can I wear the same clothes to a second interview?

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A reader writes:

I graduated last year and thus have little work experience (and job hunting experience!). I was recently called to a group interview where all I was given was a name tag. I was then observed during a group activity to see if I performed well. I sent them a thank-you note after the interview and was called up for a second interview.

I have several sets of work dresses, tops and pants, but I prefer to wear a long black dress as I felt that was the most formal of my outfits. However, I am concerned that should I wear the same dress again (freshly laundered), my interviewers will feel I have a limited wardrobe. Personally, I feel this is a strange concern as there were so many other candidates and it cannot be possible that the HR team has memorised each outfit. Nonetheless, I want to do my best for every interview and being in a favourite outfit does bolster my confidence and poise.

Wear a different outfit.

It’s not so much that your interviewers will be concerned that you have a limited wardrobe; if they’re reasonable people, they don’t care. It’s more just about complying with normal business conventions — which, yes, dictate a different outfit for a second interview. And also, when interviewing, you don’t want your clothes stand out for any reason — whether it’s because they’re inappropriate or because they look awfully familiar or whatever.You want the focus on you, not on your clothes.

And while it’s doubtful that anyone would reject the best candidate for the job just because she wore the same outfit to both interviews, you’re still better off wearing something different.

By the way, I’m a little wary of “a long black dress” for an interview in general. Typically, you want to wear a suit — or at least something with a suit jacket. This doesn’t have to mean spending a ton of money; you can go to a secondhand store and find something that fits well for very little.

{ 184 comments… read them below }

  1. Kate2

    Really glad this question was asked! While it seems obvious now after reading your answer, it’s always something that I’ve wondered. Thanks!

  2. Mike C.

    Having a neutral colored suit with different colored (but matching) shirts and ties/scarves/whateverthehellwomenwearthesedays can also go a long way towards increasing wardrobe versatility.

    One other thing I would say: get that interview suit tailored! It’s not that expensive and consider the benefits – would you rather be stressing out during an interview while wearing something that just doesn’t fit right or would you rather walk in wearing something that fits you perfectly? It makes a huge difference.

    1. AD

      This was definitely my MO for entry-level. I had a plain black suit, and I’d wear a blue shirt to the career fair and a pink shirt to the interview. Same pumps, but different jewelry, and I think it was just fine.

      1. Jamie

        The plainer the style and color the easier it is to do this.

        I have about five pairs of black dress pants and they all look pretty identical – this is common for most women I work with…so I don’t worry if people think I am rewearing the same pants. If you’re clean and everything is basic – but the colorful part is changed up I think it’s fine.

    2. mh_76

      Agree completely. Or if you really like wearing the dress, do you have a nice sweater or short suit-style jacket that you could wear over it? I don’t have any suits that fit anymore and to my last 2 interviews, I wore: (1) black crease-leg pants, black top, with a long suit-styled jacket over the top…I’m not sure what the technical term for the color is but black & white mottled so finely that it appears dark gray…with comfortable but dressy flats (no “pumps” for me); (2) off-white-almost-gray smooth uncreased pants, shirt 1/2way between gray and tan, topped with a crocheted sweater that’s white w/ a couple of navy blue stripes (long-ish…looks better on me) and the same flats (I was told “business casual” attire…some of my soon-to-be colleagues were in shorts & flip-flops so I’ll likely start day 1 in tevas (my dream footwear!). I didn’t get the first job (for unrelated-to-wardrobe reasons) but did get the second and start Monday.

      I’ve noticed a bit of a gender difference in the way that outifts/”fashion” are perceived: in general, women are more likely to notice if you are repeat-wearing something than men are…but that’s not universally true because I am a woman and am very “guilty” of re-wearing and probably wouldn’t notice if someone else did unless it was the next day…maybe the same week if the garment is noticable for good or bad reasons.

      slightly off-topic…sorry…but…a brief “networking” story:
      The person who told me about the job and will be my boss is also my boss at a micro-job that we both work (the “polls” for elections…in my city, it pays a tiny bit)… so don’t shy away from micro-jobs or working “the polls” or volunteering (even if it’s not related to your “profession”). The job itself isn’t directly related to my longer-range professional interests but that’s OK and there are aspects of the job that will help with future job searches. I am not sure if it’s “perm” or project-duration but it does come with benefits…though I wish the pay were better…much better. I don’t know when I’ll start the next search or even if I’ll declare this one “over” (will definitely pause it because I need a break) but…well…I’ll take it one day at a time and see what comes.

  3. Anonymous

    Personally, I feel this is a strange concern as there were so many other candidates and it cannot be possible that the HR team has memorised each outfit.

    Believe it or not, I worked with a woman who remembered everyone’s outfit at their interviews. I could barely remember what I had worn, but when she described to me what I did wear that day, it matched clothes I had in my wardrobe. She somehow in her mind coordinated people with what they wore just so she could remember the interview when it came time to discuss with the other interviewers who got the job. I found it a little weird too, but now that I know there is at least one person in this world who is capable of doing that, I take care as to what I wear even more so. Don’t underestimate people. They have odd talents you are unaware of, and it can play for you or against you.

    Anyway, put some money towards clothing. Even when you get the job, you’ll be wearing some of your interview clothes to the office. Or if your birthday is coming up, ask for money or gift certificates to stores where you will shop for interview clothing. You might have to make sacrifices in your budget (instead of seeing that movie in the theater, put the $10 towards a nice blouse).

    1. anon

      Also, if the long black dress wasn’t really proper interview attire, it is more likely to stand out in someone’s mind.

      1. Anonymous

        That might be so when something does stand out. But this woman remembered everything – the design, the color, etc. She’d remembered the print on the women’s blouses, and she’d remember the details of the men’s ties – even if everything was in normal interview attire. Like what Anonymous writes below, it takes a fashion-minded person to notice that sort of stuff and keep mental note of it.

        1. Emily

          I don’t consider myself fashion-minded, but I am observant and have a knack for visual recall when it comes to wardrobe. It’s not something I put any effort or conscious thought into at all. That’s just what gets processed into my memory, while more important things like, you know, people’s names, seem to go in one ear and out the other, much to my frustration. That interviewer’s wardrobe association trick sounds brilliant to me!

        2. Liz

          I can do this. I’ve learned never to let people know because it clearly makes them nervous. It’s just a habit to help myself remember people. I don’t even like shopping and I certainly don’t care how many times they wear the same outfit in a week :)

    2. Anonymous

      I agree – even after working at my current job for over a year, when talking about my interview with one of my fashion-minded co-workers, she remembered what I wore down to the colour of my blouse under my suit jacket!

    3. Tamara

      I don’t remember everything that candidates wear to the detail, but you’re sitting in a room with them for awhile – details do stick even if you don’t actively consider them. We had a candidate wear the same thing to 2 interviews, and I definitely noticed. I probably couldn’t have described the outfit after the first interview though. We ended up hiring the person, so it didn’t have a negative effect, but I have definitely teased that person after the fact about it.

      1. Anonymous

        See what I wrote above regarding how it can take a person who fashion-minded, even when it is normal interview attire.

        Granted I don’t know the situation, but my first thought is that it might be mean of you to tease the person for wearing the same outfit in each interview. Sure it didn’t affect her negatively, but how do you know that financial situation of this person? Maybe she couldn’t afford another outfit as good as the one she was wearing to your company’s interviews. Like I said, I don’t know the situation and she might be taking this in stride, but I would definitely be careful about making fun of someone’s wardrobe choices, particularly when you see someone wear something twice. It might be a financial situation you are unaware of, and therefore, the person might be hoping you don’t notice. So of course the teasing means you noticed and the person is now embarrassed.

        Even if that didn’t happen here, it can happen elsewhere.

        1. Tamara

          I had a feeling that one might come back on me. I didn’t mean teasing in the sense of mocking the person. It was actually brought up to me (“Did you notice that I wore the same thing?”) and we joked back and forth about it from there. It became somewhat of a running joke for awhile after that. I suppose my point was more that it’s important to set a good first impression and a repeat outfit is likely to be noticed, but you can certainly overcome that by shining in your interview and having a good attitude.

          1. Anonymous

            That’s why I said I didn’t know the situation. If she brought that up to you in the first place, then she definitely has a good attitude about things and can let things roll off her back. Good for her. I need to learn that strategy.

            Did she ever say why she wore it twice, though? I’d be curious, especially since she’s poking fun at herself about it.

            I totally get your point.

