when your interviewer criticizes your clothes, interviewing in bad weather, and more clothing questions

by Ask a Manager on January 9, 2013

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For some reason, I often get waves of questions on the same topic all at once. Lately it’s been a wave of letters about salacious office behavior (more on that soon), but I also just received three about interview attire in the same 48-hour period, so let’s group them together:

1. My interviewer told me I should have worn a suit

At a job interview about a month ago, the interview went really well except at the very end. The manager who was doing the interview told me at the very end that she understood that my current job has been my only job (for the past 7 years) and that I probably don’t know much about interviews, but that whenever I have an interview, I have to wear a suit.

Now before you say anything, I was wearing something professional — slacks with a shirt and a little jacket on top with my hair down. I didn’t look unprofessional, and actually my sister help me pick out what to wear and told me that I looked professional.

When this employer told me this, the only thing I told her was, “Oh, um, ok, thank you.” It really caught me off guard. I have never been told this in my life. My heart sank, because I had a huge feeling that because of what I was wearing, maybe she didn’t approve so she scratched me out from the candidate table. She told me, furthermore, that the process of hiring takes “a REALLY long time” but if I had questions to not hesitate to call her. I gave it a day and I called her to follow up and tell her it was a pleasure meeting with her, and to see how the status of the position was going. I left my name and number and she never called me back. Now my question is, can an employer basically not hire me because I wasn’t wearing a “suit” or should I call now, a month and half later, and see if the position is still open. My heart tells me it’s not and I wasn’t picked, but can you give me your advice?

It’s true that in most industries — not all, but most — you should wear a suit to an interview. And even in industries where it’s not necessary, there are still plenty of interviewers who prefer/expect it.

Although you didn’t like her feedback, it sounds like your interviewer was trying to do you a favor by letting you know that she didn’t think you looked sufficiently professional. After all, job candidates often say that they wish interviewers would give them more candid feedback. This one did — and while it was awkward to hear it, it’s useful to know.

Now, did she reject you because you weren’t wearing a suit? It’s possible, sure. But it’s also possible that she didn’t. Why not check in and ask what the likely timeline is for making a decision? You have nothing to lose, and she did tell you that the hiring process would take a long time.

(One unrelated issue that I can’t let go without comment: It does worry me that you called her to check on the status of the position the day after your interview. That would be too fast in any situation, but definitely in one where you were told the process would take a while. In general, you want to allow a reasonable amount of time for these things — and also get in touch by email rather than phone, unless there’s some specific need to call.)

2. Does my interview suit really need to be a suit?

This might be a pretty froufrou question, I was hoping you could help me out with fashion advice for my upcoming interview. While out shopping with my mom over the holidays, I picked up a beautiful dark gray pencil skirt. When I found out a few days later that I had gotten an interview, I went out and picked up what I thought was the jacket to go with the skirt. Turns out, it’s a lighter shade of gray (no 50 Shades puns intended) than the dark, almost-black skirt. Otherwise, the fabrics are a match in knit and weight and both pieces fit beautifully. I got a pretty, red-tangerine top that just peaks out of the top of the jacket to add some color to the outfit. I kind of like how it all goes together. When I showed it to someone else, though, they said that it wasn’t a complete suit because the jacket and skirt don’t match, and I should never wear it to an interview. I know your preference for people to wear suits in interviews. Does this count, or should I find pieces that match perfectly?

Well, after the question above, you might want to err on the side of an actual suit.

But it really depends on your industry. If you’re in a fairly conservative industry or part of the county, wear a true suit (meaning the skirt and jacket are made of the same suit-like material). If you’re in a less formal industry, the outfit you described might be just fine. This is really a case of knowing the norms in your industry … and even more specifically, the norms in your industry in your particular geographic area. (I.T., for instance, is sometimes  an exception to the suit rule – but not always, despite what the non-suit-wearing-faction will tell you!)

By the way, I sometimes hear people say, “Oh, people in my industry dress casually. We don’t wear suits.” But that’s not the same thing as what’s expected in an interview; people often expect job candidates to dress more formally for an interview than they would for a regular work day. So even if your industry is full of people in jeans or business casual — hell, even if the very office you’ll be interviewing in is – you might still be expected to show up in a suit. You want to know what your industry’s norms are for interviewing garb, not every-day garb.

3. Dressing for an interview in bad weather

How do you think a person should dress for an interview during bad weather, like rain and snow? To me, it seems like wearing typical interview attire (suit, sensible heels, polished/neat hair) can be a challenge when it s raining heavily or there’s tons of snow on the ground. I live in NYC, so I use public transportation and can’t exactly change in my car. I imagine, coming into an office in winter boots and heavy overcoat, umbrella, etc. kind of looks unprofessional…at least when I’m struggling to get inside from the bad weather, I look terrible. Normally my bag is big enough to hold my heels while I wear flats on the way there and I change, but I imagine carrying a huge bag with snow shoes and stuff won’t leave a good impression?

It’s fine to carry a coat and umbrella, although your coat should ideally be a dress coat and not a bulky ski jacket. And for shoes, carry a tote bag big enough to hold your boots, and change into interview shoes when you arrive at your destination. Anyone have better/different advice on this?

{ 346 comments… read them below or add one }

PEBCAK January 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm

#3: change shoes in a nearby coffee shop and deal with heels for the last block or two, or spring for a cab.

In general to all three: It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed.

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PEBCAK January 9, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Or better yet, leave all your stuff in a locker at the train station and cab from there (this works in Chicago, I don’t know about NYC).

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Amanda January 9, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Yes, this. Arrive early enough to scope out the area, and change your shoes in a sensible place nearby. I’ve done this a lot, living in New England.

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Julie January 10, 2013 at 12:44 pm

I have changed my shoes in the elevator (while I was the only occupant!). You might want to go online to locate a Starbucks or hotel or other place near to the interview location that will have a restroom and change there.

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NYC January 9, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I would agree with the advice to take a cab to an interview during inclement weather and also during very warm summer days

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Mike January 9, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Why are we getting questions on interview attire when there is salacious office behavior to discuss?

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KarenT January 9, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Seconded :)

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Victoria HR January 9, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Thirded. Bring on the saliciousness!!

In other news, I don’t even own a suit. I just have a nice black blazer and black slacks, with a pretty silky colored top, and it’s gotten me what I need.

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 5:21 pm

What Mike said!

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Kelly O January 9, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Mike, you could argue that some of the same tactics you use to dress for an interview without looking like you’re going on an interview could be applied to recovering from sexytimes without looking like you’re recovering from sexytimes.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Meaning that you should always look like you’re recovering from sexytimes so people think it’s your normal look.

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Gene January 9, 2013 at 6:31 pm

I wear the same thing to work every day, so no one will ever know if I’m recovering from sexytimes.

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Andy Lester January 9, 2013 at 3:42 pm

#1′s statement that “I have never been told [I have to wear a suit] in my life” brings up a question that has had me thinking a lot the last few months: Where are people getting their job hunting information? Books? Random websites? Are they just winging it based on what they think ought to happen? I’d love to know if there are stats on this.

When I read the Jobs subreddit I find myself daily seeing questions from people who have no idea at all about how job hunting works, and I have a stock answer I paste in after I answer their question:

Head to your local public library and get a book or two on resume writing and/or job hunting. A book is going to give you better, more focused answers than a scattershot collection of comments from reddit. The library will have an entire job hunting section with dozens of books to choose from. Ask the librarian for a recommendation.

Am I delusional to think that anyone these days even considers looking in books to learn things? And if they’re not, where do they go to learn these things?

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I’m actually pretty wary of referring people to books on this topic, because so many of them are outdated — and even newer ones tend to contain dated information, for some reason. I want to say “send them here,” but that is obnoxious, so instead I will say “tell them there are excellent blogs written by people with experience hiring.”

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PEBCAK January 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm

AAM – This is interesting to me, because I don’t feel like the basics have really changed much. In fact, most of the terrible advice that my students seem to get is around how to use the internet/e-mail to annoy the heck out of people. Other than “send a resume via mail” having changed to “apply online or via email”, what advice do you think was good ten years ago that is bad now?

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KarenT January 9, 2013 at 4:07 pm

There is weird advice in some of them. For example, I saw one recently that told applicants if they were to wear a trench coat over their suits, the trench coat must be beige (never black) because executives wear beige and that black coats have blue collar affiliations. That was probably true 60 years ago!

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Tons of it! Saying that your resume can only be one page, use an objective, call to follow up after you apply, do a hard sell, stop by in person, overnight your resume… lots more! Here are two compilations of outdated advice I’ve done:

http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2011/07/11/ignore-these-10-outdated-pieces-of-career-advice

http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2012/07/09/10-pieces-of-lame-job-search-advice

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Andy Lester January 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm

But is all that bad advice from books? Are all books outdated?

My concern is that they go and find the specific answer to a question (“What color paper should I do my resume on?”) and get an answer but don’t have a grasp of the entire process. They sip from the well of knowledge, not drinking deep.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm

You can definitely find all that advice in books — lots of them! And plenty of online sources too, I’m sorry to say.

I’m sure there must be some books that aren’t outdated and have good advice in them, but (a) I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, and (b) more to the point, since the vast majority are dated, just referring people to books means they’re likely to end up with dated advice, unless they get a needle in a haystack.

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PEBCAK January 9, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Oh, I guess my question was more around whether this was EVER good advice. I’ve only got about a decade on the hiring side of things, though. Was there a time when managers wanted an in-person visit?

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Ah! I do think that some of it used to be good advice — I suppose at one point objectives really were the expectation, and maybe there was a time when stopping by really was effective (decades ago though), although I can’t say for sure, never having hired during that time!

Lulu January 9, 2013 at 4:20 pm

If I do refer to books, the first thing I do is note the publication year, and disregard anything written more than maybe 2 years ago (unless it’s something universally regarded as awesome) – the employment world has changed SO much even in the past 5 years, I just don’t trust that anything written (or learned) before this recession is valid anymore. It’s not just the recession, but some employer norms changing in general as time goes by. The good thing about online resources is that they tend to be current and written by those in the trenches NOW (I check the dates of those posts, too). Although it’s also important to understand your online sources’ background etc (i.e. I find AAM’s advice valuable because she has actual experience hiring people to do real jobs, she’s not sitting at home imagining what she’d do if it were ever up to her to make those decisions).

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PEBCAK January 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Yeah, and even hiring managers should know our limits. I have done a ton of intern/entry-level hiring, but I would never try to give advice on searching for an executive-level job.

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Victoria HR January 9, 2013 at 4:50 pm

My dad always told me to pound the pavement and go into businesses and ask them if they’re hiring, and give the desk person a resume. Noooooot! The internet has drastically changed job hunting to the point where doing that would seem extremely strange in this day and age.

