Professional Dress


Dr. Marilyn M. Helms, Dean, DSC Wright School of Business


Appropriate attire supports your image as a person who takes the interview process seriously and indicates you are someone who wants a JOB.

 Your attire should be described as being well-fitting and appropriate, but it should not take center stage or be memorable. Dressing nicely and appropriately is a compliment and shows respect to the person(s) you meet.  When in doubt, always dress more professionally than might be required for the actual job duties. Even if you know employees dress casually (often termed “business casual”) on the job, you should dress in traditional interview (board room) attire unless you HAVE BEEN specifically directed otherwise by the employer or their human resources department.

In the current economy stakes are higher than usual. Make sure you pay attention to the small details of your attire. Risk-taking has a bad name and employers do not want to see it exhibited in your wardrobe choices. Employers are looking for committed serious professionals who will become a valuable asset to their team. By wearing appropriate business dress, you are communicating to potential employers that you take both the interview and the resulting job seriously. In uncertain times people lean toward traditional ways and dress. The buzzwords for interview dress are conservative and traditional.

Never confuse an interview or business function with a social event. Do not dress for a party or date. Be sure to allow time for any needed alterations to your interview clothing. My favorite in Dalton is Choi’s Alterations (300 W. Emery Street, Suite 104, 706-277-7530, M-F 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sat. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Consider trying on all your interview clothes the week before the interview to get an idea of the “big picture,” particularly if you are not in the habit of wearing professional business attire. You will feel less awkward on the interview day itself.  If you are still uncertain about your choices, have a trusted faculty member or business professional critique your outfit.  Always follow these suggestions . . .

















Jackets that fit your back securely; fit in the shoulders (not too narrow or not extending past your shoulders); is the correct length – you should be able to cup your fingers over the end of the jacket when your arms are hanging from the sides.  Sleeve lengths should not hide your hands (sleeve length should fall ½ inch below wrist)

Good quality fabrics – linen, wool, cotton, and silk

Matched blazer and pants in neutral colors

Men – navy or deep gray or very subtle pinstripes

Women – navy, deep gray, brown or black (pants or skirt are acceptable)

Wear the jacket during the entire interview – typically buttoned while standing and unbuttoned while seated

Avoid double-breasted suits

Men – avoid three-button suits

Women – avoid trendy styles, no big shoulder pads, no shiny buttons or lots of trim and detail

Men – brown suits are not popular in the South 

Shiny black suits are only worn by funeral home staff

All – no non-traditional colors (green, purple, pastels white)

All – no loose buttons

Skirts (women)

To the knee or slightly below

No ankle length or floor length skirts

No long slits at the sides or back

No visible slip (practice sitting and check the look)

No visible knee-high hose

Not too tight

No bare legs – wear hose

Pants (all)

Match the fabric and color of your coat

Creased and tailored to fit

Neither tight nor baggy - alterations may be required

Should break over the top of your shoes and drop to the back of your heels

Women – pants are good for site visits

No tight pants with gaping pockets (have them stitched down)

No loose or flowing pants

Not too long, not too short

Women – no capris, leggings, or cropped pants

Hose (women)

Skin-tone or neutral color

Hose (with skirts)

Knee-hi hose (with pants) or trouser socks

No opaque or patterned hose 

No white hose – unless the hospital where you work requires them

No bare legs

Socks (men)

Dark, mid-calf

Quality trouser socks

No white or tan socks

No athletic or ankle socks

No skin should show when you cross your legs


Men, usually white, 100% oxford or pinpoint cotton

Men - wear only long-sleeve shirts under suits

Button-up shirt or short-sleeve or sleeveless blouse or shell.  Don’t remove your jacket during the interview

Coordinates with suit  White is always safe or light colors

Avoid the dark shirt “mafia look”

No turtle-necks for men or frayed collars on dress shirts

No bright, bold, distracting patterns

Women check that blouse buttons have no gaps – buy a larger size or use fabric tape to close

No see-through materials

Avoid lots of lace, ruffles, etc.

