As a woman, choosing between a skirt or pants for a job interview can be tricky. On one hand, you want to appear powerful and assertive at the job interview. However, you also want to appear conservative enough for a professional environment. In this article, we will discuss whether skirts or pants are more appropriate for job interviews.
Before we start, please understand which types of skirts we are talking about. This article will discuss conservative skirts, generally knee-length, in the pencil or A-line style. We will not talk about miniskirts, high slit skirts, or other revealing garments. Everyone knows that a revealing skirt or pants that are too tight are not appropriate for a job interview.
Fun fact: A recent study showed that skirts make a better first impression in the workplace than pants.
A study carried out by the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. found that women in skirts still make a better first impression than women in pants.
This study included 300 participants, both women and men, between the ages of 14 and 67. For the study, participants were asked to make snap judgments about businesswomen wearing different professional outfits, with their faces blurred out. Each photo would feature a woman in a skirt or pants—the color and fabric would be the same. Then, the participants had to rate each woman based on confidence, trustworthiness, flexibility, success, and salary.
Within 3 seconds, study participants showed they strongly preferred the skirted businesswomen.
Professor Karen Pine, one of the leaders of the study, commented that women “have to maintain an identity that balances professionalism with attractiveness and the skirt suit may achieve that balance without appearing provocative.”
Fun fact: In the U.S., you can sue an organization for discrimination based on “denial of right to wear pants.”
Well, at least in California! As part of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Government Code Section 12947.5, preventing someone from wearing pants is a kind of discrimination. The official FEHA complaint form provides a category titled “denial of right to wear pants.” Interestingly, there is no “denial of right to wear a skirt” option.
Other U.S. states haven’t officially protected a worker’s right to wear pants, but generally, women are almost always assumed to have the option to wear a skirt or pants in the Western world. As an example, this author’s mother wore formal pants to her own wedding! These days, an employer that requires all women to wear skirts could face legal and ethical issues, especially considering that the growing population of Muslim women generally require either ankle-length skirts and dresses or pants to preserve their cultural tradition of modest attire.
Honest opinion: While you have the right to wear pants, a skirt is generally the safest choice for a job interview, unless wearing a skirt would make you feel uncomfortable.
Ultimately, what you wear to your job interview should help you succeed in that interview, not serve as a fashion statement. Think about whether wearing a skirt or pants would help you during your job interview and choose accordingly.
According to educator Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., skirts are usually still the best choice for job interviews because they are traditional attire. A formal suit with a skirt and flat shoes or modest heels is still the standard business outfit. She especially recommends a skirt suit for conservative industries, such as law, banking, and financial services.
However, she warns that women who are uncomfortable wearing a skirt may not present well at a job interview. We agree that it is better to arrive looking confident in pants than nervous and awkward in a skirt. A skirt might also be physically uncomfortable if it is cold—tights can only do so much. You wouldn’t want to arrive shivering, right?
Dr. Hansen also stresses that a skirt or pants should always be part of a suit. That means a jacket in the same color and texture, worn as part of a coordinated outfit. Your overall appearance is much more important than a specific garment.
The bottom line: Keep both professionalism and your comfort in mind.
Whether to wear a skirt or pants to a job interview is ultimately a personal choice. There’s no right answer. You need to pick a job interview outfit that fits the environment of the company you’re interviewing with and your own level of comfort.
If you do wear pants, slacks with a crease are still considered the most professional. If you wear a belt, it also needs to look conservative. Obviously, flashy belts and big belt buckles are not acceptable.
For skirts, pick a hemline that hits your knees. You can go just above the knee if you’re short, or just below if you’re tall-or just don’t want anyone to see your knees. If you must cross your legs while wearing a skirt, do it at the ankle.
Hopefully, your interviewer will be too impressed by your excellent resume to pay attention to your skirt or pants anyway!