What to Wear?
December 10, 2006 6:41 PM   Subscribe

What is appropriate interview attire for a very creative, non-traditional company?

I have an interview with a non-traditional company and was told when setting up the interview that it was a casual environment and I was free to dress casual as well. The company is well known and publicly traded, but the office is casual to the point of being "Dog Friendly." Normally I wouldn't even question what to wear for an interview- standard suit - but this is more of a creative type of company, and I want to make sure I make the correct impression. Any thoughts?
posted by jmugrapler to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As I understand it, the rule of thumb is to dress one level higher than whatever the standard dress at the company is. So if the dress code is casual, you would want to wear at least business casual to the interview. But my thinking has always been that you can dress too casually for an interview, but you can't really dress too well. So if you're not sure what to wear, you can't go wrong with a good suit. If you're trying to show off your creative side, you can maybe think about some variations on the jacket-and-tie model, but if it were me, I'd want something inside that range of dress.
posted by magodesky at 6:53 PM on December 10, 2006

This is not a place to exercise creative thinking. Wear a suit. They'll figure out if you're creative, other ways.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:57 PM on December 10, 2006

You could always replace the jacket with a nice v-neck style sweater.
posted by furtive at 6:58 PM on December 10, 2006

For a "creative" company, I think I would wear a fairly modern-looking suit (something solid black or dark blue, perhaps?) with an interestingly colored dress shirt, no tie.
posted by raf at 6:59 PM on December 10, 2006

West coast is less formal than east coast, so factor that in.

I would wear: Dress pants, dress shirt, no jacket, no tie.

For extra credit, try to get a shirt with panache.

You'll be overdressed, but in the "one level higher" bracket that magodesky talks about.
posted by IvyMike at 7:04 PM on December 10, 2006

Wear something you won't mind getting dog slobber/hair on.
posted by amarynth at 7:14 PM on December 10, 2006

Raf and IvyMike have the right idea.
posted by desuetude at 7:33 PM on December 10, 2006

Wear a suit and a tie.

Don't assume that they know that you already know it's a casual environment.

Always wear a suit and tie to an interview. And spend as much as you can on it- even if it is your only suit.
posted by wfc123 at 7:38 PM on December 10, 2006

I can't imagine the stupidity involved in judging someone "not creative" or not a good fit for a job based on their dressing too formally for an interview.

Nevertheless, I have heard vague anecdotes of it happening, although this was during the "hey we've got a ping pong table want to work 90 hour weeks for worthless options" dot com era of the late 90s.

Nevertheless (again), suit is always safer than no suit. If I was interviewing at a pole-up-the-butt place like a bank or law firm, I used to go with the black suit/white shirt/red tie squarer-than-square combo. For more casual places, still the suit, but a more adventurous tie color and slightly cooler (still dress) shoes.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:07 PM on December 10, 2006

Don't assume that they know that you already know it's a casual environment.

Doesn't anyone read the questions anymore? The OP knows it's a casual environment because he was explicitly told so when setting up the interview.

In my experience, on the West Coast of the US, telling an interviewee that you've got a casual environment means that you are telling them not to wear a suit. I've said, more than once, to candidates, "don't bother with the suit, we're a casual bunch here". I've hired dozens of people (and probably interviewed a hundred). I have never hired someone who showed up in a suit, especially if I know they'd been told we're a casual environment. ("Listens to and follows directions accurately. Draws appropriate conclusions based on the data given.").

Incidentally, I would never hire a creative firm if their designer showed up in my office in a suit, either. Account rep, perhaps (but our receptionist would take away his jacket if he showed up in one) -- but not a creative, at least not in San Francisco. YMMV elsewhere, because SF's rules of business are decidedly different.

But, Raf and IvyMike are right on the money here. Spend some money on a nice shirt and nice pair of pants, and leave the suit in the closet.

At the risk of furthering a sterotype about the creative industries, if you've got an impeccably dressed gay friend, bring him along for your shopping trip.
posted by toxic at 8:15 PM on December 10, 2006

I'm a games developer, and standard practice is for the developers to wear whatever-the-hell-they-like, including slippers in the office, unreal tournament & federation-of-planets jackets*.

I've worn a suit to an interview precisely once, and it's one of the few interviews I've ever had where I wasn't offered the job.

It had nothing to do with the fact that they were judging me on being overdressed, I think. Much more important is the fact that I'm not particularly comfortable wearing a suit, since i so rarely do.

The reason most people wear suits to interviews is because they do feel more comfortable - more confident - wearing them. It's psychic armor.