No low cut, revealing tops

No cleavage should be seen – purchase a larger shirt, add snaps, or use fabric tape

Tie (men) or Scarves (women)

Conservative color and pattern

Coordinates with suit and shirt

Length should be to the top of your belt

Scarves should be neat and at the neck or tucked into the blazer

No bold colors or patterns

No bow-ties

No college logos or team logos

No cartoon characters

No long dangling scarves


Clothes should fit well and be altered and tailored for you

No baggy clothes

No revealing clothes (cover arms, chest, chest hair and stomach, cleavage, at all times)


Match your shoes

Black or brown


No big buckles, bold, large belts, no dangling chain belts

No worn or frayed belts


Dark colors, closed heel and closed toe, conservative heel

Polished with clean heels and soles

Men – black lace-up styles or wingtips

Women – conservative black or navy pumps less than 2” heels

No scruffy shoes

No open toe or open back (backless) shoes, no sandals or flip flops

No bold color or texture shoes

No noisy shoes

Dirt or mud on your heels, run down heels

No sandals, loafers, boat shoes, athletic shoes

No stilettos or platform heels, no sandals or backless shoes

Don’t show your toes

Purse (women)

Small, coordinate with shoes in color and texture

Preferably good quality leather in black or brown

No large, trendy, printed oversized bags

Don’t take a purse and a briefcase

Briefcase/Portfolio (both)

Professional, inconspicuous and in good condition

Black or dark brown leather only

Women – Either a purse or briefcase but don’t carry both

Both – no messenger bags, no prints or fabric bags


Only take/wear if necessary

Trench coat or raincoat

Good fabrics – wool, cashmere, or nylon

Tan or black only

No jean jackets, puffy jackets

No casual coats, hoodies, or fleece zip-ups

Ladies - No coats shorter than your skirt


Women – stud earrings only, if any

Rings – only wedding band and/or college rings

Conservative watch

No excessive jewelry (watch and ring for men; watch, one ring, and stud earrings for women)

No facial piercings or tongue piercings

No cheap, trendy, costume jewelry

No dangling or jingling jewelry 

No bracelets

Men- No earrings

Women – no more than one traditional ear piercing


Neat, professional

Out of face and eyes

Natural color

Fresh hair cut the week before 

Men – keep hair cut over the ears and short in the back

No bold streaks, no extreme styles or colors

No dyed or bleached hair whose roots need re-touching

Men – no long side burns or long bangs, or mullet styles 

Body Hair

None showing

Trim bushy eyebrows

No ear hair; No nose hair

Women – pluck stray hairs on chin and face, be sure to shave legs (especially when wearing a skirt)   

Men – no facial hair, no hair showing over the shirt collar and tie, wear proper length socks so leg hair doesn’t show when you cross your legs

Make-up (women only)

Professional, conservative, minimal

Muted earth tones for eye color and lips

No excessive make-up

No heavy eyeliner

No smoky eyes or make-up for a date or evening party

No fake eyelashes

No sparkling makeup

No bright red or shiny lipstick

Nails (Both)

Clean, neatly trimmed

Have a professional manicure the day before

No long and/or dirty nails

Women - no fake nails or long tips

Nail Polish (women)

(no nail polish for men – buff to a shine, only)

Preferably none

Neutral, conservative color (clear, pale pink or pale tan)

Wild colors (bright reds and pinks, black, blue, green, etc.) 

No neon colors or different colors on each nail

No chipped nail polish – if painted

No designs, glitter, themes or stones on nails


No perfumes and cologne

Use sparingly if at all. (Many people are allergic).  A growing number of professional offices have signage indicating they are “perfume or fragrance free” offices

Men – go easy on the aftershave – omit if possible

Deodorant - choose a fragrance-free (unscented) antiperspirant.  Body Wash – unscented or powder scent

No odors in clothes.

No smelling like tobacco smoke (don’t smoke the day of the interview). Challenge yourself to quit smoking – most workplaces and parking areas are smoke-free and often insurance premiums are higher for smokers

No overpowering scents. You won’t need them if you are clean and your clothes are clean as well


Schedule your teeth cleaning one week before.

Brush your teeth and use mouthwash

Finish a small breath mint just before the interview.