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AP January 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Aww I recently had a stop-by that made me cringe so badly. The poor kid (maybe 19-22 years old) was shaking like a leaf, whispered to our receptionist could he please leave a resume, and ran out the door…into the arms of his mother (who was clearly engineering and forcing the whole thing!)

And we’re on the 7th floor of a private building, it’s not like he just walked in from the street. I felt so bad for the guy! Maybe I should call him…

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Rindle January 9, 2013 at 10:07 pm

AP, I think calling him would be incredibly kind if you’d be willing to offer 30 minutes or an hour to talk to him, offer advice in your area of expertise, and give him the opportunity to talk to someone in a low-risk setting to help ease those nerves! Poor kid.

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KellyK January 10, 2013 at 11:41 am

Yes, that would be a really nice thing to do, particularly if you can give him some better job-hunting advice.

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Julie January 10, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Or just tell him to read AAM!

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anon. January 10, 2013 at 9:55 pm

AP, Would you be so kind to update us if you meet with this young man?

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Jubilance January 9, 2013 at 5:07 pm

So much of the advice regarding technology is terrible! I was listening to a NPR podcast last week & they were discussing tips to help seniors who will be entering the workforce. The person being interviewed said their top tip was to start a blog! I immediately thought it was horrible advice – unless you’re in a creative field most hiring managers won’t care about a blog!

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Lulu January 9, 2013 at 6:02 pm

OMG I am SO sick of hearing the “start a blog” advice! Sure, start a blog if you’re a writer, if you have insight you’d like to share that you feel might be interesting/useful. The world does not need any more poorly-written, pointless or abandoned blogs created by people who were told they must have a blog to be relevant in the 21st century, and those sorts of “blogs” are not going to do their owners any favors, either.

And to PEBCAK’s point, I agree that’s an important element of evaluating the advice one reads – what’s important to someone like Jamie, hiring in the tech world (and manufacturing, to boot), might be different than what an advertising creative would value. That’s not to say there wouldn’t be anything useful to glean, but despite many of our desires to have One Universal Answer, sometimes it really does depend on who/what you’re talking about. One reason I find this blog so useful is that it generates conversations like this, so you don’t only get AAM’s point of view, but that of several other people with varying backgrounds.

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Count on that being different…ha…ad execs are always way better dressed.

I can one universal truth, though, before going in ask yourself if you know where your sunglasses are. Learned that one the hard way – first interview met with HR and the person being replaced and two hours later I got in my car and realized by sunglasses had been perched on my head the entire time.

Most important interview of my life and I went through it like I was auditioning for a That Girl revival.

Bad habit of mine that I almost always have glasses on my head. My reg specs, safety glasses, sunglasses…saves on headbands but in typing this I realize I desperately need a makeover.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 6:15 pm

In the summer, my sunglasses often function as a sort of hairband, keeping my hair out of my face. Sometimes I realize it’s 10 p.m. and they’re still up there.

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Katie in Ed January 9, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I think professionals underestimate how much your environment can your knowledge/ignorance of professional norms. Case in point: a friend of mine works at a restaurant, and I went to his work Christmas party. Everyone was drunk, smoking weed, and the white elephant gift exchange included vintage Playboys (with the accompanying innuendo). In any other work environment, it was a gasp-worthy lawsuit waiting to happen. There? No one seemed phased.

And before someone says that restaurants and retail are just “different,” let’s think about where most people get their first jobs. This is where many young people get their first exposure to working. And if you don’t have suit-and-tie kind of parents, they might not have the strongest grasp of professional norms either (the “parent’s achievement” thread illustrated this nicely).

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Lulu January 10, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Oh I totally agree with this – even my last professional environment, at least in my department, that xmas event wouldn’t have been too off the wall ;) Anyone with that as their first job and moving on to a different type of company would be in for a massive shock. I actually count myself in this situation, since my recent experience has been in such a niche environment – I’m never really sure what people in “real” offices wear (do they really dress like on the tv shows?), and am always fascinated and a little scared by our conversations on this topic!

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Gene January 9, 2013 at 6:42 pm

The last time I was job hunting was 20+ years ago and even then I recognized that many of the books available were next to (and sometimes much closer than that) useless. The best one I found, and I noticed in the bookstore the other day that it’s updated regularly and has grown into a series, was “Knock ‘Em Dead”.

I didn’t look at the new ones as I’m secure where I am (Civil Service with 20+ years seniority and most senior in my classification), but using that one book as a resource got me offers from four of the six places I applied to and got interviews from.

If anyone asked me for advice now I’d send them here with that book as an additional resource.

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Brandy January 9, 2013 at 9:51 pm

I can’t even say how many fellow students I have sent your way! :-)

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Poppy January 9, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Simply because something is printed in a book doesn’t make it automatically superior to something that is online. Yes, I realize that librarians are doing the selection, but with budgets being slashed, it’s likely that outdated materials are staying on the shelves.

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Andy Lester January 9, 2013 at 4:57 pm

The issue isn’t the accuracy of the information in a book, but the breadth of education. Sending people to AAM is fine for answering questions, but it’s not an overview of the job hunting process. Where is there online that gives you the breadth of focused information in a book dedicated to the job hunter?

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Well, there’s my e-book :)

Or my 2,300-page archives!

Just saying!

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Andy Lester January 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm

If beginning job hunters read your book (and an e-book is still a book), that would be fantastic.

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Heather January 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm

I’m a librarian and I refer people to here, fyi.

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Poppy January 9, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Actually, I’m a librarian too and I post Alison’s advice to all of the social media groups I belong to. :)

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Andrea January 10, 2013 at 8:34 am

Andy, I respond to questions on that subreddit with links to this blog!

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NYC January 9, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Oh, and you should always wear a (true) suit to an interview.

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class factotum January 9, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I got my current job wearing a black skirt, a white silky blouse, and a black and white jacket with 3/4 sleeves and a tie belt. I like to think my wonderful qualifications overshadowed my lack of formal suit, but it was probably just that I was willing to take the salary they offered.

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kristinyc January 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Not ALWAYS. I wore a nice dress (no blazer!) and open-toed sandals (gasp!) to my interview for my current job, and I still got an offer an hour after I left. I usually do that for interviews that aren’t in super conservative/corporate environments.

Techy startups in NYC = wear something nice, but a suit isn’t required. It’s awkward wearing a suit when the person interviewing you (a CEO, no less!) is wearing shorts and flip flops. But no one thinks less of you for wearing a suit.

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Katie January 10, 2013 at 12:15 pm

As an IT professional, YES. I remember interviewing for my current job. I was 23 and coming out of the airlines, where the interviews are VERY formal. So I had on my black dress suit, nude hose, black close-toed heels, with a little gold brooch on the lapel of my jacket. I will never forget the look on my interviewers’ faces–one of whom was in jeans and a t-shirt. It was just so clear I had really overdressed–like their mothers, and they were all at least 10 years older than I was.

I got the job, and I’ve since worked on the hiring side, and when someone shows up to an interview in a suit, it does raise comments. It’s not a total deal breaker–although coming to an interview in jeans and a leather jacket is–but it does raise questions about whether you are out of touch with the field and if you are a good fit at our company.

I think this is where it comes in handy to really do your homework about the place where you are interviewing. For instance, if you’re going to an engineering interview at Microsoft, you should probably know that dressing up at all is a big no-no. They want you to come dressed as you normally are, they tell you so in your recruiting info, so if you come in a suit, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb. Other companies, though, would see anything less than a suit as unprofessional.

If you’re going to interview, do all the research you can. Find out how everyone else at their office dresses and try to dress one step above that. (If it’s casual, do business casual. If it’s business casual, do a suit. If it’s a suit, wear a very conservative suit.) I’m not above asking straight-up in communications leading up to an interview what typical mode of dress is for the company and for interviews, and when recruiting people, I don’t think poorly of people who ask. Better to ask and make sure you get it right than guess and look silly.

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Jen in RO January 10, 2013 at 9:14 am

I interviewed for my current job in slacks and a sweater. (I also arrived half frozen to death since it was in December during a blizzard.) I got the job and in the three years I’ve been here I’ve never seen anyone, not even the general manager, in a suit.

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Headachey January 9, 2013 at 6:34 pm

While I would echo this advice to anyone else, I just realized that in over 20 years of working in professional offices (business casual to business formal), I’ve never worn a suit to an interview.

Appropriately and professionally dressed, yes, but never in a full suit.

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ARS January 10, 2013 at 1:07 am

+1. I’ve never worn a suit to an interview, but always very professionally dressed. I’ve received job offers. Granted, I’m currently unemployed but I have serious doubts I’m still unemployed because I haven’t worn a suit.

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Anon February 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I used to work in NYC in banks and I always wore blue suits and a white shirt, blue shoes and stockings. Very conservative! Now I am in teaching out west and to wear something like that would be almost inappropriate, so I have experimented with the same outfit but with a soft and pretty sweater instead of the jacket.

As a teacher you want to look good but not necessarily be better dressed that the interviewer. Maybe it is just trying to gauge the environment and be professional. I am still not 100% on this, but so far so good.

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KimmieSue January 9, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Totally disagree with this comment. Perhaps it’s true in NYC in your industry but it doesn’t ALWAYS have to be a true suit or a suit at all.

In my technology world, recruiting software engineers and such, suits are no where in our landscape.

Also, it’s totally okay for a candidate to question the person scheduling the interview about the appropriate attire. It doesn’t hurt to say “Thank you for the invitation and I’ll look forward to meeting with so and so. By the way, is there a particular attire that might be appropriate for the interview? I tend to pull out the suit and tie but have recently felt over dressed at other interviews.”

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Katie in Ed January 9, 2013 at 8:10 pm
EM January 9, 2013 at 9:19 pm

This will blow your mind; I wore JEANS with a blazer to the interview for my current job, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had.

Actually, I would normally never do this, but I was wearing a cast for my broken ankle, and it was the only pair of pants that weren’t yoga pants that would go over my cast.

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KellyK January 10, 2013 at 11:46 am

I thought the rule was dress a couple steps above what you would wear to work.

For office jobs, you probably can’t go wrong with a suit unless the particular area and industry has a “suits are pretentious” culture. But I would be worried about being overly dressed up when interviewing for a job where you’re going to get your hands dirty.

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KarenT January 9, 2013 at 3:45 pm

#2
IMO a grey jacket with a greyer skirt in the same material sounds close enough to a suit for me, unless you are in a very formal industry. It never hurts to be extra cautious, though.

#3
Can you find out if there is a coffee shopt next door or in the same building? You can use their washroom to freshen up, fix your hair, change your shoes.

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Vicki January 9, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I thank all the gods of the Internet that, in “my Industry” (Silicon Valley Computer Tech) wearing a suit to an interview actually makes you look very young and desperately naive.

