Interview Advice: What to Wear, What to Wear

Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner

“I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn’t itch.” Gilda Radner
Let’s face it, we live in a much less formal era than those preceding. The anomaly of casual Friday has become the norm in American culture. Many people work from home, conquering the world through a computer while wearing a comfy pair of sweatpants. This new trend can lead one astray when it comes to the medical school interview. The increase in informality is compounded by the fact that many of those being interviewed may never have had the opportunity to wear a suit for a formal event.
Often times, an applicant is left with an awful feeling shortly before an interview when they realize they may not be in compliance with the “dress code.” It can be distressing when you discover there are rules to the game but no one gave you a copy. Not to worry.
This article is designed to lay out the basics of what to wear to the interview so you can devote your time to more significant issues. I hope to present a safe, minimum standard that you can feel comfortable basing your wardrobe choice on. The information should alleviate any stress associated with a small yet important part of the medical school interview, which leads us to a key concept:
When it comes to attire and the medical school interview, there is a certain minimum threshold that you need to achieve and once you reach that threshold any more focus in this area becomes a detriment.
Meaning, obtain the basic items for an appropriate outfit and then forget about it. Turn your focus towards the other, more important, components of the interview.
Here are a few more things to keep in mind as we address this topic:

  1. The centerpiece of any well-dressed applicant is, in fact, the applicant, not the other way around.
  2. The perfect outfit will never compensate for under preparation or a poor interview.
  3. What you wear and your overall personal presentation is necessary but not sufficient for gaining acceptance into medical school.

What You Are and What You’re Not

A clear understanding of what you are versus what you’re not is imperative to success. You are not a corporate executive or a Wall Street stock broker. You also are not a rock star. You are a graduate school applicant vying for acceptance into a profession that is highly respected and equally demanding. Appropriately dressing the part goes a long way in communicating to the admissions committee your understanding of this concept. Therefore, you do not need to dress like you make a seven figure income and know the recent share price of the hottest IPO. Further, you don’t need to distinguish yourself with pink, spiked hair and leather studded accessories. However, you do need to dress professionally and appropriately conservative.
What does all this mean? It means that you don’t have to spend a fortune on an outfit in an attempt to look like a million bucks. It does mean that you will have to spend some money and time preparing a thoughtful outfit suitable for the encounter.

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Basic Terms

Like any new area of study, vocabulary is the first step towards understanding. The area of fashion is expansive. From flannel to foulard and pin stripes to paisley, one can be left overwhelmed. The good news is that we don’t need to know all of that. We’re only interested in achieving the minimum necessary standard so we can forget about all of this stuff and focus on the important business at hand: a successful interview. Accordingly, the following is a concentrated list of key terms necessary for our discussion:

  • Cuffs: the band of material at the end of the sleeve of a shirt
  • Barrel cuffs: shirt cuffs that are held together by buttons sewn to the shirt
  • French cuffs: shirt cuffs that are held together by detachable cuff links
  • Lapel: the part of a suit coat that folds back on itself, is contiguous with the collar and overlies the chest (the material that makes the “V” of a suit coat).
  • Single breasted suit (coat): a style of suit coat that has narrower lapels and a single row of buttons for bringing the two sides of the coat together. When fully buttoned, the lapels do not overlap.
  • Double breasted suit (coat): a style of suit coat that has broader lapels that project wider on the coat, especially closer to the collar. This style of coat has two rows of buttons and upon being fully buttoned the coat’s lapels will overlap.
  • Pumps: a style of women’s shoes that have closed backs (heel cups), sides and low-cut fronts that are closer to the toes than the top of the foot. They can have open or closed toes and varying heights of heels.

This is a long article so the remaining information will be divided into men’s and women’s clothing. Each section will cover the basic requirements from head to toe. The minimum standards will be presented, as well as additional points for those who want to take it up a notch. Feel free to skip to the appropriate section. There is a summation for both genders at the end of the piece.

Ladies First

I would like to especially acknowledge the female physicians and administrators, (admission committee members, residency program staff, support staff, etc.) who contributed to this section. Their input and guidance was invaluable.
Women certainly have a more challenging time when it comes to appropriate attire in formal settings. This is due in no small part to the wider degree of variability in what can appropriately be worn by women. Not to worry. Here is the essential information you need to dress the part of a successful medical school applicant.


Quite simply, the safest thing for a female applicant to wear is a suit. This can either be a pant suit or a skirt suit of an appropriate length.  For women, pant suits are regarded as slightly more casual when compared to skirt suits. Nevertheless, it is completely appropriate to wear a pant suit, and many applicants choose to do so as they can be more practical.
If opting for the skirt suit, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. The conservative, appropriate length should be to the knees. A short skirt can be distracting to both you and the interviewer. Also, remember that skirts hike up a bit when you sit down so what may look borderline when standing can become inappropriate when seated.
For skirt suits, the cut of the skirt should be narrow and not flared. This provides clean, professional lines. However, the cut should not inhibit your ability to walk. Many schools finish the interview day with walking tours of the campus.


There are four completely safe colors for women’s suits. They are: navy blue, black, grey and beige. All these colors are worn and there really aren’t any prescribed norms or taboo’s when it comes to choosing between them. This is not always the case with men’s suits. You can feel confident in choosing any of these colors for your suit.


This is the other central feature of a woman’s suit. There is some variability here, which you can use to cater to your style. For starters, the blouse should be a solid color, be long sleeved and have a collar. A button up blouse is more traditional but is not a requisite. Blouses should be sufficiently opaque.
Some blouses are designed to be tucked into the pants or skirt, while others are not. If you choose a blouse that is not to be tucked in, then keep in mind that it must not be too long to peek out below your suit coat, nor should it be so short as to reveal any skin.


