Urgent Reader Mail: What to wear to an interview/dinner?

Reader A writes in with an urgent request…

I sent in my cover letter + resume to a firm and was invited to a dinner with potentially 2+ members of the student hiring committee (I’m assuming other students were invited as well…) the restaurant is quite high end and I was wondering what recommendations you would have to wear. They didn’t mention a dress code. I’m thinking either: 1) A black dress + Black jacket OR 2) Black dress pants + dress shirt + black sweater over it.  What would be your choice?

Ultimately, this is an interview, and that means one thing to us:  full suit. Because it’s unclear, though, be prepared for the possibility that you will want to take off your jacket to be more casual.  So, for example, choose a suit where you like the pants by themselves, and choose a layer beneath the suit that has sleeves and looks professional.  A silk sweater would probably be our choice here, accessorized with pearls or other conservative (and good) jewelry.  (Pictured above:  August Silk Three-Quarter Sleeve Square Neck Sweater, available at Macy’s for $29.98 — we’d also recommend checking out your local Filene’s, TJ Maxx, or other discount store; for some reason they frequently have a wide variety of these silk sweaters.)

And yes, we did say pants — even though we’re normally huge fans of the skirt suit for interviews, because this is dinner, you want to avoid any appearance that you thought you were going on a date.  Go with a skirt if you want; we’d avoid a dress at all costs.

Readers, what say you? Also, do you have any other tips for the tricky dinner interview? We’ll point you to an older post we wrote about dining etiquette; we’d also advise drinking very little (one glass of wine at most) and ordering something easy to eat, like ravioli.


  1. I completely agree with C here. Definitely an interview – definitely a suit. I always wear pant suits, but I would also second the advice on wearing pants and definitely not a dress. Again, as C suggested, wear a nice top under the suit (definitely not sleeveless – these are forbidden in my office) so you can take off the jacket if appropriate.

  2. I definitely agree, you need to wear a suit. I went to dinners like this last year during 2L recruitment but they were offer dinners so I felt comfortable to wear business casual and that is how they billed the event. However, I still wore pants and a sweater because a skirt might have been risky. All the other students were wearing pants as well so it’s probably the better choice. Dinners already have a tendency to get very casual, my firm ended up being a heavy drinking firm even then, so make sure you are always in interview mode even though it may be tough.

    • Deep South Law Student :

      The advice here is regional……I am a 3L in the south and wearing a pants suit is an unsaid no-no for female interviewees. Don’t shoot the messenger. I love pantsuits as much as the next person but depending on where you are the pants might be risky and not the skirt.

  3. I definitely agree that it is an interview; however, I am confused about the no skirt/dress thing. I do think a jacket is in order, so I understand that a sleeveless sheath may not be what you want if you have to be able to take the jacket off. As far as the skirt goes, I would wear whichever type of suit YOU feel most comfortable in. What would you wear to an interview? I don’t think that just because you are wearing a skirt, it looks like you are dressing for a date!

  4. associate :

    I was in the same situation a couple of weeks ago and it turned out well. If it’s a first interview, def go with a suit. No one will be offended if you are overdressed. You can always ask the recruiter. For my dinner interview (second interview) I asked, and she specifically told me not to wear a suit. My friend had a dinner with a big firm and the recruiter told her all the hiring partners would be wearing suits.

    Good luck!

  5. Ditto on the appropriate-by-itself top, although I personally don’t care for the featured sweater style – it looks a little, mom goes to the high school musical to me. I’d go for one with a higher (jewel?) neckline, which feels more modern and tailored, and allows for a variety of styles of necklaces (whereas a typical length necklace could easily slide behind the pictured sweater).

  6. I’d think a suit composed of a sheath dress with matching jacket would be ideal here. Definitely do a suit, am surprised about the “must wear pants” thing. This isn’t just female student plus male interviewer, its a group of people, so I’m surprised by the concern about datelike apparel.

  7. I feel like a blazer really nixes any chance that any outfit would look datelike.

  8. girltuesday :

    how bizarre. i’ve never heard of a first-round interview taking place after-hours at a high end restaurant. . . . although, i completely agree that the reader needs to wear a suit, i am similarly puzzled as to why wearing a dress/skirt sends the message that the reader “thought [she was] going on a date.” given that she will be attending an apparent group interview that is taking place in a high-end restaurant, i think she ought to also consider what would be appropriate for the setting: it’s after business hours and outside the office. if a dress/skirt would otherwise be appropriate for the restaurant, then it should be fine for the event. (of course, this is not to suggest sequins or anything that strays beyond a description of “professional” or “business.” and i’d wear something with sleeves.) above all else, i would encourage the reader to wear a suit that she feels good/comfortable in.

  9. Anonymous :

    yeah, i mean, really, who wears a skirt suit on a date? i dont think a skirt suit is any more date-like than a pants suit.

  10. We do these at my firm – not sure if this is what you are going on, but here, they are the night before the callback, typically with two younger associates and serve as kind of a preliminary intro to the firm, overview of your interview schedule the next day, etc. They are intended to be a little more informal then the formal interview the next day, with (moderate) drinking and laid back conversation.

    If this is your situation, DEFINITELY wear a suit. The associates are likely coming straight from work to the dinner, and they will be in a suit. You don’t want to look underdressed. I see no problems with a skirt suit at all, though.

  11. Suit of some sort. No question about this.

  12. TGEmpress :

    I usually read this on an RSS feed and came over to the full site just to make sure someone else was confused about the no skirt comment. I would say to stay away from flouncy or flirty skirts but then again, few of those are part of my suits. Just make sure you feel as comfortable sitting, eating and such in this suit as you would working in the office.