            1. Tamara

              We have a very friendly culture – lots of joking, so I think that helps! It was an entry-level job, so it was combination of lack of funds and lack of experience. Although I will admit that the outfit looked pretty great both times, so maybe there was a confidence factor as well!

    4. jmkenrick

      I really enjoy clothing and jewerely, and can often remember people’s outfits as well. (Not to the extent that you’re describing, but in the situation the OP is describing, I would definitely notice.)

      1. Piper

        Me, too. I remember outfits in great detail, so I would definitely notice any item or entire outfit repeats for a second interview.

        Sort of OT, but I actually remember my own outfits for random events, like a movie date back in 2006 with my husband. My mind is a style trap.

    5. KayDay

      I’m terrible at remembering names, so instead I tend to remember either where people are from (e.g. girl from Pennsylvania) or where they went to school (e.g. guy from UVA)…I don’t know why, I guess I am pretty weird…. If your co-worker was a visual-type of person, it may have just been a good memory-jog to help her remember the rest of the interview.

      1. Alisha

        I’m very visual. I use appearance, hairstyle, and mode of dress to remember who people are because names slip through my rain like sand through the fingers. So I’d notice if someone wore the same interview outfit twice in a row. Now, would I care? Hardly.

        I got my main all-lack suit at the bargain basement misses’ shops and some of the others at the charity thrift stores. I think it rocks that Alison encourages people to get savvy about suits. This is another area where the college career centers mislead, telling students they need top-of-the-line designer suits “or else the other guy gets the job.” Well, mine did anyway!

  4. Ashley

    This actually happened to me earlier this year. I hadn’t had an interview in several years, and I had to buy a new suit. It took me weeks to find a suit, and I only found one in that time that fit right and I felt confident in. It was grey. I didn’t realize that the interview was a first round, and the following round would be the next week. I went and bought the same suit in navy! I did wear the same shoes though. Now I have a great job, and I mix and match my suit pieces on normal days and wear them as suits when I need to.

  5. Jess

    This question’s relevant to me, since I have my first-ever second interview for a job next week! I’ve never had to come in for more than a single interview in my previous jobs.

    What are your thoughts on wearing the same suit to a second interview, but with a different shirt? I only own one suit (black jacket and pants), and I work in a field where I never have to wear a suit professionally outside of interviews—so I’m leery on buying a second suit just for this interview. I’m also a woman, so I have a little more versatility in what a different shirt would look like than a man.

    I don’t really know why I’m posting this because I’m going to wear the same suit/different shirt combo no matter what the responses are. If I don’t get the job, maybe I can pretend it was just because of my fashion faux pas :).

    1. Abigail

      Hi Jess, I’d suggest getting a skirt and blouse to wear with your existing suit jacket. You can still have a cohesive look, but you’ll be able to wear that skirt and blouse to work later, even though it’s not a “suit” kind of work environment. Personally, I detest suits. My interview outfit was a black skirt, olive jacket, and a black, olive, and white striped shirt. It worked for me!

      1. Jamie

        I don’t like suits either, and have never owned one. My interview wear was several pairs of dressy slacks and blazers over blouses or nice sweaters – depending on the weather.

        Gray, navy, black, and beige for the pants/blazers and then you can add color with the shirt/sweater. It’s also nice for dressing up or down once you’re working – and less limiting than a suit.

        But I’m not in a suit wearing industry, so ymmv.

        1. L.A.

          Call me unfashion savvy, but can someone please explain the difference between a “suit” and “dressy slacks and blazer”? I thought a suit was just dressy slacks with a blazer and not a whole separate item of clothing. My interview attire is always dressy slacks with a nice button down and a blazer which I consider a suit, and then after I get the job those dressy slacks go right into my work wardrobe.

          I actually just remembered a time when I wore almost the same thing to a second interview. Oops. I wore a skirt and a blazer to the first interview which was an “in-person phone interview” because I knew the woman who was supposed to be calling me so it was a bit of a “let’s catch up” but also a phone interview that happened to be in person. Then I went to the real interview with multiple people and I wore the same blazer with slacks. The problem is that my favorite interview shirt is a white shirt with a blue and teal pin stripe. It’s one of those shirts that whenever I put it on I go “man, I look so professional!” because I don’t get to wear super “dressy” business attire often. I didn’t get the job, maybe they faulted me for the same shirt that was probably noticeable. But really, for what they were going to pay me, there’s not even any way I could have gone out and bought another at any point in the near future.

          1. Jamie

            A suit is where the pants and/or skirt and jacket come together and match because they are made of the same fabric.

            I have a very dressy pair of gray pinstripped pants I wear with a black blazer. It’s interview dressy, but isn’t a suit.

            I wouldn’t even try matching a black blazer with black pants, because my eye isn’t good enough to determine if I can fake a suit like that…even if the color is dead on the fabric wouldn’t be an exact match.

            1. L.A.

              Thanks, Jamie! I guess I don’t actually have a suit. I have two suit jackets from Banana Republic, but their pants don’t fit me so all of my pants are from a completely different store. You’re right, it’s insanely difficult to match random coats to pants. I missed the mark once because I bought at two different times of the year, but I’ve actually hit the mark with one pair of pants and the other jacket. Now that I think about it I feel like a bad ass for being able to do that.

      2. AD

        This is a good suggestion. Usually it is the blazer that’s really the expensive piece, so if you can pair more than one thing with it, you have more versatility.

    2. Val

      Another option, since you’re not in a suit-wearing industry, would be to wear a dark-colored shift dress and a nice cardigan (or even your existing suit jacket). I could be biased because that’s what I wore to the second interview of my current job, and I got the job – but I actually felt much more comfortable than I ever had in a suit. And I’ve worn the dress on quite a few different occasions, ranging from work to a classy dinner out to a funeral. It all comes down to accessories!

      1. Anonymous

        Get a black shift dress. It goes with everything. I have one that I pair with a short sleeved, fitted charcoal blazer and it looks fantastic over it.

          1. Emily

            And with the right accessories, you can wear it from the office straight to cocktail hour!

            1. Anonymous

              It’s great because I got both the blazer and dress on sale and the jacket hides the multitude of sins that is my mid section. :) With pantyhose and heels and my jet black beads (5 bucks from Forever 21 a few years back), it looks great. Flattering and makes me feel confident, almost like I’ve stepped out of Mad Men.

              Btw, concerning blazers, is a short sleeved one for women considered less professional? I have a black long sleeved blazer that semi-goes with my black shift dress but I hate it with a burning passion. It’s hard to iron and wrinkles really easily. It also looks like an outfit a politician’s wife would wear to a funeral. I only wear it if I have to. Trying to find a blazer if you’re plus sized is hard because everything is either expensive, looks cheap or has a really boxy cut.

              1. mh_76

                :) I wear longer jackets & cardigans & skirtsfor the same reason.same reason). For interviews, I wear pants.

                I’m torn on the short-sleeve blazer – have you tried 3/4 sleeve? Could you wear a nice cardigan (any sleeve length looks good)?

                When I think of a short-sleeved blazer, I think back to the character “Pat” on “Saturday Night Live” from the mid-1990′s or of the stereotype of how many people perceive secretaries/admins/clerical workers. Of course those people need to realize just how vital those workers are to a workplace’s functioning but that’s another topic entirely.

              2. Tamara

                I have a short sleeved blazer that I think I look pretty darned professional in. I wouldn’t wear it to an interview, but that’s because I have tattoos on my arms (my current employer does not mind – but a fresh interviewer might!) I definitely wouldn’t think anything negative about a candidate who wore one, though, provided it was clean and fit well – same standards for a long sleeved blazer.

    3. AD

      If you are in tech or something, I think this is just fine, as long as the suit is plain enough that it isn’t terribly obvious, i.e. the suit doesn’t have pink pinstripes or some really trendy cut or whatever. If you are in a non-suit industry, nobody expects you to have two suits.

      1. Jess

        Thanks for the responses! They are making me think twice. I usually wear business casual to work. So I have plenty of pairs of dress pants, skirts, blouses, and dresses–just not matching suit jackets. The suit I wore to my first interview is a solid black jacket-pants pair from Express, so I might just suck it up and go back to buy the matching black skirt. I would wear the skirt again anyway.

        I’m also not against buying a jacket that matches pants I already have, but I think it would be harder to get an exact color match if I go that route.

        1. Spreadsheet Monkey

          You don’t necessarily need the same color blazer as your pants/skirt. You can wear coordinating colors. Abigail (above) mentioned wearing a black skirt and olive blazer.