As a general rule, the color of your blouse should always be lighter than the color of the suit. You could choose white, cream, or light blue as appropriate options with any of the afore mentioned suits colors.


If wearing a skirt suit, it is best to avoid bare legs. This is not only more formal but can also be nice in the cold months of the interview season. The simplest choice is a pair of flesh colored hose. This will obviously differ depending on your skin tone.  Fish-net style hosiery are not appropriate for the interview.


Although not mandatory, closed toed shoes are preferred over open toed shoes, as they are more professional. My recommendation is a pair of closed toe pumps that match the color of your suit or are darker. If you choose pumps with heels, don’t go any taller than 1.5 inches. As you consider what shoes to wear don’t forget to factor in comfort. Interview days can be long and some applicants are forced to travel in their suits. There’s nothing worse than trying to look and feel comfortable during an interview when your feet hurt from a day of wearing uncomfortable shoes.


Basically, less is more. It is acceptable to wear ear rings or a necklace. However, avoid flashy or chunky jewelry. Stud ear rings tend to be most appropriate. Some women feel comfortable wearing a thin chain necklace or a simple pearl (fake or real) necklace. This is fine. It is okay to wear finger nail polish if you would like. It’s preferred that the color not draw undo attention to your nails.
Wearing makeup is absolutely appropriate for an interview. It is difficult to offer specific advice in this area but keep in mind that excess is to be avoided. Makeup should accentuate the real you, not define it. It is best to choose colors and applications that compliment your skin tones and convey a professional appearance.

Bottom Line for Women

Here is an example of a basic, safe bet for your interview attire:

  • Navy blue skirt or pants suit (knee length)
  • White or cream colored button down blouse (solid colored)
  • Flesh toned stockings
  • Black, closed toe pumps with heels less than 1.5 inches
  • Make up and accessories that are simple and display professionalism

Quick Tips

  • Carry an extra pair of hose in your bag. It is easy to develop a run and the peace of mind provided by the back up pair is worth any hassle carrying them.
  • All undergarments (straps included) should never be visible even when moving. Interview activities many seem basic but clothing shifts during the day and this can leave you exposed.
  • When in doubt, play it safe. If you’re unsure whether something is appropriate or not err on the side of conservative. You never know who will be interviewing you and it is best not to offend.

In the end, the point is not to look like a clone or an FBI agent. There is room for personal expression. However, following the above guidelines will provide you with a sufficient base to prepare your interview ensemble and avoid the risk of inappropriate attire.

The Men’s Floor

For guys the rules of engagement are much simpler and well-established. Men’s professional fashion is an area with a long standing history and prescribed norms. Sadly, despite these advantages, many male applicants still drop the ball and dress inappropriately for their interviews.

The Suit

Male applicants struggle when it comes to the decision of wearing a single or double breasted suit. This need not be the case. Traditionally, a double breasted suit is regarded as being more formal and often perceived as more intimidating. Single breasted suits are simple, elegant and considered to be the staple of any business motif. Both are equally sharp and either can be worn to the interview. I prefer a single breasted suit because of its greater versatility and its lack of being thought of as more intimidating. As an applicant, my goal was never to intimidate anyone; I simply wanted to impress them. Having said that, you would not be wrong to wear a double breasted suit, especially if it’s all you have and finances are tight.


This tends an area that applicants veer into trouble. During residency interviews, I recall one of my co-applicants wearing an off-white suit with a maroon shirt and black tie. Simply put, it was inappropriate and caused this applicant to stand out for all of the wrong reasons.
For the purposes of a medical school interview and residency interviews as well, the appropriate suit colors are black, navy blue and grey. It’s that simple. As will be shown later, these basic colors in conjunction with shirt and tie combinations provide limitless options for individual expression. You don’t have to be a replica of the guy next to you even though there are only three suit colors to choose from.
Of the three, navy blue is the safest way to go. It is always appropriate and this choice can never be questioned, even by the most formal and stodgy. Also, navy blue has the greatest utility. This color of suit can be worn to most formal/professional occasions and should serve you well once the medical school interview is complete.
In times past, black suits were reserved for more formal settings, like evening events and funerals. It was not seen in the day to day corporate environment. However, black has experienced an expansion of its former limited role and is now seen in offices, and in applicant waiting rooms, across the nation. Black holds a degree of urban hipness that can be of benefit in certain settings.
The flannel grey suit was the uniform of choice for post World War II corporate America. It has been epitomized in print and on film as the drab, sadly safe bet. Thus, as time passed, it was shunned by many and made few board room appearances. This is why a grey suit, with its formal heritage yet relative rareness, is an excellent option to stand out during an interview without the slightest hint of rebellion.


Your dress shirt should be long sleeved and, preferably, a solid color. The collar should be the same color as the shirt. Some may choose a stripped pattern but be aware of the possible interactions with a patterned or stripped tie. It is acceptable to wear barrel or French cuffs depending on your style. French cuffs are perceived as a bit more formal but are totally appropriate. Of note, French cuffs tend to get dirtier quicker than barrel cuffs.


The safest choices for color are similar to those mentioned for women: white, cream or light blue. These should go with any of the suit colors mentioned earlier. It is not advisable to have a flashy or bold shirt color. Many believe that the shirt should complement the suit color and be a nice backdrop for your tie.