  13. If you feel like a dress or a more dressy type outfit is appropriate I might go with a “Flashier” work appropriate top. Perhaps a silky or shiny material or something a little more fun than a shell or the sweater shown. This could go well with the pants. Something like this perhaps? http://www.anntaylor.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=21121&N=1200005&pCategoryId=3939&categoryId=183&Ns=CATEGORY_SEQ_183&loc=LN&defaultColor=Alloy&defaultSizeType=Regular

    If you keep the jacket on it won’t be very visible. If it’s all men, they probably wouldn’t notice anything wrong with it. If it’s other women and they are wearing more work like attire and you keep your jacket on it would still be acceptable. If they are dressed more like a night out you could take the jacket off and be sufficiently dressy for almost any restaurant.

  14. I agree, but I would go with a black suit, because that looks a little more like something you would wear out to dinner than a navy or charcoal grey one would.

  15. So much depends on where you are. I definitely think you need to talk to the recruiter if possible, or to someone in your placement office, or suss out the restaurant, if you can. I think a suit is a definite, but my first reaction was the dress plus jacket when you said “high-end restaurant.” I am in Columbia, SC. Other places may be more casual…

  16. Of your two initial ideas, I would go with the black dress and jacket. The suggestion that if you wear a dress/skirt you will look like you thought you were going on a date is just plain silly. I remember going on one such dinner after OCI but before callback offers were made and every woman there was wearing a suit skirt, myself included. If you aren’t comfortable in a skirt, a pant suit is fine but I think that if you are comfortable in a skirt, a skirt suit is more evening-appropriate.

    One other note: Before I went through the 2L interview process I read New Women’s Dress for Success by John T. Malloy. It is very conservative (in fact, old fashioned) but had some good ideas. I mention it only because he said that a woman should ONLY wear skirt suits because pants were too sexy and distracting for men. Obviously, it depends a bit on the skirt/pants. A very short skirt would be more distracting than loose pants but I think a knee length pencil skirt is less distracting than well-tailored pants.

    • Yeah, in a similar vein, I hate when men wear pants instead of a more conservative kilt and I keep getting distracted by their ass.

    • I should add that as much as I love skirts, I also wear (tailored) pants to work. I just wanted to give a different perspective on this idea that skirts are too date-like.

  17. I think a sheath dress with cropped matching blazer is best. Work appropriate and shows you have some style and (confidence in your) ability to dress yourself properly. If you wear a regular old suit you look like a nervous interviewee with a limited wardrobe.

    • I second this advice. Sheath plus jacket.

    • Exactly how I would go! Congratulations.

    • I third this.

      A sheath with a jacket, heels and simple jewelry also the easiest transition from business to cocktail hour. If everyone else is not in a suit, take off the jacket and she’s not in one either.

  18. I agree that you should definitely wear interview attire to this dinner. A pants or skirt suit is fine. As one person said, a skirt suit does not give the impression that you’re on a date. (That part of the article didn’t sit well with me, but I LOVE this website so I’ll let it slide and bite my tongue.) You should probably choose a dressier top than a sweater. Oh, and make sure your suit is comfortable and tailored well so that you aren’t restricted when you reach for your utensils or drinking glass. Good Luck!

  19. I agree with the pants suggestion. You do not want it to seem like you thought it was a date. That’s why I love this site, because they tell the truth about stuff like that.

  20. housecounsel :

    A sheath plus jacket is my go-to outfit for a lot of occasions, and would be for this one, too. I don’t think a classic sheath and jacket read: date.

    I am totally stealing the mom-goes-to-the-high-school-musical comment. I love this site for the hosts but also for the commentators. You are a very witty group (don’t miss the “Toucan” comment in the turquoise sheath dress thread!)

  21. Who on earth wears business attire on dates, skirt or otherwise, unless the date just happens to be after work? I’m joining that camp saying that business attire never looks (and never should look) date like, so there is no risk associated with wearing a skirt suit to this dinner.

    I also think something resembling a “dress suit” could work, but not just any dress with a jacket.

  22. Tailored black suit with an interesting blouse that makes a smart outfit without the jacket. What do you folks think of a silk blouse, like http://www.anntaylor.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=21130&N=1200005&pCategoryId=3939&categoryId=183&Ns=CATEGORY_SEQ_183&loc=LN&defaultColor=Black&defaultSizeType=Regular in blue? Too shiny? I wore something similar to my first firm Christmas party (dinner at an upscale steakhouse) and it seemed to fit in well. Don’t know if it’s too “party-y” for an interview situation, though.

  23. I often confuse interviews with dates. Imagine my horror when I leaned in, eyes closed and heart aflutter, and the hiring partner just shook my hand! I went home and called my BFF on my pink phone and cried about it for a week.
    Seriously, a skirt suit has nothing to do with a date, and I feel like imputing that type of association to professional women sets us back a bit.

  24. I would wear a suit or a sheath dress / jacket with a bit more imagination than black. A beautiful chocolate brown or a charcoal gray or a herringbone tweed, perhaps. Impactful earrings or necklace (choose one) and carry an awesome handbag.

  25. Midori, I think that’s entirely appropriate.

  26. Thrifty Sophisticate :

    Definitely agree that you should prepare to be more casual. The interviewers are likely coming from a long day at the office. Don’t go crazy with “going out” makeup. It is an interview

  27. georgienyc :

    like the idea of a skirt suit. we’ve put something together perhaps a bit more unique that offers a little more individuality to the outfit.

  28. What if it is more of a cocktails/dinner event AFTER you have already had screening interview and callback?! I was thinking more casual than a suit…

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