Fashion + Psychology

Dressing for the interview – is there a definitive answer?

Certainly, you have heard the term “dress for the job you want” when it comes to preparing yourself for an interview. Interviews can be extremely nerve-wracking especially when considering that in the first seven seconds of meeting someone, an opinion is already formed. Thus, if you really want that job, you also want to make sure that the opinion the interviewer has of you is a good one.

What you wear matters

If there is anything I learnt from high school physics, it is that light travels faster than sound. People see things before they hear it, so if you only have seven seconds before someone forms an opinion of you, you need to take advantage of that the best way you can. The most effective way that you can achieve this, is by making a fashion statement.

Now, of course in a perfect world, you should be able to stand firmly on the strength of whatever knowledge or experience you have that makes you fit for the role, without having your appearance affect that. However, the way you dress can tell an interviewer how much you actually know about the role you’re applying for, as well as additional details about you that may not be so obvious on paper.

What factors should influence your interview attire?

In years before, it was expected that for a job interview, regardless of what the job detailed, people were expected to dress their absolute best. An example of this would be wearing formal attire such as a full suit, accompanied by a briefcase. Now, in today’s society, this attire may work for some jobs; but, not for all. Today, I doubt that anyone is dressing in a full suit to be interviewed for a job as a pet groomer, a florist or a lifeguard. Which is where “dressing for the job you want,” comes in handy.

Interviews are not “one-size fits all” when it comes to attire. The way one dresses should be dependent on the role they are applying for, where they will be carrying out that role if successful and who they are as a person. This is a reason why researching the business/role beforehand is very important. You want to get a sense of the environment that you may potentially be working in so that your clothing can reflect that.

Nevertheless, it is important that one looks professional at their interview. If you know that you are going to be working in an environment where trousers, heels and button-downs are the norm, you don’t want to show up to your interview in a nice polo and jeans. Yes, both can be seen as professional attire, however, they are suited for different environments.

The evolution of the dress code

With all these different factors influencing what is appropriate to wear to an interview, we have to wonder, when did dressing for an interview become so complicated?

As stated previously, formal attire was once the expectation for the workplace, however workplace fashion has become more casual in recent years. The evolution of workplace fashion from the 1950s to today is something to be in awe of. With each decade bringing in a new era of fashion, the styles worn in the workplace changed along with it. Employees began to experiment with fashion and ideas such as “Casual Fridays” changed the workplace environment.

Moreover, during that time, the focus of the workplace shifted from one that was process-oriented to becoming results-oriented. This shift was also accompanied by the mentality that as long as the work is getting done, the way employees dress is not that important. Thus, “business casual” has become the dress code for many companies, thanks to Levi Strauss & Co. creating “A Guide to Casual Businesswear” in 1992. Nonetheless, there are moments of exception such as very important meetings or presentations that may require formal business attire.

A new decade

Of course, there are still companies that maintain a formal dress code, which can be due to the values of the company/employer or the nature of the job. Nonetheless, on the other side of the coin, there are definitely more businesses now with either a relaxed dress code or no dress code at all, than there were 20 years ago.

Furthermore, as more young people enter the job market, their modern fashions and way of life are coming along with them. Nowadays, people are able to manage their work-life balance more seamlessly than before. Therefore, with so many activities in their day, employees are also dressing in a way that is conducive to all that they are doing.

Young people are also willing to express themselves through fashion more. In the workplace, even in a more formal setting, you are likely to see more colours and patterns of trousers than the simple black and grey. Just as in previous years, as the younger generation enters the workforce, they’re also willing to push the lines of the dress code where possible to reflect the styles of the time.

Additionally, we have now entered a new decade where the style is still similar to that of the previous, but is likely to evolve yet again. In fact, we have already seen this through the influx of work being done online.

Dressing for the virtual interview

Today, interviews are taking place online, and it is plausible to think that this will be the way things are for a while. With this being the case, many people are tempted to show up to their virtual interviews wearing professional attire on the top and pyjamas on the bottom.

While it does seem great to be able to still have a sense of comfort whilst getting things done, it is important to look at the psychological impacts of that. We know that an interviewee’s attire can impact the way the interviewer sees them, but it is important to note it can also impact how the interviewee views themselves.

Getting fully dressed for an online interview, sets the tone for professionalism. Fashion has a way of influencing your mentality, for example, “power dressing” was popular for being able to help women feel authoritative in a male-dominated environment. Similarly, getting fully dressed for your online interview can help you feel prepared and capable which then is relayed to the interviewer through the confidence you display.

The new dress code

It has been said that if ever in doubt, it is much better to dress up than to dress down, which I do agree with. Conversely, a Forbes article this year provided some guidance on what it called “the new dress code,” which in simple terms is to “dress for the role you want and the person you are.”

We are entering an era where personal expression is welcomed, and personality can play a part in whether you get that job or not. Moreover, it is important that while displaying your personality, you also show that you can be the best person for the job. Therefore, when dressing for an interview, wear something that shows that, and make your first seven seconds count.

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