11 minute read

What to Wear


Hugh thought he might make an impression by wearing a blindingly pink tie to an on-campus interview (in his defense, it was Thomas Pink, and he made it look good). The first thing one of the interviewers said to him was, “Wow, that's a ballsy tie.” That is how pink it was. We do not know if this tie had any effect on the number of callbacks Hugh received, but we can say the following with some certainty: the tie should have some color, but it should not be your distinguishing feature. The interviewers’ attention should be drawn to you, not your attire, and certainly not your tie. In fact, a number of interviewers commented negatively on this behavior, pointing out that garish colors are never appropriate for an interview. Although unusual colors may get the interviewer's attention, it may not be the attention you want.

You may notice some of your interviewers are sporting snazzy ties. We recall one on-campus interviewer wearing a beautiful Hermès tie (despite his lack of seniority). All the female law students talked about the tie, which made his employer, a well-known Chicago-based firm, seem quite stylish. The interviewer and his firm were a hit that day. But as an interviewee, you should not mimic your interviewers’ appearance. Keep in mind that, regardless of their age and position at the firm, it is their opportunity to look important and to get some attention from admiring law students. You, on the other hand, need a job, not attention. So stick with Banana Republic for now.

Of course, there is something to be said for attire that inspires confidence, yours and the interviewer's. In your efforts to dress conservatively and professionally, do not be afraid to wear that favorite tie that makes you look and feel confident. Overly flamboyant dress, however, may have the opposite effect, signaling to interviewers that you are not confident in your ability to stand out and make an impression. Your interviewers are looking for the candidate who stands out on his own accord, not the one who needs a fuchsia tie to be memorable. Ultimately, your confidence in your ability to get the job is just as important as showing that you know how to play the interviewing game.

As a general rule, do not wear a striped tie if you are wearing a striped suit or a striped shirt (which are not recommended for an interview anyway). It is best to wear a solid tie to compliment the stripes. Additionally, although there is a wide range of acceptable colors, stick with conservative colors and stay away from unusual patterns. Do not wear a black tie or a tie that doesn't match the rest of your attire. If you are wearing a black suit, make sure that either your tie or your shirt is a lighter color to avoid looking as though you just came from a wedding or a funeral. Here is a helpful tidbit of information regarding psychological effects of colors on the audience: During presidential debates, male candidates typically wear either a solid red or blue tie. This is because red communicates leadership and control, and blue projects calmness, composure, and organization. No matter what color you choose, however, show your interviewers that you can tie a handsome knot.

Finally, carry a handkerchief with you so that you can wipe off your hands shortly before an interview if they become sweaty. But do not place it in the outside breast pocket of your jacket—it will make you look like a gangster, not a job candidate.

Shoes and Accessories

For men: This is the easy part. Classic, lace-up black leather shoes shined to perfection will do the trick. Brown shoes are acceptable, but black is a safer color. Make sure your shoes are clean and that they match your belt. These items, along with your watch, are statistically the top items that will be noticed by your female interviewers (and which will likely be ignored by their male counterparts). Stick with an unobtrusive, preferably silver-toned, belt buckle. If you decide to wear a watch, make sure it is not too expensive, and try to pick one that matches your belt buckle and has a leather band. As a rule of thumb, your socks should the same color as or darker than your suit. Avoid patterned socks, and never wear white or light-colored socks. Make sure your socks are over-the-calf—you do not want to show skin when you cross your legs during an interview.

For women: although our advice is, once again, to be conservative, you actually have many choices when it comes to shoes. The main point to remember here is that your shoes should be black, with covered toes and back. The rest is up to you—the designer, the style, the heel height do not matter, as long as you do not go overboard. You want your shoes to look professional, not escort-service professional.

This is the mistake Amberly made during her interview at a major East Coast firm. She wore a dark skirt suit, stockings, minimal jewelry, and black lace-up shoes—great so far. To her credit, the shoes were close toed, and the rest of her wardrobe looked very conservative. However, the partner who interviewed her later remarked that there was absolutely no way she would consider giving an offer to someone wearing “ballet slippers.” There was no offer, despite the fact that Amberly had excellent credentials and was about to graduate from a top-tier school.

Women are more likely to be judged unfairly at an interview because of how they dress. Moreover, there are more pitfalls out there for female candidates than there are for their male counterparts in terms of dress code. As a result, women should be extra attentive to their interviewing attire.

In most Southern states, women still wear skirts and pantyhose to an interview. In other parts of the country, pantsuits and or skirts without stockings are becoming the norm. When in doubt, wear a skirt and pantyhose if weather permits. This is especially true if your skin is pale, which would make the fact that you are not wearing pantyhose more noticeable. Pick a neutral, solid color (black pantyhose have only been recently adopted by the business world, and should be worn with caution), and be prepared for unpleasant little surprises.

Kim, an associate interviewing to make a lateral move, was walking into her first interview when she discovered a huge hole in her stockings. Fortunately, she was able to calmly proceed to the bathroom, pull out a spare pair of stockings from her purse, change, and be back in time for her interview.

Handbags and briefcases

With regard to handbags and briefcases, our advice is to leave them behind. They do not serve any function at an interview. The only thing you really need and should bring into the interviewing room is a folder/portfolio with your marketing materials (resume, writing samples, transcripts, and so on). You can even hide things such as car keys or a credit card in this folder, in case you must carry them with you.

