What to Wear to CareerFest

  • What to Wear to a Career Fair

    This information is adapted from an article written by Jeremiah Fleenor.


    Here is the essential information you need to dress the part of a successful applicant.

    Quite simply, the safest thing for a female applicant to wear is a suit. The definition of a suit is a jacket and bottom in the same color and fabric. Buy the best fabric you can afford, preferably wool or wool blends.  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 comfortable.

    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.  Make sure it's not too tight to walk in easily.

    If opting for pants, make sure they fit properly and are not too tight. The hem should just touch your shoes; if they are too long they will look sloppy.  You can have them hemmed at a tailor or at a dry cleaner that provides this service.

    The next best thing to a suit for women is a non-matching tailored jacket with a skirt or dress pants, or a dress with a jacket.  This combination is less formal, but acceptable for less conservative professions such as marketing or advertising.

    Suit Color
    There are four completely safe colors for women’s suits: navy blue, black, grey and brown. All these colors are worn and there really aren’t any prescribed norms or taboo’s when it comes to choosing between them. You can feel confident in choosing any of these colors for your suit.  Also, these colors with a very faint pinstripe is also acceptable.

    For starters, the blouse should be a solid color or a stripe and be long sleeved and have a collar. A button up is preferred, but a cowl neck or round neck is acceptable. Blouses should not be sheer enough to see your bra or low cut enough to see any cleavage.  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 jacket, nor should it be so short as to reveal any skin.

    Blouse Color

    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, you must wear pantyhose. This is not only more professional, but can also be nice when it's cold outside. The simplest choice is a pair of flesh colored hose or very sheer black.  Patterned hosiery or opaque tights are not appropriate for a job fair.


    Closed toed shoes are the best choice, as they are more professional. A pair of closed toe pumps that match the color of your suit or are darker are preferable. If you choose pumps with heels, don’t go any taller than 2 inches, and make sure they are comfortable to walk in and stand for extended periods of time. The career fair day can be long and there’s nothing worse than trying to look and feel comfortable during a conversation with an employer when your feet hurt from hours of wearing uncomfortable shoes.

    Accessories, Hair and Makeup

    Basically, less is more. It is acceptable to wear earrings 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 neutral or light colored finger nail polish if you would like. If possible, remove any facial piercings.

    Your hair should be clean and simple.  If you want to pull it back, fasten it low on the neck with a barrett.  Ponytails are considered too casual for business professional dressing.

    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.


    Leave your printed Vera Bradley totes and heavy book bags in the car or under the Capital registration table!  It's okay to carry one black or brown bag, either a small purse or professional looking briefcase.  In addition, invest in a leather portfolio to carry your resumes and a tablet for writing notes to yourself or a list of questions for employers.

    Bottom Line for Women
    Here is an example of a basic, safe bet for your CareerFest attire:

    • Charcoal gray pants or skirt suit (knee length)
    • Light blue button down blouse (solid colored)
    • Flesh toned stockings
    • Black, closed toe pumps with heels less than 2 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. Career fair 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 stand out for the wrong reasons.

    In the end, the point is to look professional. There is room for personal expression in the colors you choose. However, following the above guidelines will provide you with a sufficient base to prepare your interview ensemble and avoid the risk of inappropriate attire.


    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 CareerFest.  The biggest mistake is not knowing exactly what size you are.  Go to a men's professional clothing store to be measured for your suit and shirt size (collar and length of sleeves).

    The Suit

    A suit is the most professional choice of attire for men.  Suits, by definition, are a jacket and pants of the same exact color and fabric. They are typically hung on a hanger as a set, but some stores have separate matching pieces that can be used as a suit.  Purchase the best quality fabric you can afford, in either wool or a wool blend.  A less formal but still acceptable outfit for a man is a dark blue blazer (jacket) with a pair of dress pants in tan or gray.  Khakis are too casual for a career fair. The hem of the pants should just touch your shoes with a slight crease; if they are too long they will look sloppy.  You can have them hemmed at a tailor or at a dry cleaner that provides this service.

    Suit Color
    For the purposes of a career fair as well as interviews, 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, charcoal gray 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 works well . These two colors of suits can be worn to most formal/professional occasions and should serve you well once you have secured a job or internship as well.

    In the 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.

    Your dress shirt should be long sleeved and preferably, a solid color. Make sure it fits you perfectly around the collar and sleeve length and that it's wrinkle-free.  The collar should be the same color as the shirt. Some may choose a striped pattern but be aware of the possible interactions with a patterned or striped tie.

    Shirt Color
    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, bold or dark shirt color. Many believe that the shirt should complement the suit color and be a nice backdrop for your tie.


    Always wear a tie to career fairs and interviews. There are many, many variables when it comes to ties but it’s worth commenting on a few.

    Tie 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.

    Tie Length

    This may seem like a small thing but a tie at the correct length shows a level of refinement and style. The tip of the tie should hit at the belt line. Avoid going below the belt line or much above it.


    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 career fair attendee). Make sure they're long enough so that when you sit down, you can't see your hairy legs.

    The best bet is to have a good quality pair of shoes that are darker in color than your suit. Black leather would be appropriate for any of the suit colors previously mentioned. Make sure they are polished and in good condition.

    Hair and Grooming 

    Grooming is an important part of your whole image. Make sure you have a fresh haircut, clean hair, and that you are either clean-shaven or have neatly trimmed facial hair.  It goes without saying that you should also be freshly showered and have paid attention to the length of your fingernails. Cologne should be kept to a minimum if worn at all. A recruiter should never meet your fragrance before they meet you.


    Leave your book bag in the car or under the Capital registration table.  The only item to take in the exhibit area with you is a nice leather portfolio to carry your resumes and paper for notes.

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

  • navy blue suit 
  • white shirt
  • blue silk striped tie lighter in color than the suit
  • black leather belt
  • black socks
  • black leather 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.
    • 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.