of unfussy and natural. And they’ll absolutely judge you for deviating from it, all while pretending they don’t care and it’s all in your head.

        2. TechWorker*

          I get what you’re saying but to be fair there are relatively few people who’ve had the experience of dressing both as a man and as a woman. I know men who worry about what they wear & how it fits even if it just looks like ‘jeans and a sweater’. Is there as much variation as for women’s clothing? Nah, and definitely less sexualisation – but it’s not zero variation either.

        3. Helen of What*

          As a Woman in Casual Work Environments, I actually agree with him.
          Yes, there are different pressures on women to look well dressed in work and in general. But I’m not gonna pretend a man showing up for an interview in a stained/ offensive/holey tee is not a bad look just because he’s male. Maybe there are men out there who wouldn’t care about that, but every man I’ve worked closely with or been friends with thinks about their interview clothes and interviewees’ clothes in terms of the slovenliness to cleanliness spectrum.
          And both men and women have to manage race, economic, and size biases when it comes to casual clothes.
          Boobs/bras with a large chest are the most unique problem for women, but that wasn’t included in the letter so I’m assuming in this case she wasn’t having trouble there.
          PS: I used to have a self imposed casual work uniform of uniqlo supima tees and their leggings pants or jeans, worked well.

          1. Starbuck*

            Yeah I think this is fine also. Yes, dark wash jeans with no holes and a solid colored v-notch shirt are pretty much equivalent – at least in my region, plenty of business-y but casual women wear that outfit to work. I do! I’ve seen it work.

    3. Kes*

      I mean, women can wear jeans and tshirts too.
      In this case since you’re dressing up a bit for the interview I would wear dark wash or black jeans, a nicer top or blouse and a niceish cardigan (I do have one that’s black and buttonless that I use for this sort of thing sometimes since it’s sort of blazerish without actually being one)
      I also have a bunch of shirts that are basically tees but in nicer-looking cuts and fabrics that I often wear to work with medium to dark wash jeans and a cardigan/sweater/company branded hoodie. For shoes I wear ankle boots mostly, or nicer looking sneakers, or flats

    4. bloop*

      I think this depends on the workspace, but some of the replies on here are overthinking it. Speaking as a woman, it is very much possible to wear a t-shirt and jeans to work (if that’s the office vibe) and have no one bat an eyelid. Obviously it depends on body type but I’m pretty curvy and I still wear unisex/men’s t-shirts all the time to work – I might sometimes tuck it in to non-jean trousers or wear a button down or cardigan over it, or a blazer to make it more dressy. It probably isn’t read quite as neutrally in that it’s a slightly more masculine look than most women wear but it’s also completely fine and I don’t have to get my head in a tizz worrying about all the factors below. I think sometimes women are conditioned to believe they have to think about all this stuff in depth and sometimes that is true… but if your workplace is casual you actually can just eschew most of this stuff, get some plain neutral t-shirts and jeans and be done with it. It is an option!

    5. Rana*

      I disagree. There are varieties of jeans and a t-shirt for both men and women, but for women the varieties are much more and can go further apart on the casual-formal spectrum.

      I think this is actually a positive for women! You can pick the variety of jeans and a t-shirt that you feel most comfortable in in a given situation. I am a woman and work in a jeans and a t-shirt office/industry/location (tech startup in San Francisco). When I interviewed there, I wore dark jeans with a button-up and flats but could have easily gone with a nice solid color t-shirt and cardigan. Either is more dressy than people there dress everyday (which feels appropriate for an interview) but are just a slightly more polished look and still fit the “jeans and a t-shirt” aesthetic/vibe. Now when I go into the office I usually wear some version of jeans and a t-shirt, sometimes the nicer version and sometimes the mens/unisex t-shirt (usually our company-branded ones) and looser jeans, with sneakers or whatever comfortable shoes I like.

      I think it’s actually easier for women to dress up jeans and a tshirt for an interview than it would be for a man – not saying that men have it harder in fashion or have to worry more about how their clothes and how that affects people’s opinion of them, which is absolutely not true, but men’s clothing has more of a tier system in terms of casual-fancy (t-shirt to polo to button-down to suit) so there’s not as much grey area to play in between them. I love the grey area I have as a woman because it means the same outfit can be appropriate in multiple situations.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, I do feel it’s a double-edged sword, but certainly not entirely negative to have more choice!

    6. Lanlan*

      You have discovered the issue of the Unmarked Woman — and the fact that she doesn’t exist. There’s a whole essay about this that’s worth looking up. :)

    1. Sally*

      You can also just wear jeans and a t-shirt but crisp/ironed so they look more formal with nice clean shoes.

      1. ferrina*

        Yep, I’ve got “work jeans”. Clean, crisp, and my cats aren’t allowed to touch them so I don’t collect cat fur.

    2. ThatGirl*

      My default is dark jeans, plain or lightly patterned shirt, cardigan and a few accessories (big necklace or fun earrings). And heeled boots or whatever slightly dressier shoes – I think shoes can make a big difference.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        Similar. My go to professional-casual has been dark straight leg jeans, nicely tailored with a button down shirt (sleeves rolled up slightly) and nice but simple jewelry: a watch, one ring per hand, studs. Loafer-type shoe or flat. Sleek sneaker could work.

        Also mid-40s professional who continually struggles with looking professional without a blazer or skirt/dress.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yeah, I forgot to note I’m 42 (though some people think I look younger) and have worked in “casual” environments for ~6 years – but not so casual that I can get away with slouchy jeans and band t-shirts.

      2. Csethiro Ceredin*

        Same. I wear black or dark wash jeans most days in the colder months, usually with nice shoes (heels/boots/loafers or something funky like Fluevogs) and either a sweater or blazer. I have some pretty casual blazers made of knits as well as the more traditional ones.

      3. SeluciaMD*

        Yeah, agreed – I think this can strike the right note. Or knit pants and a casual tunic with nice flats or boots can work too. I’ve also done the casual dress with a jean jacket and that can look polished while also looking casual and relaxed.

    3. Elle by the sea*

      Jeans are unfortunately not business casual – they are borderline smart casual though. My office has no dress code, so it’s fine but am not sure about LW’s office.

      1. Elle by the sea*

        Ah, sorry, my mistake. If men are wearing jeans, the LW can, too. Gender-specific dress code differences with respect to the level of formality aren’t very common.

        1. Sally*

          Yes, to everyone, I would say they actually have tons of options and if the fit is good and looks new/well maintained with nice extras they’ll look great.

        2. No One of Consequence*

          I worked at a law school and the office dress code was business, but the men could get away with wearing dressy sneakers, dark jeans, or in some cases even rumpled stained jeans and flip-flops (professors). Maddening.

        3. amoeba*

          I feel like the described environment isn’t business casual. anyway, if most people (male or not) are wearing jeans and t-shirt! Probably not even smart casual, but more just… casual?

          I’d say jeans can definitely also be smart casual and if they are black, no washing, combined with a dressy shirt and maybe a blazer, could possibly work for a business casual environment as well. But then I’d assume the men would be wearing shirts or at least polos. “Most people wear jeans and t-shirts” reads as “nobody cares as long as your clothes are clean and don’t have offensive prints or holes” to me. (Which describes my workplace, and it’s great! And you can also dress up and nobody cares either. )

    4. Guacamole Bob*

      Part of the problem is that clothes just look different on different people. I don’t know whether it’s my hairstyle or body type or what, but nearly ever cardigan I’ve ever worn has made me feel like I look overly frumpy or like I’m trying to look like a 50’s or 60’s movie character or dressed older than my age – something I’d steer clear of in OP’s shoes. But plenty of women look great and appropriately business casual in them! I have no idea why I don’t!

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        This — as a late 50s, female-bodied, not-femme short and thick but fit/ muscley person, I have developed my own approach to style that is kind of a lot of shapeless, adaptable fabrics and interesting necklaces and shoes (mostly fluevog). Things like “We are Stories Handmade” (not linking so it doesn’t get lost) or “Salts and West” clothing or Lilikoi. They seem expensive at first glance but three pieces a year combined with basic tees and black tights make a whole wardrobe. “Fitted and tailored” makes me look dumpy and feels super uncomfortable.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Whereas for me, I look dumpy and frumpy if I wear clothing that’s NOT fitted and tailored! Mid-40s, very femme, short and curvy/hourglassy. If I don’t have a defined waist, I may as well be wearing a potato sack.

      2. Lola*

        Agreed. I know it’s sounds strange, but I have only found in my lifetime a small number of t-shirts that look good on me. Sleeveless no problem, but for some reason the second there are short sleeves attached I look like I’ve gained 30 lbs.

      3. Festively Dressed Earl*

        It may have something to do with undergarments. After way too much Mrs. Maisel, I tried one of those pointier styled bras instead of my usual t-shirt bras, and it made a difference in how tops hung on me. Luckily I found a retro-structured style that isn’t uncomfortable for me, which is incredibly difficult for large-busted women. If I hadn’t, I think I would have just accepted that frumpy is sometimes the cost of comfy and resumed plotting ways to wear bunny slippers to the office.

      4. Starbuck*

        Yeah I’ve never worn a cardigan in my life – I’ve tried them on, it was a fail every time. I prefer something with a collar; either a flannel or some other button down that I can wear buttoned or not, over a t-shirt or long sleeves.

    5. Miette*

      This is a good suggestion. Also wanted to put in there: “wear what you’re comfortable with” means what you’re comfortable interviewing in, too. Just because the office is casual, doesn’t mean an interviewee’s presentation of themselves should cause them discomfort.

      Also, what was your sense of the clothes worn by the hiring manager? I’d aim for that if you’ve met them, and not listen to the recruiter, who is likely more used to hiring members of staff than executives/senior management. You mentioned you’re typically in a leadership role–dress for that role. Dress as the leader you will be when you get there.

      We women are constantly judged on what we wear, so I’d err on the side of more polished than less.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        One suggestion is to check the company’s website and press coverage, interviews with company leaders, managers for photos of employees. There might be a couple of women whose work outfit you can use as a starting point. Companies often choose to publish images where people are dressed on the more polished end of the norm for workplace.

        If there was more time until the interview, I’d suggest going to the company at the start or end of a workday and watch employees coming and going. Sure you’ll see a lot of people in casual dress, but might see a few women who are more polished, dressed up.

    6. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I have definitely found that a dressy lightweight cardigan/sweater/coat (depending on the season) can up an outfits professionalism very quickly!

  3. Dragon_Tea_Smithy*

    I would usually go with just a collared button-down top if they were saying that suits/jackets were too formal. Guys pretty much always get away with looking “professional” if they are wearing a collared, button-down shirt, and that somehow translates to women if they are wearing the same.

    1. Mianaai*

      Agree – I’ve developed a uniform of sorts with nice-quality jeans (usually grey/black/dark indigo), an ironed short-sleeve button-up shirt in a fun pattern of some sort (geeky/botanical/cute), plus a sweater on top depending on weather. It’s comfortable and looks pretty polished, but the print brings an element of “fun” to it without being work-inappropriate. Morningwitch is my favorite source for botanical prints, Paola’s Pixels for geeky designs, and Crowlines for cute critters. Morningwitch also has heavyweight tshirts that might work well too; the drape and fit is very different from a standard cotton t-shirt, they look closer to a “shell” but with fun botanical prints.

    2. Heather*

      I’ve been trying on button down shirts for years and never found one that can work for me, especially as a tall person. I know I could just fit my largest need – sleeve length and bust – and get the rest tailored, but now my cost has soared. I stick with tops meant to be worn under a jacket or cardigan and call it a day.

      1. Janne*

        I’m tall too, and the only button down shirt that works for me is a 7/8 sleeve shirt that’s 3/4 sleeve on me. I also have some shirts that I think were meant as tunics but hit exactly at the hip for me. So I think it can be possible to find shirts as a tall person, if you think creatively.

    3. DMac*

      My go-to tech women’s casual: slim pants or nice jeans, shell top, fitted cardigan or casual blazer with sleeves rolled, flats or (very clean) Converse. Patterned (like houndstooth) pants dress it up a smidge, cardi and converse keep it casual

      This was the most typical look I saw women wearing at tech conferences or in-office this year when not in jeans and tee

  4. Suni*

    Look up “tech casual” on Google Images and that’s what I’d aim for. That’s polished without being stuffy.

  5. FashionablyEvil*

    Oh, menswear is a LOT easier–fewer options and the ones that exist are much more agreed upon. Women are forever trying to hit the right note you described and it’s nearly impossible.

    (Also, I will have to find it, but there was this astonishing photo of Sam Bankman-Fried sitting next to Giesele at some cryptocurrency event. He looked like an absolute slob and she looked polished and effortless and I just took one look at the photo and snorted and said, “Nope! No way a woman could EVER get away with looking like he does.)

    1. Blonde Spiders*

      I just looked up this photo and it’s absolutely infuriating. You know that was a deliberate choice on his part. This wasn’t, “let me sniff yesterday’s shirt to see if it’s ok to wear today,” it was definitely “I’m a crypto bro and I can do whatever I want!”

      1. FashionablyEvil*

        His socks and shoes also really make the outfit. Nasty tube socks and old sneakers? But of course!

      2. TechWorker*

        This is a fairly extreme reaction. A lot of my colleagues in tech dress like this lol, it’s ’I’m wearing clothes and I’m not trying to dress up’… maybe that is the same as ‘I can do whatever I want’ but I am generally pro people wearing what they want when it doesn’t impact their job?

        1. Zelda*

          I think the issue is the context here– that at an event where he was apparently onstage and presenting something, he maybe *should’ve* been trying to dress up, at least a bit.

    2. random transmasc*

      Absolutely — the difference between how my transfem friends dress for work and how I dress for work is striking, and we’re dressing business casual! All I have to do is have enough button-ups to not repeat colors/patterns within two weeks and I’m completely set. The few times I had to dress nice or formal as a woman, it was a painful nightmare of conflicting standards and expectations.

    3. Zephy*

      See also: Ed Sheeran and Beyonce performing “Perfect” at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival.

      His fit: old sneakers, jeans, and a black tee over a long-sleeved white undershirt.

      Her fit: The most incredible ruffly pink ensemble, probably held together with prayer and boob tape, and I shudder to think what kind of shapewear contraption she’s got going on under it.

      Beyonce could absolutely never show up at an event like this in “jeans and a t-shirt,” but Ed Sheeran can.

      1. Joielle*

        Yes! I point to this moment all the time when talking about different standards for men’s and women’s dress. The incongruity is striking.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Eh, Beyonce couldn’t show up like that because she’s Beyonce. Billie Eilish could wear that and probably has. Both Beyonce and Sheeran undoubtedly wore those outfits very purposely, and were probably dressed by teams of professionals.

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah, in that case I’d also say their styles are very much part of their respective brands. Ed Sheeran has cultivated such a signature look that even I (who doesn’t really know anything about him) recognise very easily, so pretty sure quite a lot of thought actually went into that…

    4. Jen*

      Fashion/pop culture bloggers Tom & Lorenzo point this kind of disparity out when they see it on the red carpet (which is often).

    5. Rana*

      I guess I am in the minority but I find this makes women’s fashion easier, especially in unknown situations – the same outfit can be used in multiple contexts, so if you are unsure of how formal to be you can hedge your bets. This is easier for a woman wearing say, dark jeans and a nice t-shirt with a cardigan and some jewelry which can fit in to a really casual environment up to a business casual one. Where a man needs to decide if he should wear a t-shirt or a polo or a button-down – because the casualness level is as you say more agreed upon, there is less room for the same outfit to work in multiple situations.

      The SBF v. Gisele dichotomy is separate – it is certainly true that a certain type of man can get away with looking sloppier than a woman in the same situation would. It’s not that his dress was appropriate to the situation, it’s that powerful men can get away with being inappropriate more than women can. But if both a man and a woman are trying to actually dress appropriately, I personally think it is easier for a woman to do that, if the exact level of formality is unknown.

    6. Orv*

      My wife had the same observation about Bernie Sanders — that a woman with his presentation would just be seen as a slob. Dressing down as a power move is an option that’s only really available to men.

  6. Maggie*

    For “dressing up” in a context that is not particularly dressed up at all, I always like a blouse over non-jean pants with a cardigan. It would look perfectly at home picking kids up from school so it’s definitely not Fancy but it’s a small step up from the baseline.

  7. Chauncy Gardener*

    Agree with Tio above. And yes, this is a female issue!
    Cardigans with a cami or turtleneck or tee underneath works too. Dress up or down with a scarf or jewelry. I find that at the exec level I need to be a half step better dressed than my male peers in order to ‘read’ at the right seniority level.
    And I would go with decent suede sneakers or something that looks casual, but reads better than super casual, just came in from the basketball court sneakers.
    Good luck!

    1. Rook Thomas*

      I agree on the sneakers — I have a pair of grey suede Adidas that are comfy and look nice (and not “Seinfield big white sneaker”). I have had good luck with LL Bean for pants — denim that’s in many colors, as well as plain sweaters and shirts. Where I work, my office can be 75 degrees in the fall/winter, so I tend to layer to be comfortable. J Jill also has separates that I find work well — they have unstructured jackets, which dress up an outfit without feeling as formal as a structured blazer.

  8. ElizabethJane*

    I wear jeans and a t shirt and a boxy blazer over the t shirt.

    In general I prefer higher waisted jeans with a trouser or wide leg cut. And I wear a lot of vintage band t shirts, or vintage looking. If you want to do a slightly more formal version the same thing can work with a white button up. Or a white button up and a chunky sweater. Basically some combination of jeans and grandpa-in-an-academic-setting. Usually I wear loafers or boots for footwear.

    For context I am 38, and I typically work in finance at tech startups.

    1. Circe*

      This is what I was coming here to say. Whatever you’re wearing, you need to have a mix of high and low. So maybe you wear trousers (very on-trend) but dress them down with a chunky sweater and crisp white sneakers. Or you wear a blazer over lighter wash jeans and a t-shirt. Also, nothing says stuffy like dressing for someone else. If you want to wear a blazer, wear one and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

      My favorite places to shop for workwear/inspiration are:
      Sezane: great for blazers, sweaters and blouses
      AYR: their deep end button down is perfect and they have great denim
      The Great: super spendy, but I feel like they do a great job of showing how to mix dressy and casual in a really timeless way.
      I also love looking at looks from old JCrew catalogs. JCrewArchives on instagram is a great place to start.

      Also, I feel like there’s a huge pitfall in looking too young. Round-toe ballet flats, cardigans with blouses, and splitting up pieces from a suit all scream intern/entry-level, which is the opposite of what you want.

      BTW, my credentials: I’m a 40-yo former personal shopper/stylist now working in the non-retail corporate world in the SF office of a stuffy DC-based org.