No bad breath

No chewing gum or smokeless tobacco in the interview

Do not eat anything (candy, sunflower seeds, etc.) during the interview


Cover with clothing, bandage or make-up as necessary

No visible tattoos


Clothes should be neat and clean, fit properly.

Dry clean all pieces of your outfit together so the colors match

No missing buttons.

No lint, pet hair, external tags and stitching (this includes stitching to hold vents, pockets, and the label stitched on the outside of your sleeves)


Portfolio (leather binder with notepad and pen)

Extra copies of your resume, samples of your work, business cards

No cell phones, I-pods, Blackberries, Palm Pilots, or any other ringing/ beeping technology.  

If you need any of the data in your phone be sure to set it to vibrate or turn off the ringer phone function

No ear phones in your ear

Ace the Interview

Practice your personal pitch and be ready with a 2-3 minute pitch that tells your story.

Research the company then craft intelligent, informed questions.

Mine your resume- highlight your successes and accomplishments using the STAR method – describe the Situation, the Task, the Actions you took and the Result.

No long, rambling histories from your childhood to present – keep it brief and specific to work.

Don’t ask any questions that you should already know from reading the company’s website and objectives.

Don’t neglect the importance of practicing and rehearsing answers to tough interview questions so you’ll feel ready.


Washed and cleaned inside and out

Perhaps a copy of today’s Wall Street Journal folded on the passenger’s seat

No messy interior with trash, papers, clothing, packages, candy, drink cans, cigarettes, fast food bags, etc.

“Thank You” Notes

Do send a written thank you note card immediately to everyone you talked with.

Keep it short and simple – “Dear Ms. Employer:  Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about the opening at Your Company.  The position seems exactly suited to my skills and interests.  I look forward to talking with you further.  Sincerely, Your Name”

Don’t just send an e-mail.  Send the e-mail thank you immediately then mail the card the next day.

Don’t write the same note to each person – they will compare notes.

Dining with Prospective Employer

Order a meal that is simple and easy to eat that you have eaten before that always agrees with your stomach

Mirror what your host orders - get an appetizer or dessert if they do

Eat at the same rate as your dining companions. They will feel more in tune with you and this will eliminate awkward stretches when some are eating but others are not

Order a reasonably priced entree - not the most expensive on the menu - get a high end item only if your host specifically recommends it

Be prepared for light conversation and small talk - read through several newspapers beforehand so you are ready to discuss current events - also check if there is anything new at guest's company or industry sector  - check on-line or at the library

Order food that's challenging to eat - spaghetti, crab legs, salads

Place a complex order - "leave off the dressing, put that on the side, etc." - makes you seem difficult to please

Say "take this back" - the meeting is more important than the meal - makes you look picky and difficult

Don’t eat someone else's bread (remember BMW = bread, meal, water. Your bread is always on your left)

Once you have the job and if you are told the dress code is “Business Casual”

Business casual should still look professional and clothes should be conservative and clean and pressed.

Women and Men: black or navy or tan slacks and a white dress shirt or company logo polo shirt with a collar.

Women:  nice blouse and blazer. Women tend to look a bit more professional with a blazer and you want to be ready for the next promotion! A sweater over a shell top with a skirt in an appropriate length is another option. If you wear a dress opt for a knee length with sleeves or a sweater. 

Men:  You can also wear a tie but you don’t have to wear a blazer or sport coat with business casual (but you may choose to in the winter).  Consider a vest over a long-sleeved shirt or a sweater or sweater vest in winter.

Wear loafers or similar leather shoes or flats with closed heels and closed toes too. 

No jeans or torn or ripped clothing or t-shirts with logos or without a collar.

Women: Don't wear sleeveless or low cut or very thin tops. No shorts or sundresses.

No sandals or sneakers.


Timeless Rules for Dress

  • Keep clothing understated – not flashy
  • Dress for the job you want, not the job you have
  • Represent your company professionally
  • Keep you clothes neat, clean, mended, ironed
  • Don’t reveal too much or send a sexual message with tight, sheer, or low-cut clothing – the key is too look authoritative and highly competent
  • Dress for the time of day – no evening clothes at work
  • Don’t be a victim of the current fashion at work – work clothes are NOT trendy.  They are traditional and an investment that should last several years