Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What to Wear | The Interview

How many times have you Googled "what to wear to an interview" in your life?
(My answer: however many interviews I've been to in my life, times probably two, usually in a total panic the night before.)

So while I absolutely don't consider myself an expert on dressing for interviews, I am pretty experienced in how the sh$! Google tells you compares to real life.

Now seems as good a time as any to note that my real life interviews involve mostly county government offices, which is somewhere below big-law corporatism and somewhere above marketing/advertising on the creativity in officewear scale. If your real life interviews involve big firms or super-corporate offices, err on the side of more conservative. If your real life involves casual Friday on every day that starts with a letter of the alphabet, you have wiggle room. It's always better to be a little over-dressed than under-dressed, but you also don't want to be the douchemonkey that shows up in a full suit when everyone else is in jeans. You risk looking super out of touch with the company culture and, you know... douchey. Flip side: if you show up to a super corporate office in leopard peep toes, you risk looking like look like you have no respect for the process.

If you just can't fathom sacrificing even an ounce of your fashion individuality for any amount of time, don't go corporate. Alternatively, take a gander at the economy, be grateful you've got an interview, get over it.

Without further long-way-around-the-barn-ing, a list of the best advice the interwebz has to offer:

General Rule: the rules are for people who generally have issues de-frumping.
Don't be ashamed if this is you. It's also me.
The fact is, the rules are made to lead to a presentable end product: if you look put together, professional, and you aren't totally incompetent, no one's going to care if your shoes are peep toes or if your suit isn't black. If you show up in a black suit with your vent strings on (CUT YOUR VENT STRINGS! GO NOW! we'll wait.), black pumps with scuffed toes, and I can see your granny panty lines, you look like you've got no attention for detail even if you're the smartest person in the building.

The Rule: wear a dark suit.
The Reality: wear a suit that fits you like cray and doesn't wrinkle.
A lot of people, my career services office included, will tell you that you can ONLY wear a black suit to interviews. The super old-fashioned ones will tell you to only wear a black skirt suit, because pants are too modern - to this I say half yes, because I think pencil skirts look 100000x better on everyone, and half no, because it's 2013 and fuck you and the horse you rode in on if some old guy says I can't wear pants.

The truth is, black makes a lot of people look awful. You look awful, you feel awful, and you need to feel awesome. If black washes you out, look for navy or charcoal gray. Again, more casual offices would probably be cool with a light gray suit, a white suit, a completely badass red suit. Your gut reaction is good here - I crushed so hard on a heather gray suit before my last interview, but the thought of wearing it made me wonder if that was okay, and if you have to wonder if it's okay, it's not okay.

(I know, I questioned a heather freaking gray suit? What kind of snoremonster have I become?)

Also, and this is a biggie: tailor, tailor, tailor. I found myself suitless the day before my interview and had to panic-rush myself to the mall, but ideally I'd have the jacket sleeves taken up a bit and some other tweaks here and there. No idea how a suit should fit? What a coincidence, your tailor will. Go in and tell them you bow to their vast expertise.

The Rule: no heels over 3" high.
The Reality: no shoes you can't walk in, no lucite, no platforms.
My Sam Edelman Portney pumps (suck on that 4" heel, Career Services) have been on approximately every interview I ever went to in law school, and no one ever busted out a tape measure. They also aren't platforms, are a conservative pointed-toe shape, and I can run in them if I have to. Do not, do not, do not, for the love of everything holy, ever let me catch you wearing platform heels in an interview. Please. Except maybe one of those covered 1/2 inch numbers.

The Rule: no short hemlines, no deep necklines, no shoulders, no skin-tightness, no panty lines.
The Reality: what they said, with the possible exception of the shoulder thing.
Yeah, if it's 85 degrees outside and the office isn't strict, a sleeveless blouse with a higher neckline is probably fine. Otherwise, I should not see your thighs, I should not see your cleavage (girls with actual boobs, I get it and I hate you, this is ridiculously hard, but minimize it as much as you can without the use of duct tape), I should not see panty lines or bra lines, and the fit should leave everything to the imagination. Because too tight screams things you do not want your clothes screaming, even if the reason is because the bar exam made you fat and not because you're trying to bring all the boys to the yard.

This is not a "defend men from temptation, they can't help themselves" thing, because that is disgusting (see: "... and the horse you rode in on"). It's a professionalism thing. Your goal in an interview is to make them see nothing but your qualifications. It isn't to say I have no personality I'm a sheep, it's to say I know how to read a situation and present myself appropriately for that situation. You wouldn't show up for a bullfight wearing all red, right? You don't ever, ever want to look like you're more concerned with your look than with the job.

Ten General Tips You May Have Heard Before & Some You Haven't
1. Bring copies of your resume and other important things in a portfolio. Throw down ten bucks on a cheapie at Walmart, don't show up with a fistful of loose paper or a manila envelope.

2. No rings on your shaking hand. I had the pleasure of having a cocktail ring on at a networking event where a lovely gentleman introduced himself by trying to break every bone in my hand. I woke up with a ring-shaped bruise.

3. Buy a half-decent steamer on Amazon. I hate to iron and wrinkles happen, and you cannot cannot cannot show up wrinkly. Get one of the cute little handheld ones you can throw in your car if you have to.

4. Clean out your purse beforehand. When you go to dig for your pen, you don't want to flash your tampons and gum wrappers and ten thousand receipts.

5. No perfume. Stick a baby travel-size deodorant in your bag (the zippy part! Don't need to flash that either) if you get sweaty when you're nervous.