Some guys have gotten away from wearing a tie with their suits. I recommend against this practice and feel you should always wear a tie to the interview. There are many, many variables when it comes to ties but it’s worth commenting on a few.

Color and Pattern

It’s important to choose a color that is complimentary to your suit and shirt. Conservative colors like lighter blue, yellow or grey are a safe bets with any of the suit colors. Some choose to go bold with their tie colors, which isn’t inappropriate but should be approached with caution. If you’re worried about a bold color mishap, then consider expressing some style via different patterns. Stripes or simple patterns can be a nice way to combine different shirt and suit colors or just add a little splash to your outfit.


This may seem like a small thing but a tie at the correct length shows a level of refinement and style. There is variability here and length often depends on age and even culture. However, it’s a safe bet to have the tip of the tie at the belt line. Avoid going below the belt line or much above it.


There are many ways to tie a tie. This can also be an area to express some personal style. The most common knots are the four-in-hand, Half-Windsor and the Windsor. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the ways the above knots are tied or the many others that are available. Please reference the internet or any gentleman’s book to experiment with and practice your preferred knot. I would recommend not waiting until the night before your interview to figure out how to tie a tie. Spend a little time during a study break practicing the way you’d like to tie your tie so that when the pressure of the interview morning is upon you, you’ll be comfortable and ready to go.


This might seem like an area that doesn’t need mentioning but it is often where guys go astray. Socks should either match the color of your suit or the color of your shoes. It is inappropriate to wear white gym socks with your suit (yes, I’ve seen this done by more than one applicant). They should also be of an appropriate length, e.g. at least to the mid calf. There’s nothing quite like a male applicant that crosses his leg during the interview only to reveal glowing white gym socks or a hairy leg sticking out below his pant hem. These problems are easy to avoid by following the above suggestions.


You do not have to go the expensive route with shoes. However, the adage “you get what you pay for” tends to be clearly demonstrated when it comes to this area of your outfit. The best bet is to have a good quality pair of shoes that are darker in color than your suit. Black would be appropriate for any of the suit colors previously mentioned. When it comes to the style of your shoes, there is not an appreciable difference between slip on loafers and lace up shoes. Loafers are technically more formal, however, it’s easy for snow and slush to spill over the edge of loafers and leave you with the unpleasant feeling of wet socks. Keep this in mind if you are interviewing in regions where snow may be an issue.

Bottom Line for Men

Here is an example of a sharp, safe choice for your interview attire:

  • navy blue single breasted suit
  • white shirt with barrel cuffs
  • blue silk tie that is a lighter shade than the suit
  • black leather belt
  • black, mid-calf dress socks
  • black, lace up shoes

Quick Tips

  • Your belt should match the color of the shoes.
  • Leave the bottom button of the suit coat unbuttoned.
  • If you wear a pocket square it should compliment and be similar to the tie but never match it exactly.
  • Cologne should be kept to a minimum if worn at all. An interviewer should never meet your fragrance before they meet you.
  • Wear a tee-shirt under your dress shirt. This is especially true if you’re wearing a white dress shirt and you have dark body hair.

A clean rendition of the above is appropriate for any medical school interview and will serve you well. You can rest assured that you will look suitable for this important event, yet not trip the wire of anyone looking for an inappropriate stand-out.

In the End

I hope this information helps. Please keep in mind that unless the medical school stipulates a specific dress code for the interview, then there are no “rules” necessarily. There are, however, accepted norms. This topic like so much of the interview advice you receive is opinion laden. This is not absolute truth. Therefore, I recommend you take this information into consideration, critically evaluate it and make the best choice for your situation. You may be able to veer from the norms I’ve presented and still be appropriate. However, these basics will keep you on the right side of a fashion misstep and on the road to a successful interview.
If you have any questions about this or other medical school interview topics please feel free to email Dr. Fleenor at [email protected].


This information comes from extensive reading, countless conversations with program directors, admission committee members, and medical professionals, as well as personal experience (with plenty of mistakes). Below is a list of books I’ve read over the years and have used to draw a general sense of what I’ve presented in this piece:
1. Fink, Thomas, and Mao, Yong. The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie: The Science and Aesthetics of Tie Knots. New York: Broadway Books, 1999.
2. Gross, Kim J., and Jeff Stone. Men’s Wardrobe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1998.
3. Gross, Kim J., and Jeff Stone. Woman’s Wardrobe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1996.
4. Gross, Kim J., and Jeff Stone. What Should I Wear?: Dressing for Occasions. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1999.
5. Roetzel, Bernhard. Gentleman: A Timeless Fashion. Cologne: Konemann, 1999.

Jeremiah Fleenor, MD, MBA is author of The Medical School Interview: Secrets and a System for Success.

48 thoughts on “Interview Advice: What to Wear, What to Wear”

  1. Navy suits and black shoes? No thank you. I would always go with dark brown shoes or belts when wearing a navy blue suit.

    • There is nothing wrong with wearing black shoes with a navy suit. In fact, it is historically the more appropriate thing to wear for business-formal occasions. Not too long ago, wearing anything BUT black was considered completely inappropriate to wear during the work week (especially so in the UK; in the US, burgundy was also traditionally acceptable). Brown shoes were strictly for weekends or after work. So, if you want to stay as traditional as possible, I would stay away from brown shoes during an interview. I know it might look better to some people, but the style is more of an Italian thing, and let’s face it, the Italians are not (nor have they ever been) big players in the corporate business world. Serious businessmen working in serious business cultures wear black.

  2. Military uniforms are usually not normal protocol for medical school interviews. I’d check ahead to the schools, but most would prefer keeping everything as appropriate business attire.

