The lovely Kendra sent me this plea:
I was wondering if you could provide some ideas for interview wear beyond the basic suit and button down. I know alot of it has to do with what industry/field and what level you are interviewing for, but either way it can be hard to pump some creativity and personality into interview attire.
Well, Kendra, lemme tell ya. I actually tend to err on the side of conservatism when interviewing, as I believe that the best time to express your personal style and fashionable creativity is AFTER you’ve landed the job. I understand that showing up in a suit when you’re not a suit-wearing girl may seem dishonest, but you ought to be able to express yourself through what you say, your accomplishments, your humor and smarts. Interview clothes should establish your ethos, not your personality. In an interview, you want to present the most adult, impressive, hire-able version of yourself. You can slowly introduce your visual personality after you’ve been hired or your reputation has been established.
All that said, there’s no reason to show up in a white button-down and black slacks to every interview. While you won’t want to flash your tattoos or wear a cleavage-baring blouse or do your hair in a beehive, it is important to look at least somewhat memorable. You don’t want to appear to be a standard-issue office drone. But there are ways to spice up classic, clean, conservative interview garb so that you can leave a visual impression without scaring the bejeezus out of your interviewer.
First, a few don’ts.
You all know I am a color-o-holic, and utilizing some brights is a great way to grab attention in an interview situation. But please do not buy a matchy-matchy skirt- or pants-suit in one solid, bright color. There are better, subtler ways to utilize color that will help you appear more sophisticated and stylish.
Steer clear of any fabrics that are super shiny. While I generally subscribe to the rule that shiny = pretty, satin, lame, and other highly reflective materials are just never interview-appropriate. Sure, they’re attention-getting, but more in a “wish I was out clubbing instead of trapped in a conference room” way than a “I’m a stylish go-getter” way.
Same applies to sequins, pailettes, rhinestones, and really anything heavily embellished. You should use your ability to assemble a stylish, flattering ensemble to wow your potential new employer, not a super-busy, flashy, or detail-laden piece of clothing.
I’d also avoid flowers or feathers in your hair, voluminous scarves, bangle bracelets or other jewelry that clanks, fishnet tights, open-toe strappy sandals, above-the-knee skirts, and heavy/colorful makeup. Think clean, simple, elegant. And, of course, whatever you wear should fit you IMPECCABLY. No pant hems dragging, pulling buttons on oxford shirts, blazers that constrict your shoulder movement, or skirts that give you muffin-top. Not only will ill-fitting clothes make you appear shoddy, but they’ll cause you to fidget. You’ll be nervous enough as it is, don’t give yourself another excuse to wiggle and writhe.
Now, as Kendra pointed out, interview garb varies from industry to industry. If you show up in a suit to interview at a graphic design firm, you might look a little overdressed. If you show up in a sweater and slacks to interview at a law firm, you might look a little underdressed. So never be afraid to ASK about dress code when you’re setting up your interview. Believe me, no one is going to take points off for that.
But should you be unable to procure information about the general environment, I’d say err conservative. Personally, I’d rather be overdressed. At least that way you look earnest instead of lazy. So, generally, I recommend suiting, button-downs or blouses, pumps, and simple jewelry as starting points. Sounds deathly dull, right? But there’s lots of wiggle room in those staples. Observe:
If you click to enlarge, you’ll see that each woman here has a few small, thoughtful details in her outfit that make it memorable. On the far left, she’s got a gorgeous green handbag and long chain necklace. The woman in the middle has a subtle pattern on her blouse, a long funky necklace, and her blazer sleeves rolled up. On the far right, she’s got some slightly daring shoes and a graphic-patterned top on. The rolled sleeves are a little more casual than I’d typically recommend, but the rest are all great ways to personalize a suited look.
Those three suit-wearing gals up above aren’t exactly going wild with color … and, frankly, neither should you. But a splash here and there can be memorable and attractive without feeling like overkill. My favorite ways to do color for interview outfits is to add a bright blouse to a conservative suit in a neutral shade, or throw on a pair of colorful shoes in a conservative shape with my classic, conservative pieces.
Jewelry is another great way to liven up a suited look. Big earrings can be tricky, and lots of bracelets can be noisy, so the simplest route is to find an interesting statement-y necklace. And since such items are so common that you can practically buy them at gas stations and grocery stores, you’ve got no excuses. Wearing an interesting necklace puts your outfit’s focal point up near your face, which provides your interviewer with an interesting and memorable item to correlate to your lovely countenance. Bonus!
Both of these ladies have chosen great pieces: Big but not huge, interesting but not wild, and fairly short in length. Long necklaces are great, too, but again, the more your interviewer focuses on the vicinity of your gorgeous visage, the more memorable you’ll be.
(Must point out that the woman at right is wearing a henley. Unless you KNOW the office is casual, please don’t do this. Just because you’re wearing a suit with your henley doesn’t make it a dressy outfit.)
If you know in advance that a suit is overkill, try:
- A solid-colored cashmere sweater, pencil skirt, and pumps
- A bright, solid-colored button-down shirt, neutral slacks, and pumps or peep-toes
- A demure dress – something with a nice high neckline, cap sleeves, and a knee-length hem – in wool, heavy twill, or another stiff fabric
- A graphic-patterned blouse, a-line skirt, and bright colored pumps
That whole “never get a second chance to make a first impression” dealy? Yeah, that shit is TRUE. So true. So be sure to give some thought to your interview attire a day or so before the big event. Do some research about the company’s dress code, if you can. Lay out a few options for yourself in advance so you have choices the day of. Make sure that your ensemble has one or two accents – a pop of color, statement jewelry, an interesting handbag or shoes – but is still relatively classic. And, above all, pick something that makes you feel strong and confident so that you can focus on what you’re saying, not how you’re looking.