The New Dress for Success

library of congress post war - job where I fit best 2013
from the Library of Congress database

The New Dress for Success
Interview Edition


It’s been a long strange trip for business clothing. It used to be that one would have a couple of suits and a pair of shoes and those would be worn to work daily. A little uniform. A lady always wore stockings, slips and proper foundation garments, including a girdle. Even the slimmest of women were expected to constrain themselves. Now, business clothing is all over the map. Some offices are ‘Business Casual’ others are just casual. What does this mean for someone who is new to the workforce, and for those who are interviewing for jobs? It means confusion and aggravation.

Managers are not only assessing your skills and experience, they are also assessing your ability to fit into their corporate culture. A short-hand cue to that culture is clothing. So when you walk in for an interview, you want to look like you already work there. You also want to look like you put in some effort, like you already work there, with a jacket.

If you have time before the interview, go to the building and do some people watching. What are the folks coming and going wearing? Try to put your interview outfit together based upon what others are doing. Are you seeing slacks and blouses? You’ll want to wear slacks, blouses and a jacket. Do you see skirts and shirts? Wear a skirt, shirt and a jacket.

An interview is not the time to be a maverick, firebrand or pioneer with your clothing. Stick to low-key and conservative items. You don’t want to be rejected for wearing something outré or overly trendy. If you are young, don’t exacerbate the interviewer’s preconceived notion of your inexperience by wearing something too sexy, or too trendy or too cheap. No good interview outfit will come from the Juniors department.

Most of us know quality when we see it. Try to stay out of stores selling clothing that is manufactured inexpensively and with shoddy fabrics. That’s for wearing to the club, not a job interview. Stick to department stores. This doesn’t mean that you have to pay a fortune for your clothes. You can be frugal and buy attractive work outfits.

1. Shop the sales and clearance. Basic items will always be on sale. Black slacks and skirts, jackets, and work blouses are on every sale and clearance rack in the land. The more you do this, the easier it will get. You’ll know what brands fit your body type, you’ll know what cuts are flattering to your figure, but for now, if you’re not a shopper. Be patient and try lots of things on. Check for store coupons. If there aren’t any on the website or in the newspaper, ask the cashier, they frequently have them for customers.

2. Buy the best quality you can afford. If there’s a difference of $15 between a cheap pair of shoes and a sturdy, high quality pair, spend the extra. Your feet will thank you and you will look so much better put together. Remember that scene from Silence of the Lambs? “You know what you look like to me with your good bag and cheap shoes?”

3. A good bag is important. But don’t go nuts. A decent leather bag that will hold your necessary items is all that is needed here. It should not be covered in a logo, it shouldn’t be enormous. There’s a saying, “the bigger the bag, the bigger the crazy.” Select a neutral color that goes with most of your outfits. Again, you can find a bag at a discount store or on sale in a department store. All you need is one.

4. Keep it simple. For now, when buying wardrobe pieces for work, stick to one basic color, two at the most. This way you won’t have to buy as much. Black is a great foundation. Black shoes, black handbag, and black slacks and skirts. You can add any color shirt, sweater or blouse and it will coordinate.

5. Don’t distract. You don’t want to wear anything that is going to be distracting. Jingly bracelets, huge hoop earrings, gaudy necklaces. Leave it all at home. The rule of thumb used to be, “get all dressed up and remove one item of jewelry. “ That’s a pretty good rule. A wedding ring and a watch are enough. Maybe a necklace, but nothing too crazy. While we’re talking about distractions, let’s talk about ink. I realize that this is generational, but tattoos are still one of those things that for some folks may judge you for. For now, keep your ink covered. Long sleeves, boots, whatever you need to do to keep your ink to yourself will only help you.

6. Fit. Always buy items that fit you well. Don’t buy something that doesn’t fit well because it’s a steal. It doesn’t matter. Even if that jacket is only $20, and it was marked down from $200, it doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. If it doesn’t fit, it must stay in the store. Exceptions are small things a tailor can fix. Hemming slacks, taking up cuffs, adding darts, etc. But even then, if you’re prone to procrastination, don’t bother with it. You’ll just have an item of clothing in your closet that you’ll never wear.

7. Clean and tidy. All of your clothing must be clean. No stains, no loose or missing buttons, no holes, no droopy hems. Invest in a portable stain stick, to tackle any sudden stains that may find you between leaving your house and the interview.

8. Smells. Your perfume should not enter the room before you do. Apply lightly and use light fragrances. Some folks are allergic and if your scent gives them a headache they will not look kindly upon you. If you can, use essential oils as they are less likely than synthetic scents to bother folks. Unscented is the safest way to go, if you can.

9. Pantyhose, tights, stockings. Pantyhose will mark you as old. If you feel naked without them, wear slacks to your interview. Tights are okay if they are black, or if you live in a cold climate and they are part of your weaponry to keep you from getting frostbite. Stockings, like fishnets, or patterned hose, or anything like that. That falls under the category of distracting, so no. Not this time. If you go bare legged to an interview, be sure to moisturize well. Oils will give your legs a nice sheen; it’s what all the starlets do when they go on TV.

10. Underwear. Get fitted for a bra. Most women wear the wrong size and are not getting proper support. The girls should be high and upfront, but not in your face (or anyone else’s). Get a bra in a skin tone. An interview is not the time for your laceiest bra, or the red one, or for any bra anyone will notice. The best bra will do its job behind the scenes. Ditto for underwear. Flesh colored panties of a type that are comfortable for you, and will not call attention to themselves.

The best way to tackle the interview is to wear an outfit that makes you feel like a competent and capable woman; that will allow the interviewer to concentrate on you as a candidate, not as a fashion plate. If you can put your outfit on and not think about it once you’re out the door, it’s the right outfit.

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