Any job that thinks I should wear a suit to the interview is a job I don’t want. I prefer the advice: dress slightly better than the people you will be interviewing with.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm

That assumes you never move from your current area of the country :)

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Jess January 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm

I think that in tech, it really doesn’t matter the area of the country. If you’re working for a tech company (not in IT in a different industry, like banking), even in the Northeast, you shouldn’t wear a suit to an interview.

But in almost all over industries, I agree with the advice to wear a suit to an interview. It’s better to err on the side of caution. If you’re in a creative field, get creative with shoes or jewelry or the top you wear underneath but make the suit fairly basic and conservative.

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Vicki January 10, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Well, a woman above said things work like this in NYC as well and the woman just below here says “even in the Northeast”.

So it’s more “never move from your area of work”. And no, I don;t intend to. I dress for the kind of work I do and love that that’s part of the culture, across the country.

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Esra January 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm

It’s definitely weird when you are in tech/web/design to hear people being so stringent about wearing a suit. Business casual would be great at any of the places I’ve worked, if someone showed up in a full suit it’d kind of be a turn off.

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Lisa January 9, 2013 at 4:27 pm

You have to look like you belong in a suit for it to work. If it doesn’t fit, and you look uncomfortable, it gives a worse impression that feeling confident in your usual business attire.

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Esra January 10, 2013 at 9:18 am

You could’ve been born in one and you’d still get the side-eye walking into an interview here in one. It’s just not the culture at all.

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Katie January 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Same here.

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Vicki January 10, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Esra – My team was at a conference once and noticed one of our co-workers on the elevator – in a suit. We couldn’t believe it. We suddenly began to speculate on whether he was pretending to be a sales guy, or pretending to be a high-level exec… and what was wrong.

We all worked the booth at that conference and our co-worker got what was coming to him. None of the customers would talk to him in the booth. They assumed, from his clothing, that he couldn’t give them real technical information.

In Tech – suits raise suspicion, at the interview and beyond.

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Pete October 12, 2013 at 4:26 am

No,

If a guy came in and interviewed well, why should it matter if he wore a suit?

I’d bet if a tall, good-looking guy came in to interview in a suit, and he interviewed well, he’d have no problem getting the job. If he was being interviewed by female engineers, there would be no complaints.

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ArtsNerd January 9, 2013 at 4:36 pm

About 10 years ago my sister was actually given the feedback that she was TOO professionally dressed for her interview at an ad agency. It was her first time job searching out of college. Her story made it pretty explicit that the agency was biased toward an outwardly “artistic” look and conservative interview attire raised concerns about whether the candidate lacked the necessary creativity. As someone who is both highly creative and highly professional, I think that’s silly if you’re not giving them a real chance to show their abilities in conversation.

Still, in the casual-office artsy jobs I’ve applied for, I do always manage to put some spin on my outfit to show that I know how to play with fashion a little bit. For a large, major organization, I would likely wear a real suit and limit any show of creativity to tasteful jewelry.

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AJ January 9, 2013 at 5:14 pm

+1

I find it interesting that the consensus here seems to be that you should always wear a suit. As a recent college grad who was looking for jobs at ad agencies on the west coast (if that makes a difference), I found that dressing “too formally” sometimes worked against me. For my first few interviews I started off wearing a traditional black skirt suit, but felt overdressed. I later changed what I wore to be more business casual and reflect more of my personality, and I feel like I received a better response (though I may have just felt more confident).

By the way – I just got an offer for my first job and it was largely due to the information I received from this blog. Not only did I learn how to improve my cover letter and resume, I was also able to use the tips I found to negotiate a better salary. Thanks Alison and all of the AAM commenters!

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Congratulations!

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Katie in Ed January 10, 2013 at 12:42 am

FWIW, my experience working on the west coast totally reflects a more casual attitude towards work, dress and otherwise.

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Anonicorn January 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm

It was definitely an adjustment moving from a non-customer, IT workplace where people wore jeans and even monkey slippers (she claimed to have a foot condition) to a more customer-visible workplace where you have to dress to represent – even if you’re an office hermit like me.

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Elizabeth January 9, 2013 at 5:06 pm

There are plenty of places where it’s a good idea to wear a suit to an interview but which have much, much more casual dress codes for actual employees. My first teaching job was at a school where jeans were perfectly acceptable (and not just on Fridays). I actually interviewed at the hiring manager’s father’s beach house on the opposite coast from the school – and my interviewer was in a tank top and barefoot! Nevertheless, I didn’t regret my decision to wear a suit. I think it showed I took the job seriously.

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LMW January 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I’d get a true suit for your first interview and save the almost suit for a second interview. Right before I finally got my new job I had a bunch of second interviews. Combine that in with the fact that I needed some outfits I could disguise as non-suity for my current position, and I needed an alternative to regular suits. I always wear a true suit to a first interview and if I’m called back to meet with someone high level, like a VP, but since most of the jobs were fairly casual, I went with a nice pencil skirt and coordinating jacket to second interviews.

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anon o January 9, 2013 at 4:05 pm

That’s a good idea.

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Elizabeth West January 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Heh, lucky for me the black blazer makes a suit with my black pants, but I also got a gray one and a brown one that work nicely over other pants I have. Extra outfits, but still polished. :)

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Katie the Fed January 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I think my head is going to explode if I read one more question like this:

“can an employer basically not hire me because I wasn’t wearing a “suit” or should I call now, a month and half later, and see if the position is still open. ”

The answer is always, ALWAYS that an employer can decide to hire or fire you based on pretty much anything – qualifications, your hair color, your shoes, whether they like your laugh – as long as it’s not based on membership in a protected class like race, sex, national origin, disability, etc.

Oy.

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Andy Lester January 9, 2013 at 4:05 pm

They can ALWAYS decide not to hire you because of your race, sex, national origin, disability, etc. It’s illegal, but they still can, and it happens.

I think the issue here, Katie The Fed, is that people want there to be a stock set of answers. They want there to be a single set of rules that everyone follows. So long as you know all the correct inputs, you get a given output. You just have to know the One Secret and everything will just go your way. They don’t realize that hiring and job hunting are essentially human endeavors, and humans are notoriously wiggly and inconsistent.

I tell people at conference sessions “There is not one correct answer to everything. If there was, there would be exactly one job hunting book and one job hunting website and we would all follow what that says.” With 6,000,000 different employers in the USA, there will be wild variance everywhere.

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Katie the Fed January 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Yes, this is true.

I guess the sooner you accept that things really aren’t always fair the better off you’ll be. Even where things are supposed to be as fair as possible – in the government – and hiring based solely on qualifications, there will ALWAYS be prefences and biases and favorites because there’s a human element involved in the process.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:10 pm

It’s also because most people honestly don’t know this stuff. You know it (hopefully) if you’ve done a lot of hiring yourself, and you know it if you read this blog regularly. But most people really don’t know how this stuff works!

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Good_Intentions January 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Katie:

I understand your frustrations with the ongoing questions about what employers, rather prospective employers, can legally do to exclude candidates. However, I would argue that you’re missing the point of the questions.

People are in all likelihood looking at their letters to the Ask a Manager blog as a safe means of venting their feelings of powerlessness and confusion. By sending Alison questions about the tactless way interviewers mention sartorial choices, accents and other unprotected classifications, letter writers are able to articulate their lack of certainty.

I’m positive that most of them logically know that an interviewer can remove them from consideration for a host of reasons, including many beyond their powers of interviewing and resume writing. The letters are just a convenient coping mechanism with few consequences, save a few comments from other readers of AAM’s blog.

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Anonicorn January 9, 2013 at 4:37 pm

whether they like your laugh

You probably added that as a joke, but I heard this exact excuse from an employer. While my interviewer was giving me the office tour and explaining their culture, she paused to mention that they rejected another candidate because she laughed a bit too loud. She later mentioned a candidate they rejected because she “seemed too confident.”

OK, maybe these are valid concerns, but it seemed bonkers to tell me, an interviewee, about it! What was I supposed to say? “Oh, don’t worry; I have the perfect level of laughter and I am not overly confident.”

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Katie the Fed January 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Oh that’s terrible. Please understand I’m not saying any of this is RIGHT. It’s just that it’s legal. It sucks and it’s unfair and mystifying, but that’s the hiring process in some places.

I’m definitely empathetic to these concerns, I just wish people understood that you really don’t have legal protection against people acting like jerks.

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Anonicorn January 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Unfortunately you are correct. As AAM has said before, it’s not illegal to be a jerk. It was just so funny that you specifically mentioned the laugh. I had to share. ;)

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 5:30 pm

The shoe thing is a joke, too…usually. But I knew an HR once who passed on a candidate because her shoes were too expensive. He didn’t think someone who dressed like that would be able to establish a rapport with people in the factory.

Funny thing is he told me this in my interview, so I’m a candidate sitting there hearing why a candidate (for another position) was rejected. And he named the brand of shoe and I and never heard of it…and then he looked at mine. Simple black pumps from Kohl’s – clearance 24.99. I hope that want the sole reason I was hired.

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Lulu January 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm

No pun intended? ;)

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Ha! I would love to say it was totally intended…but nah. Funny!

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Natalie January 9, 2013 at 6:19 pm

How easy is it to tell that shoes are expensive? My most expensive pair of shoes were $250 but they are just simple black pumps. (I paid that much because my feet are the biggest effing whiners.)

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I have NO idea. I notice cute shoes – but I don’t do high end stuff and have no idea people recognize the designer shoes once the tags are removed.

I’m marginally better at purses, but not much. And to be honest if people are making min wage and carried a Vuitton or fendi bag I assume its a knock off anyway.

I suck at this kind of thing – but I can recognize most spendy sunglasses at 100 paces…because I’m jealous!

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Parfait January 9, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Some shoes have a distinctive look, like Louboutins.

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T January 10, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Wearing Louboutins to a factory/manufacturing job interview might raise some eyebrows, though

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Ariancita January 10, 2013 at 12:37 am

If you know your shoes, you can tell. He clearly either knew fashion or he didn’t but thought he did (actually probably the latter, unless they were red soled CLs).

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Katie January 10, 2013 at 12:30 pm

We rejected a guy because he gave 2 people a “bad vibe.” He had an excellent resume, interviewed well on paper, was a good fit for the position, and we’d hired multiple less qualified and less professional people for the same role. We still chose not to hire him. It really isn’t fair, and it isn’t always logical. In my experience, getting hired is 1 part experience/knowledge, 1 part good communication skills, and 1 part luck. There’s really nothing you can do about that last one.