6. Keep your jewelry as minimal as you can. No jewelry looks a little less put together, but simple earrings and a watch are a good compromise. Necklaces, dangly earrings, bracelets, and rings are easy to fiddle with when you get nervous.

7. Speaking of... if you're a fidgeter, remove as many fidgeting opportunities as you can. No clicky pens, no jewelry, pull your hair away from your face, no hairbands on your wrist. Whatever you have to do to not look like a poster child for ADHD.

8. Take a drink of water and have a mint before you go in. No chewing on gum, no chewing on mints, no coffee breath, no Diet Coke breath.

9. We talked about suits, not so much what goes under the suit. No cotton tees, no tight tank tops. You need a dressy material that doesn't wrinkle or show lines, a color (or even a pattern! I KNOW! I SHUN THE RULEZ!) you like that makes you look amahzballs, and a length that doesn't look screwy tucked in.

10. Pay attention to details. Cut your vent strings, wear Spanx, make sure your toes/heels aren't scuffed, don't have orangey fake-bake hands, get a mani (or at least file your nails and take off your crazy polish), get the dog hair off, turn your necklace clasp back around, check that there's no lipstick on your teeth. Don't let the little-picture things screw you over.

Hit us with your best tips in the comments, I'll keep updating this list, and together we'll have an ever-evolving answer to the most boring outfit dilemma ever.


My real-life suit and I. Aren't you excited that my camera's coming out of storage soon?!
Real-life pro tip: take off the Wild Turkey phone case, or you know, amputate the iPhone from your hand and leave it in the car.

Real Girl Style Link Up 


  1. I love this post! Personally, I'm all for Oscar Wilde and that whole "You can never be overdressed or overeducated"-shebang. Which means I have to learn restraint rather than glamming up, which I suppose is a slightly better problem to have.

    I do think a light perfume (thing D&G Light Blue) is acceptable, if you spray it on in the morning under your clothes like a body spray.
    And regarding what to wear under the suit: make sure it's not something that sweat stains spread on like wildfire! Wear a material that is a little bit more forgiving, like cotton blends, rather than something like silk which will show everything. Sweatstains should not be one of your concerns!

    xx Johanna
    Dear Life, We Need To Talk

    1. I definitely think you can probably get away with a light perfume - I'm just hesitant to do anything like that when you never know how sensitive your interviewer's nose is. Scent is so powerful! They're iffy about how you smell, they're iffy about you.

      Do you watch The Big Bang Theory? All I can think of when I think of sweating is Leonard before his first "date" with Penny.

    2. hahaha YES! I always end up picturing Borat wrestling that fat guy.. your mental image is much nicer!

  2. "because it's 2013 and fuck you and the horse you rode in on if some old guy says I can't wear pants."

    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahhahahahahahahahha best line.

    1. Can you tell that my mouth is a thing I have to reign in...? :P

  3. I wore a suit to all my interviews when I was about to graduate, and I completely agree with your tips here! In the last few years, I've had to conduct interviews just a handful of times and I really can't believe what some people think is appropriate to wear. My office is very casual, and I don't think my boss cared (and we even hired some of the offenders), but I was totally distracted by the unprofessional attire. But then again, I'm usually the most dressed up person in my office, so I may have skewed opinions!

    1. Any kind of professional environment, I'm probably suiting up. I'm just more comfortable being the douche in the suit, I guess ;)

  4. ...is Diet Coke breath a thing?! I don't think this is a thing, Sam. But yes to mints all the same.

    1. HEY NOW! bahahh. I think it's a thing! And it's a thing you don't want!

  5. Great, great, great post, Sam!! These are great tips, tough it think y don't necessarily apply to all industries. Super conservative markets like accounting, law, hr, etc definitely call for following the rules. Other industries such as IT, design, social media actually do well with showing some personality and creativity in your dress by using offering shapes, colors, patterns and details to make you stand out. Though the small picture details always matter!!

    1. yeah, I agree, it'd be tough to make one that spanned everything. The type of law that I practice is a step down on the ultra-conservatism ladder, but it's an ultra-conservative profession all the same.

  6. Thanks for the shoutout lol. One thing I'd ad - I've heard the rule that you should ONLY wear a white button down to an interview but I never have. First, collars have the potential to not sit properly whereas blouses lay flat. Second, button downs have the potential to gape at your chest, blouses don't. Finally, white is so boring. As a former sorority girl I have to say I always remembered girls in rush by what they were wearing, and I think you have a better chance of being remembered as "oh the girl with the blue shirt" instead of "the girl with the white button down" - because everyone else is probably going to wear a white button down, lol. But the color advice is probably best reserved for non-corporate positions too.

    1. um, I looooved your post. AND YES YES YES button downs are my favorite but they're made for people with a smaller chest than mine even, and that's appalling. I can't bring myself to go plain white either - it's too boring, and too stressful! The spill quotient just goes bananas!

  7. I also forgot to say I completely agree with what you said about the color of the suit itself. Black navy and dark grey are all totally acceptable. I've always worn a dark grey suit on every interview I've ever had. If I had an interview tomorrow, though, I'd wear my navy suit because I think the color is more flattering on me :)

  8. Love the shout out to no VPL....and subtle nod to no mini-skirts. Also, you look great in your interview suit:D:D

  9. Wow thanks for these very useful tips....yes to being so polished with your sharp suit!


  10. You ROCK that suit pretty lady! And I am so the nervous hair fidgeter girl sitting in the corner picking my split ends... gross... I probably should stop that!
    Enter to win my Stella & Dot giveaway!


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