“Good clothes open all doors.” ~ Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress;
dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
~ Coco Chanel (1883-1971)
Thomas Fuller and the great Coco Chanel were right. There’s no question of the importance of clothes to one’s image, no matter your age or the circumstances. It’s no different in the workplace, where your brand will help you to gain respect, admiration and career advancement. There are few more important occasions when the way you dress will help determine your future than the job interview. Consequently, an investment of thought, time and a little money will be essential to your success.
Remember that upon seeing you for the first time an interviewer’s immediate impression will be formed within approximately seven seconds. Even if a telephone interview has preceded a face-to-face interview — in which an initial reaction will have begun to take shape through your audio presentation – your appearance will have a major impact on how your interviewer(s) perceive you. Therefore, it is critical to dress to impress.
In general, the savviest professionals dress in business formal, especially for the initial interview and until they can get a sense of the company’s dress code and practices. That means dressing on the conservative side to show your professionalism, seriousness about the position and respect for the company and interviewer. However, there are some industries for which a formal business suit might not be appropriate and business casual will be the best approach. If unsure, check with the company for guidance.
For interviews, the skirt suit remains the gold standard for women. Yes, I realize that pant suits are wonderful, and as one of the pioneers who fought for the right to wear them I think they are dandy for both business formal and casual wear on the job. But, for times when you want to look exceptionally professional and powerful the skirt suit is the way to go. The exception would be if your brand incorporates pant suits and you are known for wearing them, then you should be comfortable and, more importantly, you should be true to yourself. However, today the skirt suit for important occasions is the mark of the consummate professional woman. In addition, in our male-dominated society your interviewer and manager are still likely to be men, and studies show that men are more impressed with a woman who wears a skirt suit; therefore, psychologically, wearing one will put you ahead of the game. Women, as well, appreciate another well-dressed woman and will get that you know what you’re doing by wearing a skirt suit. And, I am talking about a suit, not separates or a dress. Separates look too casual and a dress, even if paired with a jacket, will look too feminine; both looks might be construed as weaker and less knowledgeable. The skirt suit strikes the right balance of power and femininity.
Select a suit that is made with a good fabric, is cut well and fits you perfectly. No matter what size you are, a well cut and perfectly fitting suit will flatter your figure. The jacket should be in the classic two- or three-button style that you can comfortably fasten; it shouldn’t be too snug or wrinkle or pull when you do so. The skirt should be a classic strait cut – such as a pencil skirt — and not too flared. A slight kick pleat is okay; just make sure the skirt is in a conservative cut, but also flattering to your shape. The hem should fall at or just above the knee and not ride up too high on your thigh when you sit. Avoid crossing your legs when wearing a skirt suit; instead sit with your knees and feet together and pointed straight ahead or crossed at the ankles.
Color is significant. Select dark navy blue or black in solid or a subtle and small pin-stripe. Dark colors are considered to be more serious, light colors more frivolous. Navy blue, in particular, is considered to exude confidence and trust and is considered by many to be the best color to wear to an interview. Black is also excellent, as it conveys leadership and authority; but, it can also be intimidating. If you wear black, balance this powerful color with a silk blouse in a muted tone and delicate jewelry to send the message that although you are strong you are also approachable.
NOTE: Other colors, such as orange, bright yellow and other strong hues should be avoided, even in your accessories. Save them — as well as charcoal, beige and other color suits and business formal and casual ensembles — to wear in the workplace when you land the job
“When in Doubt, Wear Red“
This was fashion designer Bill Blass’s famous advice, and is my exception to the no strong colors rule. Not only is red my signature color, so I usually incorporate it in some manner when I assemble an outfit, but it communicates power in addition to passion, energy, excitement and courage. But, because it transmits all these feelings and emotions, wearing this color in anything but well-chosen accessories can overwhelm and distract interviewers and be a risky bet. However, women should take advantage of power symbols, and red also has been found to strongly influence; thus, a touch of red in a silk scarf, garnet or ruby pin, lipstick or nail color against a backdrop of a serious suit can add a dash of pizzazz and persuasion!
