Professional Dress

Professional dress or attire is the entire package of what is on your body: clothing, shoes, accessories, soaps and scents. What you choose to wear tells a story about you, and shows respect for those with whom you are meeting. Don’t overlook the power of a good first impression. People make extraordinary assumptions about your professional credibility and potential performance based upon your appearance during a first meeting. It’s very difficult to overcome a poor first impression, regardless of your knowledge or expertise.

If you have specific questions regarding your professional wardrobe, we encourage you to speak with with a close friend, colleague or a counselor in the Hiatt Career Center. We enjoy fashion consulting.

When to Dress Professionally

Professional dress is a must for interviews, networking, employer dinners, or professional events including conferences and association meetings. When in doubt, dress up. Even if you think others might be dressed casually, you will stand out favorably if you are dressed well.

Though expected professional dress varies by field, you should dress professionally when you are engaging in job search activities, even if day-to-day on the job you’ll be wearing jeans. You want to make sure that in your professional interactions, you make a positive first impression and don’t distract from what you are saying with what you are wearing.

Professional Dress Guidelines

  • Wrinkle-free: Make sure your clothes are neat and pressed.
  • Squeaky-clean: American culture is obsessed with cleanliness. Be freshly bathed/showered; use deodorant.
  • Scents: Avoid heavy perfumes, colognes or fragrance of any kind. Many people are allergic to scents; the last impression you want to leave is as an allergy irritant. Similarly, do not go into a professional situation smelling like cigarettes.
  • TMI: Now is not the time to share your physical endowments. Make sure your clothing fits and isn’t too tight or too loose. Avoid showing cleavage of any kind.
  • Tattoos: Cover visible tattoos when possible.
  • Weather warning: In bad weather or when you will be doing a lot of walking, carry your shoes and wear boots or more comfortable shoes. Choose a professional shoulder bag or large tote in which you can put a portfolio and your shoes. Arrive at your destination early, change your shoes in the restroom, remove your portfolio, and put your bag with your boots and coat in the coatroom or closet at your destination.

Guidelines for Men

  • Suit: A traditional dark blue or gray suit in either a solid or subtle pin-stripe
  • Shirt: White or solid blue long sleeved cotton dress shirt with a collar. A bit more casual look includes striped shirts and a button down collar. Choose a cotton or cotton blend fabric; polyesters and nylon are out. If you are color blind, or a suit novice, ask for help with shirts and ties when you buy your suit. 
  • Socks: Dark, neat and preferably over the calf. Should blend in with suit color.
  • Shoes: Clean and polished leather lace-up black or dark brown shoes in good shape. Avoid shoes with a worn down heel. Good shoes are worth the investment.
  • Belt: Wear a black or brown dress belt approximately one inch wide without a large buckle, the same color as your shoes.
  • Necktie: Conservative silk ties are best. Be sure the tie coordinates with the suit, is solid or has small neat patterns or stripes. Be sure the knot is neat and centered on your neck. The bottom of the tie should just reach your belt.
  • Hair: Clean and professionally cut or trimmed. (Beards and mustaches should be trimmed as well.)
  • Accessories: Nothing that stands out or is flashy. No earrings. No visible body piercings. A conservative wedding band or college ring is fine.

Guidelines for Women

  • Suits: A solid or subtle stripe navy, gray or black suit is recommended for most positions. In the most conservative environments wear a skirt suit with the skirt hitting mid or below the knee. A pant suit would be fine in other environments, and particularly appropriate in laboratory or manufacturing settings. 
  • Shirts: A solid light colored blouse or light sweater is ideal. Avoid frilly collars and cuffs.
  • Hosiery: Light, natural color, plain style (no patterns).
  • Shoes: Conservative, low to medium heels are ideal. Basic pumps, solid color, closed toes, nothing strappy. Shoes should complement the color & style of the interview suit.
  • Hair: Clean and neatly styled. Long hair should be worn as conservatively as possible.
  • Makeup: Natural looking and conservative. Neutral or clear nail polish on clean and manicured nails.
  • Accessories: One conservative, non-dangling earring per ear, one ring per hand. Small necklace may be fine. Avoid purses - carry a portfolio or briefcase instead.

Business Casual

This depends upon the environment, but universally means “not a suit.” It could be a blazer and slacks, a sweater, scarf and nice skirt, or khakis and a polo shirt. When in doubt, or until you are familiar with the environment you are working in, dress conservatively.  It is always better to be too dressed-up than dressed-down.