Happy Wednesday! Today it’s time for another “How To” post and this one is about how to dress for that big job interview or important meeting you have coming up (if you work in a very creative field, you can stop reading now. Or maybe not?). I’m especially talking to all those ladies who work in business, finance, or law who will, ultimately, be compared to multiple male candidates in tailored suits and silk ties. While, certainly, what you have to say is going to matter much more than how you look, fashion and beauty choices are still part of your nonverbal communication and will influence the impression you make on the person you speak with, no matter how open and tolerant. Here’s some easy suggestions for dressing the part without giving up your sense of style…
We’ve all been there, that morning when you get ready and you’re left clueless in front of your closet because you have a big presentation or job interview and no clue what to wear. You want to look professional. You want to look smart. You want to look like you own the room. You want to make them feel like they can let you present in front of their CEO, their most important client, a room full of leaders. Sure, but you also want to feel comfortable, like yourself, authentic, feminine, and definitely NOT like a waitress or a guy.
Trust me, I’ve been there countless times. If you’ve been browsing through my posts, you know I love fashion and I like to experiment with different styles. I am very much into colors, patterns, feminine pieces, sky-high heels. I like to bend the rules when it comes to office dressing, not caring if I stand out a little bit because my bright yellow pencil skirt just makes my day so much brighter.
As you can imagine, I loathe those days when I need to go all conservative. Well, there’s some rules I never break, but then there’s lots of options out there that make conservative dressing much more fun. Let’s start with the rules though:
If you have long hair like me, pull it back into a ponytail or low bun. First off, you’ll avoid fidgeting with it from the very beginning. More importantly, though, long and full hair is the epitome of feminine sex appeal (think Victoria’s Secret waves). Do you really want your interviewer’s thoughts to go that way? Plus, pulling back your hair will leave your face more visible, making you seem more open, transparent, more confident. It also makes you appear polished and mature. As you can see, there’s really many reasons to pull back your hair on those days. It’s an unnecessary distraction, and you really don’t need to hide behind your locks!
PS: I hope there’s no need to mention it, but keep everything clean, simple, classic. No wild styles, braids, top buns, or colored pins. And no scrunchies.
In line with the above, also keep your makeup natural, simple and classy. Don’t start doing any wild experiments – stick to your every-day style. No bright lipstick, heavy gloss, excessive color, glitter shadow, false lashes or black smokey eyes. Also, don’t do the opposite; no makeup entirely will quickly make you appear sloppy. Even if you – unlike me – wake up super-beautiful without any pillow marks or under-eye circles (please share your secret below, thanks), I would still suggest doing a little mascara, eyebrow pencil and some blush. Stay who you are, but within the limits of what’s polished and sophisticated.
Although I love my daily set of heirloom rings, interviews are the one occasion when I leave them at home. The same goes for any other jewelry, especially statement pieces, and all I usually wear is my watch and some little stud earrings and a fine necklace. Rings and bracelets are most risky when it comes to fidgeting – don’t even take the risk. Also, avoid visibly cheap and fake pieces as well as things that are too flashy. You never know who you’ll encounter, and I just think it would be a shame to risk the job by provoking a few prejudices. If you’re looking to find a classic business watch and your current budget doesn’t really cut it to a Cartier or Rolex, try Michael Kors, Daniel Wellington, and Olivia Burton watches.
THE BUSINESS BAG
What applies to jewelry goes for the bag, too. In terms of shape, go for an elegant leather business bag that’s clearly shaped. Leave the big shopper, your favorite cross-body clutch or baggy hobo. Also, neither take anything with big big label monograms nor that scratched faux-leather bag from three years ago. The best idea is to pick one that can fit your printed CV without bending it. As a side-note: I always take a leather portfolio folder containing my documents as well as a notepad and a pen, and extra slots for business cards.
See some of my very favorite business bags below:
My grandma likes to say “you can judge a person by their shoes”. For interviews, I think simple, pointed, mid-high pumps are your best and safest shot. If you’re really tall and you know your interviewer isn’t, wearing flats is an alternative. In that case, I think oxfords are a better choice than ballet flats, or in case you want to wear the latter, pick a pair with at least a 1 inch heel. Definitely steer clear of sky-high heels, platforms, peep-toes or sandals. I really like suede for its unobtrusive elegance. In any case, make sure they’re clean, polished, and there are no tags still stuck on their soles.
Last but not least, let’s talk outfit options! It sure depends on what industry and job you’re applying to or which people you’re presenting in front of, but there are plenty of alternatives to a black pant suit and white button-down.
Casual Business: In some environments, a safe option is matching classic dark-blue jeans (or white in summer), a silk blouse and a navy or black blazer.
Semi-Conservative: My favorite option for job interviews is usually some form of two-tone suiting, for instance this look below including blush trousers, a pleated blouse and a black peplum blazer. If you do incorporate color, stick to pastels and powder tones. I recommend skipping bright reds and pinks entirely; the only color I would do is a brighter shade of blue. Again, your clothes shouldn’t distract from your face.
Conservative: If you can’t get away with anything but a matchy-matchy two-piece ensemble, there are still options to making it more interesting, feminine, fashionable and with zero resemblance to a waitress or flight attendant. First of all, pick the most flattering color for you. Black is sophisticated, but also quite harsh on most people. Navy can be great, but the material needs to be very elegant to avoid looking too casual. I personally prefer grey tones, or checked patterns. Nudes can also be very sophisticated. If you pick a look including a pencil skirt, make sure you pick one with a hemline at the knee or longer (no excuses). You do not want to fumble trying to pull it down after sitting down, and even if you’re petite, a mid-thigh piece will never leave a good impression. Same goes if you choose a dress; no bodycon, short, cleavaged items. A classic shift dress, perhaps with a belt, is a good option. In that case, you could do a differently colored blazer even in conservative environments; all-black is for attending a funeral.
Ideas for making the outfit more fashionable while staying within the narrow limits: Try a blazer with peplum, a skirt with (a few) ruffles, a shirt with pleats or a bow. Some of my favorite labels for fun, feminine, classic and affordable office fashion are Ann Taylor, Express, Massimo Dutti, Asos for dresses, and Theory for higher-end pieces at ok-prices. My absolute favorite shoe brand for office pumps is Salvatore Ferragamo, I wish I could get all of their models in every color! For bags, I love my black Fendi and my olive Prada Saffiano, but I also love Tod’s, Dolce & Gabbana and of course Saint Laurent.