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B January 9, 2013 at 4:02 pm

I am in NYC too. What I do is bring a big bag that holds my folder with resumes and heels to change from comfy shoes. In bad weather, I put a plastic bag inside of this big bag, place the yucky boots in, and put the pretty heels on. In the frigid weather the long nice puff coats (not the ski kind) I feel are fine.

Just as an aside to those not in nyc. If you are in an outer borough, heck even in the city, it is super difficult to catch a cab and/or $$$ In bad weather. That is not always the best or easiest.

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Mints January 9, 2013 at 4:34 pm

This sounds reasonable. I think about shoes 10x more than the rest of the outfit.

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Especially considering a good portion of the women in NYC have those long, puffer coats. It’s pretty much standard wear. A wool coat only keeps you warm if you layer (IME anyway). Layering over a suit jacket and shirt= the possibility of being a sweaty mess when you get to the interview.

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Elizabeth West January 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Wool keeps you VERY warm, but not if it’s a short jacket or peacoat length. My go-to dress coat is a huge Swiss army coat.

Yes, it’s a real Swiss army issue coat, with a serial number and everything. I got it twenty years ago from US Cavalry for $32 and aside from a slight rip, it has held up amazingly. It doesn’t bother me at all that it’s a man’s coat, and I get lots of compliments on it. Looks like this: http://www.armynavydeals.com/products/main/large/bswissgreat02.jpg

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T January 10, 2013 at 3:18 pm

that is so cool!

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ChristineH January 9, 2013 at 4:57 pm

What kind of a bag would look decent enough to hold your folder and shoes? I could use something like that for whenever I go to any sort of professional-level event that’s on the bus route.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I’m picturing a black tote in either a leather-like fabric or microfiber. Not, say, canvas.

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KarenT January 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Corporette has awesome examples of professional-looking carry-all totes for commuting in large cities (bags big enough to hold extra shoes, umbrella’s, etc.).

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B January 9, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I have a nice black one, as well as a silver, that I got from old navy awhile ago, surprisingly so. It’s very nice, holds everything, and have had an interviewer compliment me on it. You should look for one that stays slim, flimsy/canvas material will bulge out and look unprofessional. As long as it is a good neutral and stays in its shape that will work.

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Rana January 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Can you reserve a cab ahead of time? Here in Chicago, a lot of the cab companies allow you to make a reservation online, and the driver will text or call you when they’re on their way, and when they’ve arrived.

That said, I appreciate that cab expenses from parts of the outer city to the inner districts can get spendy!

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 5:33 pm

And sometimes they don’t freaking show up! We had called o e to bring an out of town salesperson and the cab never showed…kept calling and they “ten more minutes” us for 1.5 hours.

I had to drive him to Midway myself. I’m a saint like that. :)

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Natalie January 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm

I believe cabs are prohibited from taking reservations in NY, but car services are an option. When we visited friends and had a 6:00 am flight, we reserved a car service to go to the airport and it was comparable to a cab.

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Ariancita January 10, 2013 at 12:40 am

Yep, you can get a car service, but unless it’s an airport run (which are standard), it will cost more than a cab. Consider most people live in Queens or Brooklyn and commute into Manhattan, you’re talking very expensive when the subway is $2.50.

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Natalie January 10, 2013 at 9:21 am

True, definitely not cheaper than the subway!

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Kou January 9, 2013 at 7:20 pm

THIS, absolutely. And the last time I took a cab in NYC in heavy snow it kept fishtailing and sliding, the guy driving evidently didn’t know which roads were no longer safe when there’s ice (he said as much when we nearly couldn’t make it up a hill). I didn’t drive there so I didn’t know, either, and had no way of helping him out or even anticipating how long it would have taken in advance due to the weather and whatnot. It was a few blocks that normally takes ten minutes to walk, and took nearly twice that to drive that day.

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AnotherAlison January 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm

The thing with suits is that even if you look like heck, I can see that you were trying. You had a clue.

Anything else, it’s too difficult to give something a stamp of approval because someone will screw it up. Whether slacks and a top and a little jacket are professional depends too much on the quality and style of the clothes, your shoes and accessories, etc.

I have a purple velvet jacket, ya know, for my Prince days, and I only wear it to dress up a notch when I have meetings on jeans days. Someone else might think, “Well, it’s a jacket. . .so I am good to go.”

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Exactly. There are some slacks/top/little-jacket outfits that would be fine and others that really wouldn’t be — depends on the specifics. (There are also some sisters who would know for sure if the outfit was professional enough, but also many who wouldn’t.)

It’s sort of like how “business-appropriate dress” doesn’t equal “formal dress” of the sort that you might wear to a party.

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Kimberlee, Esq. January 9, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I saw you’re reference to “Sisters,” and thought you were talking about an *entirely* different group of people. Maybe referencing the Prince comment… it took surprisingly long for me to remember that OP is the reason we’re gathered today.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Ha!! (No, the OP’s sister, for anyone similarly confused.)

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bearing January 9, 2013 at 10:10 pm

And me, I thought nuns. Apparently it takes all kinds.

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JT January 9, 2013 at 7:40 pm

It seems to me if you’re going to be interviewing, you should start wearing your interview clothes more often. That’s assuming they’re not entirely inappropriate at your current job, and your current job isn’t going to trash them.

I was moderately comfortable in a suit most of my life, but only wore one a few times a year for many years. Early last year I started wearing them more often (and got some new ones) and now I’m super-comfortable in them and think it might even show in how I project myself when in them. They feel natural and not like I’m dressing up. Ditto wearing a tie. Now it’s easy.

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Yup January 9, 2013 at 4:08 pm

#1 & #2. I usually wear suits to interviews but FWIW, I’ve worn non-suits twice and been hired. Both times, I wore a calf length black skirt with heeled black knee boots, a white button down shirt with french cuffs, and a long silver-patterned scarf, with professional style jewelry. These were interviews for mid-level nonprofit administrator positions in a medium conservative region.

So there’s some leeway in terms of geography and industry standards. But it seems to be true that you can’t go wrong with the traditional black/navy/grey suit, so better to err on the side of caution if you’re nervous. Although frankly, I’ve even heard differing opinions about whether women wearing pants suits (instead of skirt/jacket) is too wild in some uber-conservative fields.

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KarenT January 9, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Eeek. If a woman in pants is too “forward” for a company, I don’t want to work there!

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Tax Nerd January 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Accounting is pretty conservative, but I’ve gotten away with pants suits when I’ve interviewed. Skirt suits for interviewers lead to the pantyhose or not minefield, which is best avoided. (Corporette had a very heated debate on this issue a while back.)

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KarenT January 9, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Maybe it depends where you are. For some reason all my friends are accountants, and all work for the big companies (PWC, KPMG and Deloitte) but wearing pants suits seems to be a nonissue.

I actually avoid skirts in interviews for the same reason. For some reason pantyhose vs no pantyhose is a violent issue!

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Rana January 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Yes! People have Opinions. I think pantyhose holds the record for generating one of the longest and most heated threads on this site, too!

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Jess January 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm

I’d just wear the pantyhose for an interview, even if I wouldn’t for the job. Probably even on a 95 degree day in the middle of July. It’s the more formal choice and therefore, that’s what I’d do. My legs kind of suck, though. If I were in better shape and tan, maybe not.

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Anonymous January 10, 2013 at 9:32 am

Wait, there are really many interviewers looking purposefully at womens bottom to tax their underwear? Oo

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fposte January 10, 2013 at 11:07 am

In case you’re not American, “panty hose” are “stockings”–it’s about covering the legs, not the underwear.

Elizabeth West January 9, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Me either. I don’t wear skirts. Sorry, but that was settled in the 1970s. This is the 2000s. Decade two. Get over the skirt thing, employers.

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Andrea January 10, 2013 at 8:57 am

+1

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Anon January 9, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I would call pants/skirt with a coordinating jacket (either matching or patterned) to be a suit. Classic black pants with a patterned/colored jacket is a suit in my book. Or combination thereof. I work in higher er, for what that’s worth.

If you came in with just pants/skirt and a shirt, then I’d think “really, no suit?” but if you wow’d me in the interview, it wouldn’t matter. What’s more important is that what you are wearing be appropriately tailored, clean, pressed and look good. If you come in something that’s too large/too small, dirty, ripped etc-that’s more of an issue.

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Ashley January 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm

+1. I’ve worn a nice, fitted, patterned suit jacket with black slacks to interviews before. Just because it doesn’t “match” doesn’t mean it’s not coordinated, and it’s still a suit. And I’m in banking, which tends to be ultra conservative.

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KarenT January 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I agree. I’ve interviewed men wearing a dark blue or grey jacket and black pants. More than close enough to a suit for me. I could a person in a different industry (like big tax or big law) finding it too casual.

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Elizabeth West January 9, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Well-coordinated and polished, with appropriate accessories and good grooming, is to me enough. That would tell me that the person at least cares about their appearance. They might not be able to afford a suit, all their suits could have burned up when the dry cleaner caught on fire, etc. etc.

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Kimberlee, Esq. January 9, 2013 at 6:58 pm

This, especially with the good grooming. If you take care of your appearance, you could come to an interview in a polo and slacks (as a dude), and if you’re well-manicured (so to speak), you’re probably good in my book.

Though, I mostly interview for entry level or internships. I’d probably question the judgement of someone going for like a Director of something that didn’t wear a suit (or something equally dashing).

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JT January 9, 2013 at 7:40 pm

For men, a suit means the same fabric top and bottom.

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LMW January 9, 2013 at 10:48 pm

We actually had this happen today: Some team members interviewed an admin candidate, and it didn’t go well and afterward they were like “She wasn’t very professional. And she didn’t wear a suit. Normally I wouldn’t care but since the rest of the interview was so bad, it’s a nail in the coffin.”

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Clara January 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I want to echo the comment above about cabs – they are a bad idea in inclement weather. The subway is far preferable in bad weather because you don’t need to worry traffic due to bad weather.

As for dressing in inclement weather, I just wear nice leather boots instead of snow boots. If you are careful about where you step and make sure your boots are clean, they should be fine.

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Elizabeth West January 9, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Put a couple of paper towels in your tote, so you can give your shoes a quick swipe.

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OP #2 January 9, 2013 at 4:17 pm

To clarify, my industry is non-profit environmental digital communications. Would that change the answer at all? Does anyone in the industry have any suggestions based on that?

While I’m technically in that field now, my current job hired me through phone interviews (I lived out of state at the time). I think it’s pretty informal, but don’t don’t want to make that assumption for the obvious reasons AAM said.

Also, I just spent all the money I have on this jacket and can’t afford to buy a new “real” suit and save this one for a later interview, as someone above suggested (which would otherwise sound great!). From the answers, though, it seems like I might have to suck it up and figure out something else! Thanks for the advice!

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm

You’re probably fine in that. It’s not a super conservative industry, and what you described is close enough to a suit that you should be okay.