      1. TechWorker*

        Interesting that you see ballet flats and cardigans as ‘young’ but I do kinda agree, to me they look a bit like ‘my first professional outfit’ (I’m sorry to anyone who wears them cos they’re comfy! And I do wear cardigans… but my feet stopped letting me wear ballet flats in my 20s :p).

        1. HiHello*

          To me, cardigans is something people in 60s wear haha. I am 30 and I never wear cardigans because they make me feel like I am much older.

          1. iglwif*

            I am almost 50 and I *love* cardigans because
            1) I am almost always too warm, so I need to wear layers — shell or short-sleeved blouse + lightweight cardigan is more flexible and reliable than long-sleeved blouse or jumper.

            2) I have biggish boobs and very short arms, so it is very hard to find a blazer that both fits and is flattering — cardigans are much more flexible and forgiving!

            3) a chunky cardigan with buttons is casual and cozy; a fine-knit drapey cardigan is casual but polished.

          2. ElizabethJane*

            it absolutely depends on the cardigan I think. Thin fitted fabric circa 2003 J Crew? Dated. Slouchy/thick material/menswear fit? Timeless or on trend.

            1. amoeba*

              Yup! There are great cardigans that absolutely don’t look stuffy to me – somehow I never manage to find them for myself, but I see them a lot on other people. Thicker material, slightly oversized/boxy…

              The fitted ones look very early 2000s though, indeed. (Which is fine if you just want to look professional and aren’t looking for the latest fashion, obviously!)

      2. iglwif*

        Round-toe ballet flats, cardigans with blouses, and splitting up pieces from a suit all scream intern/entry-level, which is the opposite of what you want.

        … TIL that when I dress up for a work function, I dress like an intern XD

        I think this might be quite industry-specific, because cardigan + blouse and flat round-toed shoes are extremely normal for women at all levels everywhere I’ve worked (in publishing).

        I’m actually really curious about the shoes! What shoes am I supposed to be wearing, if round-toed flats are “too young”? My non-winter-boot footwear choices are (1) black ballet slippers, (2) dark red round-toed mary janes, or (3) bright orange runners, so for work purposes I’m obviously gonna go with (2).

        1. Fitz*

          I think a lot of women switch from round toe to almond toes as they age. Pointed toes tend to look more sophisticated while the roundness of certain round toes calls back to children’s shoes or just the roundness associated with youth. Mary Janes especially are associated with young girls. It doesn’t matter in non-formal workplaces, but these types of associations have always been a thing in my experience!
          Also, I don’t think all cardigan/blouse outfits read young, but there is a type that does. It’s like a mix of lack of polish (cut of cardigan and blouse doesn’t suit the person) and lack of personality (the basic look I’m thinking of screams like Amazon basics out it together as the young intern look) sometimes. Super normal since everyone is in different stages of caring about or adhering to personal style though!
          I generally wear leather sneakers as part of a smart casual ensemble, but I do a lot of prep-inspired looks mixed with different fashion elements.

          1. iglwif*

            Well, I’m sure as heck not gonna court bunion surgery because someone somewhere thinks pointy toes look “more sophisticated” lol. (This is part of why I love working from home, which I’ve been doing for about 7 years now: NO SHOES.)

            This is a very informative response, though, thank you! I am not the fashionista in my family, and I have struggled a lot as I get older with figuring out which kinds of clothes still look OK on my older, more zaftig body, which kinds of clothes were fine when I was 30 and very thin but look terrible now, and which kinds of clothes I can wear now that used to look silly!

            1. TechWriter*

              Yeeeah I have never been more grateful for permanent WFH than reading this thread. Thinking of my box in the basement full of office clothes, complete with
              fitted cardigans from 12 years ago, basic cotton blouses, and kitten heel round-toe shoes, glad I don’t have to worry about if they make me look like an intern (which, uh, I was, hah.)

              Heaven help me if I ever have to do an in-person interview or job again. I will need to go shopping.

            2. Katherine*

              As someone in her mid 40’s both the sensibilities developed in my grunge youth and my aging feet are demanding chunky footwear. I want to throw out a shoutout for chelsea boots, which are one of the very few garments that are both punk rock and workplace appropriate.

        2. Circe*

          It is industry specific, so if you’re in line with what other women are wearing and you feel confident and comfortable, keep wearing whatever you want. Don’t listen to strangers on the internet who will never see you!

          For alternatives to a round-toe ballet flat: oxfords, brogues, loafers, drivers, pointed toe flats, cap-toe sling backs, almond-for skimmer, low block heel, flat Chelsea boots, block heel ankle boots, black leather slip-on sneakers, white leather sneakers.

          1. iglwif*

            Don’t worry, I won’t listen to strangers on the Internet about my fashion choices! I have my 20-something daughter for that ;)

            I actually almost never wear ballet flats, because the cut of the instep is almost always in exactly the right place to hurt my feet. I do sometimes wear actual ballet slippers (black, not pink), but obviously only indoors. I can’t wear anything with a heel for any length of time, which unfortunately cuts out a lot of cute lil boots, loafers, oxfords, and brogues that I would be fine with.

            My Xero hemp mary janes are awesome. I even get compliments on them sometimes! Although probably just because they’re a nice shade of red ;)

            1. Circe*

              It sounds like you’ve filled a wardrobe with pieces you love that work for your body and your job! Hopefully my comments will be helpful to anyone who’s still figuring that out.

            2. ElizabethJane*

              So much of it is how you carry yourself too. If you’re comfortable people will notice. I get the most compliments on my outfits when I’m wearing my beat-to-hell Blundstones. But I love them and I am always happy when I wear them. So even though they aren’t the prettiest or most polished shoes in my wardrobe they make me feel great and people can see that.

              1. iglwif*

                That’s such a good point! I get a lot of compliments when I wear one of my bright red-but-a-tiny-bit-towards-orange tops, and maybe it’s that that shade of red is “my colour” but maybe it’s that I love those tops and wearing them makes me happy.

        3. TechWorker*

          I have a variety of sneakers from smart to slightly less smart, some oxfords, and wear ankle boots at least 6 months of the year :p
          I think round toed flats look young to me because of when they were in fashion where I live but also because most of them (certainly the cheap ones) are AWFUL for your feet and older people can’t hack them… but I am obviously not pro squish your feet into pointy shoes either :p

          1. iglwif*

            I had the important epiphany about cheap shoes in my mid-20s. But then it took me another couple of decades to have the even more important epiphany about good-quality shoes that are also terrible for my feet.

            There seem to be a lot of relatively new entrants in the “foot-shaped, reasonably minimalist shoes” market recently so I’m hoping that will lead to more affordable shoes I can actually wear, in a wider variety of colours.

      3. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        This 52-year old is sporting the round toed ballet flats (because a pointier toe is brutal for my wide toe box) and a cardigan over a long sleeved black tee. When I was at intern age (well, student teaching), it was the early 90s, so I think my style is much better now. The dropped-wait jumpers I wore are quite cringe in retrospect.

        1. EngineeringFun*

          40 year old engineer—> my uniform is jeans , blouse, blazer and fun shoes with a heal. You gotta wear a blazer in meetings to be taken seriously! Take off the jacket in the lab! Sorry girl that’s a thing!

  9. Former Retail Lifer*

    If they’re super casual, I’d go business casual. I’d wear a dressy shirt (like what I’d normally wear under a blazer), with a cardigan if necessary, jeans or comfortable dress pants, and ballet flats or oxfords. Not heels!

    1. Miss Muffett*

      Agree. I feel like for an interview, being one step up from the daily dress code is appropriate. If it’s casual, then biz casual would work. Khakis or jeans that are more slacks-like, or something along those lines. I think a crisp button down or a neat, well-fitting sweater or other top would be fine.

      1. amoeba*

        Or slacks! Not because jeans aren’t OK, but my slightly more dressy dark blue slacks are actually the most comfy trousers I own. And they look great. So I’d always prefer those for interviews – they certainly aren’t too formal with a plain white t-shirt and a sweater/cardigan/nothing on top (depending on temperature).

    2. irritable vowel*

      Yep – on any occasion, it’s always better to be over-dressed than underdressed. I would definitely not wear leggings to a job interview, as the OP mentioned (unless whatever’s on top comes to upper or mid-thigh).

  10. Alex*

    I feel like in situations like these, FIT is really important, both literally and figuratively. Wearing something that makes you feel great and fits/flatters you really well is more important than what it is, specifically. Of course, you don’t want to go in in sweats or a cocktail dress, but that “no blazer” comment was DEFINITELY the male perspective. Women’s blazers are way more versatile than a men’s and they wear them on more varied occasions.

    Dressing up a casual outfit (sharp looking, dark jeans, a plain T, but a blazer and some jewelry) or dressing down a more businessy one (slacks and a nice top, but flats instead of heels, etc.) would both be fine.

    Whatever you do, make sure it fits you well and that it makes you feel good. If an outfit does both of those things, it will look sharp.

    1. Squishy*

      Thank you for saying this! I work in tech and am a mom around 40. Jeans and a t-shirt with a blazer over it is absolutely my go-to – flattering on many body types and (in my opinion) no negative impact on how seriously or not seriously I am taken. Just because the men don’t wear blazers doesn’t mean you can’t.

      1. Awkwardness*

        “Just because the men don’t wear blazers doesn’t mean you can’t.”

        This. Just because they cannot imagine a casual version of blazers, it does not mean you have to deprive yourself of this option.
        I also would like to add that there are blazers and blazers. I own very business-y ones in dark colours and very good fabric, but also a red one from more robust fabric, that reads a lot more casual.
        The most important point for me would be the shoes. No heels!

        1. TechWorker*

          +1 – when he said ‘no blazer’ he’s probably thinking ‘even those with button down shirts don’t wear a blazer’ and ‘don’t show up in a grey pinstripe suit’. That does not mean you can’t wear a more casual blazer!

        2. iglwif*

          And I’ve also seen ones with a fun lining that you can wear with the sleeves rolled up a bit! They don’t work for me because I am short with short arms so I just look like a rotund child playing dress-up, but I’ve seen taller people wearing them and looking awesome.

      2. Legally Blonde*

        Yes to women’s blazers! I have quite a few “casual blazers” (boxier fits, fun patterns/colors, more casual fabrics–including one that is sweatshirt fabric!) and they are so versatile. They can dress up nice jeans and a t-shirt, or dress down my nicest dresses for my business-casual office. On one occasion, I even threw a blazer over pajamas for a last minute call when I was working from home.

      3. Lizzo*

        +1 to this. After a certain age, the most flattering clothing on any body type is going to have STRUCTURE. This may require a bit of a splurge, but you can work around that with thrift stores and a good tailor. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it should fit you properly.

    2. The Happy Graduate*

      Yes playing around with fits is what really sets the line between casual and put-together!

      Personally I love a boyfriend blazer as it’s loose-fitting enough to come across as more casual, and when thrown over a crew-neck t-shirt or short sleeve bodysuit with well-fitting jeans makes for a great look. Without blazers, having a well-fitted crew-neck t-shirt/bodysuit or blouse tucked into slim-fit dress pants in various colours is easy to throw on and it’s immediately more polished without the “stuffiness” of a fitted blazer.

      And don’t discount the power of accessories! Just a couple clean accessories (think simple 1-2″ hoops and a chain necklace, a watch, and a couple rings) makes it extra sharp and on purpose. The more colours/chunkiness the more risky it is to be distracting, but similar metals and limited colours can really elevate the most casual looks.

    3. Quinalla*

      Agreed 100% with this, came here to say to wear something that is reasonably business casual that OP is comfortable in. If you feel weird in it, it will make you a bit off in your interview. If you are a little dressy, I think most people understand that is kind of what people do in interviews.

      And yeah, I personally would do a blouse with non-jean pants probably with a cardigan or a sweater if you are somewhere cold as sweaters are the ultimate pass for dressy or not dressy. I wear basically men’s dress shoes or black sneakers in this situation – mostly cause my feet suck – but flats or very low heel – especially boots would work too. For jewelry and hair – I keep it simple but polished.

      At my job our dress code is unless you are meeting with clients, pretty much whatever. So I do wear a lot of t-shirts and jeans and yes it is much more fraught as a woman to pick those out as so many jeans are basically leggings now and tops have such varying necklines and a “normal tshirt” ie male fit tshirt tends to look baggy/sloppy on women which pisses me off lol. I always fight for women fit tshirts anytime we do shirt at work which is so much better.

    4. Marmiter*

      Ok where do people find casual blazers?? I am terrible at shopping and just want a few affordable blazers in fun colors.

  11. UncleFrank*

    Do you have one of those sweater/knit blazers? I find those are great for looking really put together and not looking like you’re wearing a suit. I like to pair of one of those with a blouse and dark jeans for these sort of put together but not too dressy situations.

    Or take them at their word and wear what you’re most comfortable in!! You’re not going to immediately buy a whole new wardrobe when you take this job and so if there’s going to be that thrown off by someone not wearing jeans, it’s probably better to know now.

    1. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

      I also have a pair of knitted blazers and agree that they are ideal for being a little more formal than a cardigan but more comfortable / casual than a suiting type blazer.

      My “weekend attending” outfits are usually dark wash jeans (high waisted, wide legged bc that’s also the cut I prefer for dress pants) and knit blazer with a solid colored top. Nice enough that I feel professional, but more comfortable than my weekday clothes.

    2. Daisy*

      Yes, the J Crew sweater blazer is perfect-slouchier than a blazer, more structured than a cardigan. I don’t think there is a male equivalent unless it’s the Patagonia finance-bro vest. Which is a whole other story.

  12. FormerProducer*

    For SURE it’s a gendered and racialized thing, yes, and it’s so frustrating. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. And it’s even more insidious because it sounds (to men) like you’re making a big deal out of nothing, but YOU know that if you show up with the wrong level of formality, people will notice.

    In terms of outfit advice — I think this is what you’re asking for, I’m sorry if I’m wrong about that! — I’d say you can make jeans and a shirt more business-y without veering into full on business. Dark jeans with a loafer or boot, a graphic tee (or just an high quality plain tee) and an oversized blazer? Technically jeans and a shirt, sort of! But feels very competent and polished. Or jeans and a classy sweater, depending on your climate? Good luck with your interview!

    1. random transmasc*

      Growing up, my mom made a massive deal out of dressing appropriately for interviews and such. While the way she went about it wasn’t ideal and there’s unfortunate overlap with her mild internalized sexism, she wasn’t wrong — women are scrutinized WAY more for how they dress. As a dude, I can just… show up to work. I feel like men in general can get away with basically whatever as long as it’s not sloppy. Maybe it’s because I work in STEM where women are still often a minority and thus over-scrutinized in general.

  13. Future*

    That is so frustrating that they said no blazer because I feel like my go-to would be jeans, nice t-shirt, fashion trainers or other flats, and a blazer!

    1. t-vex*

      I do think it matters that the person who said that is a man. He probably doesn’t do the mental gymnastics, or is unaware that other people do.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I agree. I have more casual blazers – knit fabric, odd print – that I might sub in but my go-to is similar to Future’s and it would add a layer of “does it seem like I’m ignoring instructions” anxiety that no one needed.

        I’m so careful about how I answer this kind of question for new hires at my office and I have noticed that my *completely well intentioned* male coworkers are not. They think it’s helpful to say “we aren’t super formal here” but that means LITERALLY NOTHING.

        AH this is a pet peeve of mine that is so hard to manage because it makes me legit mad but I know no one is being malicious.

    2. Beth*

      I feel like OP should ignore the ‘no blazer’ advice. For men blazers are pretty consistently formal. For women, they can be formal, but they can also be “going to coffee with a friend” clothes! That advice sounds to me like a man who is thinking from his reference point and not adapting it to womenswear.

      1. TechWorker*

        100% and formality for men can sometimes end up as ‘slacks, button down, but no blazer or tie’ which imo is at least as formal as many women’s casual blazers

    3. nona*

      To me, this means, you don’t need to wear a sportscoat. Which is a pieces of specific menswear and conveys a specific level of formality.

      As a women I would want to meet that same vibe, but I wouldn’t take the words literally. I probably wouldn’t wear a blazer made of suiting fabric or that came as part of a suit, but I would still wear other types of blazers/structured jackets – mostly because I feel like I need a third piece to feel like I’m wearing an outfit and sometimes I’m just cold, and the blazer is warmer than a cardigan. And maybe I want that tiny bit of formality because I need it to command power in a way a guy doesn’t.

      1. amoeba*

        Yes, exactly! There were many nice blazers in stores this summer, for instance, that definitely don’t scream “interview outfit” (more boyfriend cut, maybe nice colour instead of dark/black) – that, together with a nice white tee and jeans was very probably absolutely not what the interviewer was imagining.

  14. Clefairy*

    I do think for an interview, no one is going to bat an eye if you’re more dressed up than anyone else in the room. Obviously I’d avoid the power suits, but I don’t see anything wrong with a business professional or business casual dress paired with a cardigan. When the interviewer says “whatever you’re comfortable in”, I would take them at their word and then err to side of more formal. I’m sure he wasn’t intending to cause you to spend 4 hours trying to piece together the most perfect casual/effortless outfit lol.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I don’t know that leggings are ever the right call for an in-person interview, unless they are paired with something that covers the hips/butt.

    1. The Terrible Tom*

      Yes, he wasn’t “intending that lol”, but the implicit claim is that even so, the result of having *not done* the extra work that is required in order to appear as “I-just-rolled-out-of-bed-this-polished” would be harsher judgement and possibly not getting hired.

      FWIW I suspect that claim is correct.

      1. amoeba*

        Possible, yes. (In which case – would I want to work there, though?)
        Also very possible – he literally meant “no need to dress up and wear a special interview outfit, just wear what you’re comfortable in”.

        I know the world is an unfair place for women but my male colleagues would at least indeed be very firmly in the second camp.

    2. H2*

      Agree about leggings—imo they are firmly athleisure.

      Also agree that tailored, dark wash jeans paired with a nice top and nicer shoes is a safe bet. I like fashion sneakers and boots a lot.

      Totally agree that this is a gendered problem, but I would say that I can’t think of any men of my acquaintance who wouldn’t make an effort for an interview—probably the equivalent would be the same (nice jeans, button down, nice shoes).

    3. Beth*

      I agree on leaning against leggings. Maybe they’re workable if they’re a thick material that reads more like tight pants than gym clothes? But I don’t think I’d feel confident wearing activewear to an interview, even in a very casual environment.

      1. K8T*

        I once interviewed a 30ish yo woman who came in leggings (our dress code ranges from full suits/dresses/heels to business casual – really depends on what people have going on that day) and while they ended up not being qualified anyways, the leggings were definitely noted.

        If she had been the right fit for the position that wouldn’t have stopped us but it certainly didn’t help.

