How to Dress for Any Career Occasion

Once upon a time, almost everyone wore business suits to job interviews and work. However, over the years, our society has become less conservative when it comes to dress codes. Certain industries still require conservative dress, but others have a more laid-back atmosphere. It’s no longer unusual to find some employees wearing shorts and T-shirts to work!

However, it’s important not to look too laid back. “What you wear might be more important than you think,” says Brenda Ferguson Hodges, a California-based image consultant and career coach. “Why? Whether you like it or not, your appearance is the first thing people notice about you—and first impressions are usually formed within the first 30 seconds.”

So how are you supposed to know what to wear? Read on for tips on how to dress in every career-related situation.

How to Dress For…

…a Job Interview

A scuffed shoe, a messy bag or a low-cut shirt can speak volumes. You need to wear your “power outfit.” Stick to business professional looks. Have a favorite skirt that always makes you feel great when you wear it? Why not pair that with a simple blouse and blazer?

“You can absolutely show your personal style, but remember, an interview isn’t a fashion show,” Ferguson Hodges says. “You want them to remember you because you were reliable, loyal, professional and hardworking—not because you had on a bedazzled blazer.”

Best options:

  • Jacket or blazer
  • Pantsuit or dress pants
  • Long pencil skirt
  • Dress blouse

…the First Day of Your Internship

Nothing is worse than being the one person in the office who’s totally overdressed (or underdressed) for the environment, but you should always verge on the polished side for the first day. Traci LaBom-Norris, assistant director of counseling and career services at Northwestern State University, suggests dressing a step up from what the typical daily dress code is. “If you're nervous about making the wrong move, just get the scoop ahead of time; ask your boss what the overall vibe is and what she wears to the office every day,” LaBom-Norris says.

Best Options:

  • Simple blouse, colorful cardigan or blazer
  • Simple dress
  • Flats

…a Business Dinner or Company Function

When you’re dressing for a work function or a business dinner, the culture of your office should prevail. If it’s a conservative environment, dress conservatively for events, too. “If the function is more casual, you should still dress professionally, wearing a business casual, crisp outfit. Crisp meaning no wrinkles, stains, lint, holes or snags,” LaBom-Norris says.

No matter how relaxed your office environment or the occasion (that means you, company picnic!), never wear anything provocative. A revealing outfit can prevent you from being taken seriously. “People don’t necessarily notice when you are put together, but they 100 percent notice when you aren’t,” LaBom-Norris says. “It’s worth it to take the extra step.”

Best Options for a Business Dinner:

  • Trousers with a cute sweater
  • A dress in a dark shade with a printed cardigan
  • Appropriate (but comfortable!) shoes

Best Options for a Casual Company Function:

  • A sundress
  • Cute sandals or wedges
  • Fitted Jeans
  • A maxi skirt