Smart Works client Andreen trying on different outfits before an interview – she got the job. Image: Smart Works
Smart clothes can be expensive – and that’s before you’ve found matching accessories and a good pair of shoes.
As well as pushing up the price of food and fuel, the cost of living crisis has raised the cost of clothing, too, with the price of womenswear rising by 37 per cent over the last five years, and menswear up by 25 per cent, according to Sky News analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.
If you’re a jobseeker already on a tight budget, the prospect of finding something smart, suitable and well-fitting can be not only daunting but logistically tricky. Dry cleaning costs a pretty penny, and even charity shops aren’t always as cheap as they used to be.
Of course your first port of call could be to ask family and friends if they have something suitable to borrow, but it’ll be a strike of luck if you happen to be exactly the right size.
While what we wear on the outside shouldn’t matter too much to a potential employer, first impressions do shape people’s opinions on what someone will be like to work with.
“Being well dressed can improve our self-confidence and what we wear affects how we are perceived by others,” says fashion psychologist Dr Carolyn Mair. “Therefore, wearing appropriate clothes, for example, a formal suit for an interview, builds our confidence and can make us appear more serious, conscientious and respectful.”
We asked the experts how you should dress for a job interview, and which services offer job interview clothing grants or support.
What should I wear for a job interview in 2023?
“If you dress well that will give you an extra level of confidence”, says Shak Dean, a job coach at Big Issue Recruit, a specialist recruitment service dedicated to supporting people who face additional barriers to gain sustainable employment.
“Basically, if you look the part you’re more likely to feel the part.”
Different workplaces have different cultures, so while some might have smart dress codes, others could be more relaxed. Dean always recommends a shirt or blouse with a collar to the candidates he works with, as that structure elevates an outfit.
Whereas 10 or 15 years ago a formal jacket, shirt and tie was more common for men, a tie isn’t always essential, but can show that you’ve made an effort to impress. He also recommends that smokers don’t have a cigarette right before an interview.
“When you’re putting yourself forward for a job, it’s important to show the best of you,” Dean continues. “The way we look, the way we present ourselves with clothing and grooming, can give an impression of who we are.”
While many job interviews now take place virtually, this still presents an opportunity to make a good first impression. A clean shirt is still likely to be appreciated, and Dean suggests making sure the background is appropriate. That means no washing hanging up, no people walking in and out of the frame, and no inappropriate photos or wall art.
Where can I get help with clothes for job interviews?
Smart Works, across England and Scotland
Smart Works exists for women from all walks of life to help them find a confidence-boosting outfit to wear in a job interview. The charity regularly receives referrals from JobCentres, mental health charities, women’s refuges, homeless shelters, the prison service, care service and youth organisations.
Every client receives guidance from a dressing consultant to find the right outfit for them, and they can even help with accessories! This is followed by a one-to-one coaching session with an expert interview coach. Once a client has bagged a job, they are invited back for a Second Dressing to build a capsule working wardrobe to last until the first pay cheque. All the outfits are completely free of charge.
Smart Works has centres in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Greater Manchester, Reading, Reading, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Suited & Booted, London
The team at Suited & Booted believe wearing a great suit or smart clothing can be an empowering, transformative experience that boosts the self-belief needed to succeed in a job interview. Their service is available to low-income or unemployed men in Greater London, who are offered interview training, guidance and support, as well as a sharp suit.
Based in central London, they’re just a stone’s throw from London’s famous Saville Row of tailors.
Dress for Success, London, Glasgow, Derry
Part of a global network in 143 cities in 23 countries across the world, Dress for Success has branches in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It aims to empower women in the workplace by empowering them on the inside and the outside. As well as a professional clothing and styling service, it offers interview coaching and ongoing support for clients while they find their feet in the workplace. And it’s all free of charge.
Dress for Success only takes clients from referrals from partner organisations including the Jobcentre Plus, local authorities, colleges or schools, social housing providers and charities such as the Single Homeless Project, mental health charity Twining Enterprise, or young people’s charity Resugo Spear, so make sure to ask any organisations you’re in touch with whether they are partnered with Dress for Success.
Working Wardrobe, south Wales
With four hubs in Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Caerphilly and Vale of Glamorgan, Working Wardrobe wants to make sure everyone in south Wales has at least one “work suitable outfit”.
The hubs offer high-quality, new or gently used professional workwear, including shirts, jumpers, hijabs, shoes and socks, to housing association tenants and people looking for work.
Suited for Success, Birmingham
If you’re currently unemployed and living in the West Midlands, Suited for Success is there to help you make the best possible first impression. Suited for Success has been dressing men and women in “gently worn suits and smart workwear” donated by professionals in corporate companies, law firms, banks, offices and businesses, since 2015.
You can even take a virtual tour of the centre in central Birmingham to see if anything on the racks catches your eye. To make an appointment with Suited for Success, you must be able to show that you have a job interview lined up.
Big Issue Recruit
Big Issue Recruit is a person-centred service that provides those facing barriers into work with the training and support they need to enter the workplace. All candidates that receive support from a job coach with Big Issue Recruit also get allocated a support worker in the Big Issue Foundation. This support worker can help with a hand-up fund, which can be used to pay for interview-ready clothes or travel to that all important opportunity.
To find out how Big Issue Recruit could help you into employment, or help your business to take a more inclusive approach to recruitment, click here.
Ihateironing at Brixton Library, London
You’ll find a lot more than books available to loan from Brixton Library in south London. The library has partnered with London-wide dry cleaning company Ihateironing, to offer outfits for people in the local community to borrow for job interviews. The library even has a dedicated changing space to try on outfits, which are then cleaned by Ihateironing on their return, ready to be borrowed by another jobseeker.
Whether you need a blouse, professional shirt, blazer, trousers, jacket or coat, fill in this form to request a professional outfit from the team.
The government’s Jobcentre Plus can help with some travel and clothing costs for people who are unemployed and trying to get a job. Work coaches can offer extra financial support to help job seekers find work, so make sure to ask yours if you think it could help you bag a role. Make sure to check what support could be available from the Jobcentre Plus, and as they say: ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get!’
Timpson, dry cleaning service
If you’ve already got a good interview outfit, or maybe picked one up from a charity shop, but it’s looking a little worse for wear, a professional dry cleaning service could make all the difference.
Timpson offers free dry cleaning if you’re unemployed and need an outfit cleaned for an interview. The service is available at all of their 500 stores.