  3. I am a little uneasy about the automation that this article suggests. Seriously, I have the misfortune of never having owned a suit before interview day, and I also happen to need an ‘athletic fit’ suit. For those of you who do not know, this is a pretty hard suit to buy off the rack because of the conventions used in suit making that predetermine waist size/jacket size combos. Anyway, I could not afford to buy one so I got a hand me down that is mid-brown in color. I was amazed when on interview day, every single person…girls and guys were all wearing a black suit!! There were 15 of us and of course there I was with my brown pinstripe suit. I looked good but I immediately felt like the adopted child, and from that moment on, everything I did, including asking important questions and interacting with the group felt weird. My brown suit was neither loud, nor inappropriate but because pre-meds have become so mechanical in their interpretation of these ‘rules’ interview day looked like a nerdy cyborgs convention (and I crashed the party ofcourse!). Surely, nowhere is blind convention more prevalent than in the spectacle that is a ganglion of pre-meds paralyzed by the fear of having one feather out of place, and falling out of the graces of the adcoms!!
    You have to understand that some of us do not have the option to follow these rules and color schemes…we are lucky if we have a suit in the first place. To be honest, I have a dark complexion and all the suggested colors except for gray would not serve my overall look well. As for shoes, my one good pair has to fit the suit…and as someone noted before, I don’t fancy black shoes on a navy blue suit! If I could afford a new suit and shoes in the ‘allowed’ colors, I would go for it before I torment myself with looking different…but please, please, please do make room for me and my recycled brown suit. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

  4. This is one part of the whole application process where I am confident about 🙂
    This is a pretty good article for someone who has no idea what they are doing. I disagree with the shoes part though. Loafers are less casual than lace-ups because they are considered a “formal slip-on”. Wingtips or cap-toed shoes are much more formal. Brown shoes are great for everything except black suits. Conversely, black shoes are only for black suits. Also, socks should ALWAYS match with the suit, not the shoes. You want to elongate your stature, not shorten it.
    It would’ve been nice if he talked about the different lapel styles that are considered appropriate. For example, are peaked lapels too “evening wear”?
    Kayni, you made a severe mistake in wearing a brown suit. If you got through the whole application process and couldn’t afford a simple suit, which can be found in ALL price ranges, then maybe the medical field is not for you. You can seriously go to a donation store or vintage store and find wonderful pieces. Then you stop by the tailor and everything can be had for <$200. If you can invest money into flights, applications, etc, but cannot buy a suit to make yourself look presentable, then that really does not make you look so good does it? That is not a good excuse at all. Maybe you could have bypassed buying an iPod or a gadget you don't really need. This article is just SUGGESTING colors for those that are clueless. These are conventions that society has established because they are classic, timeless, and appropriate. You can insert individuality into classic style, but there's a reason you don't see the majority of physicians wearing all white suits, a fedora with a feather, and a cane…
    All in all, good article for those informal with dressing up. is a great resource and has many good articles. Check it out.

    • It’s an unfortunate reality that some organizations and the people employed by them have difficulty seeing beyond attributes such as the color of an applicant’s suit. As an applicant I might wonder if I really wish to work for such a narrow-minded organization.
      While a white or tan suit is a bit off the wall for any interview a very dark brown conservatively cut suit is perfectly acceptable depending on the industry. I wear dark brown quite often and dare I say I stand out from the crowd in many ways, all good…but not because of my choice of suit color.
      Having written that, it is true that a quality suit can be had at a relatively affordable price. Consumers can shop around and find used suits in the $100-500 range that once cost $1000-3500. Do not buy new if you can help it. Find a well-kept used suit. Trust me when I tell you that a used $2000 suit selling for $200 (even if you spend another $200 to have it tailored) will look and wear significantly better than a $500 new suit. If you really believe that suit color will make or break your interview and you don’t want to risk dark brown, you can find one in another color that won’t break the bank.

    • I want to correct some of this…
      First, concerning shoes: You are correct that lace-ups are the more formal (and appropriate) option for dress shoes. You are mistaken about wingtips though. They are casual shoes, as far as that spectrum goes. Plain cap-toe oxford lace-ups are the most formal for business situations. Any kind of additional perforation (and there are several degrees of this) make the shoe increasingly less formal. Full-brogue wingtips not only have a full complement of perforations, but also deviate from the simple cap-toe, moving to something with more flourish (i.e. less austere, which equates to formal in this discussion). In case anybody is wondering, for the “oxford” style shoes, the pieces of leather that hold the laces get sewn in UNDERNEATH the leather that covers the rest of your foot. “Derby” shoes have that leather sewn over top instead. Derbies are less formal than oxfords, but still completely acceptable. Wearing loafers as formal business attire is strictly an American thing, but if you’re in the US, this would probably not be viewed as inappropriate. Still, they are technically less formal. What the author of the article may have been thinking of were dress slippers, which are actually the most formal shoe possible. They are essentially only for court dress though, so unless you’re planning to meet the Queen during your interview, you would of course forgo that option.
      Second, a darker brown suit has always been considered one of the traditional business-appropriate options for suit colour. It it hardly wrong – although I am less sure about pinstripes on said colour. In fact, of the four (blue, grey, brown, and black), I would tend to view black as the worst option. As the article said: weddings and funerals. The fact that black has crept into other arenas is more a reflection of how clueless people have become regarding traditional conventions of business ware. So Kayni, I wouldn’t worry too much about your suit being brown. In my book, you were the only one in the room that day wearing something strictly appropriate.