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businesslady January 9, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I agree–it sounds like a lovely ensemble. & the metrics for “business attire” is a bit more nebulous for women than it is for men (which is a mixed blessing, but works in your favor here, I think). for a man, a “suit” has a pretty rigid definition with only limited variation in terms of color, fabric, & cut (& whether or not there’s a vest involved, I suppose), but a woman’s “suit” could be a skirt (of various styles) plus a jacket, or pants plus a jacket, & the cut of said jacket could vary fairly widely–plus there’s a lot more leeway in the top you’d wear underneath.

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businesslady January 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm

ahem, *the metrics ARE a bit more nebulous.

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Rana January 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Having married a man who knows about such things (though he generally doesn’t need to observe them in his own dress), I’ve been surprised how fiddly men’s suiting expectations can get. For example, while the number of buttons on a woman’s jacket means pretty much nothing, apparently there’s a huge difference between a men’s four-button jacket and a men’s two-button jacket, and the message you send if you wear one rather than the other. Ditto things like fabric or color; I’m used to factoring in the effects of a navy suit versus a power red one, but not between a matte dark gray and a slightly shiny dark gray, but, again, apparently this matters to some people.

I had no clue; to me they all seemed like, well, suits.

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Suzanne January 9, 2013 at 6:11 pm

The number of buttons on the coat seems to me a contribution to why the economy is in the tank! Maybe if hiring managers focused more on whether or not the candidate could actually do the job instead of how many buttons are on the jacket the world would be a better place. Geeze!
I’ve also been told that women should strive for only so many “extras” in their interview outfits which includes earrings, buttons, rings, watch, etc. I just don’t remember what the magic number is…

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Rana January 9, 2013 at 6:45 pm

I was told the rule of three, with the number reducing if one of the three is particularly large, flashy, etc. That is, you can wear three small tasteful accessories, but only one really dramatic one.

Who knows where these things come from, though.

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Waerloga January 10, 2013 at 12:10 am

In Scotland, for formal occasions, the Dress Jacket showed ones wealth, without unseemingly bragging about it.

The buttons are silver…and the more buttons, the more wealthier you looked, and were assumed to be.

(And just to forestall some specific questions “Regimental” would describe the Kilt wearing)

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Miss Displaced January 10, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Ah! Men in Kilts… love it! :-)

Kimberlee, Esq. January 9, 2013 at 7:02 pm

On a related note, I hate that all female politicians wear like red or blue or other brightly colored suits. I mean, I *kinda* understand why, but I hate it. I like that H. Clinton goes with the black pinstripe from time to time.

Also, with the red lipstick?! Why do political women always wear bright red lipstick!? I feel that I could not get away with that in an interview.

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Rana January 9, 2013 at 8:46 pm

I bet it’s for the sake of the cameras. Though it could also be a D.C. thing.

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Laura L January 12, 2013 at 1:36 am

Why *do* they do that?
I also dislike it, but I know a lot of people who think it’s great.

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OP #2 January 9, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Thanks, guys! I actually really do like this outfit and think it will be good for my industry. (It’s kind of a good balance between traditional interview suit and creative/techie outfit.) I’ll let you know how the interview goes in the next couple of weeks to see if it works out or not!

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RJ January 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm

The only concern I have about the lighter colored jacket, is that if you’re going to go with “not a suit”, the shades should be different enough so that your choice appears to be intentional. I think it could be perceived as less professional if the top and bottom were close enough that it looked like you were trying to pass it off as a complete suit or to look as if one piece had been dry-cleaned more frequently than the other.

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TL January 9, 2013 at 5:27 pm

This is the only thing I’d worry about, OP – whether or not the mismatch looks intentional or accidental. If they’re different enough that the mismatch looks deliberate, the outfit sounds nice, and you’re probably OK. If not…well, perhaps find something else? (Black jacket w/ dark gray skirt, or medium gray jacket with dark gray skirt, for instance, would be better than two different-but-nearly-identical shades of gray or black.) Could you ask more than one fashion-conscious friend/family member to tell you their opinion? (Also be sure to look at it in different types of lighting – colors can look very different in natural vs. artificial light.)

I may be off base, but if your interview is very soon, and you can’t really find anything else, just go ahead and wear it confidently. You don’t want your confidence zapped by worrying about a problem that the interviewer may not even notice, and which you can’t change.

I totally feel your pain, though. Because of my particular body shape, I’ve never been able to find a complete suit in my price range that fits properly. I have a similar outfit for interviewing: a professional-looking, but clearly not matched, jacket and skirt. I’ve had nothing but compliments, but I’d love to find a complete suit that FITS.

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Kelly O January 9, 2013 at 5:50 pm

See, I had similar concerns with the “not quite matching” greys.

Sometimes you can get away with it, but it can definitely look really sloppy if you’re not careful. Same thing with black. You would think a black jacket would go with black pants, but they do not always match.

What I would be curious about is thoughts in general on wearing dresses. Not sundresses mind you, but solid work-appropriate dresses with sleeves. I find myself gravitating more to dresses these days (super-easy to put an outfit together) and am wondering if the dressier ones can serve as appropriate interview attire.

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TL January 9, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Someone brought up dresses in suiting materials further down in the comments, but worn with jackets. That might work, especially if you tuck a scarf into the neckline to disguise the fact that it’s a dress + jacket. But I’m thinking suiting materials, and not colorful printed jackets or anything like that.

I’m not sure how I’d feel about wearing a dress without a jacket, even one with sleeves, to an interview. If the industry was fairly casual, maybe, but for some reason the jacket seems to polish things off.

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Rana January 9, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Plus jackets have pockets, and my experience is that I’m always cold during interviews!

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OP #2 January 9, 2013 at 7:42 pm

This was my concern, too. The colors are different enough that they do look intentional. It’s not like it’s a slightly different shade of gray (or like I accidentally chose a black skirt and navy blue jacket). It had really just been long enough between the buying of the jacket and the skirt that I had forgotten the exact shade and gone with match weights/grains of suit fabrics. They match perfectly in that respect and differ fairly dramatically in color. (Medium-light gray jacket to Dark-charcoal gray skirt).

The big problem I had with the person who said I should NEVER EVER wear this particular outfit to an interview was the fact that she started saying I should wear an all-black dress with an all-black jacket over it and pair it with black shoes. I’m not going to a funeral; I’m going to a place that does creative work on behalf of the environment!

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OP #2 January 9, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Oh–and this was in the middle of major post-Christmas shopping and trying on tons of skirts/jackets. I stored the skirt, just knowing it was gray and looked good and was bought at Ann Taylor.

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danr January 10, 2013 at 10:40 am

This sounds very NYC. It’s the businesswomen’s fall, winter and early spring uniform in Manhattan.

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Editor January 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm

The Manhattan obsession with black has always bewildered me. Women who work in a place where they can probably shop for any kind of fashion they want, and they only wear black? It’s not like they’re stuck with Kohl’s and Sears. I don’t want to sort through a bunch of black garments to see which ones go or don’t go together, and the belief that all blacks go with each other is a crock.

Black is not flattering on me. I don’t wear it above the waist. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a suit, too, because in addition to being a 1X I can’t wear any animal fibers, nor can I wear polyester or things with a lot of lycra or spandex next to my skin.

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bo bessi January 10, 2013 at 9:08 am

As a hiring manager, I think a nice shift dress with a blazer is perfectly fine to wear to an interview. As long as it’s pressed and more on the conservative side (knee-length and modest neckline), it can actually be a refreshing change from stuffy suits.

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K January 23, 2013 at 12:27 am

Sometimes you just need to work with what you have. In an ideal world you would have a proper, full suit to work with. If in doubt you could ask in advance if you thought a full suit was going to be too much. The added advantage to the full suit is that if the full suit is too much, you can break it up and mix it with other separates to dress it down.

But sometimes we don’t have the time, money or luck to put that together on a deadline. Do what you can to look as formal and polished as possible. If it fits really well and feels amazing, that is half the battle. Pair it with other really formal items and just make it work. Get feedback from multiple people, make it look deliberate, just do the best you can. If the perfect match of your jacket to your skirt is the deal breaker, there were likely bigger fit issues between you and that job than you realize.

And don’t get too worked up about inclement weather. A heavy dress coat is expected if it is nasty outside, as are other weather accessories (ask to leave that stuff in a closet when you come in anyway). But, the interviewer, nor reception want to see your commuter shoes. Pick something that is easy to stash in a presentable bag and change before we see you. Keep in mind that interviewers have access to windows. They probably know why your hair is a little wet, your cheeks are red or you came in exposing only your eyeballs. Do your best.

Good luck, take a deep breath, and start saving for that emergency suit now.

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Dr. Speakeasy January 9, 2013 at 5:41 pm

This was my thought as well. Trying to match dark greys sounds like trying to match up blacks – they are never quite right.

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K January 9, 2013 at 5:48 pm

This was my worry when I read the question – if they were close enough that you mistook one for another when buying, they might be close enough to look like you just grabbed the wrong jacket out of the closet that morning, which is a problem.

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Esra January 10, 2013 at 10:11 am

Ha! I work at an ENGO in digital communications, and we’re hiring. So if you come in and see a graphic designer in a ballcap, it is Esra, and you were right to go with the outfit you’ve already got.

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Anonymouse January 11, 2013 at 10:21 am

I am in a similar industry and I think your outfit sounds great! Go with it!

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 4:17 pm

This brings back some of the interview pain I experienced upon graduation. I have a somewhat unique body shape and it’s almost impossible for me to buy regular off-the-rack suits, even with alterations. American sizing for women is way, way too limited! It is so frustrating that suits are considered to be required attire for interviews, even if they are not needed for the job.

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Lulu January 9, 2013 at 4:49 pm

+1 I have enough frustration finding day-to-day clothes, let alone more formal things. And I’m not really that odd a size in the general population, women’s RTW has just become really challenging to work with…

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Yes, I agree with your comments about RTW. I usually have better luck with forgiving knits and short-sleeves (very tall and busty lady here), but fitted clothing like suit jackets and Oxford shirts have always been a problem.

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Kelly O January 9, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Larger stores sometimes have suiting separates. You can also find it at stores like Ann Taylor or Banana Republic (or Lane Bryant, if you’re larger.)

I have found the best luck when I err on the side of a bit too big, and then take it to a tailor to have it taken in a bit.

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Lulu January 9, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I always seem to find shoulders too big if the chest fits (and apparently shoulders are a big no-alter area?), or I can’t get the jacket around me if the shoulders look right. Half the reason I’d like to lose weight is just so I can wear a darn jacket that actually fits nicely… That said, different brands (and even styles within the same manufacturer) can be cut differently, so I’m trying to pretend there’s an option out there somewhere. I hear you can get reasonably priced custom pieces in Thailand, maybe I should just save up for a vacation ;)

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 6:31 pm

I have the same problem – I can either buy things to fit my chest or everything else. Liz Claiborne jackets. Find an outlet store and go wild. They are the only brand of jacket that makes me feel pulled together and professional as opposed to “so, I’m wearing an effing jacket. Happy now?”