      2. M-C

        Thanks for the reassurance :-). One suit is really the most I can muster. Not to mention ladylike shoes. So changing shirt and jewelry is really the most I can swing for a second interview. But plain black goes with everything, right :-)?

  6. david

    I remember having the same thoughts about my favorite clothes when going to Interviews.

    It is interesting to see someone else have the same questions I had when starting out.

    As human beings we are not really so different from one another – at least that is what I just learned / reinforced from reading this.

    I agree, where a different set of clothes. Take your second favorite pair of clothes.

    I understand how you feel, you know what you look (and feel) the best in and you want that same advantage (the confident feeling) that comes from wearing your best clothes. But, now is a good time to realize that feeling came from you and NOT the clothes.

    I know because I once felt the same way!

  7. Anonymous

    I’m with Alison. More than the question, the description of “long black dress” sounds odd for an interview outfit. It could be a perfectly fine, not ankle length as the description implies, and have a suit jacket on top and look fine, but that description brings to my mind an outfit worn by women in religious sects in order not to temp men.

    As with Mike C. said, don’t wear anything that could cause you additional stress and nervousness during the interview like your concern about wearing the same outfit might.

    1. KellyK

      Yeah, that was my first thought too. Either that or a formal dress that would be more suited to a dance than a job interview.

      Though now I’m curious what would be appropriate interview attire if you *did* belong to a religion that has modest dress as a tenet, particularly if you were prohibited from wearing pants. I guess you’d find a subtle black maxi skirt and pair it with a suit jacket. (A couple of my classmates in high school attended a Pentecostal church where women were expected to wear long skirts or dresses. They wore denim skirts instead of jeans to school, but I have no idea what they did for more formal occasions.)

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          This I think might be the issue — if you’re new to the work world and you know you’re supposed to dress more formally, you might not be clear on the difference between the sort of formal wear you might wear to a party and business attire appropriate for the office.

      1. Brandy

        Actually I’m Pentecostal and I am modest in my apparel. Each person has their own choice in how modest they want to be but I wear long and shorter skirts (to right at my knee or below). I don’t have any problems choosing modest interview apparel, as most skirt suits that I have found have a skirt that is the appropriate length. Then I just pair it with a nice blouse and I’m ready to go. I also actually find the thought of an ankle length skirt to not be interview appropriate, as I have never seen a “maxi” skirt that I have considered professional/dressy enough. Just my two cents.

        1. KellyK

          Hi, Brandy. Thanks for sharing that! I don’t remember the skirt length my classmates (one of whom was named Brandy!) used to wear. I think it was mid-calf or just above the ankles. If your personal level of modesty is okay with knee-length or just above, that opens up a lot more options for interview-wear. (It may also not have been that they had to wear skirts that length so much as that that was what they could find in denim that wasn’t super-short. It’s a pretty rural area, so it’s not like we had a plethora of clothing options.)

          Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any maxi skirts that are really interview appropriate either. Plenty that are work appropriate for business casual, but usually not interview dressy.

        2. Anonymous

          Hi Brandy, I am also Pentecostal. I am job looking at the moment and I do dress up-to-date. I agree with the opinions of wearing a different outfit. Also, I am conservative and dressy. I don’t do maxi dresses or short skirts but I don’t think a interview would be the place for either. If I wore a maxi skirt, I would be reminded of Little House on the Prairie. I loved the show but not in real life.

      2. Liz

        I’m on the west coast, and people in certain fields here are very reverse-snobbish about suits. You don’t wear them. It is a major faux pas. An interview dress would totally make sense for many places I could name, although khakis are always ideal.

    2. K.

      The “long black dress” stood out to me too. I could get away with wearing a maxi dress and jacket at some previous jobs (depending on the color and print of the dress), but I’d never wear one to an interview. I prefer wearing dresses in general, especially now that it’s ninety-five motherf’ing degrees, but I’d stick with knee-length sheath or wrap styles (I just wore a wrap dress and jacket to an interview yesterday).

      If it’s a question of modesty for religious reasons like KellyK says below me, obviously that’s a different thing. I went to school with some Orthodox Jewish women who traditionally wore long skirts and blouses or sweaters depending on the weather.

    3. M-C

      Well, maybe the OP’s definition of long is knee length :-)? But it sounds inappropriate to me too, without a picture to refer to. At least there should be an outer layer, some sort of jacket, to look businesslike enough for an interview. A cardigan might work too since you’re so young. If the dress were neutral enough you could just add that layer for take 2, but much would depend on the dress. It may be inappropriate for the weather, but you can just carry the extra layer to the interview, as I can promise the a/c will be at a level to allow you to endure it indoors.

      Do you have any older friends you could ask for an outfit check? Just be sure they’re in the same industry, as a lawyer and a Unix sysad would look radically wrong in each other’s best outfits :-). Don’t fret too much as nobody expects you to get this down perfectly the first time, and clearly the dress wasn’t so out there that they were shocked and eliminated you :-).

  8. KellyK

    I would avoid wearing the same thing, and I agree that the long black dress may not be interview appropriate. (There are probably long black dresses that look perfect with a suit jacket, but I haven’t seen any such creature, and work-appropriate skirts seem to be in the low mid-calf to knee length range.)

  9. Dawn

    I second the suggestion to hit up Goodwill/a consignment store to look for more interview clothes. I live in a very professional area and have gotten ALL of my professional attire from Goodwill, some of it brand new, for under $10 a piece. Two or three dress pants/skirts, two or three nice blouses, two or three suit jackets, two pairs of dress shoes- boom. Every interview outfit you could ever need. And I also agree with getting things tailored- it’s not expensive and when things fit perfectly instead of “just OK” it makes an enormous difference in how professional you look.

    1. Erin

      I agree! It makes all the difference to find the “right” Goodwill or other thrift stores. Make sure you shop around! The one nearest you might not be the one that gets all the good professional clothes. In my town, the local Junior League runs a thrift store that is supposed to have lots of good stuff, because that’s where many wealthy folks donate their old clothes.

    2. M-C

      Totally right! You can afford much better quality at a thrift store :-). But look around, you may get much better businesslike selection at another branch of the same thrift store in a pricier neighborhood, or a consignment store downtown.

  10. Kelly

    I think the extent to which you can recycle your outfit for a second interview depends on whether there’s an expectation that the type of clothes you’re wearing to an interview (business professional, presumably, which I agree, a long black dress does not sound like it would fall in this category) are going to be the type of clothes you wear at the prospective job. I’m a manager at a non-profit; if I see someone wear the same suit with a different shirt/blouse for two interviews, I assume they only own one suit, but I don’t really care because we have a very casual dress code and the person I hire is going to be required to own zero suits. If I was hiring at an organization that required wearing a suit every day, I can see how I’d want my interviewee to show that they own more than one suit. (Note: I do think this is kind of unfair, plenty of job hunters would be happy to run right out and buy that second suit once they had a paycheck, but just hypothesizing the sometimes unfair/arbitrary/unconscious decisions that can creep into a hiring process.)

  11. Design-in-Dutchess

    I had slightly different experience when a friend and I teamed up for a design gig. We agreed to meet and arrive together. When we saw each other… Oh NO! We were both wearing pretty much the same color shirt, even though the style & fabric was not the same. We could not dash into a store to buy a new shirt because the stores were not open for another half an hour.
    The person we met with made some snarky comment, and we made a joke-y reply. We did get the gig, but it was definitely something that should have never been part of the conversation!

    1. KellyK

      Wow, that’s embarrassing, but the snarky comment was uncalled for. I’d be paranoid about it happening again and would be calling her the night before any future teaming-up going, “I’m going to wear blue. Does that work for you? Can you not wear blue?”

    2. Erin

      It’s funny how that can happen with good friends. My sister and I used to get dressed similarly for school and not realize it until we were in the car. I would always make her go change! Maybe if it ever happens again, you can joke about how in-tune with each other you both are as team members. Preempt the snark, if you will.

  12. Boy, do I feel lucky

    …that in my field, if I wore a suit to an interview, I’d be looked at like I had three heads and no understanding of ad-agency culture! (I own exactly one, and I use it only when pitching clients for new business.)

    I was all ready to answer this post with, “There’s no way an interviewer is going to remember what you had on unless it was really loud or inappropriate,” but clearly I am projecting my own experience onto other interviewers. (I just hired someone and couldn’t tell you in the least what he was wearing either time that I met him.)

