You’ve applied for a job you really want, and now you’ve gotten the in-person job interview. Sometimes you’ll do a phone interview first, while other companies often to go directly to bringing candidates into the office. Whether the in-person interview is your first, second, or third round of interviewing, you’ll need to decide what to wear. For women, the choices can be especially overwhelming given the spectrum of women’s wear options. You want to look professional and put-together, but not bland and homily. Whether you want to opt for a sheath dress or a pair of nice jeans and a blazer will depend on several factors.  Read on for some tips on what women should wear to job interviews. 

Consider the culture

An interview with a local tech startup is likely going to be more casual than, say, an interview at a bank that’s been run by the same family for 100 years. There’s even a phrase for the former: startup casual. It’s designed to signal that the company is innovative and approachable, not rigid and distant.

That’s good for the people who already work there, of course. But it can leave you in a conundrum. You want to show that you can fit into the company culture, but you also don’t want to seem like you got up that morning and threw on the first clothes you saw. It may help to check out the company’s website and social media pages. Look at the staff photos and take note of how the people are dressed in them. If the women are wearing a blazer with jeans, then that’s not a bad idea.

Professional dress for women also changes depending on where you are. An office in Seattle is more likely to take a live-and-let-live approach to interview apparel than an office in suburban Georgia. In some parts of the country, you’re expected to dress for an interview like you would for a Sunday morning at church. There’s nothing wrong with colors, but make sure you’re wearing the right ones. According to research, blue and black are the best colors for job interview apparel, and you should avoid orange at all costs. 

Wear something you know feels good

It’s tempting to go out and buy a brand new outfit to celebrate your interview with a company that excites you. But maybe you should hold off on buying a lot of new clothes until you actually land a new job. That’s not just because new clothes are expensive; it’s also because wearing an outfit for the first time at a job interview can be unpredictable.

Let’s say you buy a new dress that you think strikes the perfect mix of business casual and confident. It feels good when you try it on at the store, but what you don’t know is that, after an hour or so, the material is going to make you feel itchy. And if you feel itchy, then you’re going to be distracted and fidgeting during the interview. Obviously, that’s bad, because your focus needs to be on the hiring committee in front of you. If you do buy something, try to wear it for a couple of hours around the house a day or two before the interview. That way, you can turn to a backup outfit in your closet in case there’s an unexpected issue.

Ask the recruiter

There are some questions you shouldn’t ask your recruiter. For instance, “How much money you guys got?” is an indelicate way to ask about salary. But there’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification on appropriate interview apparel, as long as you do it carefully.

Presumably, the company wants to hire thoughtful, self-aware employees. Your recruiter also probably told you to contact them with any questions. Feel free to write a quick email that says something like “What’s the office dress code like?” or “What do people typically wear to interviews?”  

Now, that doesn’t mean you should send your recruiter three possible outfits and ask them to pick one. That’s definitely overstepping. But it’s more than OK to ask a clarifying question about dress code expectations.