I cannot say enough about her professional line.

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Lulu January 9, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Good to know – I will definitely look into that!

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LMW January 9, 2013 at 10:54 pm

I have the same problem and have had surprisingly good luck at H&M.

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Catherine January 9, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Yeah, for some reason H&M recently has decided to sell decent looking jackets for ~$20-30. I think it’s a genius idea on my just graduated college first job salary.

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Lulu January 10, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Interesting, as H&M has definitely failed me in this department, but may just prove the point on different styles from the same brand having better cuts in this regard!

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Katie January 10, 2013 at 12:34 pm

I got my suit as matching separates at Express for I think $60. And if you buy it at Banana Republic, you can have anything altered relatively inexpensively. I’ve had pants from there tailored–hem and waist–for $10.

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Lisa January 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Recruiters always tell people to wear suits even when its for extremely casual environments. I have been on several interviews where the interviewers were like “why did you wear a suit, didn’t the recruiter tell you we were casual here?” If a recruiter said ‘wear a suit for the interview, but this place is casual / jeans every day once you are hired, that is different than being told, “they expect everyone to wear suits” cause it implies that the request is coming from the company.

Top performers are hard to hire away from their current “ok” jobs, and putting the “suit” obstacle out there may make you lose top candidates that won’t bother when given the ‘suit’ directive because it really implies that appearances matter and the impression of this screams office politics that I don’t need to deal with in my semi-happy job, but checking to see what is out there.

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AnotherAlison January 9, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I have been on several interviews where the interviewers were like “why did you wear a suit, didn’t the recruiter tell you we were casual here?”

I have never quite understood this. The shift to business casual was kind of new in my industry when I graduated, so maybe the interview suits were a holdover, but I have always worn a suit & expected people I’m interviewing to wear a suit, even though that is not our daily dress code. I generally try to dress nice if I’m interviewing someone, so they’re more comfortable, but I expect them to be dressed to impress even if I’m in khaki pants.

It would also be a hurdle for someone to overcome with me if they didn’t wear a suit. We do have occassions when jackets or suits are the norm, and I don’t want to feel like I have to explain business dressing to you.

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Lisa January 9, 2013 at 5:44 pm

“It would also be a hurdle for someone to overcome with me if they didn’t wear a suit.”

It has become a hurdle for me to bother with jobs that make this a requirement before I even meet them. (ie – when the recruiter tells me to where a suit, at this point in my career … I have said , then maybe, this is not the right fit.

Interviewing is a two-way street, and I am interviewing the company just like they are interviewing me. For top performers that are not desperate and don’t have to jump through hoops, they are going to say “no thanks, not worth my time”. The suit requirement set by recruiters sets the tone for anyone with a brain that assumes (dress professionally).

The tone is :
why am I being treated like I need to be told to wear a suit?
what is this company like that they HAVE to include this as a requirement?
how important are appearances to management that I have to be told to wear a suit at the age of 45?
are promotions / raises based on trivial things like playing the part / office politics?

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Samantha Jane Bolin January 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm

When interviewing for an Administrative Assistant one time, I had a woman show up in capri cargo pants, a stained t-shirt, and flip flops. I didn’t say anything about her attire (I obviously wasn’t going to hire her), but she said something to the effect of, “I know I’m not dressed fancy, but I’m a casual person and this is my normal attire.” I felt really bad for her because I got the impression she didn’t have the money to buy new clothes and tried to play it off like it was just how she was.

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Nikki J. January 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I’ve never worn a formal suit to an interview…ever. Yes, I looked pretty darn professional and I’ve been steadily employed since grad school. Guess I’ve always been a risk taker and willing be someone to change the norm. If I’m in a suit, you are not getting anything remotely close to the real me. Just can’t breathe in them. But then again, I’m just an egocentric old millennial who thinks they know too much for their own good.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:25 pm

It’s not that you’ll never get hired if you don’t wear a suit — just like you could also get hired with a bad cover letter or a less than perfect resume. It’s about making the choices that will give you the best chance. (I say this because I don’t want the conclusion from your comment to be “so therefore wearing a suit doesn’t matter.”)

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Elle January 10, 2013 at 12:19 am

Well, I’m Gen Y and think egocentric is a polite way to phrase it :-)

1. Plenty of “millenials” like business casual. Not all of us need to “express ourselves” through jeggings and Etsy/Modcloth crap.

2. Risk taker. That word does not mean what you think it means.

3. Correlation. Causation. Sample error. I hope your grad school wasn’t for something science related.

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Nikki J. January 10, 2013 at 10:17 am

1. Business casual does not = suit.
2. Risk taker – Someone who risks loss or injury in the hope of gain or excitement. Yep pretty sure I understand.
3. No science necessary to provide an example to show a success outside the norm. I’d never consider 1 to be an appropriate sample size.

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Jenny January 9, 2013 at 4:38 pm

#2 – I’m in marketing, and I work for a company where my office is attached to a warehouse. I showed up to my first interview in a suit. My interviewers were in athletic shorts and a t-shirt, and athletic capris and a t-shirt, both in sandals. I still showed up to my second interview in a suit. I now wear jeans and blouses every day, and my co-workers wear cargo shorts and t-shirts, but we still expect anyone interviewing for a front office job to wear a suit. If they don’t, it’s not the biggest black mark against them, but it’s something we definitely discuss.

Kids that interview for the warehouse jobs definitely get more slack. They usually interview in between classes at the local college, and therefore wear polos and khaki pants, but I assume day-laborer positions have a different set of criteria?

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Katie January 10, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Yup. This is kind of one of those areas where you should know the job you’re applying for.

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cathy January 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm

What if you don’t have the money to buy a new suit – what then? Let’s just say I’m not the same size as I was laid off 1-1/2 years ago. Now, since my unemployment ran out I have absolute $0 money to buy a suit! I still have nice black slacks and decent shirts/tops. But I only have non-matching jackets. What to do?

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Good Will or other secondhand shops — you can often get really nice things for like $8 (seriously). Or if you have a friend who’s a similar size, you can borrow!

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Lulu January 9, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I hear you there – last thing I want to do is spend money I don’t have on a suit I don’t want ;) I think it depends on the position & industry (doesn’t it always?), but someone recently told me that there were people interviewing at her company who didn’t even wear jackets, but a nice sweater/cardigan instead. Or maybe a twin-set. This was a financial services company, but I’m in Southern California (still odd to me, as they’re usually still a bastion of conservative dress even here…), so YMMV. People have also previously suggested hitting consignment stores for less expensive options, although I personally haven’t had success with that yet.

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KarenT January 9, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Dress for Success, if is is available in your area, can be invaluable for this type of help.

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TL January 9, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Yes! There are also local organizations that do the same thing – run some searches to find one in your area. They generally take only up-to-date styles, too – much better than sorting through racks of 80s-style jackets at the thrift store. (I’ve never found a good blazer at a thrift store, and I thrift frequently. Thrifting can be very hit or miss, depending on your size and the store’s current stock. Definitely try it, though – if you come at the right time, there can be great stuff.)

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Not So NewReader January 9, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Check to see if there are churches around you that have thrift stores. When you go in, find one of the volunteers working there.
Whisper to them, that you are job hunting, absolutely broke and in need of a suit. Don’t be surprised if they pull something from the back room and just give it to you.

If you chose, once you have your job, you can go back and make a little donation as a way of thanking them.

Many of these church thrift shops make a priority for fire victims and unemployed folks. Some of the stuff you can find there is top-notch stuff. You just have to keep trying.

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Good_Intentions January 9, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Not So NewReader:

Your suggestion of a church thrift store is something I never thought of. What a fantastic idea, especially telling a volunteer your shopping list!

Also, I really respond to the idea of paying it forward once you have the resources.

Again, great idea!

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Kristen January 9, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Just wondering, does anyone have opinions on heels vs. flats? This was something I struggled with when I was interviewing as I find heels extremely uncomfortable and walk awkwardly in them, yet I have always been told they are somehow more professional.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I think you can find very professional looking loafers that are close to flat or only a bit of a heel. I wouldn’t do something like ballet flats though.

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Sasha January 9, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Personally, I think either low heels or a flat with a substantial sole is very professional. There are some very professional looking flats that are not so “flat” as something like cute ballet shoes, which are good for everyday work, but for some reason, the thin sole is not appropriate for interviews for me. I’m thinking something like a sharp looking loafer: http://www.zappos.com/clarks-timeless-black-patent-croco

As for heels, I’d go for the most boring, basic heel you can find. Neutral color that coordinates with your outfit. I’d stick to a low heel, probably not anything higher than a couple of inches. I too have issues with heels – I’m convinced I look ridiculously goofy in heels and it affects my confidence, so I go for stuff like the nice loafers.

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Stacie January 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Hmm weird, I’ve always worn ballet-type flats, and never thought they wouldn’t look professional. But my flats are my most comfortable nice shoes, and I feel more confident when I’m comfortable.

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Sasha January 9, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I think they can look professional for most office things except interviews. I often wear flats at work. Depends on what you have, though. Some are really cheap looking, some are really high quality and attractive.

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Anonicorn January 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm

This is why I love kitten heels. If you get a good brand and the right fit, they are no more difficult to walk in than flats.

http://www.zappos.com/trotters-paulina-black-soft-kid

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bo bessi January 10, 2013 at 9:23 am

I agree with the kitten heels. They look nice, and they still make the “click click” sound on hard floors that always makes me feel a little more put together :)

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Anon January 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm

I’ve done substantial non-loafer/more-ballet-ish flats to legal interviews. They were black patent and very subdued, though.

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Sasha January 9, 2013 at 6:54 pm

And I’m guessing they didn’t look like house shoes. Some ballet flats tend to look like that – those are the ones I’m thinking of when I say they aren’t professional. But black patent is nice.

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Rana January 9, 2013 at 5:41 pm

The main issue (aside from comfort) with wearing heels is that a lot of suit pants are tailored for them; if you wear flats with them (and didn’t have the tailor take that into account) then the cuffs will drag on the ground.

But I hear you on the discomfort thing. I can walk just fine in heels, even high ones, but I hate the way that gravity forces my toes into that too-small space at the end. OW.

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Natalie January 9, 2013 at 6:25 pm

A very good reason to get your pants hemmed to whatever heel height you prefer! And hemming things is usually pretty inexpensive.