    But since it does matter with some people, I agree with the suggestion to check out secondhand stores — or Craigslist, or even Freecycle. Someone who’s just lost a lot of weight, or changed careers and no longer has to wear her old wardrobe, might be willing to part with old but perfectly wearable clothing for nothing or little money.

    1. Anonymous

      on that front–if you’re not really a clothes-y person, maybe run your interview outfit by a trusted friend who has a better sense of fashion than you do.

      a couple years ago, I interviewed a guy for a position in a colleague’s office. he was well-qualified, but I was SO distracted by his outfit: a hunter green/dark purple-striped button-down (in a thicker, more canvas-y material than a typical dress shirt) with a dark red tie–plus khakis. it was garishly mis-matched, too casual for a job interview, & the whole ensemble smacked of “I Am Wearing a Tie, Ta Dah, You’re Welcome.”

      when I sat down with my colleague to discuss his candidacy, there was a brief pause before we both exclaimed “I can’t believe what he was wearing!” ultimately he wasn’t the most qualified applicant–& I don’t think we would’ve passed him over on the grounds of his clothing if he was–but it certainly counted against him in our evaluation. not to mention that I still vividly remember it years later. so…don’t be that guy.

      (& if you’re reading this & that ensemble sounds familiar to you–sorry, dude. but don’t wear that shirt with that tie ever again.)

      1. Anonymous

        That reminds me of a time when I interviewed a woman who wore a bright purple suit. The quality and style of the outfit were appropriate, but the colour was so distracting.

  13. Laura

    My father graduated with his PhD and had little money (this was back in the 80s) and only could afford 1 well-fitting suit. He wore it again to the second interivew, and the interviewer (a man) pointed out that he noticed my father wore the same suit, and if invited for a third interivew, he better wear a differet one. My dad ultimately got the job, but I was surprised it was noticed. A long black dress will get rememebred. I also agree with AAM’s note. Please do not wear a long black dress for an interview. Maybe you can put a suit jacket on top of the dress? JCPennys has cheap suit separates (that don’t look that cheap) in their juniors department

    1. Lexy

      Aahh! No! Grown women should not wear juniors clothes! Not only are they generally too short/tight/low cut, they are cut for adolescent bodies, not grown ups.

      1. M-C

        Well, let’s just have a compassionate thought for women who have ‘adolescent’ bodies way into adulthood.. If you do, and you are forced into junior sizes, be sure to get the least junior styles!

        1. Jamie

          ITA. I have a sister who is 5″ and less than 100 lbs – she’s gotten some very nice things from the junior department. As long as you stay away from the younger styles you’re okay.

          Didn’t Angela from the Office order her clothes from the American Girl doll catalog? :)

            1. KellyK

              But think how much she’d save on clothes if she were! Although, for business wear, it’s probably better to be Barbie than Skipper.

              1. Jamie

                Ha! I love that Barbie had so many careers. Flight attendant Barbie, Scientist Barbie, Business Woman Barbie…

                I want to be Barbie – even thought I bet she’s have a hard time keeping her resume to two pages!

                1. khilde

                  this is going waayyy off the path here, but I remember reading sometime that if Barbie’s dimensions were actually possible for a human woman that the woman couldn’t walk and would have to be on all fours becasue her body would be do disproportionate. To my young mind when I heard that, I imagined Barbie as some feral creature. But here’s an article with a crazy photo example.

                  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7920962.stm

            2. Charlie

              Haha I’m with your sister (although I weigh a bit more, it has to be said!)

              A lot of ‘junior’ clothing is too big for me but I often have a browse in the kids department and have found some great things. Only works if you’re pretty little though!

          1. KellyK

            One of my coworkers used to get a lot of her work attire from the juniors department. She had a lot of pretty clothes, and nothing work-inappropriate, at least, not for a multimedia designer in a business casual office that had just recently decided that jeans are only for Fridays, not every day.

            1. Alisha

              I get all pants and skirts from the juniors’, some shoes from the kids’, and tops/jackets/dresses from the misses, because I’m built like a busty upside-down triangle (or a dude with boobs) who basically has no waist.

              While I have seen some juniors stuff that is way too young for me, or the skirts leave nothing to the imagination, or whatever, my bigger fit problem is on top with hugeo shoulders, broad chest, long arms. Sadly, none of my suit jackets will be coming from the juniors, and when I do find one that fits, it’s a small miracle. Maybe I should just get men’s next time and get it tailored?

              1. mh_76

                “Maybe I should just get men’s next time and get it tailored?” Good idea.

                I find that women’s “business-wear” mostly either doesn’t fit me correctly (tall-ish, slim but not as slim as I used to be, no real waist, long arms, busty) or is completely and totally cheesy…um, I -don’t- want that garish cloth flower stuck to my shoulder thank you very much. I’ve already switched over to men’s sizes in casual pants and jeans and next time I need a suit, men’s store here I come. And when I have another job for which I have to dress up daily (new job is occasional dress-up…when clients/guests are scheduled), I’ll consider getting a few suits in varying colors and mixing & matching them with each other and with my existing clothes. I’m also eventually going to maybe get a tux because I’m in a couple of amateur (extracurricular) music groups and concert dress is all black for women/tuxes or dark suits for men… or black bottom/white top for all…much easier to have one thing that I can wear all of the time instead of having my cold-weather getup and having to scrounge through my clothes to find a warm-weather getup.

                I occasionally do find some wonderful women’s jackets & sweaters and have a ton of pants & shirts already…and don’t have much money…but I’m not built like a mannequin and the sizing for women’s clothes has never made sense (a whole other rant entirely).

                1. Alisha

                  If you happen to come back to this page, just curious: Do they make menswear for short-torsoed men? I am around average height for a woman, but short for a man and all my height is in my legs. I have the problem with women’s/junior’s suit jackets where the body is too long. Since teens have those proportions, I’m guessing teen boy size is best…but does the equivalent of “juniors” for teenage boys even exist in formal wear?

                  I would ask my husband but he has the opposite fit problem, as he’s a foot taller than me. Our groomsman in our wedding is my height and has the same shoulders, but he’s both torso-proportionate and hates formal wear. He wore his favorite t-shirt and dress pants on our wedding day. : )

              2. mh_76

                Despite being tall-ish, I used to fit into some of the junior’s sizes. Do shop carefully but there are definitely some finds to be found.

          2. Elizabeth

            I have a friend who often buys more casual shoes from the girls’ section because her feet are so tiny. Frankly, I’m a bit jealous – kids shoes are cheaper than adult shoes!

            1. Alisha

              I do this sometimes. I wear what was called a 6B in the 1990s, but is now a wide size, or I have to go up to a half size, which no one makes anymore. It’s definitely the designers skimping on material, because I still have and wear my 6Bs from the Clinton years, and they’re excellent. Girls’ shoes, however, fit like women’s shoes used to, so I buy up the more adult styles.

              When I was a kid, adults could not have worn girls’ shoes – they did not run big enough, and we got them at Stride-Rite (along with Golden Books Step-Ahead Workbooks, and I had to do EVERY SINGLE ONE, ugh). Now, however, some girls’ shoes are VERY adult, VERY risque, etc. It makes me depressed, and my peers who have kids are outraged.

            2. Kiribitz

              Don’t be too jealous of her, I’m jealous of people who can walk into a shoe store and have plenty of styles in their size in stock from which to choose.

              This is totally a pet peeve of mine that as a grown woman I cannot buy shoes in person from most stores because manufacturers start at size 6 instead of 5 or even 4(!) as they did even 15 years ago.

        2. Lexy

          I honestly thought about putting in a disclaimer that if you have an “adolescent” body-type it obviously didn’t apply. But I stand by, MOST women cannot get away with wear clothes cut with a lower waist/hip ratio, slimmer thigh and arm proportions, etc that make the difference between juniors and women’s sizes.

      2. Laura

        I thought she said that she was a new graduate, and I assumed she was 22 (I realize she could be much older). I was 21 when i graduated college and definitely had the body of a junior (not any more! I wish)!

        Also, juniors clothes are often the same brands and same sizes. You just substract one number for the junior size and you get your size in misses.