      2. amoeba*

        Yeah, I’m European so that’s probably a bit different here, but leggings would actually feel out of place even in my very casual workplace! Like, in the formality hierarchy they’re, like, several levels down from jeans. But I do remember from the infamous crop top discussion awhile ago that that appears to be quite different in the US, so YMMV…

        1. Clefairy*

          Yeah, its super workplace dependent here, but I’d say for most work places leggings would be inappropriate if not paired with a longer top/dress even outside of the formality of an interview

          1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

            We have a frustratingly vague “dress for your day” policy that allows for wearing casual clothing (the levels of clothing are called out as “business,” “business casual,” “smart casual,” and casual) but I’ve never worn leggings on office days except under a dress.

    4. Double A*

      My thought was definitely that no one will bat an eye if you come to an interview in business casual or looking more formal than the dress code you’ll be wearing every day.

      I’m a woman and I think spending 4 hours on this with outside opinions means you are way overthinking this. Yes, the expectations for women are different. However, you will meet them with business casual, neat hair, and minimal make-up. (Is it fair your hair has to be neat and that make-up will help? No, but that’s just what will read as professional. And I have wavy hair that does not default to “neat” so I know that’s a pain for a lot of people). If you wear clothing that is not rumpled, faded, or ripped and that fits you, you’ll be fine. You can wear a blazer or a cardigan. You can dress it down or up with some jewelry.

  15. Momma Bear*

    For an interview I would still go with more dressed up than you would normally. You’re making an impression. My interview here was with people in jeans and polos and I’m in jeans today, but at the interview itself I wore a suit with a colorful top. Not all the people I have interviewed since have worn a suit, but it was still dressed up. If I ditched the jacket, I’d still opt for a dressier top/button down and not jeans or leggings.

  16. Spreadsheet Queen*

    I’m over 50, so take it with a grain of salt.
    Never leggings for an interview. Depending on the office, they may be ok with a long enough tunic/dress.
    My go-to when I am supposed to look both “nice” and “casual” are trouser-cut* jeans with no rips and minimal “wash effects” – and darker dye if one can find them. *Clean lines and slightly wider legs without that getting skinny on the thigh and knee thing.
    I also wear a lot of knee-length casual knit dresses with a drape-y shrug or cardigan. Feels like a nightgown; looks like I dressed up kind of. Also works with boots when it’s cool.

    1. Ali*

      In my 40’s and I agree, I’d never do leggings for an interview specifically. I know people vary widely on this point, but it would read as far too casual and young to me. Am in New England, if it matters.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      I wear a lot of dresses that I think are casual and other people think are very dressed up, so I’d be conscious of that if in a bro-y situation. Sneakers dress them down, depending.

  17. Crazy Chicken Lady*

    I’ve found nice clean jeans that fit properly (not too tight, not too baggy, no holes, etc) combined with a nice blouse work well. I’m in a warm area (SoCal) that trends casual already, so while I have blazers, I’ve almost never needed to wear them. (late 30s, female, mid-manager)

    I work from home, but when I do go into our offices, my general ‘uniform’ is just jeans and a nice blouse or button up. If I feel like it, I’ll wear slacks, or a dress – I’m very fond of the Wool& Kalle dress or a similar style as my baseline for an office dress. Cute shoes pull it together. Occasionally, I’ve done just jeans and a t-shirt, but thrown one of my blazers over the top in winter and that fit in just fine in the offices I was in.

    The women in leadership roles I’ve seen and admired how polished they looked had similar outfits, or simply owned what they liked to wear. One C-level exec I work with looks super polished in her blazers and heels and skirts, and she is very differently dressed than the rest of the office…but because she’s so confident in it, it seems to have zero impact on how she’s perceived. It’s just how she dresses.

    I think being comfortable in your outfit so that you don’t obsess over it will do more for feeling young and adaptable than trying to fit your style to the perceived office environment.

    1. Foila*

      Ugh, if only it was easier to get jeans that actually fit well! (I, like a huge fraction of the world, wear a weird size that most stores don’t carry).

      1. Crazy Chicken Lady*

        I use the Amazon try before you buy thing and when I find a pair I like, I get at least two or three at a time. I’ve found it almost impossible to find jeans that fit me well at the store either!

      2. BlueSwimmer*

        I have this problem too, and highly recommend finding a good tailor. I find jeans that I like the color and fabric and general shape of, buy them to fit my large hips, and have my tailor take the waist taken in and hem them for my short legs. They can even recreate the jeans stitching on the hem so you can’t tell they are hemmed. I’m a teacher so not used to spending a ton on clothes but having jeans that don’t gap at the waist or slither down throughout the day is crucial for my confidence in front of a room full of 9th graders. I have sometimes paid less for the jeans than for the tailoring but it is so worth it to know they fit and will stay in place.

    2. Trippedamean*

      I agree that confidence is the important thing. Whatever makes you feel like you look great and you’re going to do well is the perfect thing to wear. It may not be what they had in mind but the confidence you’ll get from wearing that will be more important to them than your clothes.

  18. HE Interview Struggles*

    As a woman, I feel this struggle. I had an interview a few years ago that sent me to the store looking for a business casual dress that could be paired with a blazer to show I was serious. I work in Higher Education (student-facing/serving), so most of my more professional dresses (power dresses) can seem off-putting for students who do have some input in the hiring process.

    Honestly, I always aim for something that is professional but comfortable. If I’m in a stuffy outfit/suit, then I come across as stuffy and stiff. If I’m professional but comfortable I tend to be more at ease. Now I save the power dresses for when I’m meeting with upper administration.

    1. ArchivesPony*

      Me too! And I work with stuff that’s dusty and dirty so I hate wearing nicer clothes so I’m so glad that my current place of work doesn’t care as long as it’s a)non-offensive b)doesn’t have holes. I wear jeans and comfortable tops (my office is also 65 F most days) that I have a sweater over. I wear my business clothes for meetings with donors and upper admins

      1. Corporate Goth*

        Websites like CapHillStyle, Corporette, and Bridgette Raes can help give you an idea of power clothes. Maybe Who What Wear, though I don’t think they focus on work exclusively. I’m terrible at this, so I copy.

        MM LaFleur is a good brand for power outfits, also brands like Maggie London, Adrianna Pappanelle, Tahari, Boss, Theory.

        Nordstrom’s various anniversary sales, Nordstrom Rack, and resale sites (including MM LaFleur’s secondhand site) make the ridiculous prices less onerous. I find having a workplace uniform or capsule wardrobe helps ensure pieces work together for a coherent look and easy packing for business trips.

        Reiss has great blazers but I wouldn’t put their dresses in this category. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention you can easily dress down J Crew’s going out blazer with a tshirt.

        I work from home now, so team tshirt with blazer, jeans, and boots it is for in-person gatherings. And I have a useless closet of super fancy business clothes.

  19. ArchivesPony*

    For my interviews, because I work in the library world, its a lot of business casual. And I detest shopping but my go to stores are Macys, Penny’s, and Maurices. You can find very smart looking shirts (they don’t need to be blousey) that you can throw a nice sweater over if you get cold. I always wear dress slacks and comfortable flats.

    1. kjolis*

      I agree that library world dress can work for this woman’s interview. I’m a fan of simple A-line dresses, dark tights, and a cardigan. Not too dressy, but nicer than casual. I’ve never owned a blazer!

      1. OrigCassandra*

        This is how I often dress for work occasions, as a plus-size library-adjacent person. A well-fitting sheath dress with a cardigan can look downright classy without being too stuffy.

        I have a couple-three more tailored-looking cardigans in non-sweatery fabrics in my closet for such occasions, and I have a black one in my office Just In Case. (I’m considered a campus expert in an area the news has been taking notice of lately, so TV interviews on an hour’s notice have happened to me more than once.)

  20. SelinaWeiner*

    I work in tech, I’ve worked where everyone including me wore hoodies and jeans and where people dressed more formal. I generally wear a dress and cardigan or trousers, a nice top, and cardigan with flats.
    For an interview I would rather be over dressed than under dressed. However I haven’t worn a suit/blazer for an interview since the early 00’s.

  21. JB (not in Houston)*

    Sometimes with jeans I wear a thin sweater or plain tee paired with a sweater that looks/is shaped like a blazer (I think they’re called sweater jackets?) or a “fancy” cardigan (e.g., one with nicer buttons or that’s more structured). That kind of mimics the look of a blazer without being a blazer. And like Tio said above, there’s the option of adding jewelry to dress up the outfit.

  22. Just Another Zebra*

    First, I wouldn’t wear leggings and a cami. I think that’s too casual.

    I might do a casual-ish dress with a non-blazer jacket and flats. Polished and able to adapt up or down. If you needed heels and a blazer for a public facing event, it’s an easy swap.

    And if you wanted to do pants instead, I might lean towards a sweater and jeans with fashion boots (as opposed to snow boots or Uggs).

    Good luck!

  23. Sloanicota*

    I’m really excited about very casual looking jackets – not knit, but with almost the feel of a cardigan (so kind of slouchy and less structured than a suit top), but a front and collar more like a blazer, that you can wear over a light top and with jeans or slacks. Whenever I see these I snap them up; this is my “formal” work outfit now for interviews or big meetings, in the wake of the changes to formal workwear. I find them at inexpensive places like kohls or marshalls.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        My (apparently white whale) clothing want is a casual, knit, but structured blazer, but so far I’ve not been able to find anything quality. The difficulty is that I’m about a size 20W, and most of my searches just turn up unstructured cardigans.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          Maybe try the Billerica catalog series — NorthStyle, Pyramid Collection, and the unfortunately-named Serengeti. That’s where my more-structured cardigans come from, and I’m your size. They may not meet your quality line, though; I admit I’ve had to return a few things that were made of the nastiest cheapest polyester ever.

          Soft Surroundings may occasionally turn up a good piece.

  24. the fine line*

    NOT just you!!!! This is just one more little drip in the massive pond of stuff women have to think obsessively about in the office that men just do not. As a late-twenties woman my issue is making sure I don’t look too young without going completely frumpy.

    As practical advice, the recent oversized workwear trend might be your friend here! Gen Z is rocking wide leg trousers and oversized blazers as casualwear, so a pair of pleated wide-leg pants (Ex: currently reads as more casual than it has historically. Especially if you paired it with a sweater or solid colored tee to dress it down a little.

  25. skipjack*

    I’ve been a woman in tech, where this is a classic problem. I’d dress slightly more upscale than the men, which usually means nice jeans + jacket.

  26. Cephie*

    I’m a female software engineer, I feel you on this! My interview outfit for casual jeans-and-tshirt tech companies is typically dark jeans (unfaded, unripped) and a collared button-down shirt, with flats or nice sneakers. I’ve never felt like this is too casual or too formal.

    1. Desdemona*

      This has been my uniform in tech for the past 14 years.

      Black jeans (solid wash), blue/ chambray button up, French-tucked and with the sleeves rolled up, and nice sneakers.
      If it’s cold I’ll wear an oversized, unstructured blazer, or a black cardigan or sweater.

  27. my cat is prettier than me*

    Old Navy has slacks in a ton of different colors/patterns. They’re nicer than jeans, but they’re still fun. You can easily dress them up or down.

    1. Paris Geller*

      I hate Old Navy tops, but their pants are PERFECTION. I’m a large plus size woman and their pants strike the right chord of comfort/fit/color/flattering (. . . which is a loaded term when it comes to clothing, especially for women, but especially for an interview it’s something I do consider). They have a great size range as well. Also they’re inexpensive, often on sale, and hold up surprisingly well for the price. I’m pretty sure every single pair of pants I own is from Old Navy.

      1. Jules*

        Speaking as a curvy woman, Torrid and Lane Bryant also have good options for pants, and for shirts that fit! I like Old Navy shirts in tall sizes for basic plain pieces that I can layer.

  28. LinesInTheSand*

    First, you need to hear this: you’ve already passed a few rounds of interviews and people like you enough to bring you on site. Your clothes AREN’T your first impression. You’ve already made that and impressed people. You’re going to make good clothing and makeup choices and then you’ll start talking and then no one will care because they’ll be too busy being impressed by what you say. Your sartorial goal here is not to pick the perfect outfit, it’s to avoid major mistakes and distractions. Major mistakes and distractions sound like a 3 piece suit, rips, stains, t shirts with racist crap on them.

    Avoid that and you’ll be fine.

    Knock ’em dead.

    Since you asked for tactical advice I will give it:
    When I interview (which I have not done for exec roles) I concentrate on looking “on purpose”. So I blow out my hair but I just wear it down and straight. My makeup is mostly focused on covering the bags under my eyes and blemishes. Eyes and lips are a very neutral palette.

    If people are just telling you “wear what’s comfortable”, I’d worry less about the exact pieces you wear and more about just doing the ground work to omit distractions: the usual no stains, no accidental rips, no wrinkles. I’d also make sure any dark colors were in obviously casual fabrics since black tends to read formal. So if you want to wear black pants, make them jeans or leggings, as you’ve done. Black jackets could be a less formal cut, e.g. bomber rather than blazer.

    1. Jojo*

      Lines in the Sand. Have you posted the “on purpose” advice on here previously. I picked it up somewhere and it has served me well. If it was you, thank you very much.

      LW, I second the “on purpose”advice.

      1. LinesInTheSand*

        Maybe? I don’t know. Regardless, I’m glad it helps. My motto for everything outside my core competency is “avoid major mistakes” and then I move on with my life.

        1. Lizzo*

          This (“on purpose”) is a great way to explain “put together” but without the expectation of “fancy”. It’s also much nicer than saying, “Dress like you give a sh*t about yourself.”

          Definitely going to be borrowing this one–thank you!

    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Yeah, you are going to think about this WAY more than your interviewer will. A large portion of people are going to remember your outfit as ‘Clothes: she must have been wearing some because I would have noticed if she wasn’t.’

      That doesn’t mean that what you wear isn’t important. It absolutely is. But a lot of what people read off your clothes is subconscious and often not very subtle. Hit the right general ballpark and you’re golden.

      And the most important thing is that your clothes tell YOU that you are a competent, well dressed professional.

  29. Office Sweater Lady*

    For the environment you described, I would recommend plain black pants and either some sleek black leather sneakers or a very short black suede or leather boot and a solid neutral or near-neutral-colored crew-neck wool or cashmere sweater. For accessories, just a watch and minimal or no additional jewelry. I think if all the outfit elements are clean and of good quality, this will help position you for the higher level role. When I wear this look, I feel it essentially disappears into the background, so hopefully you stand out without your outfit attracting any attention. Good luck with the interview!

  30. londonedit*

    I work in publishing and am in my early 40s. As an industry we’re generally on the more casual end of smart/casual – jeans and a t-shirt would be fine but most people go more for jeans and a nice top or for the men jeans and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up/top button undone.

    My usual office attire is either a patterned midi dress with trainers (along the lines of ‘that’ Zara dress from a few years ago) or something like wide-legged high-waisted trousers with a plain-coloured t-shirt and trainers. For an interview I’d add a blazer to the latter, and for the former I might wear chunky boots instead of trainers. Definitely wouldn’t wear leggings.

    I wouldn’t take the blazer comment as ‘do not wear a blazer’ – I’d assume they mean more ‘no need to wear a full business suit’. I think something like flat shoes, smart black jeans, a plain well-fitting t-shirt and a blazer (maybe with the sleeves pushed up, or maybe in a brighter colour) would be absolutely fine for a smart/casual interview.

  31. Llama Llama*

    My go to is a stylish maxi dress. Its fancy and casual all at the same time. We have client visits and I have a specific dress I wear and get so many compliments over it but I never feel over dressed either.

  32. Trippedamean*

    I deal with this conundrum almost daily. My boss expects us to dress in business attire (which seems to equal either a blazer or a dress for the women) but the field we’re in is really casual. It’s definitely not a problem the men in our office have! One solution is to have some nice, but comfortable dresses like a solid-color t-shirt dress. There are also some nicer shirts and slacks that are actually comfortable out there. Then I add a little bit of tasteful jewelry – which makes any outfit look like you put effort into it. In fact, if you don’t have clothes that you think will work, I’d recommend adding a necklace or bracelet or earrings to whatever you’ve got.

  33. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    This was the bane of my existence when I first came off active duty and went back to school with an internship in a middle school. All I had were uniforms, workout clothes, and jeans. I had to go out and try things on and make them match and it was so uncomfortable I still remember it 15 years later. I’m about to retire from the military next year after 24 years (yay!) and still kind of get worked up over making these choices now.

    I suggest a scarf over a nice t shirt with nice jeans. Nice hiking pants. Kuhl and Columbia stuff. Sweaters, all day. A soft collared shirt, button down or not.

    And all the commiseration and camaraderie in the world for you.

  34. Kat Em*

    So my CEO is one of those “effortlessly casual yet somehow magically professional looking” women, and she basically lives in Eileen Fisher. Kinda pricey, but dang if she doesn’t look put together as heck. You can always look at their site for inspiration and then mix and match with similar items you already have.

  35. Not a fashionista*

    It is a struggle. My last interview- fit and flare dress with light finger tip length cardigan (with buttons) and funky sneakers or flats. It worked! I typically go pencil skirt & button down – but extra lbs and the need to feel comfortable changes the game.

  36. Ellis Bell*

    These are my favourite (women’s clothing) options which are good at walking a fine line on the business casual front.
    1) Fine knit or cottony sweaters. With or without an add-on collar.
    2) Mid calf trousers. Useful if you despise hemming pants and you have enough measurements to worry about on the waist/hip ratio front.
    3) Woolen dresses. If the knit is smooth, and it falls shortly above the knee, these can be paired with leggings or opaque footless tights for a comfortable look. It doesn’t have the hard tailoring of a shift or pencil skirt but it covers your bum, basically.
    4) Circle, maxi and jersey skirts. Soft tailoring avoids overly formal or stiff. They tend to be comfortable; choose a midi or maxi length as this coverage avoids it being overly informal, but still really easy to pair with comfortable shoes like flats or nice trainers. I like fitflop ballet shoes, or biker boots.

  37. CL*

    Echoing the other women in tech, this is a gendered issue like so much we deal with. I tend not to wear jeans these days so comfy pants (not leggings) and a sleeveless top with a cardigan or unstructured jacket tend to be my go to when I have to “dress up” for events or interviews. I’m in a city known for being stuffy so even tech leaders wear suits in many spaces. There is only so casual I can go and be taken seriously.

  38. Enn*

    I work from home, but when I need to be in the office, I tend to wear Eileen Fisher and J Jill type flowing dresses or smock-y dresses. I also have a tendency to wear a lot of BIG nice-looking costume jewelry, which dresses things up without being a formal suit sort of thing.

    And I hate to mention a specific brand, but for me, Eileen Fisher is the perfect combination of dressy-but-is-comfy-and-won’t-intimidate-someone-the-way-a-suit would. Flowing dresses/skirts, open-fronted shawl-collar sweaterish “blazers”, wide-legged pants.