    • Also, don’t ever wear brown shoes to a formal interview. Brown is a strictly casual shoe colour. See my response to yankees097.
      Black, by the way, goes just fine with every colour suit you would want to wear. Any suggestion to the contrary is just plain wrong.

  5. During residency interviews, I recall one of my co-applicants wearing an off-white suit with a maroon shirt and black tie. Simply put, it was inappropriate and caused this applicant to stand out for all of the wrong reasons.
    Really? Who gives a poo if someone is wearing a maroon shirt and a black tie. I don’t see how this is relevant or applies to absolutely anything. Unbelievably, there are actual problems in the world. People are dying from diseases, hunger, violence, and warfare. I thought medicine was about caring about REAL issues, not obsessing over trivialities like the color of someone’s shirt. Unless they’re butt naked, I don’t really see how any of this is worth discussing. I have better things to dedicate my time to than worrying about offending someone’s pointlessly conservative sensibilities.
    For the record, I think that sounds like a DASHING color combination. If I was on an adcom, I’d be thrilled to meet someone who was unique and not another boring old fuddy-duddy in a navy suit with a red tie.

  6. All this advice could be useful when it comes to blending in and standing out for “the right reasons,” rather than the wrong ones. After all, one does not want to cause visual distractions. On the other hand, it is plain that some of you evince the arrogance of the typical spoiled, privileged, very young, rich kid pre-med. Believe it or not, Dan, there are people who are very smart and yet can’t afford to buy a decent suit. Like ME. You can buy a suit for < $200–oh, really? Sorry, I am too busy using what little money I have to (1) save for CASH tuition for pre-requisite courses–I no longer qualify for financial aid due to my previous degrees; (2) spend on my FAMILY such as my SON and the other baby that's currently gestating. Oh, but sorry, I live in the REAL world. I have real responsibilities. And I want to become a doctor to save lives, not to enhance my personal sense of high status or to make Mom proud. Your arrogance is astounding to me. You honestly think that Kayli would make a poor doctor because you personally don't approve of her financial priorities? Or is it her income and family background? Or both? The fact that you can study and get a high GPA while your parents wipe your @$$ means nothing to me. Do it while supporting a family, in fact get all your pre-medical degrees without any parental support like I did, and then we'll talk.

  7. Heels less than 1.5 inches? Yeah. Right. In skirts, you look like a total scrub in flats! Girls, I’m sure you’ll agree. We’ll feel more confident in heels at least 2 inches. As long as it doesn’t look like we are club-hopping and we can walk comfortably, whichever shoes make you feel confident are the ones you should wear!

  8. Yall need to come the fack down. All you poboys need to do some smart shopping and get a damn suit for your broke azz. Im broke as hell and I managed a Calvin Klein suit for under 100 bucks. Thats right, less than a franklin. And all you snobby rich mofos need to stuff daddies cock in your mouths and remember who paid for you to get where you are today. And remember, Im the flyest mofo you never seen. When you see me on interview day, you gonna shiiiit bricks.

  9. This article is a good starting point, but I completely agree with InChiTown. I don’t think a 1.5″ maximum heel height is realistic at all. A slightly higher heel can actually create longer lines, adding to a nice overall appearance, while still maintaining a professional and conservative look. It’s really the finish of the leather/material and cut of the shoe, not necessarily heel height that will give you a professional look. However, whichever shoes you decide to wear, just make sure that you don’t stomp around in them. If you, like many of us out there, aren’t used to walking in heels just practice trying to walk toe-heel in your shoes for a while.
    Also, girls, if you have a body type that doesn’t necessarily fit the usual mold, i.e. curvy or petite, don’t loose hope. Although many of us have had “dressing room” moments where we just want to give up, remember that a lot stores, especially those catering to more middle aged women, carry petite suits that won’t leave you lost in fabric as well as suits in different cuts that won’t draw unwanted attention to your natural assets. Just make sure you allow enough time to try on different suits and figure out which works best with you.
    To everyone out there on a budget, remember to look out for sales and consider making a trip to any outlet stores nearby.

  10. @Abd al-Latif

    I really want to keep the insulting to a minimum, but I fear that if left unchecked, it will be bad for society.
    No one is being arrogant. I am being confident in my OPINION. I am lower/middle class and from a single-parent household thank you very much. One of the best “dressers” I know is my best friend, who is a lower SES African-American male whose mother works in a car factory making minimum wage. He’s gotten into every school on full scholarship. However, he spends his hard earned cash (which he makes himself working 40+ hours) on looking presentable out of respect for himself and for others. He and I are both “bargain” shoppers. We want to present ourselves well, but not spend a lot doing it. If he and I can do it, why can’t a breadwinner like yourself not afford a suit? How can a “poor” college student like myself afford one, and you (presumably a working father) not? Want some tips? Skip going to a movie every other month, don’t buy that new iPod, etc.. jeez. I’ve seen suits go for as little as 150 from major brands (or 100 as TheDude says)… you just aren’t looking hard enough. Actually, you just don’t care.
    I want to become a doctor to save lives too, but I’m going to be more respected doing it than you and will garner the trust of my patients because I care about how I present myself. I respect the people around me enough to dress well and appropriately. Why are you so angry? Congratulations on the child, but why are you unleashing your anger on me because of some mistakes you made along the way?
    I am funding all my education myself… lol. I was accepted into prestigious universities, but turned them all down to attend a public institution and support my family.
    Kayni’s problem is that the attire yields the mindset that, “Okay, I can skimp on clothes because I don’t care.” This is like saying, “I don’t care about my appearance in front of adcoms because I don’t respect them.” Not being able to afford it is the biggest baloney I’ve ever heard (see reasoning above).
    You are already a father, but your presumption disturbs me. You assumed too much about me and ended up sounding like an angry man in midlife crisis. Nice usage of profanity by the way. Way to go.
    I will get my degree on my own (and without a father), but no thanks on the talking. You came off sounding like an ignorant old man who I really want nothing to deal with.