  14. Samantha Jane Bolin

    I vividly remember that the hiring manager at my previous job wore the exact same outfit to my 2nd and 3rd interviews. Granted, they were a couple of weeks apart and she probably had no clue that she’d done that. But, years later I still remember that outfit. When hiring people, I pay a lot of attention to what they wear to interviews and, obviously, would notice if someone wore the same thing twice. As a side story, I once interviewed someone for an AA position who showed up wearing a too-big t-shirt, cargo capri pants,and flip flops. She then proceeded to tell me that clothing is not important to her and that she dressed nicer than she normally does. The sad thing was that it was obvious she was self-sabotaging.

  15. Kelly O

    I would wear another outfit too.

    Don’t forget the value of separates – at places like Penney’s you can get suit jackets, skirts, and pants for fairly reasonable prices, and they easily mix and match. At one point in my suit-wearing past, I think 80% of my wardrobe was Worthington from Penney’s, because I could do all sorts of different combinations (they normally have cute seasonal jackets and skirts, so you can pair a solid with the other patterned piece and it still looks like it goes together.)

    The other plus of doing that is it can transition well to a business casual environment – you might not need as many jackets but they mix better with your other stuff.

    1. Jamie

      I love the Liz Claiborne professional line at Penney’s. I just love the way her stuff hangs – it feels personally tailored even when it’s not.

      Kohl’s has a lot of very reasonably priced separates as well – and a lot of thrift stores have brand new stuff you can pick up for next to nothing, as people have mentioned.

      1. Tamara

        I’ve found some great items at Kohl’s (short-sleeved suit jacked for summer – win!) I’ve never checked out Penney’s though – I’m definitely going to take a look now!

        1. Laura

          Good point about Target! I am wearing Target suit separates (as they call them) right now. I think I look just as well-dressed as my other co-workers, for a fraction of the price. (I hope Target pays us for the free advertising) :)

        2. Kelly O

          I’m actually wearing almost all Target today – they have some nice pencil skirts that hit right at knee length that I just love. I buy every color I find.

          FYI – if you go the Target route, be sure to keep an eye on their website, and/or sign up for their mobile coupons. On a fairly regular basis they’ll have a percentage or dollar amount off Merona or Mossimo, or sometimes even just general apparel.

          (The only thing that doesn’t normally work for me are shoes from Target. But I have a weirdly shaped foot and am super-rough on shoes. I have resigned myself to paying more and having fewer pairs of shoes. But at least they last longer than two or three months.)

          The other thing to remember, and someone else pointed it out in a previous comment, is that a little tailoring can go a LONG way to making something look nicer. I have two pairs of pants that are exactly the same, except I took one pair and had them hemmed to wear with flats. It cost less than ten bucks and makes all the difference in the world in how I look.

          Even with shirts, especially if you’re *ahem* a little busty like some of us – buy the shirt that fits your bust but might be a little too loose elsewhere. A tailor can take in the waist, or the shoulder, or the sleeve, or whatever and make it look amazing. They can also put hidden snaps between buttons to help with gap issues. I’ve done this with a couple of cheaper shirts and it makes them look way nicer than they actually are. I still spend less total on the shirt than I would at some places, but it fits properly. (My favorite score on this is the $7 Brooks Brothers shirt I found at a Goodwill. I spent another $10 on alterations, and if I could ever lose the rest of this baby weight, I would be wearing that shirt all the time.)

          1. Natalie

            You don’t even need to be all that busty to have trouble finding a good looking button down shirt. I’m only a B cup, and I avoid button-up shirts because they always gap. I finally broke down and got a silk one I really liked, so it is definitely going to the tailor for the mini snaps.

            1. mh_76

              If you’re careful and wear a long silk scarf, you can even safety-pin the shirt at the part where it gapes…or pops open like a couple of my dress-up shirts do (why some idiot put small smooth buttons them is beyond me). The scarf will cover the safety pin…just like a belt will cover a safety-pin if you need to use one to close your pants…be careful that the pin won’t stick you though because that hurts.

              1. Anonymous

                Double sided tape. You can get it in the craft store and keep a roll in your desk and in your bag or car. It can help with falling hems on a pants or skirt as well.

        3. Anonymous

          JC Penney is an excellent option. I got a blazer I love there. :)

          IT’s really great now with this new business model they have. Everything is finally reasonably priced.

          1. Jamie

            “IT’s really great now with this new business model they have. Everything is finally reasonably priced.”

            I would like to go on the record that I am vehemently against this support of “reasonably priced IT’s.” If you are going to over-spend on anything, it should definitely be the IT department. Ahem.

            That was an excellent typo – gave me a much needed laugh :).

    2. Malissa

      At least half of my professional wardrobe is Worthington seperates. Not because they are reasonably priced and stylish. But because this seems to be the only line of petite clothing that accommodates anything above a C cup with out looking whorish. I have a few good things at Burlington, but finding petites is a challenge there, unless you are talking suits.

    3. Erin

      Two Penney’s recommendations in one thread! I am going to have to check that out.

      I’ve had luck with stores like Marshall’s & TJ Maxx, too. You cannot go in thinking “I need a pair of black dress pants,” because you’ll be guaranteed not to find them. But with an open mind and a good eye, you can find some gems at a great price. I especially love the dress selection, though I would, like everyone else here, advise against anything longer than knee-length!

      1. KellyK

        Ross is the same way. Not for getting very specific pieces, but as a fashion treasure hunt, it’s great.

        1. Kelly O

          Totally agree – and most of the time I find things there when I’m not really shopping for anything specific. (The area can make a big difference too. Same thing with thrift stores. It’s worth driving to a different part of town sometimes to score a really great deal.)

    4. sparky629

      I agree with the Penney’s recommendation. I’ve found some really great stuff in there for work/social events that required a nicer look. I bought a beautiful black sleeveless dress (ankle length) there probably about 13 years ago. When I have to go to really formal things, I wear it with different accessories and shoes and still receive many compliments (it doesn’t even look dated because of its classic simple cut).
      Unfortunately, I have my biases against Kohl’s (maybe it’s just in my area) but every time I go in there it seems like all of the clothes are either ‘teen-agey’ or ‘really old lady’. Nothing in between for the rest of us. :-(

      1. Anonymous

        Agree 100%. Especially with plus sized merch there. It’s all elastic waists and flowery t-shirts. I’m 32 and elastic waistbands will never be part of my wardrobe, unless you count yoga pants! Also the prices aren’t so great. They also carry some of the same brands as JC Penney (St. John’s Bay, mainly) and they’re more expensive.

      2. JP

        Haha, as a former Kohl’s employee and longtime shopper, I definitely think there are cute clothes there if you know where to look (I’m 23!)…you’ll want to stick with the “Contemporary Misses” and not the “Classic Misses” – Contemporary has brands like Apt 9 (my favorite!), Elle, AB Studio, and Classic will have Chaps, Gloria Vanderbilt, Dana Buchman, etc. In my local stores they’re across the aisle from each other. I have found some good business pieces in the Classics section, but I get most of my blouses and dresses from Contemp — you really do have to dig sometimes, because you might find something nice in a “brand” that’s mostly teenagery (I got a great blazer on clearance that was Lauren Conrad!)

        End Kohl’s infomercial!

      3. Laura

        I hate to shop in-store at Kohls, but I buy tons of stuff from them online. It’s so much easier to sort through everything I don’t need with an online search than thumbing through racks and racks of clothes. They have nice stuff for a business casual to business formal range at good prices. And super easy returns (in store) if something doesn’t work.

  16. JT

    Cheap. Good. Quick – pick two. You’re more likely to find good-looking clothes at a good price if you start early, whether with thrift/consignment shops or regular retailers. For guys, it’s occasionally possible to get a nice-looking inexpensive suit from places like Macy’s online during sales for $200 total. Or Uniqlo (buying online via a service like suddenlee.com). There are shopping/style-oriented websites such as dappered.com (for men, I assume there are similar sites for women) that can provide info on sales and cheap sources.

    Above all, budget for some tailoring if needed. A well-tailored cheap outfit will look better than something very fancy that doesn’t fit.

    1. NicoleW

      I love Uniqlo! There are a few US locations now (all in NY, I think).

      I am terrible at matching separates unless they came together. Any advice on what type/color of jackets to pair with my existing black or gray slacks?

      1. Spreadsheet Monkey

        Color – I’d stick with other neutrals (brown, cream, dark blue, olive). Nothing too bright or difficult to match.

        As far as style – it depends on so many factors. Take the pants with you to the store and try them on with a few jackets to see how they look together. Try a few on and see what works on you. I have seen plenty of suits or separates (even “regular” clothes) that look fantastic on the hanger, but look horrible on me. Wrong cut, wrong style, wrong buttons or other embellishments.