    You don’t need to buy from that brand BUT if you look at their website, especially at the jackets, it could give you an idea of the “I’m dressed up but in a casual way” mood of the brand.

    1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

      Eileen Fisher was the first brand I thought of as well reading this. expensive but well made, and i believe they do more for the environment than most brands but i dont recall at the moment. you can find a ton of their pieces used on eBay for like Gap prices.

  39. Lisekit*

    I work in the performing arts which has quite a broad range of acceptable clothing. I’d say: clean, well-fitting jeans (probably in a darker denim) with a crisp, ironed shirt; a jumpsuit; or a casual day dress (maxi dresses are quite big in our office as they’re quite versatile and can be worn year-round with or without tights); worn with clean trainers or flats in the spring/summer or an ankle boot in the autumn/winter. There used to be a lot of knee-length boots with knee-length skirts in the industry but those seem to have disappeared since lockdown.

  40. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

    Follow Amy Smilovic on instagram! she is the founder of Tibi and posts a TON about how to use your clothes as tools. I cant really afford Tibi but most of her outfits are what it sounds like youre looking for – professional but not stuffy with a little personality. the lessons carry over regardless of brand.

  41. InOrOutBox*

    As a fellow 40something women in leadership, I’ve found “Capitol Hill Style” to be very helpful in seeing how to style clothes for today’s working world.

    1. Corporate Goth*

      Same! She’s adapting for 2024 and her new lifestyle (baby, WFH), if I recall correctly, but her archives are gold.

  42. Problem!*

    I worked in a “casual” office for a while. I would usually go with a plain color or subtle pattern knit shirt, dark wash straight leg or skinny jean, and a pair of flats or TOMS. Back in the day Chucks seemed to be the standard uniform shoe for the office but they seem to have fallen out of popularity as we’ve all aged. I also had a rotation of cardigans in neutral colors to wear. If you have the body type for it a button down shirt could also work, but in my experience most women can’t wear button downs without it pulling or gapping weirdly in places.

  43. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I feel like interview outfits should always be one step up from whatever the workplace dress code is, so while I wouldn’t wear a skirt suit to an interview where everyone is wearing jeans and t-shirts, I probably also wouldn’t wear jeans myself.

    If you’re someone who likes to wear dresses, I always think that’s an easy route to feeling like you’re a bit more dressed up even if the interviewers are casual. The dress itself can be casual, even!

    The other thing I think is key is layering: you can wear a bunch of casual pieces, but having different kinds of layers can make you look more considered/put together than not. In some situations that might be a casual blazer, and in others it might just be a cardigan, a large scarf, etc.

  44. Veryanon*

    Adding a vote for a cardigan over a nice, patterned blouse or crisp t-shirt (Talbots has t-shirts that are a little more dressy and polished-looking). Nice jeans and boots, maybe some discreet jewelry and even a scarf (if you’re a scarf person). A touch of makeup (if you wear makeup) for a slightly more polished look. The look you’re going for is “meeting that’s not professional but still Important and Serious” such as meeting with your kid’s teacher, a client-lawyer meeting, that type of thing.

  45. Victoria*

    I know he explicitly said “no blazer,” but I’d still go: well-fitted jeans, cool top (“cool” could range from a graphic tee to a brightly patterned blouse, whatever fits your style), and a blazer in a non-suiting fabric (my go-to for this is… well, I don’t know what it’s made of, something synthetic and cheap, but it’s drapey and has buckles to roll up the sleeves).

  46. mango chiffon*

    Personally I don’t think a blazer is a real issue. I think most “women’s” blazers can span the range from casual to formal, and the guy who told you “no blazers” probably doesn’t get that. A thinner, unlined “flowy/loose” sort of jacket/blazer over a tshirt and jeans would be great. I have a linen blazer that I like to wear over t-shirts when I need to be a step more formal at my office (which is pretty casual)

  47. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    As an early 40s female manager, my “business casual” is either

    -a long skirt (a-line, not one of those tiered hippie styles, but usually in a brightly colored print) with a plain solid-colored v-neck T (and sometimes a light denim jacket worn as a “blazer”, depending on who I’m meeting with and how I expect the climate control to be set), or

    -nice dark-wash trouser jeans with the same type t-shirt and a longish cardigan, usually also in a brightly colored print

    Either set goes with either flats, or black heeled boots.

  48. M2*

    I don’t wear leggings to work ever. Even when I worked in a more casual environment I never wore them. I find leggings to be exercise/ at home lounging wear. I find it strange especially for senior leadership positions and those that are outfacing. Why not just wear pajamas then? If I’m at a meeting with someone also in executive leadership at another organization and they come in wearing leggings I am going to wonder why. I would also think this if someone came in with a a regular t shirt. If someone had darker jeans on I wouldn’t think the same. So I would have some nicer things to wear if you are going to be outward facing certain days.

    My sister hates pants so she just buys lots of dresses and skirts and dresses them up or down depending on the situation. I think this is a good idea. Quince has some good items.

    I don’t usually wear jeans at work but if it’s a casual day I will wear dark jeans that are pressed and looks put together sometimes with a flowy top or an oversized sweater in cold weather. I also buy business casual pants. There are some retailers that are comfortable like leggings but look more put together

    Where I work now it is business casual but some days you need to dress up and wear a suit. You’ll be in meetings with people in suits and others more casual. No one tells you this you just should know by what you are doing/ who you are meeting with.

    For interviews I also usually dress up more even if it says business casual.

    1. workswitholdstuff*

      I wear leggings to work, but under knee length tunic dresses.

      All about what you’re wearing them with- I wouldn’t rock up at work (unless it was for a manky task) in leggings and a t-shirt, but I would have worn them with many of my knee length tunic dresses – with completely flat ballerina style shoes, or with slightly heeled boots – depending on weather.

      It’s all about context.

      I discovered a range of dresses with pockets and fun dresses, and it’s made made shopping for work so much easier – I know if I’m unanticipatedly meeting a councilor, having to be in a photo for the local press, or just look friendly but put togther, I can put one of those dresses on and I *don’t* have to think about it.

      (and for between 30 -50 quid depending on the style, they don’t break the bank either…)

      1. Clare*

        I think the vital difference here is whether you’re treating them as thick stockings or thin trousers. I also use them as thick stockings in the way you describe, but I personally can’t bring myself to wear them without a second layer of fabric covering my bottom.

        Someone asked me what my problem was the other day and it took me a while to put my finger on it, but my conclusion was this: to me the way leggings reveal my shape feels kind of similar to having my nipples visible through my shirt. I’m comfortable with fitted clothing, but not high resolution. That’s just me.

        I’m definitely not out to police anyone’s personal comfort lines here. I feel most comfortable wearing as little fabric as possible, so I totally understand being most comfortable in leggings. I just thought my revelation might be a useful data point for anyone else like me who’s has been struggling to articulate why leggings feel different to skinny jeans for them.

        As for wearing them in a work context, I don’t think somebody who doesn’t even go jogging in them is the best person to weigh in, so I’ll defer to the opinions of the more sartorially adventurous here.

      2. workswitholdstuff*

        That said, for an interview, I would wear tights and one of the slightly more structured dresses with flats/boots.

        If they’re pretty informal, you could lean into the quirkier side of prints for the interview though… (Popsy clothing is the range I use!) if you didn’t have to be super serious. (Maybe not the dino or unicorn print for the interview, but stars, rainbows or stripes might…)

  49. Jen*

    The struggle is REAL. For my last job interview, I wore black crop dress pants and a flowy top (pink with a flower pattern and bell sleeves) and black flats – but it was summer. It worked well, though!

    I recommend erring on the side of dressy, but I’ve also found that quirky patterns and/or chunky jewelry can make someone look fun while still wearing something professional. Even now when I am presenting trainings or at conferences (where our company dress code is formal even though our field generally is not), I wear a blouse or pants or skirt with some color and some fun jewelry to show that I actually do have a personality.

    I am also a BIG fan of cardigans! Most of mine are a little casual but I have a couple of duster-length ones that dress up an outfit, and if I wear a funky or sparkly pin/brooch on them I look put-together but like I have a personality. It also matches MY personality, which is even more important! I am pretty gregarious and I have what many people term a “big personality” so colors and funky jewelry match how I present myself. If you’re a little less “big” in your personality you could tone it down to a smaller pattern or more pastels or smaller jewelry or whatever.

    Good luck! Like I said, the struggle is REAL for women/femme-presenting people, especially as you try to move up into leadership roles.

  50. Essentially Cheesy*

    I have good quality leggings (not yoga pants) that I rotate along with several comfortable pop-over shirts/cotton blend tunics. I am so done with slacks/jeans and button down shirts as they can never match the comfort of leggings and tunics for me.

    The leggings I do have are thick and fit a bit loosely so there is definitely a modesty factor, but I also wear a lot of tunics so that helps too.

    For shoes I wear sketchers that are always close toed. Always. But I am weird about showing off my feet (it’s a goofy modesty thing, I hope I’m not the only one).

    Business casual can be done well without making others necessarily feel like you’re overdoing it. For reference I do front desk office support in a manufacturing office with a production facility. We are not fancy but there is an expectation to look put together.

    1. Essentially Cheesy*

      And what I am regularly wearing may be considered stretch pants so please, no judgement! Faded Glory brand that I got at WalMart years ago – they have held up so well. Definitely not yoga pants or leggings.

    2. Clare*

      Funny how different we all are! I was just writing above about how I can’t bring myself to wear leggings, but I have zero issues with people seeing my feet. I don’t think you’re any goofier than I am! Although, on reflection, that might not be a particularly reassuring statement…

      1. Clare*

        Returning to say: the minute I hit submit I remembered that my own little sister doesn’t like showing off her feet either. So, far from being weird, modesty around your feet is actually a super boring and forgettable trait. There. Now I’m sure I’ve made you feel SO much better. You’re very welcome!

  51. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    BIG fan of clothing subscription boxes. When RTW happened and I was going in more than a couple days a week (and needed to wear actual professional clothes), my wardrobe needed a SERIOUS revamping. I used Wantable, but I have friends that have had good luck with Stitch Fix as well. You can set these sorts of preferences and people shop for you. YES it is more expensive than just shopping for yourself (as everything is boutique/retail) but was totally worth it for curated pieces.

    I’ve paused my subscription as I have a pretty well updated closet now, but for 2 years it was great getting a box every couple months with new clothes!

    I also love Betabrand for pants – they look like hard pants but they AREN’T and it’s great. They also have pockets!

  52. Ann Onymous*

    My employer significantly relaxed their dress code a few years ago. We went from business casual Monday-Thursday with jeans on Fridays to “wear what’s appropriate for your work day”. When people complained that the guidance was vague, we were told that we should look to our managers as an example of what to wear. As a woman in a very male-dominated industry, this advice was less than helpful because my boss, grand-boss, great grand-boss, and great great grand-boss were all men.

    1. TechWorker*

      This also seems like generally terrible advice because by definition at some point your boss is going to have a very different job (and income!!) to you. I have no more senior women in my office to model myself on but given my boss wears hoodies I don’t sweat it. The only embarrassing time was when I came to work in a below knee flowy black dress and someone reporting into me (a classical musician outside of work) asked if I was doing a concert. (He wasn’t trying to be a knob, he knew I was in a choir so it was a serious question lol)

  53. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

    also adding that my favorite go-to for comfort at work is a matching set or wide-leg jumpsuit. I have a few pieces from Ilana Kohn that work for this (also pricy but well made, and they have okay sales). Wearing the same color or pattern head-to-toe is an easy way to look put together, regardless of whether your pants are soft or hard!

    1. Angry socialist*

      If you’re wearing a wide-leg jumpsuit to work, how do you manage 9 yards of fabric in a tiny bathroom stall? I want to love jumpsuits but this is what stops me: stripping naked to pee, in a bathroom with no room and no place clean to put the outfit. Just hold it in your arms like an ungainly baby while peeing? or what?

  54. NaoNao*

    Ooh I wouldn’t wear leggings and a camisole to a senior leadership, public-facing interview no matter how casual. Especially as a 40 something woman. But I assume since this is published this is a moot point, unfortunately.
    I would go with heavy-weight ponte pants of some kind–pull on, straight leg or slightly wide leg, “street sneakers” (suede, leather, obviously designer, low profile), or short boots, and a luxe, slightly draped sweater or a silk/cotton poplin button down that’s slightly oversized. Alternately you could go for fitted cropped pants that hit just at the ankle, bare feet (with invisible socks) and chunky loafers, an interesting printed button front shirt and a sweater-jacket or coatigan.
    Basically you want very upscale versions of polished loungewear. Vince, Lafayette 148, and Eileen Fisher all do this style very well. Modern Citizen, MM Lafleur, Boden, J. Crew, Talbots, Chico’s, Ann Taylor, and J. Jill are also places to get comfortable yet polished “business casual” stuff.
    As a final note, please check out “Corporette dot com”. While some of their choices are a bit…stuck in 2013, they are still the go-to resource for these nuanced and challenging questions specifically for women/femme-presenting bodies.

    1. K8T*

      Yeah I did a double take when I saw they deemed leggings appropriate for an interview – I wouldn’t wear them even if I was interviewing at an athletic retail store.
      I get almost all of my pieces from J Crew, Loft, and even Old Navy (their pixie pants are super comfortable). +100 for the outfit recs as well.

      1. Girl Alex PR*

        Same! It surprised me that they would hear “not blazer” and then land on leggings. There’s so much in between those two levels of dress, and IMO leggings are not something appropriate for the vast majority of offices- and certainly not when you’re interviewing and the staff have very little data points about you.

    2. AVP*

      I love love love MM LaFleur for this type of thing. The pants are comfy but look great and do not look like suiting so they can be plausibly dressed down with a sweater or up with a blouse.

  55. many bells down*

    Target has these A New Day brand pants that are like… pull-on sweatpants, but slacks. They’re listed as “high rise ankle knit pants”. With a nice shirt and some ankle boots or flats they definitely fit PNW business casual.

  56. EC*

    Leggings and a camisole is on the pretty extreme end of casual, that’s loungewear not something you wear to work.

    I’m not sure why following what he said isn’t an option. Jean and t shirts is a simple. If for some reason you don’t feel comfortable with that then jeans and nice sweater is just as easy.

  57. Michelle Smith*

    The advice I was given was one step up from what the interviewer is wearing. That didn’t really apply to me when I was applying for legal and legal-adjacent jobs – I still wore a full business suit and that seemed to go over fine. I more applied that advice to less formal environments. For example, when I applied for retail jobs, I wore a nice-ish skirt (mid calf length, boring floral pattern, would have been appropriate for church if that was a thing I went to) and a plain blouse. No jacket, no hose, etc. If it were cold, I would have put on a plain cardigan rather than a blazer.

    If the people you’re interviewing with wear t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers, you won’t look out of place interviewing in one step up from that. A pair of slacks or really nice jeans, a plain blouse, and some flats should be just fine. If you live in a cold place or trend towards cold in offices, a plain cardigan is less dressy than a blazer. You’re aiming for business casual instead of formal, which has a wide range of acceptable options. Less important than what you’re wearing is what you say and how you come across in your interviews, so don’t waste more mental energy stressing over this than is warranted. Dress up just enough that you feel comfortable/confident and then let them be dazzled by your experience, articulate answers, and warm personality.

  58. jumpsuitfan*

    I actually have the perfect answer to this, which I wear to every interview and it’s a slam dunk: black jumpsuit, fun jacket (a bright color or a print or a non-blazer cut), cool shoes (nice but comfortable boots in the fall / winter, cute flats in the summer). Comfy but looks slightly more polished than jeans and a t-shirt. Take off the blazer to wear to your job without raising eyebrows that you slipped out to an interview, put the blazer back on if you have fancy evening plans (I have worn this outfit from schlubby job to interview to the opera with zero issues).

  59. mb*

    I think it’s about the balance. For example, trousers with a t-shirt and cardigan. Or dressier jeans with a blouse and jacket. A dress with a cardigan and dressy sneakers or booties. Also, a blazer on a man and a blazer on a woman have a different vibe. A woman in jeans, blouse, and blazer just looks polished whereas a man in a blazer looks much more formal. I’d avoid a blazer with trousers or a blazer with a dress – looks much more formal and stiff. Again, it’s the balance. Quality cardigans or really a great work wardrobe staple.

  60. Prof*

    I would absolutely NOT wear leggings unless your butt is very fully covered (ie, with a mid length skirt or dress). If they’re serving as pants, too casual and form fitting for work period (ok, maybe you could do in retail or something, nothing like this though).

    Nice non-jean pants or skirt and a nice blouse/sweater works as nicer but not so far from jeans as to be overly formal

  61. Clara*

    Nice jeans and boots (see if people wear sandals), or clean white leather trainers. Thin jumpers / looser fitter long sleeved shirts. Worn with collarless jackets.

    You probably only need a couple of outfits worth of things as you’ll see what the other women actually wear and adapt what’s in your wardrobe to fit that. What you had sounded good!

  62. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Learned about the stretchy but professional pants from Duluth Traders from this site. I never want to take them off!

    My go to uniform is plain pants, solid t-shirt in summer/turtleneck in winter, and A Thing over everything (cardigan, unstructured blazer). Maybe a chunky necklace on to break up the solids, or a scarf. Black-on-black Merinos slip-ons feel like sneakers, only look like them from up close. Subtle shifts make this outfit more and less fancy.

    Stick to a routine and no one will notice.

  63. Plant Lady*

    Hi-daily reader, new commenter here! BUT! This is the exact issue that originally led me to AAM years ago. In fact, I drafted a letter but never sent it in. Context: I am a woman in agriculture, working for a university at a rural off-campus location in a rural, agriculturely-prevalent state. I run into the issue of how to dress regularly and am frustrated by the gender bias in this all the time! I already have the disadvantage of being side-eyed and not taken seriously by most (male, older) farmers, and dressing “too nicely” exacerbates the problem. I could NEVER wear a skirt or heels without being immediately dismissed as someone who has no idea what she’s talking about or not understanding what the job would entail and therefore not a person to be considered seriously whether that be for a job or during a presentation. Men at the same level of dressiness (maybe khakis and a button-up, or pressed jeans and a jacket) would just be viewed as a bit overdressed but still knowledgeable and worth listening to. My husband literally asked me what a blazer was when I mentioned wearing one once, for context of what constitutes “dressing up” to the average man in the area. Most men would wear jeans and button up shirt (clean, no holes) as their dress clothes, while their everyday clothes would be the older, worn version of the exact same items. Women can’t seem to get away with that formula either, though, without being seen as sloppy. What I default to and seems to work ok, is nicer jeans and a nicer tank or button up with a jacket and clean boots. One step above the men, but no more than that. I realize that this exact outfit is location and field specific, but reading this post made me realize that this is a widespread and frustrating daily issue to women in many fields.