    @The Dude

    @TonyZ Bookmarked. Thanks!

  11. @Abd
    I’d like to also mention that I do not qualify for financial aid because of the complicated legal situation between my parents. So, I fund everything myself. No government help at all.
    Nice try.

  12. As a Program Coordinator I have fielded many questions from applicants about what to wear. First and foremost – we are interviewing YOU and not your fashion sense. Does that mean show up in jeans and your med school sweat shirt – no. Maroon shirt, black tie and white suit? Save that for your school’s disco throwback party. Guys – wear a simple single breasted suit in black, navy, grey or, and I mean this, brown. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a tasteful dark brown suit. Don’t worry about sticking out because you’re the only one not wearing black – my PD and I joke each year that we will automatically hire the first applicant to show up NOT wearing black! We do get tired of everyone looking like clones. Avoid plaid shirts unless you want to look like Jethro Bodine and never wear a tie with cartoon characters on it (yes, I’ve seen all the above!). As long as your shoes are clean, polished and no toes are poking through the leather we don’t care if they’re loafers or lace-ups. Wearing a designer suit is not only not necessary, it makes us wonder why you’re trying so hard to impress. Buy off the rack, go to Men’s Wearhouse, JCPenney, the outlet mall – we don’t care how much your suit cost, only that you look presentable in it.
    Ladies – a pantsuit in those above colors is ideal. No worries about runs in your hose, no freezing on a windy day. Why should you keep heel height to a minimum? Because I’m going to walk you all over two campuses and limping never makes a good impression. I’ve seen ladies wincing and trying to hide tears by mid-afternoon. I’d rather see you wear sneakers for the walking tour than 3″ heels and I will offer you the spare pair I keep in my office! We just don’t pay that close attention to how stylish you look – we only ask that you look decent.
    NO COLOGNE OR PERFUME. Really can’t stress that enough. Some people are sensitive to fragrance, others just can’t stand the scent of certain brands. Try to remember you’re going to be in small offices sharing airspace with someone you hope to work for. Keep your hair combed/brushed, no spinach in the teeth, and don’t forget the deodorant.
    Most important piece of advice? RELAX. Breathe. Firm handshake and bright smile. You’re set!

    • So how detrimental is it for a woman to go outside the color rules of black/grey/navy/brown? I found a very nice dark teal skirt suit with the hems lined in black fabric that is comfortable, warm, and very professional looking. I’m not usually one to feel as if I stand out for looking different, but would they really judge me for wearing a non-standard color? Would most interviewers assume you are trying too hard rather than just being colorful? I don’t too much care what other interviewees think, but I don’t want the interviewers to judge me in a negative manner for wearing the “wrong” color.
      Also, what about shoulder pads? Too old lady-ish for a young woman?

      • You’ve obviously already gone on your interviews and I’m sorry I missed your reply. I feel that woman are free to wear other colors as long as it’s not garish (no neon or glow-in-the-dark!) and the outfit is simple. We’ve interviewed ladies in purple, teal, dark red and light blue. They all looked very nice. Don’t show up in flounces of ruffles or lace – keep the suit or dress simple and tailored. Shoulder pads are fine – I’ve actually never paid attention to if a woman’s jacket has shoulder pads. That said, don’t come in looking like someone from the 80s! We also don’t care if you wear your hair down or pin it up. As long as it’s clean then do what you like.

  13. And in response to the question about military dress – we’ve interviewed several applicants who showed up in their dress blues. It’s a striking look and you definitely stand out in a good way. If you’re more comfortable in uniform than in a suit then don’t think twice.

  14. I was active duty military when interviewing years ago and I wore my dress uniform. I stood out from everyone else in a good way and my interviewers was enthusiastic about discussing my current military service. I will say, the schools were in military centered towns, but there was in general strong military support or many prior military physicians on staff.

  15. Every year, it amuses me to see all the new applicants in their cookie-cutter suits. For the sake of little green gallstones, don’t go to the department store and buy exactly what’s on the lists above, because at least 3 other people will be dressed identically and the other half will be mostly indistinguishable. It IS possible to have your own personal style and still be dressed professionally. Go to thrift or consignment shops, I’ve found dresses and suits that were in mint condition and were originally $300 or so. They’re classic and professional and I didn’t look like everyone else. Don’t be the 27th applicant from the junior’s department sale at JC Penney. This isn’t the time to blend in.

  16. Like Kayni, I wore a brown suit to all my interviews, though it was more out of convenience and the fact that I look terrible in black than the fact that I couldn’t get another suit. I experienced what Program Coordinator said above–at one of my interviews, 3 different people told me that I should automatically get in because I wasn’t wearing black and how refreshing my suit was. I’m pretty sure if it’s cut right and you look clean and professional in terms of hair and/or accessories, you could pretty much pull any suit off as long as you don’t buy it in a costume shop. One of my faculty said she went to interviews in a red plaid jacket and people seemed to like it.

  17. If you’re hurting for cash, I would recommend hitting up Target for a suit. The chain is well known for producing a good suit for their low cost. You can pick up a wool suit for around $125. Make sure the suit fits well around the waist and shoulders–it’s okay if sleeve and jacket length is too long. Then, and here’s the kicker, get it tailored. The tailoring may end up costing as much as the suit but you will look great.

