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 mature, 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 might not want to wear a cleavage-baring blouse or do your hair in a beehive, it is important to look at least somewhat memorable. And 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.
Colorful suits are making a mild comeback and utilizing some brights is a great way to grab attention in an interview situation. But I have to say that, in most cases, I think a matchy-matchy skirt- or pants-suit in one solid, bright color can look like overkill. There are better, subtler ways to utilize color that will help you appear more sophisticated and stylish.
You’ll also want to steer clear of any fabrics that are super shiny. While I generally subscribe to the shiny = pretty rule, I think satin, lamé, and other highly reflective materials are pretty much 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, oversized 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 give a bad impression, 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, let’s talk do’s
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 ill-informed. So, generally, I recommend suiting, button-front shirts or blouses, pumps, and simple jewelry as starting points. Sounds deathly dull, right? But there’s lots of wiggle room in those staples. Observe:
Both women here have a few small, thoughtful details in their outfits that make them memorable. On the left, she’s got sassy leopard print shoes. On the right, a printed blouse. Both are still fairly conservative looks, but not so plain as to be forgettable.
A full suit isn’t necessary for many – even most – interviews these days, but utilizing one suiting separate can work well. A pencil skirt paired with a simple sweater, blouse, or even twin set will read as tasteful and chic in most working environments.
The gals in the previous two sets aren’t exactly going wild with color … and you might want to do the same, depending on your personal preferences and interview industry. But a splash here and there can be memorable and attractive without feeling like overkill. My favorite way to do color for interview outfits is to add a bright blouse to a conservative suit in a neutral shade. You could also throw on a pair of colorful shoes in a simple shape. Adding a TINY bit of texture or embellishment – like the ruffle in the gray-on-gray outfit at far left – or a printed blouse to a solid suit works beautifully as well.
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.
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 flats
- A demure dress – something with a nice high neckline, cap sleeves, and a knee-length hem – in wool, heavy twill, or another weighty fabric
- A graphic-patterned blouse, a-line skirt, and bright colored pumps or flats
That whole “never get a second chance to make a first impression” thing? 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.