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Sara January 9, 2013 at 7:10 pm

OP #3. I used to have issues with shoes too–I’m not comfortable walking in heels and I have a wide foot, so normal sizes usually don’t fit me. Til I picked up these at DSW..

http://www.dsw.com/shoe/kelly+.and.+katie+jennifer+pump?prodId=224693

The best purchase I have ever made!!!! These are the MOST comfortable pair of heels I have ever had!!!! I wear them only on interviews but they’re comfortable enough to leave home wearing htem rather than changing shoes later on.

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Zahra January 10, 2013 at 10:30 am

For any woman struggling with finding proper fitting heels (i.e. proper width, comfort, etc.), I always refer them to dance schools/dance shoes. Not ballet schools but social dance/ballroom type of schools. All the dance shoes companies I’ve seen so far carry a basic black pump with different widths and lowish heels (think 1.5″ or 2″). And since you’re meant to dance in those shoes for a good length of time, they are designed to be comfortable.

The only drawback is that some will only come with a suede sole. I don’t know if you can get that altered, but if you’re not planning to dance in them, you can get the suede wet without worrying too much about it. After drying, wet suede can become very slick and unsuitable for dancing.

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Katie January 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm

I hate wearing heels, but when I was a flight attendant, it was a required part of the uniform. I’d get those super comfortable granny heels with all the cushion in them and a very low heel. I could (and did) wear those 14 hours a day, on my feet pretty much all day except for take-offs and landings, and never had any issues. It wasn’t cute, but it got the job done.

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Lulu January 9, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Thanks so much for posting these, AAM. At my age, I hate that I’m still confounded by these things, but between purposely working in casual environments and being one of those hard-to-fit people, I feel just as clueless as if I’d just graduated, so I find the conversation useful. I’ve been looking for a SUIT suit lately, but most of them just don’t seem… suitable for the types of industries I’ve been affiliated with. Assuming anyone there ever wore suits. I think I’d feel odd interviewing wearing something less formal, since it’s been ingrained in me that that’s just what you wear to any interview, but I also feel odd wearing something that seems ill-fitting (both on me and to the environment)… There’s definitely a variation in expectations both among geographic locations and different industries, which just makes having a Definitive Answer even more challenging!
Anyway, I know we’ve talked about these things before in other threads, but definitely helpful to have one topic to refer to as well.

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I was thinking about sending in an interview-attire related question this week, too.
I’m in the middle of losing weight, and discovered that the usual jacket I wear on interviews is now way too big. I have an interview on Friday and am planning to wear black slacks and a black blazer that does fit.
Would this be considered suity enough? They’re both from the same store and are the same brand, but not from a matching set. I can’t really afford to go buy a new suit that probably won’t fit the next time I have an interview.

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Jen January 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Go to NY & Co and buy a cheap new suit. Then return it after the interview.

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class factotum January 9, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Don’t do that!

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Please don’t do this.

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Shorebunny January 9, 2013 at 9:34 pm

That’s trifling ! Don’t ever do that! There are some churches that the women there have a professional closet for other women looking for work that are job seeking. As a matter of fact, be bold and if your church doesn’t have one be the one to start it.

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KellyK January 10, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Totally agree. Buying something to wear once and return is essentially stealing.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Are the pants and blazer made from similar fabric? If so, I think you’re fine.

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Anon January 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm

FWIW, we haven’t even touched on the dress/jacket approach. I’ve got a pretty, patterned dress that I pair with a solid color matching velvet jacket. Looks awesome and counts as a suit in my book. I’ve also bought several plain black sheath dresses and then patterned jackets to go with. Two outfits (at least) for the price of one.

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jesicka309 January 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I hope this is acceptable! This is my daily standard (and fanciest) work outfit!

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another jamie January 9, 2013 at 5:27 pm

I definitely go the dress and jacket route. I work in a very casual industry (music/entertainment/marketing) and got hired after 1 interview. I wore a green ponte dress and a black jacket and black heels. I got another offer and wore a black dress with some colored detail on it and my black jacket to the first interview.

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OP #2 January 9, 2013 at 8:20 pm

When the person told me that I couldn’t wear a light gray jacket and a dark gray skirt together, they started gathering black dresses with sort-of-but-not-really-matching black jackets together. That’s when I left and asked AAM for advice.

It seemed to me that widely varying grays with a pop of color would be more put-together than sloppily matched blacks just for the sake of being matchy-matchy. I do think that a jacket over a dress can be a great combination, but not in the way this person wanted me to do it.

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RJ January 10, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I saw that you responded earlier in the thread that they are different shades of gray. I think that sounds really sharp!

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Diff Anon January 9, 2013 at 5:17 pm

This would not work for an interview in my industry (law). However, a suiting dress with a matching jacket is fine (J. Crew will often do suiting dresses in their wools along with skirts and pants, and I just buy the jacket in the same fabric and color).

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Jubilance January 9, 2013 at 5:25 pm

This was my look for my most recent interview – I looked great & felt confident, which is always key.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:33 pm

I’d be wary of velvet — not office-appropriate in a lot of fields!

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Kelly O January 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I was just wondering if I was the only one thinking the velvet might not be quite right.

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KarenT January 10, 2013 at 12:25 am

I think velvet is one of those thing where when it works it can really work, and when it doesn’t it really doesn’t.

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Elle January 10, 2013 at 12:21 am

Agreed! Velvet = festive.

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Anon January 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm

To be clear, it doesn’t look like festive, holiday, velvet. For lack of a better description. It’s blazer cut, cranberry colored. One button. It’s Ann Taylor, if that helps in understanding the style. Not inappropriate at all given the style.

I would agree though that in general I shy away from velvet in all circumstances. least fav fabric ever.

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Sasha January 9, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Please call the naughty office behavior post Sexy Saturday!

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Wanton Wednesday!

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anon in tejas January 9, 2013 at 5:22 pm

omg. you’re going to make us wait til next Wednesday!

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Ha! I’ll do one tomorrow. Unless I decide to have a Wanton Week, where each day features a salacious question.

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jesicka309 January 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Sexy Saturday and Salacious Sunday?
Or Too Close to Me Thursday?

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Anlyn January 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Titillating Thursday

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FreeThinkerTX January 9, 2013 at 11:20 pm

[Heart-] Throbbing Thursday

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Titillating Tuesday

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Kelly O January 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm

You could always go for Mackin’ Monday.

Third-Base Thursday?

F… oh, wait, never mind the idea for Friday.

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Rana January 9, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Hah!

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Sasha January 9, 2013 at 6:55 pm

LOLS

My vote is for Mackin’ Monday.

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Kara January 9, 2013 at 4:59 pm

If you are interviewing for any sort of position that requires a college degree, you always wear a suit. ALWAYS. It doesn’t matter if it’s an entry level coordinator position or a senior management role. ALWAYS WEAR A SUIT. This is atleast true in BOSTON.

I am a project manager and have worked in smallish companies where we wear jeans and t-shirts, but you always wear a suit when you interview!

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jesicka309 January 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Arg this is the bane of my existence.

Coming from Melbourne, where you can have all four seasons in one day, interview atire can be a NIGHTMARE. I’ve had pouring rain days where my hair has become a frizzy mess despite an umbrella, or my feet are soaked through and I leave wet foot prints on their carpet! Or humid days where my hair blows up huge and I’ve sat in the interview room with sweat running down my cleavage, feeling completely miserable! :(

As to wearing a suit, I’ve never worn one. Because I don’t own one. And sadly, I doubt I’ll ever buy one, unless I was hired into an industry where it was the day to day wear. I can’t justify laying out $500+ for a suit I’ll wear once, and when I need it again, it won’t fit and I’ll need a new one. I’ve tried my mothers old ones but she was too big in the shoulders…

I have a number of professional work dresses – really good quality, in colours and cuts that flatter me. Something like this: http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/clothing/dresses/colour-glam-peplum-dress?colour=PreppyBlue
But with a blazer? That’s what I’ve always worn.

When I went for my first internship I worn a black skirt that buttoned down the front that was the only skirt I owned that wasn’t for clubbing, and a red silk sleeveless shirt I borrowed off my mother. I had to wear a black cardigan in the middle of summer because the shirt gaped under my arms. I have no idea how I got the internship…but sometimes when you are just starting out, a suit is extremely unattainable, and unrealistic for another 5 years until you can get to a wage over 50 k a year (in Aus)

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I’ve never spent anything close to $500 on a suit. You really don’t need to. If you want to really save money, buy second hand.

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jesicka309 January 9, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Anything that’s in my price range (100-200) looks ridiculous on me. They’re all made for older more ‘professional’ women, and I’m a 23 year old who looks like she’s 16 (seriously, I often can’t get drinks at bars). Any time I try a cheaper suit on, I look like a kid playing dress up in mummy’s clothes.
I haven’t tried second hand though, so I might have a look there and hope I can find something.

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AussieintheStates January 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Actually, in Australia, $500 is about the retail price you can expect to pay for an entry level women’s suit that would be appropriate for an interview. Clothes are at least three times the price of what they are in the US.

Also due to the smaller population it’s difficult to find something second hand that fits. I tried for years whilst I was an engineering student with no success. Out of my group of friends at university none of us were even close enough in size to consider borrowing suits. I had to absorb the cost when I had my first interview for placements. Fortunately suits were expected attire in the workplace so I wore that suit until it was unwearable… it never made it to the second hand stores :)

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Interesting — I didn’t know that!

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K January 9, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Will U.S. or British stores ship? Or is it feasible to order off one of those websites that coordinates shipping from international stores? Because even with international shipping plus tailoring if it didn’t fit quite right, you’d come in well under $500.

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jesicka309 January 9, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Some do, but not all. It’s terrible! There is so much more variety for shoes, suits, work wear etc. in the US, and everytime someone reccomends something, they don’t ship to Australia, or it’s ridiculously expensive.
My boyfriend recently bought me snowboard boots and bindings from the US. They cost about 400 all up from an Australian store, or about 250 from the US… but it cost 140 dollars to ship, and I got a reduced choice because of overseas shipping.
I’m going to Bali in a few weeks, maybe I’ll get a suit made there. :)

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 5:42 pm

That may not be true in Australia. All my friends there complain things cost at least double for them than for me in the US, but pay rates really don’t compensate for it. I’m not sure if it’s high tariffs or what but whenever they talk about anything from housing costs to a gallon of milk, my jaw drops (keeping in mind I live in the DC metro area where COL is pretty high as well.)

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jesicka309 January 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Yep. Check this site out:
http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_countries_result.jsp?country1=Australia&country2=United+States

The only way Australia is better is the median wage… and even then, it’s not really comparative when you’re paying 50% more in rent, 36% more on petrol, up to 60% more on clothes… but only earning 29% more salary.
It sucks, and means holidays are spent shopping for cheap clothes.

