How to pick the perfect job interview outfit, according to a ‘fashion psychologist’

Don’t know what to wear for your upcoming job interview?

We’ve heard the same advice over and over again: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” But how do you go about doing that?

Browse the internet and you’ll discover countless advice on things like what colors and accessories to wear (e.g., black to convey power, red for passion and energy, a splash of white for simplicity, a bold tie for authority).

But what if red makes you feel angry and white looks depressing to you? If wearing the “conventional outfit” doesn’t quite feel like you, chances are that you’ll have a hard time bringing your most authentic self to the interview.

As a fashion psychologist and professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, my mission is to help people dress in a way that energizes, uplifts and encourages them to bring their best foot forward.

When choosing what to wear for a job interview, it’s not about staying in the safe lane. Instead, it’s about creating congruency between how you feel and how you want to present yourself to potential employers. Because guess what? Personality matters more than you think in a job interview.

Here’s how to choose the perfect interview outfit — without blowing all your cash:

1. Don’t have a dress rehearsal

Most people tend to pick out what they’ll wear a few days in advance. But overthinking things will only make you feel more stressed and nervous.

Instead, on the morning of your interview, ask yourself: How am I feeling today? How do I want my potential employer to see me? What items will help bring out my best traits?

If you’re feeling down and tired, for example, wearing a grey blazer might make you feel even groggier. So you’ll want to dress up and pick out an item that will uplift your mood and a color will energize you. That might be a yellow pleated skirt or a funky tie.

2. Do your homework

Of course, you’ll want to be somewhat prepared.

Before the day of your interview, check out the company’s website (or consult with friends who have worked there) to get a general sense of the dress code.

Whatever you do, don’t dress up as a carbon copy of the company’s current employees. The idea is to understand what to go for and what to avoid.

For example, if the dress code is more formal than casual, don’t show up in a graphic t-shirt and sneakers. Doing so will only make you look misinformed and feel uncomfortable throughout the entire interview.

(Pictured above: Dawnn Karen; C/O: Dawnn Karen)

3. Do choose a ‘focal accessory’

Many people will advise you to keep it simple — and there’s some truth to that: Wearing something outrageous, even if it makes you feel ultra confident, can backfire by making the interviewer focus on your clothing, instead of your personality.

But avoid keeping things too simple. Consider picking out what I like to call a “focal accessory” — an item that enhances your mood and holds sentimental value because of the memories (or other some other positive association) it evokes.

That might be a unique tie or brooch that once belonged to a great, great grandparent. Maybe it’ll catch your interviewer’s attention and lead to a quick conversation that will give them more insight to who you are as an individual.

4. Don’t feel pressured to look older

I often hear people say that dressing one level above the position you’re applying for will make you look more mature, responsible and capable.

Here’s my response to that: *Yaaawwwwn*.

You should never feel obligated to wear something that makes you look older. Of course, it’s ultimately about you and how you feel — so if you’re in your mid-20s and wearing a super dark pantsuit and red lipstick has always been your thing, then go for it.

But don’t feel obligated to dress older because you think it’ll give you an advantage. In fact, one study found that formal clothing on younger people (for both men and women) makes them look less approachable, while formal clothing on older people makes them look more approachable.

In other words, try to dress your age and wear what feels right to you.

5. Do wear perfume or cologne

Employers want to hire candidates who look clean and polished — and that means smelling good.

According to one survey, 90% of participants said they feel more confident when wearing their favorite scent. That’s because our olfactory system (our sense of smell) is connected to our limbic system (the part of the brain responsible for interpreting memories and emotions), according to the researchers.

So pick out a scent that you connect to positively. (Just don’t choose something too strong and pungent; a small spritz of something light and pleasant will do just fine.)


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