    1. Meat Plant Lady*

      I have this issue too! I work for a meat processor and I’m reasonably high up so need to look polished and professional but also may come into close contact with all kinds of animal fluids. It’s such a hard line! I asked my male boss about dress code when I first started and he just said ‘you need to look professional but I wouldn’t wear a tie’ as if that was helpful to a woman.

      I tend to go for a non-jean trousers (sometimes even walking/hiking trousers that are dark and look professional but still quick dry), a blouse and a cardigan, that I can throw coveralls over.

  64. saskia*

    Look at pics of other women from the company on LinkedIn (like at company events). Dress like them. Done.

    1. badger*

      lol my employer has absolutely nothing on LinkedIn. Not uncommon for small business/niche non-profits that don’t do “events” as such.

      (it can be a valuable starting point, though, and I wouldn’t have thought of it mostly because none of the places I’ve worked have much LinkedIn presence. If they do, it can be very useful.)

    2. amoeba*

      Eh, we do have quite a lot of women in our company, but on LinkedIn you find mostly people from very different departments or even countries. Or, like, C-level executives, who also dress very differently from us lowly scientists…

  65. Beth*

    This is where I wish it was easier to find high-quality basics in womens clothing. A nice button-down paired with a pair of dark-wash straight-leg jeans could be perfect. But shopping for well fitting jeans? A button-down that fits the shoulders AND closes over the chest with no gapping? We all know that’s a nightmare!

    1. mb*

      Quality women’s button downs now usually come with a snap/hook closure between the buttons across the chest area. I sew them into every button down I buy that doesn’t already have one. No gapping.

    2. Clare*

      Throw in looking for something in natural fibres so it doesn’t stink when you get sweaty and that’s why I learned how to sew AND knit. That’s not a practical option for a large percentage of people though. Nightmare indeed.

  66. Lucia Pacciola*

    This seems like an ideal question to ask a manager.

    “As a manager, this is what I generally expect as professional attire in my industry. And here are some missteps or mistakes I’ve seen people make over the years. Your industry or company culture might be a little different, but these guidelines should serve you well in most workplaces. Also, in my experience as a manager, ‘stuffy’ doesn’t really happen unless someone goes out of their way to achieve a stuffy look.”

  67. ToDoList*

    I think there’s a ton of good advice here — nice dark wash jeans or non-denim pants that fit without being skin tight and a sweater or a cardigan are good for interviews at a casual office. It’s also okay if a job candidate is slightly more put together than folks who already work there, because I think most people understand that job candidates are trying to make a good impression. It sounds like it would be out of step to wear a formal business suit, but a put together business casual look probably won’t be an issue. If I were in the OP’s shoes, I’d steer clear of anything that is athleisure or extremely form-fitting for an interview, so leggings are probably not the right thing to wear. I don’t think that the OP will come across as old or stuffy if she is wearing smart casual clothes.

  68. Bird Lady*

    I used to work at a museum that doubled as a working shipyard. Wearing a suit, even a blazer, was several steps more formal than even what leadership wore. But because I worked with donors and the press, I felt the need to be a bit more put together. My go-to was either black or raw skinny or straight cut denim, with a printed silk blouse, and a knit/ boucle jacket that was cut like a motorcycle jacket. I would also wear a blazer, but always was certain it didn’t look like it originally paired with a suit. My faves were my tan brushed wool blazer with tortoise shell buttons (BR Factory), a red and brown herringbone cropped blazer (Old Navy, circa 1997!) or a vintage tweed Christian Dior jacket made for young men (seriously, it was a boys size 16). Vintage/ Thrift stores often have a great collection of funky blazers/ jackets. Many stores these days have great layering pieces, so I would check them out!

    1. mb*

      omg older Old Navy jackets/blazers were the best. I have a teal tweed type jacket from Old Navy that I still wear and is 20 years old.

  69. KatL*

    At my last interview, I wore Converse with black slacks and a white corset tank under a longline tan cardigan. (I did get that job, and my boss was wearing a skirt, heels, and a dressier top.)

    Black bottoms with a white top (even if it’s black jeans – no holes though – with a white shirt – if it’s a t-shirt, just make sure it doesn’t go all the way up to your neck unless you’re wearing a chunky statement necklace) will never do you wrong. It looks very chic. It can be laid back or on the dressier side.

    Imagine wearing black skinny jeans and flats with a white v-neck t-shirt. The good t-shirt that hugs all the right spots and falls just so. And a pretty necklace – dainty or statement. Now imagine wearing those same skinny jeans with a tucked in white button down, Vans tennis shoes, and that same or a different necklace. Two totally different vibes, but both on the “is it casual or is it business casual” spectrum. And now you’re wearing that same button down tucked into straight leg jeans and moto boots. Definitely the dressier end of casual. A white shirt tucked into a black skirt – long, knee length, or mini – though if you go the mini route, I would definitely recommend wearing a button down so it looks less “club night” and more “confident professional.”

    1. Beth*

      I think this is rude. Navigating the “shows seniority and confidence but isn’t too formal but is confident but isn’t fussy but makes me look powerful but doesn’t make me look bitchy” nonsense of women’s interview clothing is notoriously hard. Style norms shift every few years and vary a lot by industry and company, so past dressing-for-an-interview experience often doesn’t apply. Wanting advice on this has very little to do with whether OP is good at or senior in her actual area of work.

    2. Seashell*

      She could have been at the same company for a long time previously and not interviewed in a while. She could have only been at companies where formal dress, at least for interviews, was expected.

      Do you think every President, Prime Minister, and CEO picks out their own clothes with zero advice? They’re pretty senior.

    3. mb*

      Yes, super rude.
      – women are judged much more harshly for their clothing choices
      – there are changing norms in workplace attire, and changing fashions
      – it’s harder to buy clothing that fits well if you don’t have a stereotypical skinny body type, also more expensive
      – not all women have a natural knack for putting together outfits
      I personally love putting together outfits but everyone is different and harder for some people. Take your snark somewhere else.

    4. Ann*

      I thought the same thing, that your brand is your brand not to be dumbed down for others. Always try to dress a step higher than your interviewer because you are a guest at their office.

    5. LA Girl*

      I’m guessing you’re a man? Every woman I know, from intern to CEO, has had the “what should I wear for this moment in my career” conversation— repeatedly.

    6. iglwif*

      Sorry but this is both an unkind and an uninformed take.

      One can be quite senior and not have had to interview for quite a while.

      One can be confident of the norms of one’s current workplace without being confident in the norms of a new one.

      People’s bodies change, fashion trends change, workplace norms evolve.

      And if you are female or nonbinary, your clothing and hair and makeup choices get so much more scrutiny — many of us spend an objectively ridiculous amount of time second-guessing ourselves, but it’s because we’ve had so many bad experiences.

    7. OP*

      I didn’t even see this comment except that it says removed so wanted to be clear that I give zero fucks about this dude’s (I assume) opinion. I’m super confident in what I do and have had interviews in recent years, changing leadership positions at different companies in the last few years. But I’m in a more formal industry so being told to dress casual is a thing. And being aware of how you dress for an interview is a thing. So basically I am not lacking confidence or experience, just noting the differences in how women have to over prep for things.

  70. HugeTractsofLand*

    I think you should choose only 1-2 “formal” elements so that you avoid an overall severe/stuffy look. Blazer and blouse+pants is a good suggestion many have offered, and I think a dark blazer over a colored/patterned dress also works. Because this is an executive role and you’re dealing with ye olde gender double-standard, I wouldn’t go as casual as a t-shirt even under a blazer. Good luck!

  71. Miss Cranky Pants*

    What would help you look polished but not stuffy is that second layer of *something*. Whether that’s a cardigan or a denim blazer or even denim jacket over a wrap dress makes a statement and gives you that boxy outline that business folks seems to prefer. Not breasts, not curves, boxes. Snerk.

    The challenge is real; the key is to look authorative without being stuffy. So that means that outer layer over something that can be more flowy.

    Good luck with the interview!

  72. Dulcinea47*

    This whole thread makes its own point. Women are expected to have seven different pairs of jeans of different lengths and shades of blue, a variety of jewelry options, sweaters, plain shirts, several different shoe options of varying grades of formality, but even if you do, you’re still going to get judged as too formal/too informal/ too sexy/ a bad person for even asking this question. Cripes.

  73. Anon in Ohio*

    This describes my office! I am in an industry (corporate retail) that is very casual, especially post Covid, but also places a high importance on looking put together. Finding an outfit that is both casual enough and pulled together enough can be tough!

    My standard outfit in the winter is usually jeans (darker and no rips for more important meetings, lighter/with rips for a standard day), a solid colored sweater (usually Old Navy) or longsleeve, and some sort of cardigan/shacket, and then a nice pair of sneakers. A pair of Adidas Gazelles or Stan Smiths, Converse, or anything else that is fun looking is usually good.

    In the summer, I’ll do a lot of tshirt dresses with sneakers, graphic tee’s that are from something cool (a city I went to, my hometown, a restaurant I like, the local University), or just a plain colored tee. I wear a lot of clothes from Old Navy and Altar’d State, with jeans from Abercrombie and American Eagle thrown in. Shoes are almost always clean sneakers, but not the super hip ones. Adidas, Puma, Converse, all work, plus Birkenstocks or other nicer sandals in the summer. I try to think about what I would wear to brunch at a trendy but not too fancy place, and that gets me in the right direction! Adding jewelry and makeup can make me feel more put together and elevate my outfit without looking stuffy. I also like having a nice work bag, I got a leather backpack from Amazon a few years ago that ties together most outfits

  74. AndersonDarling*

    I go with nice fitted jeans, funky t-shirt that aligns with my personality, a blazer, and nicer shoes/boots.
    BUT, I think the key the OP is missing is that it’s an environment to let your personality shine. If the OP is comfortable in a dress or suit, then that is what they should rock at their interview. Just leave the extras more casual: makeup, hair, accessories.
    The OP is stressed because they are hypothesizing what the interviewer wants to see and thinking that there is only one right answer. There are hundreds of right answers! As long as you feel good about what you are wearing.

  75. Rainey*

    So I didn’t see it. But has anyone done the blouse vest combo like I do? I have a nice shiny shirt, black vest and a pair of plain black jeans that I can either wear with black sneakers or boots. The shirt I have in two colors one blue and one pewter. It’s dressed up, but not super formal, fits well covers well. And the vest is a single button collared vest. I found it at Torrid and it has been a lovely addition to my wardrobe. It can go over a t shirt, a long sleeve, or any kind of ladies blouse/button down. Just what I found works for me.

  76. Elle by the sea*

    I never really thought about this – most offices I have worked for had no dress code.

    What the interviewers were wearing and saying signals to me that anything goes. You can wear T-shirt and jeans if you wish to, or you can wear your more business-y clothes. I found it a bit weird that they said “no blazer”. What if that’s what you are comfortable in?

    My dressing style is on the slightly more formal but edgy side of the spectrum. I’m not a jeans and T-shirt kind of person – if I wear jeans I wear it with a cami and a blazer. But I only wear Levi’s 501 or similar type, either black or blue. Otherwise I wear dresses and skirts (often a bit gothic-inspired) and statement jewellery. I don’t make a big deal out of my hair – I just wash it regularly.

    I am a relatively senior tech professional but often get asked if I am going for an interview, because my style is often too dressy for a casual office. But I don’t feel like changing my style if that’s what I feel comfortable with.

  77. Passiflora*

    This is a boring answer but I believe ‘casual’ really depends on both your field and where you are in the world. I work in digital but in a big city where leggings are not a thing, but most of what I own is worn both in and out of the office. Because we’re in more casual teams we can get away with playing with more textures and silhouettes. It’s winter here so I will tuck the front a chunky sweater into a pencil skirt I thrifted for a previous job, or a patterned blouse (that I’d wear with jeans on weekends) into a cute knit midi skirt from Uniqlo (which would also look good with a tee), or a slimmer long-sleeve top into wide plissé rousers (which tbh kind of feel like I’m wearing pyjamas). Chunky leather boots or Chelsea boots, maybe the leather loafers I keep under my desk.

    If you have a button-front dress, can you use that over a tee and jeans instead of a blazer or cardigan? Do you have a turtleneck or something you could wear under a strappy summer dress? Clean, plain white sneakers look cool with many outfits, too – I wear them to work with shirt dresses in summer. Thrift a nice leather belt or two for your jeans, roll up the sleeves on a silky blouse you bought ages ago if you feel it’s too much, play with layering any jewellery you own if you want to dress up a tee and jeans.

    For interviews I’d always err on overdressing a little, otherwise I just make sure my clothes fit and that I balance anything from-fitting with something looser.

  78. Radiolarion*

    I love modcloth for clothes with polished business silhouettes that come in fun colors and prints so they don’t look stuffy! It could be for you if you like the idea of dressing up like the female office workers in mad men.

  79. badger*

    I worked for a local software company that said this in the interview email. I didn’t believe them and wore a suit (light-colored and tweed, so slightly less dressy than a navy or black one). I think they were used to people thinking it was a test; after I’d been there for awhile I noticed it was really common for interviewees to wear suits while their interviewers wore jeans and a t-shirt. I had a couple of friends who did show up in very casual clothes and still got hired, so it really wasn’t a test, but at age 23 and unsure of professional norms, how was I supposed to know? Plus I felt a little more polished/professional, which I needed as a confidence booster at the time. Putting on a suit felt like putting on Interview Battle Armor. It doesn’t appear to have negatively impacted me, but I can definitely see situations where it might.

    For interviews more recently I have tended to err on the side of dressier even if I know the workplace is pretty casual; it still feels like Interview Battle Armor and I like that. I also am in a field that requires public-facing stuff occasionally so it can be useful for the employer to know I can clean up good when I need to.

  80. Lish*

    I’m an engineer in med-tech. For an in person interview I would dress slightly above what their day-to-day is. Since these folks say they wear jeans and t-shirts, I’d go business casual, which for me would be slacks or khakis, a top and probably a cardigan. My goal is to look not out of place but also like I’m taking it seriously.

  81. Miranda*

    For an interview, if I was specifically told “not a blazer”, I’d wear a pair of black pants/khakis and a nice top- maybe a layered sweater/jacket, and some nice closed-toe dress shoes. I personally think leggings may be a bit informal for an interview on their own (under a skirt/dress is probably fine), but you do you.

  82. Ancient Llama*

    Like others, I was thinking “not a blazer” hits males different than females: a guy hearing “jeans is typical, no blazer” would think “to step up from jeans for the interview, I’ll wear a pair of khakis and button down shirt, but no blazer.” Whereas as a woman I’ll wear a sleeves shell and jeans, then put on a blazer just to cover my arms but think that is still jeans-level casual. Put on low heels or nice flats and now I’m a step up even in jeans and regardless of blazer.
    And I feel the leggings might be too casual, but that might be me (and others in this thread), or depend on the leggings (I’m envisioning yoga pants tight).
    Comments about fit over baggy also are good.
    But basically don’t overthink: you’ll be fine. All the suggestions for sweaters and other choices are good, but don’t get in analysis paralysis.
    Just pick what you feel comfortable in as that interview-step-up-from-jeans-and-t you sound to want to hit. Don’t fret the recruiter no blazer or my leggings comments or anything else, it’s all subjective.
    Like LinesInTheSand said, just avoid distractions, concentrate on you are there because they already see your value. You are just continuing the two-way conversation AAM always encourages to decide if you want this job while they decide if you are a good fit for their need.
    Best of luck on the interview!!!

  83. ecnaseener*

    I also don’t think you should take “not a blazer” as gospel. A snazzy blazer with jeans (or black jeans etc if you want) won’t read as stuffy. The recruiter was probably thinking in menswear terms, where blazers are firmly a thing you wear over a collared shirt to take it a step more formal.

    I also have a couple of blazer-shaped cardigans that I love, it gives that put-together look but is clearly a warm comfy sweater. I’ll see if I can find a picture.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Well, I can’t find a picture similar to either of mine but basically they’re a soft knit, one is shaped exactly like a blazer with crisp lapels and contrasting trim, the other is more on the informal cardigan side with softer lapels.

  84. NPC117*

    Maybe this is bad advice but look at the librarian look. You can mix and match more professional items with the graphic tee or jeans with the blazer and still come across as more casual.

    And as a dude, the professional outfit is also super obnoxious but it different ways. You have to be so careful not to standout too much by adding a pattern or color to your outfits but you need to standout just enough to not be forget in the herd. The wrong tie or even wearing a tie in some spaces can signal issues. I feel like the room for error is much more narrow and subtler.

  85. Del*

    I wouldn’t have paid too much heed to the recruiter’s advice. What people wear around the office =/= what people wear to interviews when they’re trying to make a good first impression. I would have work slacks, a nice blouse, a flowy/unstructured blazer (preferably not black), and flats or oxfords.

  86. Disgruntled Pelican*

    I agree with others that the outfit you described in the letter is too casual. Also agree that “blazer” can mean lots of things that men might not be attuned to, so I wouldn’t take a blazer completely out of the running, but maybe find a slouchy/cotton/casual version if that would help you feel more confident (I really like the ones that are basically blazer-shaped cardigans). A “shirt jacket” or denim jacket could be a fun variation on this theme.

    If you don’t want to go the “nice” jeans route, Uniqlo has a lot of pants that walk the line between casual and business-ish (and many of them have elastic in the waistbands, score!). They also have a wide range of blouses, well-structured tees, and turtlenecks that would look polished without being fancy.

    If you are down to spend a little more money and don’t need to look ultra-femme, I’m obsessed with everything at Wildfang! Lots of really fun, hip patterns and more gender-neutral cuts. Might help you feel youthful without looking try-hard?

    And if you have ankle boots, this might be a good time to bust em out. Personally I would not go for sneakers unless they’re immaculate and fairly trendy, but that’s just me (I’m 39 and I used to be somewhat cool, lol).

  87. Anon-E-Mouse*

    In an interview context like the one the OP described, I would wear a knit blazer or an unstructured blazer over a knit top (something a little classier than a tshirt) with pants. MM Lafleur has nice (but expensive) examples of knit blazers (Jardigans) and unstructured jackets.

    At my BigLaw firm with a “dress for your day” dress code, I often wear a jersey button up shirt and Athleta Brooklyn pants. Stretchy and comfortable but sleek. I stocked up Gap’s knit button up jersey shirts last year and have a few others. Easier to find are Ann Taylor’s “camp shirts” (not jersey but still comfortable) and mixed material long and short sleeve tops – designed to be worn untucked. Athleta also has some stretch button up shirts that are a bit boxy but nice and they come in extended sizes.

  88. Tumbleweed*

    I’m a guy…but I’ve transitioned and I don’t find it significantly easier to figure out the appropriate level of dress now than before for interview/wearing to work at places where it’s not a pretty easy “we where suits every day” which works for men and women (other than lack of dysphoria – thats different). Getting the messaging right is just tricky.

