A reader recently asked for my thoughts on job interview attire. In her particular case, the job for which she is about to interview is a professional one. Therefore, the starting point was the basic suit; the question: how to pick it, accessorize it and wear it.
Let me start by saying that, in my opinion, a job interview is not the place to bust out your trendiest or most fashion-forward clothes – unless you’re pursuing a career in the fashion industry. Classic is the way to go. While a first instinct might be to go for the (safe) black suit, I also think that dark grey is a great alternative – sober enough for any interview, but not as predictable. Having said that, my first serious “interview suit” was a beautiful olive colour … and no one questioned my employability; as long as you stick with neutrals (brown, olive, taupe, navy), you should be fine.
Some other thoughts on picking a suit: a solid colour or unobtrusive pin-stripe is interview-appropriate, as well as being generally flattering; I prefer a two-button style jacket, although I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to button your jacket for an interview; the skirt/pants question comes down to personal preference; and, of course, fit, fit, fit. In terms of fit, it’s important to make sure that the suit jacket fits in the shoulders/arms. Anything that constricts arm movements is too tight; by the same token, stay away from suits whose shoulders overhang your own. And unless your name is Joan Crawford – no shoulder pads!
Turning to the other components of an interview outfit, this is where a little bit of personal style can be brought into the mix. Normally, I’m all about expressing it through accessories, but this is a case where jewelry, bags and shoes should be fairly discreet. So the statement-making piece should be the top/blouse – though it’s probably best if that statement is whispered, not shouted. A delicate print or subtle detail (like a not-overwhelming ruffle or pussy bow) is an understated way to add zing to an interview outfit. Personally, I’m not fanatical on the issue of whether “to tuck in or not to tuck in” (one’s top, that is) but I would say that if your top is a collared shirt, it should definitely be tucked in; with a camisole, there is more latitude for personal preference. That said, if you do tuck in, a belt is a must.
As for everything else:
– Simple gold or silver jewelry, depending on preference, as long as it doesn’t veer into Mr. T territory.
– Simple rules of thumb for shoes: black pumps for black or grey suits, beige/cream for olive, taupe or navy suits, brown for brown suits. Particular styles are less important than comfort; having said that, it’s probably better to go with heels rather than flats – at least a kitten heel. Unless you really hate heels, a pair of 2 inch black patent leather pumps is a wardrobe staple, so it’s worth investing in a good pair. I love my Stuart Weitzmans, but I realize that they are not in everyone’s budget; for affordable, good quality work footwear, I’ve come to really appreciate Nine West.
– The bag should be in good condition (nothing peeling, ripped, etc.) and should accommodate all the myriad things you might need for the interview. I like structured totes because the contents of your bag are less likely to get squashed, and you won’t have to dig around too much for things; totes are especially great if you have to carry papers with you. A solid colour, without too many bells and whistles on the bag, looks professional. You don’t necessarily have to match your bag to your shoes, but in that case, both bag and shoes should match colours in your clothes.
Please leave your questions in the comments or send to firstname.lastname@example.org.