        Sure, it’s difficult to go wrong with “classics,” but does that mean 2 buttons or 3? Cut at the hip or the waist? Etc.

  17. Val

    General tip for women (including plus-size women – as one, I have a heck of a time finding suits/businesswear): Dress Barn is really great for suit separates and business-appropriate dresses. The prices are comparable to JC Penney’s, and for me personally, I’m actually much more comfortable in a conservative dress and cardigan/jacket than I am in a pants suit.

    1. Anonymous

      Also a great place for coupons: retailmenot.com . I use it for shopping online. They usually have some sort of coupon for a percentage off or free shipping. Well worth a look.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I do a ton of online shopping, and before I buy anything, I always search for the name of the store and “coupon.” You nearly always can find a discount code.

  18. Kimberley

    The best clothing advice I can give is to avoid trends. Buy a few “classic” suits (black, grey, navy) and then pair them with trendier tops and accessories. The suits will last you for years (as long as you look after them). I still have a suit that I bought before I started this job (10 years ago) that looks awesome (incidentally it has a long skirt).

    I wear a suit every day and (even though I earn a good living) wait until they are on sale. Then I can buy all 3 pieces (blazer, skirt & pants) for even more options.

    When starting out fresh from school, definitely hit up the second hand stores. You would be amazed at the great deals you can get.

  19. Jamie

    On the subject of interview wear, although not related to the OP…if the person scheduling the interview tells you there are rules about what you need to wear listen to them. You ignore those at your own peril.

    I work in manufacturing and a plant tour is part of every interview. Pants and closed toed shoes are required to enter the factory – as every single applicant is informed. Wearing a skirt and open toed shoes because “I was applying to work in the office” happens …and it perfectly illustrates that you can’t follow simple directions and/or the rules don’t apply to you.

    Bad idea.

    1. Spreadsheet Monkey

      Also, look on the website for more clues. I’ve been keeping my eye out for a job at a local athletic wear company, and they actually have a section on their jobs page about what is appropriate interview attire for them. And it’s broken down by department; what they think is appropriate for each one (shipping thinks that athletic shoes and plain t-shirts are fine; the company suggests khakis with a button down shirt for executive positions).

  20. Kristinyc

    Stores like Express and Limited usually have cute 3-piece (jacket, pants, skirt) suits. I have a few of those, and it provides a lot of mix and match options (two full suits, or the skirt/pants with various tops, the jacket with jeans or over a different dress/skirt).

    Also, please don’t feel like you have to wear a long sleeved button-down shirt with a suit. When I was right out of college, I thought that was the only professional way to dress. Then I went to an interview in Memphis in the middle of the summer and was covered in sweat pretty quickly. If I wear a full suit, I usually wear a cute sleeveless top under it.

    1. Kelly O

      I feel morally obligated to add this caveat about Express and The Limited –

      Please wear a size that fits and is not too snug. I see way too many younger women (usually) in extremely snug-fitting suited separates from places like that. I have a friend who used to work at Express, and she said she normally told people to go up a size to be sure it wasn’t too tight. (Same thing goes for buying things in junior sizes.)

      It’s not that you can’t have a too-tight suit from other places, but I’ve just noticed that in my personal experience. (And for the record, a too-large size is also distracting, although which is worse is probably up for discussion.)

      1. KellyK

        Because there’s a range of styles and fits for blazers and pants, I think there’s more “room for error” going up than going down. (Plus, if it’s noticeably too big, it can be tailored. If it’s too small, you’re out of luck.)

      2. Lexy

        Yeah, I have a great suit from The Limited but Express definitely cuts for such a “slim” fit that I (a standard women’s size 12-14) cannot find anything there that is work appropriate.

        There are solid fashionable & appropriate finds there, but you have to proceed with caution! (yellow blinking light, if you will)

      3. Mary

        Agreed! We have a new intern in my office who dresses in the “tight, sexy business wear” style. I’ve actually spoken to her about her wardrobe, and she’s done a better job of covering up. Although I’m not sure if it really counts as covering up if you wear a somewhat sheer white button-down shirt with a lacy black and white bra underneath it!

        1. Alisha

          I’ve noticed that juniors’ is designed to be a lot more snug-fitting than when I was a teen. (Of course, we also had mom jeans with tapered legs instead of super low-rise flares, so there you go.) I will try to go up a size or even two or three so things are gently fitted or even regular sized instead of “painted on for the nightclub.” Sometimes the clerks tell me that I’m missing the point of the style, but if I tell them I just like more breathing room, they let it go.

  21. sparky629

    One other thing to note about interview clothes. Update, Update, Update your clothes. Please do not include any ‘formal’ attire that you wore in high school or your early college years.
    Similarly, for not-so-young adults- do not wear any clothes that you wore to an interview when you first entered the work world.

    I was once on an interview committee (this was the mid-90′s) and the applicant wore some god-awful shirt patterned shirt with shoulder pads and elastic waist khaki pant that she tucked her shirt into and some horrible clunky shoes.

    It totally screamed ‘stuck-in-1983′ or ‘I bought these clothes from the Woolworth catalog’. She did get the job because she was a personal friend of the Department Director (but that’s another story) but still to this day I can’t get that awful awful outfit out of my mind. :-(

    1. sparky629

      sorry about the typos. I had that horrible outfit on my mind and I couldn’t think of anything else. ;-)

      1. Alisha

        I love this. My city is always behind, and the Baby Boomer-centric population does seem to love 80s clothes and hairstyles (and not in an ironic or nostalgic-with-a-wink youthful way, either).

        After noticing clutches of people in flannels, and seeing constant announcements for “Ten” and “Facelift” cover bands, I ran to my husband and shouted excitedly, “Holy crap! The 90s are here!”

  22. Joey

    If can afford it don’t buy a cheap or trendy suit. And by that I mean buy a suit that is made of a high quality wool ( its the most versatile). has it’s layers stitched together, and is of a classic style. It will look great forever. And get it tailored. Doesnt have to be full price- you can find a decent new suit at places like outlet stores, TJ Maxx or used at consignment shops.

    Whatever you do stay away from non classic suits or suits made of rayon, polyester, etc. That is unless you want to shop for new suit all the time.

  23. Anonymous

    What about hosiery? I’ve noticed that professional women are wearing their business suits with bare legs. I really hate this look because it seems unpolished to me. However, if that’s the style…Or maybe it’s just an Oregon thing.

    Mind you, I’m in the grumpy old lady stage of my life so I’ve got the “in my day” syndrome.

      1. Lexy

        I think that thread stands as the only one Alison had to close! I don’t think we should open that particular can of worms up :)

          1. Spreadsheet Monkey

            Any woman who’s ever been subjected to wearing pantyhose in 110+ degree weather.

            This is also why I prefer pants – you can then wear trouser socks instead of hose.

            1. mh_76

              and they even make unlined pants too but they’re harder to find… I don’t know how people survive in the hot parts of the country…I admire you…we’re having a heat wave in my city and 96-95-90-something is a bit much for me…I want a blizzard!

              1. Spreadsheet Monkey

                I can’t remember the last time I got a pair of lined pants. I always get unlined, and I don’t think they’re difficult to find (I tend to shop at Kohl’s).

                I used to live in Phoenix, and I had a job where women were required to wear pantyhose. At least once a summer, the air conditioning would go out and they’d make an announcement that “men may remove their ties and women may remove their pantyhose.” Because what I want to do is take off my pantyhose and then try to stuff my hot, swollen feet back into a pair of pumps.

                I personally think 80 is too hot.

                1. mh_76

                  I think that it also depends on where you live. Lined pants are great in the colder weather because the lining is another layer of insulation.

                  Could you have worn pants to that job?

                2. Spreadsheet Monkey

                  Yes, and often did. And after about 2 years of working there, they went to a more “business casual” model and we didn’t have to wear hose anymore.

  24. Natasha

    Honestly stuff like this scares me when it comes to looking for work. I don’t look good in most of what is suggested here. (don’t have the body shape, color, etc..) So much of this seems to penalize good candidates simply because they can’t afford fashionable things and/or don’t have fashion sense and don’t have friends with fashion sense or can’t wear fashionable things. Is basing so much of a candidate off of fashion really this common and entrenched?

    1. Kelly O

      It’s not really even about fashion sense, but more common sense. Does it fit you properly? Does it go together (i.e., are you inadvertently wearing a navy skirt and a black jacket with a dingy white shirt?)