    Hitting that ‘put together but not a suit’ look is about combo and individual pieces. make every element casual and you’ve maybe gone too far in the other direction.


    t-shirt under casual blazer (not a part of a suit jacket…for any gender) or shirt/blouse but no blazer. Does the formal/not as formal combo well. (those sleeveless shirts women have are also a good option for no blazer if it’s warm enough. Dont do this as a man though). different levels of casualness for blazer available

    layer that performs a similar function to a blazer but is not a blazer: overshirt, cardigan, etc. (over a shirt for more formal over a tshirt for less formal)

    polo shirts by themselves or under blazer/overshirt/cardi (I hate polo shirts tbh but they are an option)

    plain t-shirts are more formal than graphic ones choose up or down for what feels right. textured t-shirts can be good too (I have a like knit texture t-shirt than looks more formal than a plain one)

    dark jeans read more formal than light

    formalish trousers that are not black/grey/similar (dark green is good, navy is a little boring but works and easy to find)

    alternatively wear all black but jeans and a t-shirt will also look more formal. (risks coming off stereotypical in certain industries)

    women have some great dress options that hit this middle ground. Less of an equivalent in men’s. (other than that all applies fairly gender neutral – skirts function fairly similarly for trousers for formal level and colours in most cases)

    if your younger and don’t want to look ‘too young’ go with the more formal choice more in the outfit if your older and don’t want to come off as ‘too old’ go the other way (plain t-shirt Vs graphic for example).

    1. TechWorker*

      I commented above that most of us don’t have the experience of trying to dress both ‘as a woman’ and ‘as a man’, so thanks for this perspective! My (male) partner def doesn’t find interview dressing trivial :)

    2. Clare*

      If it helps, my male partner’s recipe for intermediate formality is:

      – smart tan leather high-top style shoes with brown leather laces and no logos
      – chinos
      – collared shirt with subtle patten (e.g. white with navy pin dots)
      – shirt sleeves rolled up in summer
      – thin cashmere sweater in mild cold
      – wool/cotton crew neck or vest in moderate cold
      – wool peacoat for very cold

      The shoes are surprisingly important. If he needs to drop the formality a notch he switches to sneakers or canvas shoes. Next level down is to swap the chinos for jeans and reintroduce the leather shoes, then next level is sneakers again but still in the collared shirt. Lastly he can ditch the collared shirt and nice sweaters and it’s back to normal t-shirt and jeans.

      Might not be your style, just thought it might be useful to know what somebody else is doing – since it’s far more unusual for men to have these kinds of conversations. I do highly recommend crew neck sweaters though. Whether you want to send the message of fisherman, lawyer, Star Fleet captain or wizard, there’s probably an appropriate men’s crew neck for it.

      1. Tumbleweed*

        Yeah this is fairly similar to what I do for a ‘default’ intermediate smart outfit and crew necks are great, but great description on the steps up and down, you are right that it’s definitely sometimes one thing goes down other goes back up etc.

        I do also think that it’s still more unusual for these convos amoung men but interestingly do have this conversation a fair amount at work/with work people. This is often the kind of level we’re trying to hit with meeting clients to try and get work, which is probably why (it’s the ‘made an effort to meet people but aren’t out of touch with end users’ look). That said apparently back in the day my office used to have one blazer that whoever had to meet a client would use – so maybe it’s not all the best advice either

  89. Young Business*

    Can relate, LW. I’m a woman. I’ve worked in tech startups for the past 4 years and lots of people (men and women) wear jeans and hoodies as a default. I am accustomed to dressing a bit more formally but I’ve found a way to sort of reconcile these differences.

    I like to wear black jeans and a blouse (typically white or black or with a fun geometric pattern.) Boots for colder months, flats or loafers in summer or spring months.

    For warmer months I also like to wear short sleeve jumpsuits that can be dressed up with a blazer or dressed down with a cardigan. I would also grab dresses that are not super structured and pair those with flats. Again, I would pair those with a blazer if I needed to dress it up or a cardigan to dress down.

    All this to say, I have observed that executives who are women tend to make an effort to look more polished than their male counterparts. For example, I’ve seen a CEO who is a man donning a hoodie to talk to a journalist for an interview, but I’ve never seen a women in the C-suite dress so casually for an external meeting. Unfortunately I think it’s a double-standard that there’s an expectation for women to look more put together. Not to say that you need to play into that, but it sounds like you’re senior enough to set your own standards that are in line with the norms of your office.

  90. Ann*

    I would NEVER wear leggings or even jeans to an interview, slacks only. Even if they said we won’t hire you if you wear jeans to this interview. A knitted sweater or non-see-through blouse sounds like it would be fine. I don’t show my armpits, legs, or toes on an interview and I have zero problem with being the only person in the room wearing a blazer.

  91. el l*

    It’s worse for ladies, sure, though not unfamiliar to this male reader. “Wear what makes you comfortable” is terrible guidance even for us. Assumes everyone will be comfortable in the same things. Very likely they’re projecting jeans and sneakers on to you.

    That said, it sounds like you’re on the right track of your choices. You’re showing a certain respect for the job interview situation, yet not dressed massively differently from everyone else. Think that’s all you need.

  92. Generic Name*

    I’m a woman working in a male-dominated industry at a huge company that’s headquartered in a conservative part of the country, and our dress code is surprisingly liberal. We wear what the company calls “smart casual”, and the dress code is nicely specific without going overboard and is gender neutral. Today I’m wearing light wash bootcut jeans, leather boots, a black cashmere sweater, a scarf, and coordinating large earrings. I’m a low level manager and I’m in my mid-40s. I personally have made a conscious decision to continue to wear jeans (rather than dressing a step nicer). I’m leaning into my science background and passion for regulations and I am not looking into climbing the corporate ladder.

    OP, since you are wanting leadership roles, I think it’s fine to not wear jeans! If you feel more comfortable on the more business end of dressing, lean into that. Instead of pumps, wear flats on the more casual end with business dresses. Wear cardigans and nice t-shirts with slacks and paired with costume jewelry. Conversely, if you have nice “businessy” jewelry, pair that with a t-shirt and jeans.

  93. Silicon Valley Girl*

    Finding the female equivalent of “jeans & sneakers” for an interview or for any kind of leadership type work *is* hard! LW’s idea of a less-formal jacket, cami, leggings, & flats seems equivalent in level of casualness, but it’s really a “know your office” thing, which unfortunately you don’t know as much for an interview, even in the later rounds. So in this case, I might go a tiny notch more formal with, say, dark jeans or a casual trouser (even a nice ponte pants).

    There’s also a few good blogs out there w/specific advice such as Wardrobe Oxygen — here’s a spring capsule wardrobe she did last year for general ideas:

  94. Pillow Fort Forever*

    I think your choice sounds perfect – understanding that leggings vary greatly and if they are thick and not overly snug, they work. I have some JCrew legging/pants that zip but are the kind that come in sizes s-xl so not really pants. Those with flats and a sweater are my go to for cooler day tech interviews. And if you want to wear a jacket something less structured than a suit jacket can work – I have a couple that are swingy cuts and don’t read too formal. And yep – writing this probably took longer than most guys would take to actually get dressed for an interview. And good luck and hope it’s a productive meeting!!

  95. kp*

    I usually go with a solid colored button-down (less formal than a button-up) and slacks. No visible jewelry, casual shoes, and a nice sweater or jacket to go over if necessary. I would not wear leggings in the workplace unless they were with a skirt and I wouldn’t wear a cami at /all/ unless it was an underlayer and completely hidden.

    This depends on the workplace of course, and in a “t-shirt and jeans” office it might be appropriate but especially for an interview I would err on the side of dressing up.

  96. UKReader*

    Allow me to introduce you to the glory that is the sweater blazer! It is the best invention of the modern age. Heavy weight knit, cut like a blazer but feels like a sweatshirt. Studier and looser than a cardigan. Quince makes a great one for like $60, J Crew makes one for more money, and I’ve actually bought a couple from Costco of all places. In your shoes, I’d wear dark/black jeans or ponte pants, black top, and an olive sweater blazer with flat shoes or boots. Alternatively, if I didn’t have a sweater blazer on hand, I’d do the same formula on the bottom and a black lightweight sweater with some detailing or a long necklace. Agree with the 7000 comments already that women’s blazers read very differently than men’s blazers in this scenario and you’d be fine with a regular blazer over jeans or ponte pants

  97. Mel*

    I’d aim for a smart-casual look, like women’s chinos with either a semi-casual button up shirt or with a plain t-shirt and a simple blazer in a contrasting colour so you don’t look like you’re wearing a suit.

  98. Joile*

    Knitted sweaters.
    Collared shirts/blouses with no jacket, perhaps with a wide belt at the waist.
    Some nicer /dressier T-shirts. (Not, like, with slogans or comic characters).
    Midi skirts, pencil or A-line.

    Pair more casual items with more formal one – for example office-y shirt with skinny jeans and nice t-shirt with skirt and a necklace.

    If you love blazers, you can still pull them off. Avoid too-serious colours (black, beige, neutrals) and/or pair them with skirts in non-matching colours that go well together. (For example : pale pink blazer with teal turtleneck and dark green skirt ; red tartan-patterned blazer with navy skirt etc.

    For the interview I’d go for cashmere turtleneck and pencil skirt, with a statement necklace.

  99. BellyButton*

    My company is extremely casual and young (75% of the employees are under 35). I am neither casual or young AND I am an executive. For in person meetings, I tend to wear trouser cut or straight cut jeans, a nice fitted tshirt, and either a cardigan or a jacket that isn’t a blazer. Something cut more like a bomber jacket, a boxier cut, or a casual pattern. I will also dip into my business casual dresses and pair them with a denim or leather jacket and more casual shoes.

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      I second sweaters cut like a bomber jacket. They dress-down my preferred actual work appropriate trousers nicely, and look good with high waisted pants. For whatever reason traditional open-front cardigans always make me feel matronly.

      1. BellyButton*

        I found the cutest bomber jackets on Amazon. They are silky and super light weight. The one I wear all the time is black with large pink flowers. I typically wear it with a tshirt and nice jeans, but I have also worn it over a wrap dress and with a leather skirt.
        If you order, order up, it is from an Asian company and the sizes run very small. I wear a size 8/10 and had to order an XL

  100. Not futch, not butch, but a secret third thing*

    Check out Universal Standard. They have a variety of options and are really size inclusive from 00 to 4XL. They have very polished casual and fairly casual dressy and everything is soft. I’d probably classify their clothing vibe as soft femme to femmyfemme but you can also find some things on the futch or soft butch end from there as well.

  101. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    All my jobs have been casual dress, high management too, but I’ve never worn leggings or a camisole to work, let alone to an interview. Those clothes seem immature somehow to me and I’m already short which would aggravate the look.

    For interviews, I’d go a step up from my normal work wear, so I’d have my best blue jeans and graphic tee, with a thin brown or black leather zip jacket and my best Nikes on my feet.
    I’d also put on a dash of makeup, which I don’t rarely wear. My hair is v short pixie, so that just gets its usual morning lick and a promise.

    1. amoeba*

      I find the camisole discussion quite interesting – like, I actually looked it up on google because I was so surprised that would be seen as appropriate! In my part of Europe we call that a “spaghetti-strap shirt” and it would actually be one of the few things I’d never work to work, even though we basically have zero dress code. Looks waaaay too much like underwear here. (I’d actually avoid anything sleeveless/naked shoulders to be on the safe side for an interview!)
      But I guess that’s regional differences for you…

  102. Anna*

    I’ve always worked in casual offices and I think accessories are clutch in these situations. For the most part I do wear the same as what men wear in my office: jeans and a solid color tee. But always with some sort of accessory to polish it: a cardigan, scarf, statement necklace, nicer shoes (think loafers instead of sneakers), big earrings. Sometimes just red lipstick does the trick. Usually only 1 of the above is more than enough to make me feel professional.

  103. BecauseHigherEd*

    Cardigans are your friend. I work in higher ed, and sometimes I want to look approachable to students without having a “Hello, fellow kids” moment. (Sometimes I want to look scary and unapproachable, but that’s another matter.) On days like that, it’s usually cardigans, loafers, jeans maybe if it’s Friday but also usually khakis or chino type pants. You also get a pass, I think, if it’s *trendy*–a regular blazer and loafers may come across as stuffy, but an oversized blazer and platform loafers are fun and hip. Some of my professional wear seems less “professional with a capital p” when it looks like something from Forever21.

  104. Not A Girl Boss*

    I work with engineers and have to work hard to look ‘a step more polished so people know I’m a manager and take me seriously’ but not ‘out of touch and stuffy’.

    My formula: pick one ‘dressy item’ + the rest casual. So if I wear a blazer, I pair it with light colored jeans. On most days, I pick dress pants in a straight or flared cut as my ‘dressy’ item and pair it with a more casual top and sweater. Big fan of bomber style sweaters and a more silky or knit appearing top.

    I also think that the quality and fit of clothing matters A LOT for both men and women. Its the difference between an executive man who comes in on a casual Friday with well-fitting jeans, leather shoes and matching belt, tucked in golf polo, and still has that ‘executive presence’… vs some of the engineers I work with that wear Costco jeans, poorly fitting golf polo untucked, and leather hiking boot style shoes.
    For women this is even tougher because even the more expensive clothes have spandex in them, and in my opinion anything with that stretchy material automatically makes it look more casual and less polished. Skinny jeans on men vs women are a classic example of this. So are button down shits.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Yes, good fit and good condition – perfectly clean without holes or fraying – are important; also as decent quality clothes as you can reasonably afford, not the cheapest.
      I rarely wear anything with spandex; even in the gym I prefer pure cotton.

      Trainers were always fine at my jobs, but I wore upmarket Nikes that were immacaulate.

  105. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    so except for the dash of makeup, it’s exactly what a bloke would wear.
    It worked in my male-dominated field

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      oops, meant to nest after my jeans, tee, Nikes & leather jacket comment.

  106. Sharon*

    I’m surprised at the number of people who advise wearing jeans. IMO you can’t go wrong with some dress pants (i.e., not jeans or leggings or yoga pants) and a blouse or sweater or smart casual jacket. Works for almost any occasion.

    1. Dawn*

      Jeans aren’t inherently super casual, depending on the actual colour and cut.

      The baby frayed hem ankle cut light blue jean? Probably not.

      But you can get a lot of “dressier” jeans in darker colours which work well to say “Casual, but not too casual.” A dark navy high-rise bootcut is one of my go-tos entering middle age.

      1. BellyButton*

        My go to is a very dark wash trouser cut jean from Ann Taylor. They are obviously denim, but cut like a dress pant. They are so flattering and look polished without looking too formal.

      2. Sharon*

        It just seems that there’s much more downside risk to choosing jeans for an interview. Yes, jeans could be fine – or someone could think you weren’t dressed up enough. Dress pants seem a much safer choice. Or maybe I’m just old.

        1. Dawn*

          I mean, I’m 40, so. Attitudes around denim pants in general have changed, yes, and so has the quality of the fabric; 100% cotton denim was once chosen for its hard-wearing qualities. Modern women’s fashion jeans bear only a passing resemblance to it – my NYDJs are 53% cotton, 21% Viscose, 15% Modal, 9% polyester, and 2% Elastane.

          I think like so many other things it’s an “it depends” and if you’re not confident of your ability to dial it in then, absolutely, better to stay away, but a reasonably classy fashion jean or two is a very, very common piece for business casual nowadays.

    2. amoeba*

      Probably because the interviewer specifically said that most people wear jeans!

      I’d probably still go with my nice, comfy slacks though – a small step up from jeans and actually more comfortable. But both are equally valid options, I’d say.

  107. I AM a Lawyer*

    I have a colleague who does this super well, and I’ve been trying to emulate her. What I’ve noticed is that she takes traditional business dress but adds something interesting to make it look younger and more stylish. For example, she’ll wear a leather skirt with a button down and sweater vest or she’ll wear a blazer, but one that is in a print or a neon or bright color. She also adds interesting prints or colors in accessories or shoes. I think these tweaks can help take business wear and make it look less stuffy.

  108. KatKatKatKat*

    Calvin Klein work dresses. I swear by them. I work in a casual office but I’m in Legal so feel I need to dress up. Nordstrom Rack and Dillard’s carry a lot of Calvin Klein – at reasonable prices. Work dresses should be $50 or less (at least in my state).

  109. fka Get Me Out of Here*

    I think the easiest visual I can think of is the show Modern Family, when Jay’s company was sold to (or did the acquiring of?) a tech-y closet start-up – Claire’s clothing went from business formal (suits) to much more business casual (there’s one outfit in particular that I keep thinking about because it just looked so striking – a navy blazer, a yellow-and-blue patterned maxi skirt, and sneakers). Maybe a few of those episodes would help?

  110. EtTuBananas*

    Two things:

    1 – many of the suggestions in this thread are WAY too formal for the environment your interviewers described. The key to not looking stuffy? Fabric. Not garment types. Most business wear is made of that poly-blend (you know the one), and a lot of business wear for women is satin or chiffon. These are the fabrics to avoid. Cotton, suede, denim, leather/faux leather, and knits are all more “matte” and therefore look more casual. Warm colors (browns instead of blacks) will also read more casually. Slacks are actually quite trendy as casual wear right now, but if you wear them to work you’ll want a loose fit and to pair them with sneakers and a more casual top. Keep your jewelry small (not necessarily minimal – small).

    2 – As I’m sure you’ve figured out, LW, the standards are still higher for women than men. You probably could show up in sneakers and a hoodie and they wouldn’t bat an eye…on the surface. Underneath it, most men still expect women to “perform” their appearance more. Good luck in navigating this minefield!

  111. Sharkzle*

    In case you’re looking for something “business-y” but with a little flair, check out Wildfang. Besides having some great pieces you can style up or down, I find just perusing their social media and website to be helpful when I’m looking to put a new outfit together or figure out how to style something a bit differently.

    If you’re a social media user, try and find some people to follow that you can get inspiration from for work outfits. There are a ton out there! Good luck!

  112. Dawn*

    Trans woman here, so I don’t have all the same breadth of experience that some do, but I do hail from an upper-class background with a pretty good feel for this stuff.

    So I’ll echo what a lot of others have said: a decent knit sweater with dark pants is the way to go here.

    This time of year, a neutral high-neck sweater with navy jeans or an alternate black pant (depending on the level of formality I’m aiming at) is my go-to; if I want to up the formality level a little further I pair it with a nice pendant. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of a green knit sweater and a gold leaf pendant.

  113. Nea*

    Situations like this are why the knee-length single color knit dress was invented, in my opinion. I haven’t owned an interview suit in years – it’s always a classic style dress in a neutral color made formal with a blazer or informal with a cardigan and maybe a colorful scarf.