Handbags and briefcases can be distracting for you and your interviewers. They look bulky when you carry them around, you must figure out where to put them without invading the interviewer's personal space, and they can open and reveal their contents. Furthermore, it is difficult to pick the right interview bag—especially a handbag. Most handbags are too flashy and trendy, and some can make you look unprofessional. Therefore, try to leave your briefcase or bag at home or in the car, or ask the receptionist or a recruiting coordinator to store it for you. If you must bring it to an interview, choose a small black purse with no flashy buckles or accessories (for women), or a thin black or brown briefcase (for men). It should close easily, be simply designed, and not draw unnecessary attention to itself. Once you are in the interviewing room, remember not to place your bag on the desk or table so as not to invade the interviewer's space. Instead, place it on a chair next to you or under your seat.

Hair and grooming

For men: No matter how well you are dressed, long or untidy hair will create a disconnect between you and your professional attire. That said, avoid a $500 John Edwards special or spiked hair—both can antagonize your interviewers. Supercuts will probably do, as all you are aiming for is clean-cut and professional. Trim your eyebrows, make sure your hair is neat and clean around the neckline and ears, with trimmed sideburns. If you have time and money, invest in teeth-whitening strips.

For women: Your hair should look professional and elegant. If your hair is long, you can tie it in a ponytail, wear a thin, solid, dark-colored headband, pin your hair up, or style it in some other conservative way. Just do not go for the Barbie look and let all of your hair down; your interviewer may not take you seriously, especially if you are a blonde. Short hair should be neat and styled. Try not to make any drastic changes to your hair shortly before the interviews, and considering whitening your teeth. Stained teeth, a bad haircut, and uneven highlights can impinge on your confidence.

Fragrance and make-up

For men: Always use a deodorant, but avoid colognes and aftershaves that emit a strong scent. Nobody wants to hire an attorney who will be nicknamed “too much cologne guy.” Some interviewers suggest foregoing cologne entirely to avoid such issues as allergies.

For women: You have a wide range of fragrance choices available to you, and it is fine to wear a light fragrance to the interview. Some studies suggest that women are more confident when wearing perfume and makeup, and that employers prefer women who wear perfume to those who do not. The most important advice here is not to overdo it. Be considerate of your interviewers. Makeup and perfume should be noticeable, but they should not call unnecessary attention to themselves. We have all had to ride in an elevator at some point with a gal who went perfume crazy—not a pleasant experience. Stick to light scents. Excessive makeup is likely to raise a red flag with potential employers, as well. Choose neutral eye shadows, subtle blush, and light foundation if your skin permits it. Shy away from very dark or very bright lipsticks. You are not interviewing for a Broadway show.

Jewelry, tattoos, and piercings

Candidates interviewing in New York can generally get away with more than interviewees in, say, Atlanta. But generally, unless you are interviewing for a position with an up-and-coming entertainment company, the interviewers are not going to appreciate your sense of style and uniqueness when it comes to tattoos and piercings. Visible tattoos should be covered with makeup, and piercings should be removed. According to one partner, although making hiring decisions is always difficult because there is such a large pool of qualified applicants, some candidates make it too easy: “One candidate came to an interview with his tongue pierced,” he said. “I liked him, but how could I present him to the hiring committee?” The next logical question might as well have been, “How could I present him to a client?”

Virtually all employers have a predictable preference when it comes to jewelry—the less the better. Therefore, no matter where you are interviewing, go easy on the jewelry. There are only four pieces of jewelry a woman should wear to an interview: earrings, a ring, a simple necklace, and a watch. For men, the only acceptable jewelry is a watch and a wedding band or a class ring. Never wear lapel pins to an interview; whether it is a patriotic flag pin or a yellow ribbon, making a political statement at an interview is simply not appropriate. When it comes to rings, it is best if the only ring on the candidate's finger is a wedding ring (if he or she is married). Earrings (one in each ear!) are appropriate for women only, and they should not be long or flashy. Finally, women can wear either a strand of pearls or a delicate necklace, so long as it does not cry for attention.

Sarah, a first-year law student, wore a Swarovski crystal pendent to an interview. The entire time, an older partner was staring at her chest, making her wonder if he was about to sexually harass her. She felt uncomfortable during the interview, only to find out later that the partner thought it was a 3-carat diamond! At the end of the interview, the partner asked her about the stone, suggesting that she didn't need a legal job if she could afford such fancy jewelry.

The moral of this story is do not invite unnecessary attention.

All these conservative suggestions paint a picture of a professional lawyer in very boring colors of black and charcoal gray, not leaving much possibility for excitement or style. Unfortunately, this is how lawyers are expected to look. Whether at a corporate law firm or in a government office, attorneys are not expected to distinguish themselves by their appearance. This is especially true in private practice, where law firms see themselves as an extension of the corporate clients they serve. By dressing conservatively, you demonstrate that you know how things work in the legal world, which will make your interviewers that much more predisposed to your candidacy.


  • • Geography matters. Consider whether your outfit is region appropriate.
  • • Always wear a suit, even if told not to by your recruiter or interviewer.
  • • Dress conservatively; do not wear anything flashy or too expensive.
  • • Stick with solid colors: white and light blue for shirts; red, blue, or other traditional colors for ties; navy, charcoal gray, or black for suits; and black for shoes.
  • • Do not wear a tank top, T-shirt, or sweater to your interviews.
  • • If you wear a short-sleeved shirt, remember to keep your jacket on at all times.
  • • The only acceptable jewelry includes a wedding ring (for men and women), and earrings and a simple necklace (for women).
  • • Men should wear socks that are the same color as or darker than their shoes; women should opt for beige pantyhose.
  • • If you have questions about appropriate attire, ask your career services, your friends and family, or the firm's recruiting coordinator.
  • • Be memorable because of who you are, not what you wear.

Nail Your Law Job Interview © 2009 , Career Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw Job InterviewsWhat to Wear - Dress Conservatively, Wear A Traditional Suit, Just Say No To Business Casual, Shirts, Ties