Shirt / Blouse
If your suit is pinstriped, select a solid blouse or shirt; if you’re wearing a solid suit choose a blouse or shirt with a subtle pattern, such as white on white or beige on beige. Wear a crisp white cotton shirt or a blouse in silk or a good synthetic silky fabric in white with your navy suit, and – as stated previously, a silk blouse in a soft color with your black suit. Coordinate the style of your shirt or blouse with the style of the jacket, paying special attention to collar and cuffs.
Wear sheer pantyhose that match your skin tone. You need to have a finished look, so regardless of what your opinion is of pantyhose don’t sabotage your interview by showing up in a formal business suit and bare legs that are more appropriate for a picnic, beach date or backyard barbecue. Contrary to those who believe that pantyhose are sexist or provocative, it is bare legs that are too sexy for the office. In addition, only immaculately groomed, smooth, well shaped and toned legs with some color look good bare with formal wear. Avoid wearing black or opaque tights of any color or patterned pantyhose; keep it simple, tasteful and elegant. Panyhose remain au courant, and there are many brands of beautiful sheer pantyhose on the market from which to choose. And, tuck an extra pair in your handbag or briefcase in case you get a run.
Invest in a good basic black shoe (which will go with either a black or navy suit), either patent or plain leather that have between 1 ½- to 3-inch heels. If the heels are too high they can be distracting – not to mention cause you to turn your ankle. On the hand, in an interview flats can make you look dowdy and without authority. Wear at least a kitten heel (1 ½ – to 1 ¾ inch heel). Avoid platform shoes, strappy sandals, or peep-toe or open toe shoes and boots of any style. Save fabulous fashion-statement footwear for when you’re on the job (if they’re permitted).
A good mid-size leather handbag is essential. It should be one in which it’s easy and convenient to carry and find things. Here’s where you can add a little flair to your conservative look by selecting a bag in a two-tone or interesting trim; but stick to quiet elegance rather than a loud statement. Your bag does not have to match your shoes, but it should coordinate well. If you carry a briefcase, it should be of good quality and coordinate with your shoes and bag. For instance, if your bag is a different color from your black shoes, then your briefcase should be solid black; but, if your bag and shoes are both solid black leather, your briefcase can be in a contrasting leather, such as tan or oxblood, to add a little interest and dimension to your overall style.
With jewelry, too, keep it simple and chic, and save the statement pieces for another time. Instead, wear a good watch, a pair of stud earrings (no dangles or hoops), and a delicate necklace or bracelet. Wear nothing that bangs, jingles or jangles. Pearls are always safe and tasteful. Don’t wear diamonds, with the exception of an engagement ring.
If you wear a scarf, make it small and silk and tie it neatly and correctly.
Wearing appropriate undergarments can make a big difference in how you look outwardly. Start with a properly fitted bra, which will not only help your clothes to fit better but will be good for your appearance and health over your lifetime. To avoid a panty line wear properly fitted underwear and a lined skirt or trousers, and pantyhose. Depending on the type of pantyhose you choose, they can smooth your figure so that your clothes drape properly. If necessary, slips and camisoles can provide additional smoothing and coverage. Other foundations should be selected carefully with consideration for your health as well as your appearance.
What To Avoid
- Bare Arms – Despite the trend of prominent women on TV baring their arms, don’t do it in an interview or in any corporate environment. It conveys weakness when next to a fully-suited man. It’s okay to wear a shell under your jacket, which you will not remove in an interview.
- Body Piercing and Tattoos – Most corporate offices are not welcoming of body art and sculpture, so skip – or hide — these, including multiple ear piercings.
- Extreme Hair Styles, Makeup and Nail Art – Obviously, these are not in keeping with the “dress conservatively” plan.
Exceptions To The Above Rules
In certain fields, such as Technology, Arts & Entertainment and many small companies and blue collar fields, it might be acceptable to wear more creative or casual ensembles to a job interview. But even in the most casual or artsy environments, looking put together counts. Business casual does not mean sloppy; it means wearing a casual skirt or pants with a coordinating top and a jacket, and sportier shoes and tote. Your clothes and accessories should be of good quality and in good condition. And, even in casual settings a jacket makes a woman look competent and organized. In the creative fields, a more colorful and fashionable look might be appropriate. Research, inquire and then use your best judgment.
For more information on women’s professional dress, refer to my entry, Dress to Impress-Women.
Please join me next week when I address men’s wear!
Until next time,