      And remember – you don’t have to wear a black suit. If that’s not your color, try navy, or grey. Remember the suit is just the base, and the color shirt you choose can make all the difference.

      Thing is, you’re trying to present your best possible self when you go to an interview. Yes, your resume and experience are important. You need to be able to articulate what you bring to the table and ask intelligent questions about the company. But part of presentation is your physical appearance. I’m not saying it’s the most important thing, but it’s part of the total package.

      If you’re not into fashion (which you don’t have to be) you can always ask a friend about it. If you’re near a Nordstrom’s, it can be a great resource for figuring out what is flattering. Their salespeople are fabulous; I owe a couple of awesome outfits to their help, even when I was up front about the fact I didn’t have a ton to spend. There are also some great books about basic style out there – my personal favorite is Tim Gunn’s “A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style.” I’ve not read it myself, but I hear good things about Nina Garcia’s “The One Hundred” or “Little Black Book of Style”

      (So I’ve gone on too long. I just kind of love this subject, and really have to watch myself because I don’t exactly make enough to fund some of my dream purchases… le sigh.)

      1. Natasha

        My problem is I can’t wear a suit at all. I have scoliosis and it made my shoulders lie on an angle. So no suit jacket will ever fit properly short of having one custom made and even then, it just makes the shoulder crookedness look worse. So suits in their entirety are not good for me but I feel like if I came in with a nice blouse and long skirt (my legs look awful in anything shorter than ankle length from all the walking and biking I do) from what people are saying that’s too casual?

        1. NonProfiter

          Of course you know better than I, but instead of custom made, what about buying a size up and having it tailored? Most tailoring doesn’t cost much and it probably doesn’t look as bad as you think.

          I say this as someone who has something similarly distracting about their appearance, but whenever I talk about it people say “Really? I never even noticed . . .” And they aren’t just being polite.

        2. Natalie

          You don’t necessarily have to wear a skirt suit – there are only a few industries where that is de riguer and they probably wouldn’t be great employers for you anyway. A pant suit is fine.

          You might be surprised at what a good tailor could do for you and a jacket. I’m not suggesting my situation is the same, but like most people I am lopsided. Good tailoring actually made the lopsided-ness less obvious.

          1. Natasha

            Unfortunately I have had from several people, the better fitting my jacket the worse the lopsided looks on me because it is so severe. Apparently the clean lines draw attention to it instead of hiding it.

            So it looks like my suspicions are correct though and that a nice blouse and long skirts, since I don’t look good in pants, is too casual then?

            1. KellyK

              I think it would depend a lot on the position and the specific items. I could see a skirt like this (http://www.jcpenney.com/dotcom/east5th-no-waist-skirt/prod.jump?ppId=1ad4839&catId=cat100260321&deptId=dept20000013&selectedLotId=8168280&selectedSKUId=81682800497&rootDimName=categories&navState=navState-:catId-cat100260321:subcatId-:subcatZone-false:N-100320020%20:Ns-:Nao-0:ps-24:pn-1:Ntt-:Nf-:action-guided%20navigation&topDim=Categories&topDimvalue=skirts&dimCombo=Categories&dimComboVal=skirts&currentDim=Categories&currentDimVal=skirts&searchCount=1059&sortType=Featured) paired with a very professional looking blouse being appropriate for a job interview at a lot of places.

              Unfortunately, if you’re applying somewhere uber-conservative, it might be best to wear a suit even if it’s not flattering.

            2. Esra

              I don’t wear suits to interviews, just a skirt, blouse, and nice cardigan. It hasn’t hurt me at all so far, and it sounds like a good solution for you as well.

        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          Natasha, for some reason long skirts tend to read less professional than knee-length or just above. Could you do that with a blouse, and even just carry the jacket? So it looks like it was part of your ensemble but you took it off? That’s probably what I would do.

          1. Liz in a Library

            Are long skirts ever OK? I have very extensive tattooing on one leg (to cover some really ugly scarring), and while I usually wear pants at an interview, I’ve occasionally worn long skirts. I tend to do this at work, too.

            The other alternative is opaque black tights, which I would think look less appropriate.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think yes for work in most workplaces, but I probably wouldn’t for an interview — that said, I’m no fashion expert so it’s entirely possible that there are long skirts out there that would work.

            2. NonProfiter

              I know of a very tatted librarian who wore opaque tights, but also: gloves!

              She got the job.

            3. Natalie

              Depending on the coloring of the tattoo, “nude” hose could work. I have two tattoos on my legs (just under the hemline of a suit skirt. *Sigh*) that I hide with hose. If you were to get close to my legs, you could see them, but no one does that in an interview. From 5 feet away, they just look like legs.

              1. KellyK

                Tattoo cover-up makeup might help too, though I’m not sure if hose would smear that.

                1. Liz in a library

                  Thanks for the ideas! I have tried the makeup under hose before. The problem is that I basically have a very colorful sleeve, so I have to put on so much makeup I end up with a weird Barbie leg. ;)

                  It hasn’t been a problem in libraries, which (at least in my area) tend to be quite liberal. But I’m looking at career switching for a while into far more conservative areas.

            4. Marian the Librarian

              I think long skirts are fine in most industries. Fashion might be the only area that will be more judgmental, but right now, maxi dresses are having a moment, so I think you will be fine. I have found my skirt length to have a lot to do with my job duties. I used to have a lot of super-short skirts (when I was in my 20s), but then I got a job in a middle school library. All the reaching and squatting down made those miniskirts unworkable, so I bought long skirts. Then I got an office job. When I wore my long skirts, I would constantly roll over them with my desk chair! So I mostly stopped wearing long skirts for 5+ years. Sigh.

            5. Kai

              “Midi” skirts are in now. They’re cut like a pencil skirt but hit below the knee, sometimes even mid-calf. I don’t think everyone can pull it off, but it is an option.

        4. mh_76

          do you know a good tailor/seamstress? one of my friend’s mothers has severe scoliosis (and is ~90) and my friend customizes her skirts (and I think other clothes too), bought larger than needed, so that they hang correctly (and look very lopsided on the hanger). Depending on where you live, there may be an Adult Education program that offers classes in re-tailoring (and even making) your clothes.

        5. Liz

          I know it’s easier to say than feel, but clothes really shouldn’t make you feel self-conscious. They’re just a social signifier that says you are wearing the uniform of a particular group. Magazines and the fashion industry have created a market for themselves by pretending that clothes should make you look and feel fabulous, but most people really, really don’t care. Unless you’re on a date, all anyone will notice is what group the clothes put you into.

      2. JT

        Yeah – it’s not about fashion, it’s about style: good fit, coordinated, not strange. That is timeless and need not be expensive.

    2. Anonymous

      It’s not basing off of fashion so much as it is judging one’s ability to follow the norms and/or look like they care about this position. In some industries (e.g. PR), personal appearance is a huge deal, so you must judge how a candidate presents himself/herself. On the other end of the spectrum, you have tech, where a candidate needs to be well-groomed and appropriately attired, but nobody is looking at how trendy their shoes are or whatever.

      Yes, it is absolutely classist, and I think that a *good* hiring manager wouldn’t be too swayed by things like suit quality and such, but again, depends on the industry.

      I once interviewed a guy for an internship who was in a noticeably ill-fitting suit. I didn’t hold that against him, because it’s pretty easy to imagine he couldn’t afford a suit and had to borrow, or take what he could find at the thrift store, etc. But on the other hand, when a candidate shows up in jeans, it’s a different story.

      1. mh_76

        I’ve been advised (by a computer science professor/mathematician) to never trust a techie in a suit because that person isn’t a real techie. This gent had to buy his first suit ever (at age 60ish) when he won X University’s top teaching award and I think that he’s only worn it once (for the graduation ceremony at which the award was presented).

  25. NonProfiter

    I guess I’ll be the lone standout who says don’t buy cheap, but perhaps only to justify the $500 I spent on a good interview suit and heels. I’m of the natural materials only, take care of what you have and make ‘em last. Granted, not everyone’s in the position to do so if they are looking for a job, but if you can make the investment, it will pay off in spades. I also feel more confident wearing nicer clothes. Taking care of them has lasted me through almost 6 years and 3 job interviews where I got the job, without looking dated, since I only wear the suits for important meetings and presentations at my job.

    I am always reminded somehow of that scene in Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter makes fun of Clarice Starling because he can see at a glance that her deceptively plain and classy-simple purse was quite expensive but her shoes are, unfortunately, rather cheap. I.e., she isn’t quite able to hide her poor upbringing.

