Updated: Nov 8, 2019
by Claire Liu
published on September 18th, 2019
Japan known as its conformity, but hearing the information first hand was still quite overwhelming. For those preparing for job hunting, there always comes a wave of shock and awe over the many unspoken rules on etiquette, and one of the most complicated is in fact is the "black suit". That is why in this article we will compile the must know information regarding job-hunting in Japan as shared by many senpais who are going through and have gone through the process.
“What? there’s a difference between a normal suit and a suit for job hunting?”
I knew I was in trouble when I heard the word ‘recruit suit’ for the first time.
“Yes. We call it a recruit suit. It is plain black, and we wear it specifically for job hunting. When we start working, we can just wear a normal suit which can have different colours, materials and designs.”
I was lucky enough to hear the advice straight from a civil worker (25), who has gone through the process and landed himself a job at a local city hall in Oita Prefecture.
He continued on his advice saying "But recruit suit is different. It is not about being stylish, but about portraying yourself as a good potential employee. That is why you need to be very careful about choosing your recruit suit.”
As he reflected back on his job-hunting days, he was eager to share what information he could to assist me on this unfamiliar journey.
First up, why the plain black ‘recruit suit’?
During the 1980s, Japan experienced an economic growth close to that of a miracle. This became known as the bubble economy. During this time, individualism flourished and the youth could experience freedom like never before. This resulted in a boom for fashion, and lead to an expressive job-hunting dress code which included pastel colored suits, dresses and accessories.
Unfortunately, around 1992 the bubble burst and resulted in an economic depression. Many workers lost their jobs and the prospects of finding a job for fresh graduates was pessimistic. To the companies at that time, they wanted to hire people that were like a blank canvas, so they can teach them from the start and avoid risks. The plain black suit lacking in individuality was a symbol of that. Following this trend was the safest option, and at that time, no one could afford to take any risks.
As a result, we have the current strict social norm regarding job-hunting attire, and although some companies are now trying to break free from this barrier, the reality is that many companies still follow this social convention.
So what exactly is the dress code for job hunting?
There isn’t an official ‘job hunting dress code’ that is printed and handed out to nervous job-seekers. Instead, these rules are all mutually accepted by everyone over the years.
Recruit Suit (リクルートスーツ) should be dark in color, where black is the best. Suits that are oversized give a bad impression so make sure to seek advice to buy a suit with a right fit. Most suit shops have a special section for ‘recruit suits’.
Hair Hair should be neatly kept. What this means is that if you have long hair, it should be tied back in a low ponytail. If you have a fringe, it should be parted to the side neatly. Hair should never be dyed.
Blouse There are two types of blouses accepted for job hunting: Regular collared shirt (レギュラーカラー) where you can button up to the top of the collar, or the Skipper collared shirt (スキッパーカラー) where there is no button to the top of the collar and reveals a bit of neck. Regardless of the type of blouse, the color should always be white. If wearing the regular collar shirt, either button up all the buttons or leave one button free.
Make-up Simple make-up with neutral colors are desired. Never use color contacts or fake eyelashes and anything too eye-catching.
Accessories No accessory is the best option, but simple accessories like plain stud earrings are fine. Never wear accessories that dangle and make noise.
Shoes Black heels are the best option with heels roughly 3-5cm. Straps are accepted, but there should never be extra accessories like ribbons and rhinestones etc.
Hair and Face Well-kept hair that is combed. Make sure to be cleanly shaven.
Dress shirt Plain white dress shirt. Make sure to wear a white undershirt which can not be seen.
Necktie Color should be carefully chosen to match the suit, and colors should be subtle. This means colors like blue, grey dark red. Avoid any eye-catching logos and designs. Make sure to practice tying a necktie properly.
Belt Plain belt with no obvious branding.
Shoes Plain black dress shoes. Chose leather lace up shoes and avoid monk strap style shoes. Make sure the shoes are carefully polished and clean. Socks should always be black and high enough so that when you are sitting down it still covers your legs.
General Watch It is considered rude to check your phone during an interview even for checking the time. So it is advised to wear a plain watch to avoid misunderstandings
Bag Bring a black bag (never a backpack) that is capable of holding A4 sized documents, and bring a clear file to keep the documents from wrinkling.
Perfume and cologne Avoid using strong scents that can be distracting.
Other items Make sure to bring plain stationary, use simple phone covers, avoid anything that stands out, and do not use obvious brand products.
Where to find your recruit suit
Thankfully for us, unlike normal suits that are considered a style of fashion and can cost up to thousands of dollars, recruit suits do not rely on brand names and are a lot more affordable.
Here are the top five places to get your recruit suit according to many current and past job-hunters:
29'000 ~ 59'000 yen
Aoki is highly recommended for those looking for their first suit due to their wide range of selection for both men and women. They also provide suit sets for job hunting which is perfect for those unsure about what they need.
19'000 ~ 28'000 yen
A suit brand that is cost effective and targeted towards suits for the younger generation. Good place for trendier styled suits and has been rated highly.
39'000 ~ 59'000 yen
A very accessible brand with a long history and many outlets through Japan. Widely used by many people, especially those who are unsure as to what is suitable. Their suit designs are less flashy, but can never go wrong for job-hunting.
39'000 ~ 59'000 yen
Famous for their ‘easy care’ suits which is good for those inexperienced with taking care of suits. Known to have a slim silhouette fit, as well as being able to easily remove stains. Recommend for those who want low maintenance suits.
19'000 ~ 48'000 yen
Only provides suits with a mature higher class feel with influence from British styled suits. For a slightly pricer range, they also provide tailoring and trimming to get that perfect fit.
Senpai’s last words...
“Although it was very daunting at the beginning... I actually grew to enjoy wearing my suit for job-hunting.” A fresh graduate from Vietnam told me on her last day before moving to Tokyo for work. “At least for me, there’s something about putting on the black suit that made me feel...like I’m taking my first step into the adult world. That’s why I don’t think there’s any reason to be afraid of the job-hunting process, and enjoy it as a part of the culture.”
Hearing all my senpai’s advice, both the good and bad, was able to put me at ease. So let’s make the most of our senpai’s advice and happy job-hunting!
About this Author
Name: Claire Liu