Job Hunting in Japan: What to Wear and Where to Get Your "Recruit Suit"

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.
Photo from Flickr

“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’?

Photo: Suit Select

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’.

Female Suit

Photo: Orihica

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.

Male Suit

Photo: Orihica

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.