The foundation of a formal interview outfit is:
- A two button, single breasted suit with notch lapels on the jacket in either charcoal or navy.
- A pair of black closed lace oxford dress shoes.
- A pair of over the calf dress socks that match your suit’s trousers.
- A matching black leather belt.
- A conservatively colored barrel cuffed dress shirt.
- A conservatively colored silk tie.
This is going to be a more value-focused guide geared towards young adults entering the professional market but I will also include budget alternatives to the more expensive pieces for college students strapped for cash. I will not include budget alternatives for things such as socks because entry-level quality there won’t break the bank and it’s better to be set on those from the jump and then upgrade your suit and shoes later. If you believe those be at an exorbitant price you’d be absolutely wrong but you can look towards the second-hand market for alternatives. There is a specific objective with this guide, which is to maximize the probability of you getting a job or client. That means the primary focus is going to be on not fucking up as opposed to looking like a GQ model. This guide is very valuable because, if followed correctly, it can directly affect your income. This guide is only applicable to you if companies in your field expect you to wear a suit during the interview process. Generally speaking, this means jobs in banking, finance, and law. If you wear a suit to a carpentry interview, for example, you will look ridiculous. If you are unsure of the formality of your interview ask your recruiter beforehand. A good rule of thumb is to dress one step above what the employees are wearing. If you are extremely overweight you may experience some difficulty with the garments suggested. I’ll try to update this semiannually but if there are any dead links go ahead and shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get to fixing them.
As always, none of these links are affiliate links. I’m a Personal Stylist, not a blogger or affiliate author. No sponsorship or kickback nonsense is involved here either.
What we’re aiming for is a suit that’s at least half-canvassed with wool sourced from a decent mill that doesn’t look cheap. We also want to pay for the quality of the suit and not the brand name. We have three really good options at the entry level: J. Crew, Spier & Mackay and Suit Supply. The problem with Suit Supply is their suits have functional buttons at the cuff which makes tailoring them much more expensive. So that leaves us with J. Crew and Spier & Mackay. The Spier & Mackay suit has everything the J. Crew Ludlow line has and more for almost $100 less. J. Crew uses a wool/elastane mix while Spier & Mackay is 100% Super 120 wool. Spier & Mackay also has a sous bras on the inner armhole to protect it from sweat which J. Crew doesn’t. Spier & Mackay is the clear winner.
Your first two suits should be navy and charcoal as they are both extremely versatile. If you can only afford one charcoal is going to be your best option. You’re going to want to go with the contemporary fit. It may be called contemporary but it is NOT boxy.
To get your suit size you’re going to want to measure the full diameter of chest over your nipples under your arms with a plastic tape measure. You want the tape measure taut enough that it’s gently hugging your chest when you take your measurement. You REALLY don’t want to mess this up, the best way to go about this is to have someone else measure it for you multiple times to make sure the measurement is precise. Even an experienced tailor most likely won’t be able to fix shoulders that don’t fit correctly without messing up the rest of the suit’s balance. If you are 6’3 and taller you’re most likely going to want to order your suit in long (L) and if you’re 5’6 or shorter you’re going to want to order your suit in short (S). If your jacket doesn’t completely cover your bottom while you’re standing it’s too short. Generally speak, suit sizes are in even numbers so if you measure an odd number go up. If your shoulders are pulling your suit at all RETURN YOUR SUIT AND RESIZE, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ALTER IT. If your suit feels loose on your shoulders RETURN YOUR SUIT AND RESIZE, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ALTER IT.
Note: When you go to a tailor you’ll probably see a lot of bridal stuff. Don’t be put off by this, it’s how a lot of tailors make the bulk of their money.
Next, you’re going to want to get some high quality dress shoes. We’re going with black. I personally think dark brown looks much better than black, but some people look at it as a faux pas and we’re steering towards “not fucking up” as opposed to making your interview your personal fashion show. This is especially true in Europe. Allen Edmond is generally the suggested go-to for most people’s first pair of grown man shoes and I suggest them as well. Fun fact: they’re a favorite of a lot of United State’s presidents. The Park Avenue Cap-toe Oxford shoes are a classic.
If you can’t afford $425.00 for a pair of shoes the factory seconds are typically about $200 cheaper with very minor unnoticeable imperfections. They can be found HERE.
If you take care of these things they can last longer than a decade with the occasional recraft. That means you need a shoe tree, leather conditioner, and shoe polish. This is non-negotiable. If you do not take care of quality dress shoes you are literally throwing away your money.
If you have the money for it and your weight doesn’t fluctuate often I’d recommend a high quality leather belt as it will pretty much last just as long as high-quality shoes. Trafalgar is a good option. You’re going to want to buy a belt 2 inches more than your actual waist size for it to fit properly.
For socks, we’re going to Nordstrom. Typically in an interview to remain as conservative as possible you’re going to want your sock color to match your pants. So with your navy suit wear the navy pair and with your charcoal suit wear the charcoal pair. Make sure you select the colors you need, the link defaults to black.
The Dress Shirts
For your shirts, we’re going to Charles Tyrwhitt. Instead of paying the MSRP we’re going to cheat. You’re going to want to add the shirts to your cart then google search “TM Lewin” and click the Charles Tyrwhitt ad that says “Mens Shirts 3 for $99”. This will change your shirts to $39.95 each. If you want to take full advantage of the deal THIS is a good option for a third shirt. I wouldn’t wear it to an interview but it’s a great staple for a business wardrobe.
Last but not least we’re moving to ties. For an interview, you’re going to want to wear a silk tie in either navy or burgandy. If you had to pick just one I’d recommend navy. Stripes are also generally accepted. Some firms won’t look down on small print dot and diamond patterns during interviews but at that point you’re kinda pushing it so I’m not including them. To match your lapels you’re going to want to buy your tie, or ties, 3.25 inches wide (or 3 inches wide for the J. Ferrar. suit) at regular length unless you’re over 6’3. If you are over 6’3 you’re going to want to go with the extra length option. I REALLY wanted to include The Tie Bar as an entry-level option but they simply do not have enough 3.25″ ties for this to be a viable option for the Spier and Mackay suit. Because of this, we’re going with Brooks Brothers.
Some basic rules for wearing suits are:
- Never button the bottom button.
- Unbutton your jacket when you’re sitting down.
- Your tie should end at or just before your belt. For an interview, I recommend learning and tying a half-windsor knot.
- Only dry clean your suit when absolutely necessary or else you will shorten it’s lifespan.
And some basic rules for interviewing are:
- Show up cleanly shaven with a professional haircut.
- Keep your nails cut and clean.
- Brush your teeth, rinse your mouth, and carry mints.
- Unless you regularly get compliments on your fragrance don’t wear it and even if you do limit it to just one spritz, preferably on your chest.
- Bring a padfolio and a pen. THIS is a good option for a padfolio.
- Don’t wear any jewelry or accessories except a wedding ring or minimalist non-sporty, non-smart, watch with a metal or leather strap. That means no tie bars, cuff links, pocket squares, or earrings.
There you have it. It’s likely in the future I will make a guide focused on building a business wardrobe but until then…
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