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What is Business Casual Attire and Why Choose It for a Job Interview?

dressing up for job interview

They say you should always “dress for success”. But what does that even mean in today’s culture of  CEOs wearing “black turtlenecks” and or even “white tees and the same pair of jeans”? If you are stressing over just what you should wear to your next interview in a hip startup or a more “mature” mid-sized company, our answer is – opt for business casual attire. It’s always a safe bet and we have some data to prove that. 

Why Business Casual Attire is the Best Style To Wear For a Job Interview

While specific definitions of business casual dress may differ a bit, the attitudes toward business casual attire in the workplace have been summarized in a recent survey of workers conducted by Randstad US.

  • 79% of participants said that business casual (or just casual or no dress code at all) was supported by their organizations.
  • 33% stated they would quit their jobs if formal, conservative attire were required.
  • Interestingly, 65% felt it would be important to wear a suit to an interview, no matter how casual dress may be within the organization.

So what this data is telling us? Formal wear may not always be required at the office, but most recruiters prefer to see smartly dressed candidates.

OK, So What is Business Casual Attire Exactly?

If you are not much into fashion, it can be an ambiguous term, to be sure. Most often, though, business casual men’s attire means dressing up in:

  • slacks or classic cut trousers (not jeans)
  • a collared shirt (without a tie)
  • a relaxed, casual blazer (if it’s weather appropriate)
  • and a nice pair of shoes (no tennies, sneakers or flip-flops if you are an Aussie or Kiwi).
business casual dos and don'ts for men

Business casual women’s clothing is a bit more diverse as we, gals, definitely have more options…but that also often leads to the dreadful analysis-paralysis: you just can’t decide what to wear!

So here’s a quick cheat sheet for you too:

  • Neutral-colored dress slacks and a collared blouse, shirt or sweater are always a good combo.
  • A mid-length dress with short or long sleeves should be fine too (as long as it doesn’t have a decollete).
  • Throwing on a casual suit is also fine. You can pair it with a plain tee and some dainty accessories for a more “chill” look. Or wear a blouse/shirt for a more “polished” look.

As for shoes, low heels, flats or comfortable non-tennis shoes should be fine.

business casual dos and don'ts for women

Anyhow, if you don’t want to miss the mark with a potential employer, make your outfit more “business” than “casual”. In other words, avoid:

  • Leggings/sportswear
  • Jeans (especially the ripped ones).
  • Bright graphic tees or shirts with crazy, bright patterns.
  • Wrinkled disheveled clothing
  • Spike heels
  • Low-cut or otherwise revealing clothes.

And Why Should I Get Dressed Up For That Interview?

Face it:  when you put on a suit (or a business dress with jacket), you feel more professional overall. And that feeling can carry over into how you conduct yourself during the interview process and what first impression you’ll make.

The simple truth is this: the better you look, the more confidence you have.

According to a recently reported study by Northwestern University, a group of people who wore lab coats, as opposed to artist smocks or no additional top, actually performed better on tests in science and reasoning. While their “armor” didn’t make them smarter per se, it boosted their concentration, confidence and gave them an extra feeling of “professionalism”. So yep, that “dress for success” adage has scientific backings.

Also, first visual impressions are pretty much permanent. You can’t “unsee” them. 

So perhaps you’ve seen that commercial for a laundry product, telling the “story” of a blind date. The female is nicely and neatly dressed. The male has come in a shirt that has obviously “lost” its shape. He says, “You look great!” She says, “And you look amazingly (pause) casual.”

Suffice to say that that guy won’t score a second date. The same can hold true in an interview. Even if you are otherwise “brilliant”, some HRs won’t be able to see past your disheveled look and too laid back attire. In other words, they’ll keep concentrating on the fact that you walked in ripped jeans, rather than carefully listening to what amazing things you’ve accomplished at your previous position.

So, is Business Casual Entirely Appropriate for an Interview?

Let’s keep it real: the work and the workplace itself has significantly changed. Most companies are no longer fazed by people with visible tattoos, piercing or bright hair colors. And the dress of white-collar workers has changed along with it. Even in conservative institutions such as banks, we see business casual attire in branch offices we go to.

So while too lax garments are still a no-no for an interview, business casual will likely fly by with most companies. To stay on the safe side, do some quick “check” on the organization you are heading to:

  • Browse their social media and website to see how the average employee is dressed.
  • If you see no-dress code folks, business casual would definitely be appropriate.
  • Also, those applying to senior roles will likely make a better impression by wearing a suit. However, it all depends on the organization.

And if your research tells you that an organization interviewing you is conservative, then the formal dress is probably a good idea. The same goes for customer-facing roles in traditional companies.

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