  18. What if you’re pregnant and showing? I would hate to buy a maternity suit since I will never wear it again, but are there any other options?

  19. There is quite a bit of ill-informed advice in this discussion, although most of the points in the original article are well taken. As someone with extensive family background in business, law, and men’s clothing, I feel the need to settle a few things.
    First: black shoes with navy suits are perfectly acceptable. They have been used in combination for hundreds of years, and will continue to be.
    Second: No one cares if you’re broke. Go to five local Goodwills and you’ll eventually find a suit in good condition that can, with $40 of alterations, look great on you. For all of you who apply to 30-40+ schools on AMCAS, then fill out most of their secondaries, this is a drop in the bucket. I have several mint-condition suits from thrift stores that cost me $25 or less for garments that went for $1500-2000 off the shelf.
    Third: I would avoid peaked lapels, and double-breasted suits. Both tend to wax and wane in popularity, while the single-breasted notched lapel is always in vogue.
    Fourth: If you can, avoid the button-down collar on men’s dress shirts. They just don’t look proper with suits. If you can find cut-away collars that aren’t absurdly expensive (good luck), go with them, otherwise a nice point collar is always appropriate.
    Lastly: to those who would say “don’t blend in”, I disagree entirely. You want your clothing to leave exactly ONE and one impression only: gee, that guy/girl was professionally dressed. All of your personal attributes that make you interesting and worthy of admission should come across in your application, not your style of dress.

  20. I am an attending physician who has interviewed dozens of applicants over the years, and I would like to endorse this article. The author makes very good points, while at the same time stating that these are general guidelines, not hard and fast rules. I agree that, if you follow these guidelines, you can’t go wrong. There are too many applicants who show up to interview with me wearing white gym socks, no white t-shirt under their dress-shirt, or who are trying to make a fashion statement in heels in which they can not walk. The idea of trying not to stand out for the wrong reasons should be taken seriously. Yes, medicine is about healing people, but it is also a profession, not just a job, and applicants need to dress as though they understand that concept and can fit in with their future collegues.
    Also, remember that if you stand out significantly from your fellow applicants, your appearance will be judged by everybody who sees you, from the secretary to the current medical students to the dean of the school, so keep in mind that there will be a wide variety of opinions about what you chose to wear. And one last point – personal hygiene is of utmost importance on your interview day. Coming clean and well-groomed is a necessity.
    Best of luck to all those who are interviewing this fall.

  21. Thank you for this article and all the comments.
    I was really hoping to find something on hair. I have shoulder length wavy/curly brown hair.
    It is hard for me to keep it looking neat in a long day. Is it common for people to have it “done” at a salon into a professional style like a bun?
    I really can only braid my hair…but it won’t look very professional.

  22. Ah, back in the day I wore a super-mod (fitted at the waist) chocolate brown suit with a skirt that I now think was far too short. Can’t remember the blouse, I think pale pink. And two inch heels (I am with all the other women here – 2-2.5″ inch is definitely better than less than 1.5″, and I am 5’10” myself. Comfort is not determined by heel hight but rather dependent on the quality of the shoe, and of course on one’s ability to walk in heels, which I think 80% of the young women today don’t possess, seeing their gait makes me wince). Still got in everywhere I applied, but I don’t think in all the years since I have seen anyone else to go quite as unconventional with the suits (though big shoulders came, and went :)). I would recommend sticking to a more traditional style, though I think brown is an appropriate color for women’s suites.
    One thing you did not address, which is often asked by women is whether to wear hair up or down. I would say, doesn’t matter as long as you have had a good haircut recently, and took time to style it in the morning rather than let it air-dry on the way to the interview. 🙂

  23. @ Dan
    I am surprised that you would equate my inability to find and afford a suit that fits me well with the quality of doctor I will become!! This is certainly as low a blow as any, and reeks of personal and relational qualities on your part that are less than tasteful.
    For your information, I do not own an I-Pod (never needed one), my computer is an old remanufactured desktop from 2005, I have no desire to waste money on the gadgetry you speak off, my cellphone is used and employer supplied. You do not know how I pay for flights and accomodations on interviews so please refrain from drawing a parallel to anything else you know. What Abd-al-Latif said is right, you are in no position to castigate my inability to afford a suit, or your imagined sense of my spending priorities. As it turns out, the brown suit was TOTALLY appropriate (read the article), and it is the unimaginative zeal of others to conform to the ‘norm’ that made for an awkward situation. I am confident in my abilities to influence people, and use my approachability and demeanor to achieve interactional objectives. I have long learned to rely on the content of my character to win over peoples minds, and positions. I never let apparel proclaim who I am beyond looking well groomed and presentable. Thankfully, adcoms are comprised of persons with a little more socio-situational sobriety, and sensibility than you could ever muster. Thanks, Abd-al-Latif for pointing out the obvious to our undiscerning brother, Dan. If anyone discounted my aptitude for medical matriculation because of the brown suit I wore, then I must agree that I probably would neither fit in, nor want to attend a school that harbors that kind of mindlessly myopic ‘idiocracy’ anyway!

  24. @ KAYNI
    tou-f’ng-che! I feel the same . . . if someone doesn’t want to let me into their medical school because *gasp* my socks don’t match my suit, then that’s definitely not an environment that I want to spend any amount of time near. I think that spending 150k to endorse a school with such a neanderthal mindset would be a crime. I’d rather be a bum than subscribe to these over-the-top yuppy rules. At least I’d still have my dignity and my individuality.
    The only reason we still have these ancient (and useless) dress codes is because of the DULL conformists who perpetuate this nonsense with their self-righteous stamp of “social etiquette.”