    Eventually, when the positions started to merit second interviews (I’ve had two of those) I bought a second suit for around $200.

    1. Kimberley

      That scene still resonates with me as well. Perhaps I use it to justify my shoe fetish?

      1. NonProfiter

        Don’t we all need our justifications :^)

        I realize I’m very lucky to be able to make those investments, and no, my non-interview regular work clothes aren’t pricey, but I’m definitely with Clarice. Get the high quality, natural materials pieces and make them last. Because that $20 rayon blouse will not last and you’re less likely to make it last when you know you can get another. I also thrift-shop quite a bit, so I’m not even talking about new, necessarily. You can find silk, wool, leather, 100% cotton at thrift shops, you just have to learn what a fabric is when there isn’t a tag attached anymore.

    2. Liz

      I totally agree with the natural materials, high quality. I don’t know why but anything acrylic just looks really gross to me. But at least in my field, I know I wouldn’t judge anyone else for it. It is just a confidence booster for me.

    3. Kelly O

      While I agree that natural materials tend to look better, particularly in the long run, I disagree that you have to spend a ton of money on them.

      In a perfect world, yes I would just buy what fit me well regardless of cost, but that’s just not in the cards for me, or for a lot of people. That’s where searching for sales and finding your own “make-do” place comes into play.

      My Worthington separates might not last me a long time, but I still have things that look just fine after eight years, because I take care of them. My Tahari suits from Nordstrom Rack are just fine (even if I can’t wear them right now.) The infamous Brooks Brothers blouse is perfectly fine, even though I only paid $7 for it. My not at all real Target bag find from a couple of years ago still gets compliments every time I carry it.

      It’s one of those things that just takes time. The sale things don’t always pop up just when you need them, so it’s a matter of keeping your eyes open and trying to keep a little cash in the “wow, what a fabulous sale” envelope so you can grab those things when they show themselves.

  26. K.

    In general, I think work clothes, especially interview clothes, are worth investing in, whether that’s spending a bit of money for a good-quality suit or having it tailored. (I highly recommend tailoring. Good fit makes a world of difference, as my man Tim Gunn says. If you find a suit for $20 at Goodwill and have it tailored, it will automatically look more expensive.) I certainly wouldn’t suggest anyone go into debt, but if you can invest in your work wardrobe somehow, it usually evens out. A moderately-priced, well-tailored basic suit will typically have a lot of uses, particularly since you can split the pieces and wear them as separates.

    Also, it’s a good idea to understand the culture of the place you’re interviewing. I worked at a very well-known fashion magazine and had I worn my basic black suit to the interview, I would have stuck out like a sore thumb. I interviewed in the summer and women were in on-trend sundresses; I wore a pencil skirt, light top, and heels (stuff I already owned) – and they definitely would have noticed if I’d worn the same thing for two interviews, although I only had one. Had I worn that to an accounting firm, I’d have looked ridiculous.

    1. NonProfiter

      Yes, 100%.

      I agree there are last-minute-can’t-afford-it-need-it-for-tomorrow buys, but the investment is worth it. And (outside of the fashion industry!) it’s always better to be overdressed than under-dressed. If you do happen to misread the culture of a place, no one is going to *not* hire you because you were in a stylish wool crepe suit and in classic heels, and I say this as someone who’s organization routinely gets called “a bunch of hippies.” We have a casual workplace, but I definitely needed to be in interview-armor to get the job, just to show I can pull it off for the legislators, city staff, TV crews, journalists, donors, and corporate execs I will have to have dealings with at various times.

  27. Savvy Working Gal

    This happened to me when I was first starting out in the eighties. I had purchased a grey interview suit upon graduation. I wore the suit to an interview then received a call that afternoon asking me to come in the next day for another interview. At the time I thought I had to wear a suit to an interview and felt I had no choice but to wear the same suit to the next interview. The interviewer did look at me as if she noticed the same suit when I walked into the room. Even if she had not, wearing this suit did affect my confidence. I did not get the job which I desperately needed/wanted and was told I was a strong second. In hindsight, I should have ran out and bought an inexpensive skirt and blouse which I would have needed if I had been hired anyway. I don’t think a suit was a necessity, but a professional different outfit was.
    When I interview candidates now I do notice what they wear. The more professionally dressed candidates do stand out. Though, I did hire someone once who interviewed in khakis and a striped top. Which means if you can prove you are the best one for the job, what you wear to the interview doesn’t matter. I like Alison’s idea of buying a cheap jacket at a second hand store or on clearance. I also like the idea of the same suit with different blouses and accessories. I don’t think I would notice it was the same suit.

  28. Chocolate Teapot

    I have started having my suits made for me. I always have jacket, trousers and skirt per colour, so I can mix and match. It also means that you feel comfortable and can concentrate on work and not whether you are in danger of losing a button.

    So, for a first interview I wore the jacket and skirt with a blouse, and for the second, the jacket and trousers with a different top, so it looked different. It worked and I got the job!

  29. mbm

    I interviewed for my job on two consecutive days wearing the same nondescript suit with a different blouse. I was a broke grad student and that was the only appropriate clothing I had. If anyone noticed, they never told me!

    I would not notice if someone wore the same suit twice, but would definitely notice if they wore the same non-suit outfit twice.

  30. BL

    I was job hunting recently and when I was called for an interview, I didn’t have a suit that fit as I hadn’t worn one in years. I did have lots of slacks and blouses though as that was my everyday work wardrobe. When I was shopping for a jacket, the salesperson recommended a three quarter sleeve jacket since anything else would need tailored and the interview was the next day. I took her advice and bought a black and white houndstooth jacket with three quarter sleeves to wear with black pants and a red blouse I already owned. When a second interview was sprung on me (they said a decision would be made after round one) I was broke so I visited a thrift store. This time I found a black and dark gray plaid jacket with three quarter sleeves. I wore it with the same black pants and a different solid shirt, olive green I think. The bonus is since both jackets are neutral colored and three quarter sleeved, I can wear them year round.

  31. Amina

    I disagree. Wearing same st twice, especially if it’s black, shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve had to do this. Why? Because finding a suit that fits and looks decent is expensive, whether in initial cost or time or alterations (I’m petite and a hard size to fit, so there are always alterations), and when I’ve spent my precious free time trying to get a second suit for an interview, I’ve wasted preparation time. So if a person goes in looking professional in the same neutral suit, that should not be a problem. If anything, picking on the same outfit twice, not even two days in a row, seems lime a silly thing to do.

      1. Amina

        That would make sense. Except mines a dress with jacket combo and it took ages even to find that!

  32. Amina

    Also check out theuniformproject.com. I believe most people didn’t even realize she was wearing the same dress the whole year. And accessorizing somewhat, but not garishly, differently may help.

  33. Kathleen

    I have a mid-calf black shift dress, and also
    a knee length sleeveless dark brown one,
    they go with anything and I wear them
    to inverviews, cocktails, or funerals.

  34. Vicki

    I love love love love working in the Tech industry in the San Francisco / Silicon Valley area. My “interview clothing” consists of black khaki pants and a collared “polo” style shirt. That’s pretty much identical to my day-to-day work outfit (occasionally swapped for a nice t-shirt.)

    I had an interview yesterday with 5 people at a company. 3 wore t-shirts (including the Co. president). Two wore collared shirts.

    Anyone who wears a suit or a jacket to an interview in my field is considered very young or very naive or both.

    1. Alisha

      That’s good to know in case I ever interview out there, because in my region, the industry norm, while still fairly casual day to day, isn’t quite polo-and-khaki casual for interviews (we wish!). I’ve never interviewed PMs, web developers, or designers in full suits myself though, and walking that fine line between too formal and too casual is tough. For men, a more casual blazer worn unbuttoned, with dress slacks, no tie, and a shirt – sky blue, slate grey, etc. are especially nice – is probably just right.

  35. Marian the Librarian

    I disagree. I went to a college that had a lot of creative majors. I once attended a seminar about job-hunting. For musical theatre people, they recommended that they wear the same outfit if they got a callback so they would be more memorable. I don’t think people will actually remember what you wore; it’s more of a visceral memory than that.

  36. Ava

    A really good quality well-fitting black suit worn with a light coloured shirt and hair down to first interview, and the same suit with a dark shirt and hair up to the second – maybe even different shoes with each combo. You will look professional at both interviews and different enough for it to look like two separate outfits!

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