In my case my interview attire is now just above my office level smartness: A button down or short sleeve shirt, and cords or khakis.


With, ideally, a fresh and particularly beloved pair of sneakers.

I think the standard-dress-level-plus-one rule is an excellent one. Don't make the mistake of going more than one level above - for some creative jobs turning up in a suit would be like turning up to a "normal" job interview in a tux and cummerbund.

That said, if you looked really good in a tux&cummerbund,
and it made you feel genuinely Bond-level untouchable,
it would still be EXCELLENT interview attire.

Wear whatever will allow you to project the most confident, professional demeanor in the interview. That's what they're really judging you on, not your clothes. And if they're not? You don't want to work there.

(*All spotted on my office floor last week)
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:01 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

(1) what kind of position are you applying for? if you are a creative (art director, grahic designer, copywriter, creative director), I would say wear whatever you like. if you are a business person (acount executive, brand manager, whatnot else) - business casual.

(2) why are they even mentioning this? clearly they are less up-tight than you think.

may I ask what company this is? that type of information might get us a lot further.
posted by krautland at 12:46 AM on December 11, 2006

Doesn't anyone read the questions anymore?

hey toxic: did you forget to fill your prescription? go a bit easy on people here, mhmmkay?
posted by krautland at 12:48 AM on December 11, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback, I really appreciate it. I'm hesitant to give away the company, but I will say its an international apparel store catering to trendsetting 18-34 year olds. I'm applying for a position working with their e-commerce site. Also, I am on the East Coast.
posted by jmugrapler at 4:51 AM on December 11, 2006

Button down cotton shirt, v-neck cashmere black sweater. You do know that shoes are what people make the most judgements according to?
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:51 AM on December 11, 2006

So, StickyCarpet, what shoes would you wear/suggest?

In Portland, I'd go with the cashmere v-neck, a nice shirt, slacks, and non-sandal Keens for footwear.

What would Keens say about a person?

Probably Heelys would be a bad idea. :)
posted by Invoke at 10:21 AM on December 11, 2006

A well made casual shoe, with no trendy scoops or points or whatever on the front. A light brown suede wingtip? Dark brown?
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:28 AM on December 11, 2006

Posting response on behalf of a (very stylish) friend:

"International apparel store catering to trend-setting 18-34 year olds. Is that you? If it isn't, you better make that you. ASAP. They want you to be in touch with their demographic. You don't have to BE the demographic, but you had better at least look like you know someone who is. I also think that the fact that your intended employer is IN the fashion business means that you can't discount the importance of what you wear to the interview.

I think that suits are getting a bad rap here that they don't deserve. You can wear a suit and still avoid looking like a stuffed shirt. And I'm in the legal profession - so I know from stuffed shirts! You should look at the note regarding a casual atmosphere as something of a blank slate. You can create whatever image you wish to project without feeling encumbered by rules. I would suggest something between business casual and a suit. (eg. black suit with a colorful vertical striped shirt underneath - no tie; or my personal favorite: navy blue pinstripe suit with a brightly colored solid oxford underneath - no tie) It gives an air of professionalism without making your interviewer uncomfortable on your behalf. You look fun and funky, but also responsible.'"
posted by katemonster at 7:49 PM on December 11, 2006

I used to be a copywriter in advertising, and now I'm an Interactive Producer on the West Coast. A few years ago I was sitting with the Creative Recruiter at Wieden and Kennedy (wk.com) and she told me that they had a rule about interviews. If a guy shows up wearing a suit, they assume he didn't do his homework, but give him one allowance. If he shows up for a second interview with a suit on, they won't hire him. She said that if he can't figure out what kind of a company they are after being there once, he isn't the right person for their job. With that said, I've never worn a tie, never tucked in a shirt, never even wore slacks to an interview, and have gotten every job that I've been interviewed for (save one, but that was fortune looking over me). This company wants to appeal to a 'cool' demographic, and often cool is wearing something entirely different than a suit. Look good, be comfortable, be dressed 'sharp', but don't wear a suit.
posted by adrock31 at 10:32 PM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

adrock: you met MM? how is she these days?
posted by krautland at 9:49 AM on December 17, 2006

I think Katemonster's friend said it best (for the East Coast).

Maybe the East Coast is a little stuffier, but Creatives do wear suits here for interviews and client presentations, but they do it in a subversive way that may be hard to pull off if you're not used to it.

You should probably try also to wear something made by this trendy international apparel co. It will be noticed and appreciated.
posted by maggiemaggie at 2:30 PM on December 17, 2006

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