Interview attire advice often focuses on suit colors and cuts for men and whether to wear a skirt or slacks for women and the color of either. Other articles of interview attire are even more important. A case in point is shoes. For both men and women, wearing the right style and type of shoes can often serve as the most important and most visible item of interview attire.
For men there are four types of shoes that are acceptable for interviews. There are from most to least formal: the black oxford shoe, the black brogue shoe, the black tassel loafer and finally the black dress penny loafer. Each of these shoes has a distinct style and message. Regardless of which style of shoe is worn, they should be well maintained – meaning not scuffed or worn at the heel and highly polished.
The black leather oxford shoe. This is the classic tie shoe. It has either a plain to or a non-perforated cap toe. This is the dressiest of men’s shoes and are popular with investment bankers, government officials and other’s who must portray formality and consistency.
The black leather brogue shoe. Often described as the wing tip, this is slightly less formal than the oxford. It may be cap toed or have the wing shaped toe decoration both of which are perforated. Acceptable with suits, the brogue has been a favorite of businessmen for decades although it fell out of favor during the “casual Friday” dress down era of the 1990s.
The black leather tassel loafer. The tassel loafer has been around for decades. Once classified as Ivey League or preppy, it is now a business staple. It is a loafer with stitching around the toe and a pair of leather tassels. The shoe is not as formal as either the oxford or the brogue but is acceptable with business suits in all but the most formal and tradition bound professions.
The black leather penny loafer. This is not a casual loafer with the big “beef roll” and the rough hand stitching around the toe. The penny loafer for dress is more refined in cut and stitching. It looks like and is a dress shoe. The least formal of the business shoe styles, it is sleek and clean and works with suits for all but the most formal occasions.
What kinds of men’s shoes to avoid for interviews? First, the heavy soled and big toed lace and slip-on shoes popular with younger men should be avoided. Even if they say they are dress shoes, they say all the wrong things about one. Secondly, avoid casual shoes such as weekend loafers or other very casual shoes with leather, rubber or plastics soles. Finally, avoid trendy shoes. If attracted to a pair of shoes that would look great on the dance floor at a club or at a wild party, keep them for those events. Do no wear them to an interview. Trendy is not an interview look unless you are a fashion designer or in the arts.
The right kinds of shoes are available at stores and on-line. The most popular traditional interview shoes are sold by: Church’s Shoes (English design, very traditional), Alden (American and very traditional), Allen-Edmonds, Cole-Haan and Johnson & Murphy. Stores that carry the right kinds of shoes for interviews include: Brooks Brothers, Joseph A. Bank and Nordstrom.
While there are infinitely more styles of women’s shoes available than men’s, the styles that are appropriate for interviews are even more limited. The rules about the condition of shoes for women are the same as for men. The shoes must be in top condition and well maintained if not new. While all the colors for men included black and black, there are more possibilities fro women. While black and navy are safe bets 95% of the time. Other colors are OK but must complement the suit or outfit and should match the purse or handbag too. Avoid light colored shoes for interview and never wear white shoes to an interview unless it is for a nursing position. If brown, dark shades are best. Avoid suede and never wear shoes that have metallic sparkle, glitter or sequins for an interview (or for business ever).
The styles of shoes that are appropriate for women to wear for interviews fall into four categories: classic leather pump with a heel, the leather sling back style with a heel, the classic leather Mary Jane style shoe with a heel, the flat or ballet style shoe in leather. All should be leather. All should be well maintained and worn with neutral colored stockings or pantyhose regardless of the season or temperature (or knee highs if work with slacks).
The leather pump. Heel heights and shapes vary. This is the traditional shoe for women in business. Solid color.
The leather sling back style with a heel. Again heel heights and shapes very. This shoe while very traditional has an adjustable strap rather than a closed back. The shoe is classic and in good taste but with a bit more style and is considered a bit more dressy than the plain leather pump.
The classic leather Mary Jane shoe. This is not the flat soled cloth model or even the funky thick soled model worn by teens. It is basically a leather pump in style and cut with a thin strap ending in an adjustable buckle across the instep. Better with skirts than with slacks.
The flat or ballet style shoe in leather. This kind of shoe if made of fine leather and in a traditional cut is classic, flattering and is worn by women of all heights. But it is favored by very tall and strangely enough, very short women. It may be plain or decorated with a discrete bit of gold metal or grosgrain bow at the toe. The casual ballet slipper style in fabric, needlepoint or less dressy leather should be saved for wear with jeans or khakis.
What shoes are not appropriate for women to wear to interviews? Frankly, everything else unless the interview is not for business, non-profits or one of the professions. Anything in unnatural colors or with sparkles or anything novel just will not do. Flip flops are a no always. As are sandals. Big, clunky shoes are for teenagers or weekends. Loafers are for khakis and weekends. Tie shoes are not appropriate for women in business unless running an art gallery or a church order. Finally, strappy, very high heeled shoes should be left for weekends and never for work. Forget what they say in “Sex and the City”.
Women’s interview shoes are available at many women’s stores, shoe stores and department stores. The list is really too long to do justice here. Some of the more traditional sources are: Cole Haan, Talbots, Nordstrom, Lord and Taylor and Brooks Brothers plus the some of the designers who offer quality shoes in more classic styles.
Shoes speak volumes about a person. This is never truer than in an interview environment. Make sure the shoes that you wear say all the right things. While they will not guarantee a job, the will not be an obstacle if the points outlined above are observed.