  25. I understand that facial hair is the bane of the business world, and thus, it would probably behoove us to shave. Being a man that’s had a beard since 16, mines become more a part of me than I can say! I dread shaving it, but I’m coming to the sad realization that it will be necessary.
    So my question is, do you think my well groomed beard of beards palatable for an interview?

  26. Kayni, thanks for the explanation. I apologize for “prematurely judging you”, but I want to redirect my criticism from you to all those who think it’s “inappropriate” to spend on dressing professionally. As a college student, (I already explained my story above), even I can afford a suit and get it altered… If you are an adult, I just don’t think it is excussable. I think iHeartNerds said what needed to be said very appropriately.
    In the end, it comes down to whether or not you want to be making excuses or not. The way you dress really represents what kind of person you are, and if you aren’t willing to show that you even tried a little bit, then what isn’t to say you aren’t going to show this apathy towards future patients and colleagues??

    • So, if I’m a colorful person…Is it okay for me to wear a colored skirt suit? This color thing is really irking me.

  27. @Kayni Sorry I don’t mean to overload the comments section, but you do understand the point I was trying to make in the comments in the beginning right? People have said it again and again in the comments above. “You don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons.” An attending physician also commented saying appropriate, PROFESSIONAL dress is very important. I do hope that you have learned from your experiences and best of luck to you!

  28. “The way you dress really represents what kind of person you are, and if you aren’t willing to show that you even tried a little bit, then what isn’t to say you aren’t going to show this apathy towards future patients and colleagues??”
    When I see professionals dressed superduper professionally, I am a bit wary, because I’m like, “What kind of ineptitude is this person trying to compensate for by dressing like an uptight prick?” I find it patently unimpressive. For me, these types of clothing styles leave a bad taste of rigid conservatism, closed-mindedness, an inflexible adherence to tradition, and a sad lack of originality, creativity, curiosity, or free thinking.
    Bring me a hard-core professional in jeans and a t-shirt, and I instantly take them more seriously. It makes me think, “This badass obviously has the intelligence and free-thought to realize that this suit & tie business is utter cr*p, and they’re so good at what they do that they don’t have to impress any one with their style of dress.”
    I think that your ability to dress however you want and get away with it is directly related to your skill in your chosen profession. Mediocrities need to abide by these silly rules, because they are an expendable commodity that can be replaced for any old reason. People of exceptional, recognized skill don’t need to follow silly rules like these. Did Einstein’s hair get in his way? Think about it.
    The cut of your suit only fools fools.

  29. Maybe this is just me, but I do think it’s sad that everyone dresses in the same formulaic black suit/white dress shirt combo. Yes, it does level the playing field as far as letting personality (rather than appearance) stand out, but at the same time, I think appearance shouldn’t be completely ignored. Especially when the expectation is that they dress in a manner that is totally outside their comfort zone.
    So I guess my thought process brings up a question: Is there a way to dress professionally WITHOUT wearing a suit, at least for females? Like appropriate bottoms (trousers or skirt) with a tasteful blouse topped with an attractive cardigan?
    Obviously, this is my individual situation, but I look and feel completely stupid in suit jackets (even in nice, tailored ones), like I’ve been playing dress-up in mommy’s closet… of course, I wouldn’t want this self-consciousness to cause me to mess up my interview mindset. Is it possible to get around the suit issue without being automatically ruled out as some sort of freak applicant, or should I just suck it up and get used to them?
    I can see that this overall topic seems to illicit some pretty extreme views on appropriateness, but I’d really appreciate some insight.

  30. I recently bought a dark gray pinstripe suit with double lapels and a white blouse (without collar). Would this be appropriate or should I get a collared shirt?

  31. This article is absurd.
    A friend of mine works as a political consultant; part of his job is helping public officials dress to impress. He said to FIRSTLY dress for the season, and guess what? Interviews start in August! Khaki colored suits look fantastic in Summer. Cheap black suits look fantastic NEVER.
    News Flash: department store brand consignment costs less than Target brand retails for. Yes, I can tell from across the room that your suit is cheap. Fabric texture IS that visible. We’re not children here, guys!
    Secondly, the idea of women’s wear presented here comes from the early 20th century when women first joined the men’s workforce and had no option but to wear fe-MAN-ine clothing — i.e. a lady’s version of man clothes. Women in this century do not need to wear Black and Navy boxes over their top halves (“Oh but it’s a skirt too, cause you’re a girl”). Wear color. Wear softness. Look like a confident woman wearing beautiful, formal clothing, instead of a girl who is trying her hardest to not bring attention to the fact that she isn’t a man.
    People need to stop being scared of clothes. Wear what you love. Wear what fits you. SHOP AT CONSIGNMENT STORES!! And dress for the season.

  32. i was planning to wear a gray suit with blue oxfords, and wanted an opinion on wearing some multicolored, striped dress socks. i wear them to many formal events, but i feel like it may be inappropriate for a interview. thoughts?

  33. I’m considering polished black cowboy boots with a grey suit. Is this inappropriate? I live in Nashville and was a songwriter on music row prior to applying to medical school, and I want them to meet the person they’ve read about in my application. Thoughts?

    • As long as they are clean and polished I don’t think it’s a problem. As I said above, we’re interviewing YOU and not your clothes. As long as you’re in a suit (& it doesn’t have to be a designer), simple tie, clean polished shoes, and bathed and brush your hair then you’re going to be fine.

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