    It’s worth picking something you like from Eshakti and having it tailored to you, but for fast delivery, washable, wear-everywhere and *POCKETS* the Svaha onyx Rachel dress can’t be beat.

  114. SJ Coffee Addict*

    I have a work uniform of dress pants (usually black) and a semi fitted merino sweater (Uniqlo makes great ones) in the winter. Silk blouses in the summer. Shoes are usually loafers (GH bass makes great ones though sometimes I wear docs maryjanes or fluevogs if I’m feeling a need a mood boost ). Rinse and repeat.

  115. LA Girl*

    It’s so complicated to be a woman in this society! And so expensive.

    So much of this discussion is industry-specific and even workplace-specific. I can’t imagine wearing a dress to an interview or even to work, for instance, except in very hot weather.

    For context, I work in two worlds: the entertainment industry and academia. And I am no longer young (which poses massive problems on its own in my field).

    I have a uniform: Jeans (dark or black slacks to dress up) — Gap, Vince, vintage.
    Cardigan (knitted jacket/blazer to dress up) — Eileen Fisher, Misook for the blazers. I want that second layer for a sense of authority and to hide boobs/arms.
    Sleeveless top (so no bunching along the arms) — Eileen Fisher, Gap, Splendid.
    Chunky heel boots or lace-ups. They make me feel strong when I walk in a way flats don’t.
    Simple dangling earrings. Simple bracelet.
    Ultra hipster eyeglasses. I spend a fortune on them and have multiple pairs. They draw attention to my face. People comment on them.

    Except for shoes and undergarments, I buy all my clothes on ThredUp. I regularly buy $250-$400 jackets/cardigans for $60-$80. Highly recommended.

  116. Natebrarian*

    A structured cardigan (look for “jardigan” on Poshmark) and a polished tee-shirt (Pima is probably the keyword there). Everlane has some decent tees. Ann Taylor and Boden used to but they keep changing styles so YMMV. Mme LaFleur has good jardigans but they’re *** so resale is your friend.

  117. Not Mindy*

    Is the recruiter internal or external to the company? If external, then I think that you can completely disregard the comment about a blazer. If internal, his opinion carries more weight, but I’d still say a blazer is fine, particularly if you take it off once you get into the room where the interview will be.

  118. Immortal for a limited time*

    It sounds like you did fine! If I’d been told my potential workplace was full of people in t-shirts and jeans, I probably would have felt the same as you — I wouldn’t have wanted to dress quite that casually for an interview. I can picture myself choosing khakis and a solid-color, dressier tee (e.g., microfiber rather than cotton) under a cardigan. Most of my cardigans are the open-front kind that look more relaxed than the fussy button-down kind, and some are a solid color like coral, dark pink, or plum. I look washed out when I wear beige or too much black. It’s been awhile since I’ve had to interview, but in that casual-office scenario I’d pick either a shirt or a cardigan in some color that people have told me I look good in (for me, it would be a jewel tone of some kind; your mileage may vary).

  119. JAnon*

    BLACK JEANS! These are always my go to for not too dressy/not to casual. They are jeans, so inherently casual, but black so they are dressed up a bit and look like black pants. Then a sweater, or a top and jacker or open sweater. Shoes can also help dress up or down. But black jeans are my very favorite staple item for all things.

  120. sara*

    So I’m an early 40s female software developer who came late to this career (8-10 years ago) after another career that was also confusing on the “how formal” front. I wore cargo pants and a polo every day for 10 years (lots of mess and manual labour involved), but a suit or at least parts of a suit would have been expected for most interviews in that field, especially promotions. Thankfully I realized/was taught that a suit would be very noticable (in a bad way) in the software world. So after several interviews, I came up with a bit of a uniform that’s also now become a riff on how I dress for days at the office, etc.

    I’ve found that a casual/sporty skirt is a good balance for me. I’ve got several that are sort of thin sweatshirt material, but knee-length or just below, and fairly high waisted. They’re straight cut, so almost pencil skirt but not tight. In the summer I’ll wear with sneakers and a t-shirt but made of fancier material. In the winter, I’ll wear with opaque tights, casual boots (blundstones) and a chunky sweater. Also a good in-between seasons is a t-shirt and cardigan (I like a casual tee and a blazer-shaped cardigan).

    The skirt makes people assume it’s dressier/fancier than it is, but I feel like myself in this outfit. I don’t wear makeup really, but for an interview, I’d probably do some mascara and tinted moisturizer. For hair, if it’s just an office day, I do a messy bun or leave it loose, but for an interview, I usually do a half-pony with a clip. Again just looks polished/like I made an effort.

  121. Britpoptarts*

    Wait…not a blazer? That is my uniform, whether I am wearing jeans, a dress, or a business top and skirt. I LIKE blazers. I also wear cardigans sometimes, but blazers and jackets are kind of my thing. That advice wouldn’t help me much! Maybe I’d switch to patterned blazers instead of solid-color ones.
    I’m in a tiny law office these days and the lawyers and my only other colleague wear jeans. They haven’t given me any criticisms about my love of jackets/blazers. (My nicer jeans are in storage, I both gained a few pounds and moved recently.)
    You can completely change the feel of an outfit by selecting flat shoes like loafers and adding clearly costume-type jewelry pieces rather than wearing heels and smaller, precious pieces.
    Also, a large pashmina-type shawl might bridge the gap as well. Bigger ones can function like cardigans or jackets and can be styled to look more casual or formal.

    1. Britpoptarts*

      P.S. I also wear sized-up button-up print shirts (men’s or women’s) as jackets over nice plain tees or dresses, and they definitely aren’t as formal as blazers. I find them cheap nearly everywhere.

  122. PayRaven*

    You’ve gotten a lot of advise about tops, but my go-to is the dark black jean. Is it jeans? is it slacks? Reads as as close to neutral as it’s possible to get in a femme body.

  123. Honey Badger just don't care*

    First – never take fashion advice from a man. When he says blazer, he literally means only one type of clothing and that is the very structured that is one step below suit jacket that men wear. Don’t wear that. But women’s clothing options offer so many more options in that category. Pick one of those. When I interviewed in big tech, I went with a really nice cowl necked sleeveless sweater, casual slacks (not jeans), and flats. I was far better dressed than anyone I interviewed with but it didn’t matter. When I worked, I wore dark wash jeans, some sort of light top, a nice jacket that was not a blazer, and heels (cuz I like them and that was the only time I got to indulge). Now? Same company, years later, lots of capital to spend, it’s jeans, hiking boots, cotton cami, and zip up hoodie. When I interview people for positions on my team, I never judge their clothing other than is it clean, mended, and no offensive words/signs on the t-shirt. Men get away with a lot more but women add to it by upholding those same standards and judging each other harsher than men. We can shift that a lot by stopping the constant female on female judgement of every aspect of our lives. Just stop it. Don’t participate. Apply the same standards to your female coworkers, friends, neighbors, and family members etc that you would to men in those same positions.

  124. HiHello*

    I have these wide leg black pants that I swear by. I will often wear a normal fitting tshirt and tuck it into the pants. I wear it with sneakers but also accessorize with a belt, nice earrings, etc. I found this picture online. I think it looks casual but also polished enough.

  125. kiki*

    My go-to for interviews at jeans and tshirt companies is:
    – a nice blouse or button-up (or sweater in the winter)
    – dark wash or black jeans
    – boots, simple flats, or a cool pair of sneakers (not my day-to-day worn-out chucks)

    Like others here have already said, my rule of thumb is to be one step above the normal dress code of the workplace, unless otherwise instructed.

  126. Jane*

    Maybe this will help. Take whatever “stuffy” outfit you would normally wear and mix in more casual pieces. A business suit? Replace the pants or skirt with jeans or replace the blouse with a graphic tee. A flowy dress? Add sneakers and a jean jacket. Sweater dress and dress shoes? Pair it with bright, patterned tights. Etc.

  127. DameB*

    When faced with a similar situation, I went with simple shapes & color but polished fabrics. So, white silk button up shirt, black cashmere cardigan without any buttons (LL Bean and Lands End both sell them), and the black Wearever slacks from JJill. I tied a red silk scarf around my neck (easy to whip off if I thought I was overdressed), carried a red bag, and wore patent red clogs (they gave me the extra two inches of height without being heels). If I wore jewelry, I would have used red or basic simple gold.

    That was my interview outfit and it worked!

    Once I got the job, I switched to dark jeans, black or white tank tops, and black cardigans every day for work. (I have black cardigans in every weight from barely there linen to heavy cashmere alpaca.) I wear the big chonky grandma sneaker b/c I have ishy feet and never face the public, but you could easily dress that up with nice black flats.

  128. Summer Day*

    I’m a mid 40´s woman in a casual workplace for the last decade. I love clothes- so over time I’ve found my vibe. Funky skirts with a t or a linen dress paired with strappy sandals are my go to in summer. In winter I’d go for flowing pants with loafers and a shirt and cardigan. Use colour and texture to create your own look. In some ways a casual workplace frees you up to develop your own style. I’m more dressy than the males- however- I also enjoy being me and by making sure my clothes and accessories have a bit of flair and look young. If you get the job you could invest in a style workshop- I did one as I transitioned back to the workplace after kids and it was invaluable. The thing I do find annoying is how much longer it takes to launder and care for my clothes compared to the men in my family…

  129. HonorBox*

    I would agree with everyone who says to err on the side of slightly dressier. I also assume the “no blazer” comment was probably more on the male side of things. Wear one if you have one you really feel comfortable in, and worst case, you take it off and hang it on your chair. Dark jeans or some fun colored pants. Depending on the climate/temperature, layer appropriately and let that guide you on the length of your pants. I’ve interviewed several women who wore ankle length pants and didn’t think it was inappropriate. I’d advise not to go with a printed tee shirt, especially if there’s a chance you’re going to want to take off a cardigan/blazer if it gets warm. You want the focus to be on you, not on the Def Leppard concert that someone went to. A nice blouse or plain-ish tee shirt is probably the right way to go.
    While I’m not going to suggest a full business suit or a formal dress, there’s nothing wrong with being more dressed up for an interview than those interviewing you.

  130. She of Many Hats*

    Yeah, as woman, it’s usually a no-win scenario trying to find the right clothing to fit corporate situations.

    In the age of jeans & tees, I think you’re on the right track with your “best” leggings and a long-ish jacket/sweater over a cami or a tunic style top although, for an interview, I’d feel comfortable with dress pants and a less formal top (eg the pre-covid business casual).

    Day-to-day after you accept the offer letter, jeans & leggings that are well-fitting and are your “work/dress” pairs paired with plain or patterned tops. I’d keep Tshirts either plain or patterned with a very occasional graphic tee. You can leave the heeled pumps in the closet and use your “han solo” boots, flats, and sneakers as desired.

  131. The Rural Juror*

    I had the opposite problem when I started job searching/interviewing. I’m a mid-30s woman who was working in construction management. All I had were jeans! I had some nicer sweaters and summer tops for client meetings, but I didn’t own any blazers or dress pants. I did buy some dress pants when I started interviewing, but they weren’t super tailored or formal. They were black and I wore either a dark summer top or a dark sweater with them (depending on the weather). I stayed away from prints or stripes.

    I feel like you could do something similar, but with black jeans (if you have them). An outfit having dark colors feels put together, even if the fabrics are more casual.

  132. Kaitydid*

    I typically do my hair and makeup the same way I would any day, and take a little extra time to make sure it’s polished enough for my taste. I work in an office job where jeans and tee shirts are completely normal clothes day to day. For interviews I take it up a notch. I wear jeans, but with a button up shirt or a sweater nice enough not to read as casual, and shoes that aren’t sneakers or birkenstocks. The men around me seem to do the same, jeans or slacks with a shirt and tie but usually no jacket. My goal is to look like myself, and like I care about the interview and take it seriously.

  133. Wry*

    I think what OP has landed on sounds fine, except I would go with neat, well-fitting, unripped black jeans, rather than leggings. I’m not anti-leggings at all, I think it’s very possible you will end up feeling comfortable wearing leggings if you’re hired, but I just think that they might read as more casual than jeans. If you want to “match” the formality level of the company while still feeling put together, black jeans are the perfect thing, especially if they’re a very dark black, the type that doesn’t scream “denim” at first glance. On top, the cami/jacket combo sounds fine, although this time of year, as others have mentioned, a sweater is would work perfectly as well.

  134. Ticotac*

    For this specific interview, I feel like a polo shirt and either jeans in a solid colour/straight leg trousers/knee-length skirt is the way to go. Dressy enough to look like you made an effort for the interview, casual enough for people not to point you out in a crowd. Are you at the country club to play golf, or to carry the golf club? Who can say.

    For more general situations where you have a one time meeting and you don’t know exactly what “casual” means, I think the key is fabric and accessories. Jeans can make a silky blouse look fine for a picnic, and birkenstock can make a little black dress look like something you’d wear to get milk. I think I’ve made more than one dress look like everyday-wear by mixing it with Dr. Martens and/or a bomber jacket.

    1. Ticotac*

      Ah, sorry- I think what you chose sounds fine! What I said in my comment is what *I* would wear in this specific situation.

      And since the answer is specifically about what I would do, let me dig a bit deeper in my own feelings. First of all, I would normally never wear a polo shirt; I understand that people find them “fancy,” but personally my brain registers them as too “sporty” to be “fancy,” and not interesting or comfy enough to be proper athleisure. Second, if I were interviewing for a job that isn’t in a field that is known for being particularly casual and all my interviewers were wearing t-shirt and jeans, I think the image that would come to my mind is that of Mark Zuckerberg. Sure, everybody wears t-shirts here, but are they H&M t-shirts or are they Brunello Cucinelli t-shirts?

      So yeah, the point here is that the vibe I’m getting – probably unfairly – is that of a place that *looks* casual rather than genuinely is. And if the casual grey t-shirt the interviewer is wearing is $695, then we’re talking about the kind of place you’re not just supposed to look “casual,” you’re supposed to look *boring*. Grey t-shirts and jeans, black turtlenecks and slacks, navy polo and beige trousers.

      Which is a long winded way to say- for an interview at a casual place I’m wearing a casual black dress and flats, for an interview at a “casual” place I’d go for polo and jeans.

  135. Jaina Solo*

    I used to work at a casual tech company and to be honest, I feel like we noticed if people put in effort not exactly what they wore. It’s definitely harder as a woman but I think general interview/first visit to the office was a nice shirt and non-ripped pants. (I honestly don’t remember the pants because they never stood out as sloppy.) Jeans are probably fine but if you’re not 100% comfortable with that, then I’d choose dark wash jeans so they look less like jeans, or just your favorite pair of non-jean pants. (Some of us really like Old Navy’s linen pants which hit the right look of together but not stuffy.)

    Casual can mean so many different things so at the end of the day, I would choose an outfit you feel comfortable in but just lose the really dressy parts of it (like the blazer, high heels, etc.). Once you’re in, it won’t matter thankfully–I would dress up on days I felt like it or wear shorts on the really hot summer days when we were more casual than usual. You got this!

  136. LisaD*

    If it’s a tech company, a NICE hoodie is a great blazer alternative. Not one made of basic cotton, but a luxurious athleisure fabric like the fancy yoga brands make. My standard “businessy not dressy” outfit for a tech company is Betabrand dress pant yoga pants, a nice boat neck long sleeved shirt, and an expensive-looking hoodie that I actually got for $5 at a sample sale from Beyond Yoga.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Yes to boat-neck long-sleeved shirt! I pictured that when I was reading the question.

      I don’t actually own a boat-neck long-sleeved shirt right now though, so I’d pick a floral blouse, gray cardigan, and my navy-blue chinos. I just realized how much I miss my boat-neck shirt (which got too tight) that I’m going to keep an eye out at the thrift stores.

  137. Really?*

    Black jeans, solid color long sleeve t- shirt or turtleneck, and flats. Might add the cardigan in lieu of the blazer, particularly if it’s cold. Good luck.

  138. Sleeping Panther*

    I really like Marcella’s jersey tops. They’re made from heavyweight jersey, so they’re as comfy as a tee but drape nicely and look more polished.

  139. nnn*

    I think your starting point here is to replace the blazer with something that has the same function – a cardigan, a hoodie, one of those athleticish zip-front tops that’s like a hoodie but doesn’t have a hood, sometimes in warm weather I even use a blouse over a dress to fulfill this function.

    You can take this layer off at any point if it feels wrong, but this is the starting point for finding the balance between dressing casually and feeling good.

    (Also, if you haven’t already, dig through the company’s social media to see if there are any photos of everyday office life, and see what the other women are wearing)

  140. wEn moon*

    I’m a fan of jumpsuits. It’s casual, you don’t have to worry about separates, can easily dress it up or down with accessories. Dark denim, black or flowy fabric. Belt it, add a jean jacket, wear a flat or some heels. I’m in the creative industry in a senior role and usually work in casual environments. For women, these one-piece fahion uniforms are a Godsend when you’re busy! Inspo:

  141. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    I get comments from colleagues about being smartly dressed (I don’t interpret them as negative but it’s possible it does give some sort of vibe that I don’t understand), but I do tend to lean a little on the “too smart” side rather than the “too scruffy” side.

    “No blazers” seems mad to me. I wear jeans and a nice blouse or cool blazer on more casual days and it strikes a good balance.

    In our organisation, the CEO and Managing Director (men) and Vice President (woman) tend to have a more conservative attitude to a lot of things, but other (very senior) people, including my director and most other seniors, and pretty much all peers, opt for casual dress.

    In my job, because I deal with a lot of external stakeholders, I tend to let people know there’s always a chance I may have to jump on a call, even go to an in person meeting or event, so I keep vaguely prepared for that.

    Generally people are quite reasonable but I do want to make sure I don’t look overly frumpy. So many women (all levels) wear pretty cool, fun, clothes.

    I opt for:

    – Hawkes and Curtis shirts or blouses (cool prints and colours, modern cut, very smart)
    – Blazers with a fashionable cut eg slouchy, or with detail on
    – Vest or sweater over a cool shirt
    – Brogues with a funky look (eg London Embassy shoes)
    – Accessories like nail polish, earrings, scarves etc to make the outfit more fun.

    It’s weird because at OldJob I used to be told my clothes were “quirky” when I thought they were pretty normal. Now I’m careful about seeming too stuffy!

    Overall, reasonable colleagues will not judge you for being too stuffy or frumpy if you do a good job – and if your personality shows that you’re not out of date or “conservative” (in harmful ways) or regressive in your values.

    So I try not to expend too much energy on this. If my clothes are clean and professional (not torn, see through, with swearing on them etc) then I have to trust that I’m modelling the behaviours and personal traits that matter.

  142. Dancing Otter*

    Back in the day, I got a lot of mileage out of twin sets over slacks (no denim allowed dress policy). A colorful scarf or big clunky jewelry made a less middle-aged librarian look (sorry, librarians, but the stereotype exists, right?) than pearls or such. They aren’t in fashion recently, unfortunately.

    I’ve always liked the look of a white shirt tucked into jeans and topped with a navy blazer, climate permitting; for warmer weather, I’d choose a linen jacket instead, and a silk or linen shell. A bonus for the linen would be if you can push up the sleeves for a more “let’s get things done” vibe.

    If you want the polish without an actual blazer, consider the shorter Chanel-style jacket: collarless round neck, waist-length, may or may not button up the front.

  143. Trick or treatment*

    What I usually do is some plain black stretchy trousers, with shirt & blazer combo. The trick is to make one part of the shirt & blazer combo a bit hip… So I either go with a light fabric, brightly coloured blazer with a more classic blouse (one of my favs: a wool mix mustard blazer with 3/4 sleeves). Or I go with a more classic dark grey blazer over a colourful, artsy t-shirt (one of my favs for that: a bright orange t-shirt with a negative space fox design).

    I like this because it straddles business and casual/stylish, in a way that uses elements I’d also wear on a casual day.

  144. Storm in a teacup*

    Hi – fellow younger looking mid 40s woman.
    I tend to go for dresses – the current tiered midi throw on dress styles are a godsend. Look smart but not overly business-y and don’t have to think about matching to other items of clothing.
    Solid colour ones for a smarter look with a jacket or Printed silk bombers or cardigans. Print dresses when I want to be more casual.
    Also accessorising with scarves or jewellery helps.
    However I’ve recently changed to a global role and we are an American company. I find that the American women I am more likely to interact with are so much more business and formal in their dress then us Europeans! People still wear suits! And hair is big and blow dried – such a departure I’m now having to second guess what I wear.
    My usual working from home in a cute woollen hoodie or sweater with no makeup and hair in a bun look is no longer going to cut it

  145. The Peach*

    One trick: wear something more businesslike (a black dress, or black pants and a nicer top) with something less businesslike yet still not sloppy. For instance, I’ve paired a midi-length black dress with a nicely cut jean jacket and plain flats. Also once went with dressy pants (black) and a silk shirt (white) with brightly colored Converse sneakers and a belt that had a multicolored pattern of ’80s video game characters. By putting something casual or even playful with something more staid, you hit that elusive middle zone–and IMO it allows you to demonstrate more personality. Best of all, you can wear that dress or top that makes you always feel confident, but in a way that doesn’t look like you’re trying too hard. Is there a combination like that in your closet?

    Good luck!

  146. Student*

    If they give me actionable input on how to dress for an interview, I’ll try to apply it.

    If they give me this vague crap? Then I am dressing slightly nicer than I expect to every day on the job.

    Job is probably in a suit? Then I wear my nicest suit. Job is in jeans and a T-shirt? Then my nicest jeans and a nice T-shirt. Or slacks and a lightly dressy shirt. Depending on what I am more comfortable in.

    If that’s not “good enough” and they try to read all manner of BS into how I dress for the interview, but also couldn’t be bothered to say what they expect, then screw ’em.

  147. Mal*

    I’m a huge believer that a blazer can be dressed down. Here are some outfit options for every season that I embrace on more casual days (I’m in consulting so have to be a chameleon depending on client):

    -Collared sweater with straight leg black/blue jeans
    -Scoop-neck or v-neck tank/t-shirt, cardigan sweater with wide leg black/blue jeans
    -Blazer with scoop-neck or v-neck tank/t-shirt with straight leg black/blue jeans
    -Shift dress with kimono-style cardigan

    obviously depends on your style, but you can definitely dress down things (like nice sweaters, blazers and shift dresses) by switching up your outer/inner laner.

    Quince, Everlane and MM LaFleur are great options for both buying clothes and finding outfit inspo :)

    Most of all, BE YOU AND DO YOU. Your style is as beautiful and unique as a flower. While clothes matter, the joy and confidence will radiate and glow when you’re wearing something that feels good on your body and in your spirit :)

  148. Hydrangea McDuff*

    I think there are two questions here:
    1) what is appropriate for an INTERVIEW at a casual-dress company?
    2) what is appropriate WORKWEAR once you have the job at a casual-dress company?

    I would dress up a little for an interview, no matter what. The suggestions above for dress pants, blouse/button up and cardigan ring true to me. Remember that your clothes in an interview also make you feel confident and comfortable. If you are too dressed down you may feel odd and that won’t help the interview. Once you get the job, you can calibrate yourself against your female colleagues.

    I personally love the Betabrand “work pant yoga pants” and find they are very easy to dress up or down. I’m in education which really runs the gamut between jeans and sweatshirts to heels and jackets; in my part of the country it’s becoming more and more common for folks to teach and work in jeans daily. But I would still expect a candidate I was interviewing to be at least business-casual.

  149. Raida*

    I go with a small, tailored blazer over a graphic tshirt.

    It’s both casual and businessy – and the blazers make me have better posture.

    I have a pink piped navy one with a small pink ruffled collar, a sharp silver pinstriped one, a floral collared scoop necked one with lace trim, and a pink/raspberry/cream tweed chanel looking one.

    It means I am both comfortable and not overdressed, but *also* dressed for work and can chuck on one when I’m chilly or will go to a meeting where I don’t want to look like an IT grad :P

    Bonus – unlike cardigans, they can have flattering tailored structure

  150. NauticalByNature*

    My go-to is a tunic-style top with skinny pants that brush up against leggings but not quite, particularly one with a collar. Is it a dress? Is it a dress shirt? Is it comfy? Is it formal? All of the above! And it doesn’t necessarily need any kind of blazer. Dress up or down with shoes and jewelry. I also invested in some “sweater jackets” that are jacket-styled but in soft or more casual fabric. Found all of these on JJill (especially tunic tops), Faherty (sweater jackets in particular), and Ann Taylor. I live in the midwest the default is more conservative business, but work in a public institution in California with strong tech vibes which is….the opposite. I’ve found with that look I can fit in anywhere. And I like how I look enough that it sometimes even distracts me from how irritated I am that men don’t have to deal with this.

  151. Mmm.*

    Amazon. They have that seven-day tryon for a fair amount of clothes.

    In this particular case, I’d go with a nice sweater, black jeans, and a pair of flat, mid-calf boots. But that’s my style. I think anything that would qualify as business casual (a specialty at Old Navy!) would work.

    It is for sure a bigger issue for gals. I think that’s part of why we’re more likely to hate surprises, especially if they involve going somewhere.

  152. Triplehiccup*

    I’d go with jeans and sneakers – but the sneakers would be more fashion than sport, I’d wear more black and gray jeans than blue, and I’d wear something nicer than tshirts on top. Sundresses in hot weather.

  153. lablady5*

    It’s difficult to say what might work well without knowing what industry and climate this is in. San Diego software startup? Upper midwest small academic department? Heavy manufacturing in Ohio? A niche marketing consultancy in Colorado? Hospitality corporate office in Miami?

    Honestly just my opinion – but see if you can get a shirt from the Lauren Ralph Lauren label (they have knit ones that are t-shirt adjacent but nice) and pair it with slacks (ideally you already own) or dark wash / black jeans.

    Understated accessories only, maybe just earrings and a watch if you wear those but skip them if you don’t. If the recruiter says no blazer but you are uncomfortable without it maybe bring it in the car and carry it with in case you’re cold – but don’t start with it on unless you have a very warm personality that can win over people who might associate it with a poor culture fit.

    Whatever you choose: Good luck!!

  154. MusicalManager*

    sweater dress + leggings + boots can read as both dressy and casual. worked for me when I interviewed at Amazon (I got the job).

  155. Toffees Mom*

    I’m a full-figured 60+ year old woman, working as a freelance paralegal, primarily remotely. When I do go to client offices, I dress business casual, and just yesterday I found a very flattering long-sleeved, scoop-neck body suit at Target-it pairs with dressier chinos and jeans, and with some spanx, it doesn’t make me look like I’m stuffed in a sausage casing!

    What’s been really intriguing to me is how one of my former employers, now client, has done a 180 on their dress code-when I worked for them, it was suits, or skirts (with pantyhose or tights) or dress pants with blazers: any deviation, you’d get a “nasty gram” from HR, but when I went to their office a few months ago, one of the (female) partners greeted me wearing sweat pants and sneakers, and it wasn’t a “dress-down Friday “.

  156. Mefois*

    I know a lot of people have already mentioned this but cardigans are so versatile! They can be dressed up or down so easily depending on what you pair them with.

    For pants, I’m a big fan of corduroy instead of denim. I feel like it looks a bit nicer than denim without being as dressy as slacks and also dresses up and down really easily. I also find it to be way more comfortable than denim personally.

  157. DressCode*

    I wear a suit or nice blouse and skirt to interviews. Period. But you’ve complicated things by asking because now if you dress up a bit they’ll think you’re comfotable/prefer that but if you dress down people you interview with may notice/consider it.

    I’m not saying you won’t get a job because you dress too casually, but I’ve seen it happen. And I once got a contract because of the two candidates they really liked I wore a suit and the other person didn’t.

    It shouldn’t matter that much and sometimes it doesn’t, but sometimes it does.

    Under the circumstances I’d probably go with nice pants, a nice blouse, and nice but not overly dressy shoes.

  158. Maeve*

    My work uniform is:
    wide leg/barrel fit/tapered and pleated pants (mostly from Everlane or Marine Layer)
    cropped (as in, never midriff showing, but hits shortly below where the pants hit, and the pants are high-waisted) t-shirt
    chunky knit cardigan
    chunky loafers or oxfords

    It’s professional enough but I still look youngish and with the times and still feel cute at happy hour.

  159. ChampagneCoupe*

    I’m surprised at the amount of cardigan comments here! Is this an American thing? Soft tailoring would be my go-to in a young-and-casual-but-respectful-of-the-job-interview-process outfit. Silk collared shirt (loose but not baggy – I’m a 34J and can still find options that sit nicely) and nice trousers whether they be swishy or structured, with some jewellery to show a bit of flair. Maybe even a tapered jean. Women’s bodies, and fashion choices, are absolutely policed more than men’s. But with a few simple staple/investment pieces, dressing doesn’t have to be complicated.

    1. Maeve*

      I am American and have never gone to my current job not wearing a cardigan, if that’s a helpful data point!

    2. lablady5*

      I’m with you, cardigans are difficult for me to pull off without feeling sloppy. I’m American, live in a four-season climate and I rarely ever see people in cardigans at work. Fleece jackets yes, cardigans no. But I work around a bunch of scientists and managers – our attire is rarely fashion forward and we don’t like having loose fabric swinging about. Maybe sales or admins do when it’s on trend?

  160. OP*

    So I was trying to respond to specific comments and realized that could take me all day!

    So a few things – first – thanks all for the advice, which I am happy for if in a similar situation in the future

    I was happy with my outfit choice. The leggings look more like a slim black pant than like something I would wear for exercise so they were fine. But mostly I went for more casual version of what I usually wear. A jacket that’s almost a blazer but not quite, a cami, and flats. I just couldn’t bring myself to wear jeans, even nice ones. I know it’s probably fine, but I just couldn’t.

    But the clothes fit well (to some peoples point, which is a good one!) and I felt polished and well put together, but not too stuffy.

    I hadn’t met the hiring manager yet. He was in khakis and a button down, so I didn’t feel too dressy. The rest of the interviewers (like 10 guys) were in various degrees of casual yet put together attire. I am one of the people who doesn’t feel super polished in a cardigan and so it was out. I’m a bit fussy, I guess. But I wanted to feel confident in what I was wearing.

    I was trying to hit the right note of “I can build relationships with all your suppliers in a fairly stuffy industry even though you are a young startup.”

    Some people mentioned sweater weather. Which is awesome if you live where that’s a thing! I was actually in the process of packing for a trip to the UK at the time and realized I actually do not own any sweaters. And it was August at the time of the interview and like 85 degrees here in the LA area.

    I left the interview thinking it was not the right fit for me. So that’s where that ended. But my outfit was okay. I still find it extremely stressful to hit the right balance. For context I am originally from a city and generation where I actually had friends who were ridiculed for showing up at interviews in a suit and were outright told it was a mark against them (read: Microsoft in the 90s) and am super sensitive to hitting the right note.

    So TLDR – thanks all for the advice. It’s good to see how others would dress and get some good feedback. And the job didn’t work out but not be wise of clothes.

    1. OP*

      Because. Not be wise. My New Years Resolution was to send texts people can read instead of autocorrect nonsense. So you can guess how that’s going…

    2. amoeba*

      Thanks for the update! Sorry to hear it wasn’t the job for you, but at least your outfit was on point :)

      1. OP*

        Thanks. And honestly, I’m pretty happy where I am. And not actively applying for jobs or anything so have room to be picky. This place pursued me pretty heavily and sounded like it could be interesting so I thought I would give it a go!

  161. Toned Down Fashionista*

    First, I would take the “what to wear” to the interview advice lightly — men do have a different take on what to wear than women do and with fewer options, it’s easier to them. I’ve worked “forever” and with each job, my work clothes have become more casual — yet are still professional. And are updated as clothing silhouettes change, to stay current. In my experience, women still need to be a bit more polished than a man in a similar role.
    Suggestions: As the OP was interviewing for a senior leadership role that was also outward facing, I would stay away from cardigans; unless you’ve selected a structured fabric, they can have a “mom” look about them. Ralph Lauren makes a great structured knit blazer ( ) that looks great with a dark jean, chinos or dress pants. (Macy’s has a nice dress pant available in short, regular and long — and you can catch it on sale for $25: ) For a lower price point, Old Navy has stepped up their go-to-work section; I recently got the “pixie” blazer on sale; it’s made really well ( and also available in solid black, navy or gray.

    For me, prints are distracting; I prefer a solid knit top (J Crew, Lands End) in either a flat knit or something textured or ribbed for interest in a color that flatters you — and can stand alone if you take the blazer off. Crew neck, scoop or V-neck, whatever works best for you. A monochromatic look can work (navy jacket, top and pants/pressed dark jeans — or all black). I’m partial to hoop earrings, and some sort of necklace or scarf. Flat shoes –substantial ballet flats or loafers. The look you’re going for is polished and professional.

  162. Allison*

    In situations like this, I always found myself thinking, “God, men can just wear khaki’s/slacks with a button down or sweater, and it’s totally fine. Why can’t I do that?” And then I thought, “Oh. I can.” My work uniform is a pair of neutral black slacks from Old Navy with a short sleeve button down when it’s warm or a sweater when it’s chilly. I never feel particularly over or under dressed, and I spend so much less mental energy on what I’m wearing.

  163. Joy*

    I’ve often found it helpful to watch the fabric weight and thickness when I want to class a comfortable look up quietly. You’ll see this trick used regularly by Silicon Valley celebs.

    T-shirts basically come in two weights. They were originally underwear, and that shows. The first is a cheap and lightweight fabric that’s not bulky, and it’s useful for a base layer or a screen printer. It has little structure and wrinkles easily, and you’re right to doubt that a senior person should wear it to work.
    The second is a sturdy cotton, which can look simultaneously comfortable and classic, because it readily holds the shape the designer intended, and a tailor can tweak it to look great on you. The investment T tends to come in neutral colors and classic cuts, and is often sold by brands that also sell blazers and cardigans. (Go looser than the Zuckerberg tailoring unless your fitness trainer is a millionaire.)

    A boiled wool cardigan can do a lot of the same things a blazer does.
    Linen blends can be useful in summer for softening formality, they tend to look like an artsy creative choice.

  164. adipucey*

    I cannot second all the suggestions for a cardigan enough. As someone who is very small, I wear kids sizes, so finding business/office appropriate-wear has always been an issue for me. Cardigans have been a professional life saver!

  165. Elizabeth West*

    I was told this same thing when Exjob scheduled a team interview — don’t dress up, it’s very casual. My teammates showed up wearing jeans and sweatshirts. It was still an interview, so I wore jeans but with a nice shirt and shoes and a brown blazer.

    I see your update and your outfit sounds like it was fine, OP. Sorry the job wasn’t a good fit. But now you have info for the next time if this casual business dress issue comes up again. :)

  166. Baska*

    My general “professional-looking but casual” uniform is a solid-color t-shirt or camisole, a solid-color cardigan (I prefer the ones that don’t have buttons but are just open in the front — heavier material in winter or lightweight material in summer), and jeans. Can be dressed up or made “fun” with jewelry / scarf / accessories as needed. I wear some variation of this 99% of the time in my role as office manager of a small liberal church, and it works quite well. (Also is very comfy!)

  167. BookGirl*

    I think it depends on the industry.
    People in the video game industry show up in t-shirts, flip-flops, and shorts. The fine line there is looking cool/hip enough that you don’t come across as a parental figure.
    In publishing, it’s very creative and eclectic. For interviews, I’ll go with slacks (sometimes patterns even), a print blouse or top, and a blazer that is on-trend and not part of a business suit. Sometimes flats, other times short boots.
    I wouldn’t recommend a cami underneath a sweater or blazer. If you’re roasting during the interview, you won’t be able to take off the sweater/blazer.
    Good luck!

  168. Office Plant Queen*

    Caveat that I’ve only just turned 30 so I’m a fair bit younger, but I think going for a businessy garment with a vibrant color or pattern helps to strike a nice balance. I’ve only ever worked in casual offices, so I don’t have a lot of business/business casual attire in my wardrobe. So I went out and bought myself an interview suit last time I was job searching. I thought I was going to buy a basic black one, but then I was just drawn to a lovely teal one so I bought that instead. The color makes me happy, which makes me feel more confident when I wear it!

    Of course, I probably wouldn’t wear it for an interview at place that is very casual, but it works for business casual places. And I think you could go for the same principle – one step more formal than they dress, but in cheerful colors and/or patterns. Serious, competent, and approachable

  169. so very tired*

    I’m trans and I present both masc and fem depending on my mood/where I am located at the moment. For interviews, this means I usually choose dark monochrome colored long sleeved tops like sweaters. Anything high necked and long sleeved helps me feel more comfortable while I’m feeling out a company to determine if it’s a good fit for me.

    So, if I were interviewing for this role I’d go with a black sweater, black slacks, black socks, black shoes. A collared shirt is also a good call. Keep it simple!

  170. SimCity T-Shirt All the Way*

    Slacks and button down shirt/blouse.

    Male or female, you can’t go wrong with slacks and a button down. Wear either your nicest sneakers or low-key flats. I promise this is perfect for a casual, yet professional office.

    If you’re overdressed a little compared to the regular workforce, blame it on “interview jitters” and wanting to put your best foot forward.

    I’m a (cisgender) woman in men dominated tech, have been my whole adult life. While we (and admittedly, very much I) are a decidedly casual bunch, most of us will dress up *at least a little* for something like an interview or office visit (that can lead to an interview.)

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