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AussieintheStates January 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Oh that’s a great site for price references it has the most accurate prices I’ve seen. Yes holidays are spent shopping for cheap clothing, well overseas ones at least :)

We’ve meet up with friends and family from back home in places like Vegas, Hawaii and New York and every single one of them will dedicate at least one full day to shopping and take home a suitcase full of shoes and clothes. My mother in law couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to waste a day shopping in Hawaii. Compared to where I live in the US, Hawaii is expensive ;)

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Kelly O January 9, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I have seriously never paid more than $100 for a good suit.

You can find coupons, sales, Ebates deals, and don’t forget places like Ross, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s.

When I had to wear a suit every day, I bought lots of things at JC Penney – you could get all sorts of jackets, pants, and skirts that went together well, and were in the $40/piece range. Macy’s has suiting separates with all sorts of cuts in pants, jackets, and skirts, in the $50/piece range – again, without any sort of coupon or sale.

I bought three Tahari suits at TJ Maxx for less than $100 “back in the day” when I lived in Dallas. There was a TJ Maxx in a “nicer” part of town, nearer downtown, and I just stopped in on a whim and found them. One was a little bit too big, but a quick trip to the tailor fixed that. Another pair of pants needed a quick hem, and the other was missing buttons (I pointed that out and got an extra percentage off it. I can sew my own buttons.)

It’s just a matter of keeping an eye out, trying on things to see how they look, and being patient.

I may catch flak for this, but I really think every person, male or female, needs at least one solid suit in a dark color that fits. You never, ever know when you might need to attend a meeting, go to a funeral, or have some sort of life event that requires looking polished and put together. I’m not saying you can’t do that in other things, but knowing you have a suit in your closet that fits is a huge relief. My personal preference is to find a jacket, pants, skirt, and sheath dress that all work so I have options.

Same thing with a pair of plain black pumps in a 2-3 inch heel. They’re not exciting, I may not wear them all the time, but knowing I have that tucked away just in case helps.

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AH January 9, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I agree 100%. I’ve worn my one suit (about $100) to interviews, funerals, anniversary parties, court appearances, foreign embassies (when applying for tourist visas), and all kinds of meetings. Maybe I’m just naturally formal, but I love having a suit for just those kind of occasions.

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Judy January 9, 2013 at 9:44 pm

One of my aunts used to say that everyone should have a “Marry ‘em and Bury ‘em” outfit. Something that fits that would work for funerals and with more dramatic accessories to attend a simple church wedding.

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KarenT January 10, 2013 at 12:29 am

Never underestimate the power of a good sale, either. Things are hella cheap after Christmas. I’ve never paid anything close to $500 for a suit either, but I sure have paid $200 for a $500 suit.

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ChristineH January 9, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Good to know that suits are still pretty much expected! Right now, I have a dark gray pants suit, and my husband teases me about it because he says he NEVER sees anyone wearing suits in his building (he’s in the telecommunications industry doing IT work). Even my mom apparently doesn’t think suits are necessary because I got a new top for Christmas that looks like a light sweater over a collared blouse with french cuffs (it’s actually all one piece), and seems to think I could wear it to an interview. Really Mom??! lol.

I do have a question about what to wear underneath the jacket. I have a nice black camisole that I’ve used, but I wonder if that’s not appropriate. I’m thinking that a black or off-white crew-neck top might be better instead? (not a t-shirt, I know that).

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ChristineH January 9, 2013 at 5:13 pm

FTR: I’m not looking in any sort of corporate industries; sticking with either nonprofits or college/university settings.

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class factotum January 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I would think the camisole would be OK as long as you don’t remove the jacket and it isn’t too low cut. As in, I wouldn’t recommend showing cleavage. (This is not an issue for me, alas, but it is for some women.)

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Kristen January 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I wouldn’t wear anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable in if I had to take the jacket off for some reason. If you don’t want sleeves I would wear something like one of these:
http://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=35356&vid=1&pid=233817002
http://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=35356&vid=1&pid=232175002
http://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=35356&vid=1&pid=324446002

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Your Mileage May Vary January 10, 2013 at 11:10 am

I saw some cowl-neck shells that looked very much like your first link while I was in Wal-Mart yesterday. They wanted only $14.00 for them. I already had one at home that I wear under a jacket at least once a week and it’s held up without fading for years. I’ve always cursed myself for not buying more of them originally. So, when I saw them yesterday, I bought all they had in my size.

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Lulu January 9, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I’d think the cami would be ok if it was more like a shell and less like you forgot your shirt ;) I was recently told that I didn’t have to worry about finding a collared shirt (and the nightmare THAT can entail), and just wear a nice crew-neck top (i.e. Fancy T-Shirt) with a suit. This might not fly in more conservative areas of the country, though.
I’m getting the impression that while suits etc are no longer de rigeur in many offices, that does not necessarily translate into the world of interviewing.

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bo bessi January 10, 2013 at 9:38 am

Agreed. And unless it’s a sweater or something with a nice hemmed edge at the waist, it looks better to tuck it in.

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RJ January 10, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Lulu, this reminds me of my worst job ever. For a number of reasons, it was just a terrible fit, really beginning in the interview process when I had to explain an idiom to the man who would be my manager. During one of the five interviews I had though, I asked about dress code. At the time, I was wearing a suit with a coordinating shell top underneath the jacket. The woman I was speaking with told me that what I was wearing wouldn’t be acceptable due to the top not having a collar. For context, this was an IT firm in Florida in the summertime. Even if a collared shirt was required, I was dismayed that she used my actual outfit as her example.
They hired me anyway, I worked there for a year, and no women there wore collared shirts regularly. Everyone wore normal women’s blouses, most of which didn’t have collars. And many women wore capri pants regularly as well, so it really wasn’t a “business” dress code despite what this woman said. In fact, I frequently saw her wearing non-collared blouses too. Ugh.

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Lulu January 10, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Ugh indeed! And you just disproved my assumption that both IT and Florida are more low-key dress environments in general…

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FreeThinkerTX January 10, 2013 at 12:25 am

I tend to wear something slightly dressier than a camisole under a jacket. Like an elongated/v-neck cowl neck: http://preview.tinyurl.com/axleshp or a slim-collared shirt that has some stretch: http://preview.tinyurl.com/be39ssm

I’ve found both types of shirts in tank-top, cap-sleeve, 3/4 length, and full-sleeve styles. Which is great, depending on the weather.

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Craig January 9, 2013 at 5:12 pm

What about us guys? I don’t own more than one suit and that’s a super dressy one for weddings and such. I assume I don’t get discriminated against if I just go with a shirt and tie, right?

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:13 pm

You need a jacket that matches the pants — I would be surprised if a male candidate showed up in only shirt and tie (and pants) without a jacket.

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another jamie January 9, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Target sells suits for men. My husband wore one to our wedding and looked great.

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kristinyc January 9, 2013 at 5:50 pm

JC Penney also has decent men’s suits for $130 (pants + jacket).

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Lexy January 9, 2013 at 9:52 pm

I would be surprised if a male candidate showed up in only shirt and tie (and pants) without a jacket.

Yes… please always wear pants.

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Jamie January 9, 2013 at 5:48 pm

From reading here this is a huge deal in most industries, so totally don’t listen to me – but manufacturing may be different here. Most of engineering, management positions the men wear dress slacks and dress shirt/tie – not suits. We joke that if we see suits we know someone let sales people in.

Regular dress for guys at work is chinos, jeans, polo shirts, casual button downs. It’s different in a factory environment.

Another thing for women, if you’re applying for office work in manufacturing and they tell you the dress requirements follow them. Due to safety reasons no one with a skirt or dress can go past the office. I cannot tell you how annoying it is to have someone come in for an interview and not be able to take them on a tour because they wore a skirt or open toed shoes after clearly being told for safety reasons not to.

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Sasha January 9, 2013 at 7:01 pm

I would opt for the jacket, shirt, and slacks over slacks, shirt, and tie. To me, a tie and shirt without the jacket looks rather dated. I think a tie-less shirt with a jacket is better looking. But definitely button it up so you don’t look skeezy. Then again I’m down here in Dallas so I see this kind of thing as much more acceptable than in other areas (it’s so damn we hot sometimes we try to get away with as little as we can).

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Sasha January 9, 2013 at 7:02 pm

*So damn hot sometimes, we. That first rendition made it sound like all us Dallas folks are super foxy.

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FreeThinkerTX January 10, 2013 at 12:33 am

You mean we’re NOT?!? ;-)

I mean, c’mon, they made a TV show about us and all. I thought it was a universal truth that we Dallasites are all super hot-n-sexy!

(BTW, has anyone seen the remake of “Dallas”? Do the women still have big hair in the show? I was born and raised here, but never paid much attention to the original show, let alone the remake).

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JT January 9, 2013 at 9:04 pm

A jacket, slacks and shirt is a fine casual business look. But if someone has that stuff but no suit and can’t get one, and is going for an interview for an office job, they should add a tie to it to raise the formality.

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JT January 9, 2013 at 8:00 pm

This will sound a little obnoxious, but a shirt and tie alone looks very low-level for men. Little boys are made to dress like that.

Here is some excellent advice about dress for interviews for men:
http://putthison.com/post/359906386/jobinterviewattire

It’s a little more flexible than the “always a suit” advice, but close.

And another:
http://www.styleforum.net/a/what-should-i-wear-to-a-job-interview

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Female consultant January 9, 2013 at 5:12 pm

For what it’s worth, I’ve never even owned a real suit. Some of the financial companies I worked for in NYC and NC did have more formal dressing codes, but I always went to interviews wearing pants or skirt with a jacket, and never had any complain or difficulty getting the position because of what I was wearing.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Again, though, it’s what I said to Nikki J. above — People get hired with bad cover letters too, but it’s about giving yourself the best chance.

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Female consultant January 9, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Ask a Manager, this is one of the rare occasions in which I’ll disagree with the comparison. I don’t equate a nice pair of pants and jacket with a bad cover letter (or a nice suite with a good cover letter).

In my experience, if the pieces are tasteful and in good shape, interviewers won’t count as a negative that you are not wearing a “real suit”. Whereas, a bad cover letter would definitely weigh against the candidate.

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Tai January 9, 2013 at 6:22 pm

I haven’t read all of the replies, but in case there is someone out there who doesn’t have a lot of extra money for a suit, I recommend checking your local Goodwill at regular intervals for a suit in your size. I was able to find a great wool suit that fits me. I’ve also bought suits from TJMaxx that look nice.

I do not recommend buying a suit that makes you feel uncomfortable. I only had one suit during my last round of interviews, and I hated it — the skirt was uncomfortable and the black color looked terrible on me. Your dislike of your clothes will reflect onto your confidence.

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Tasha January 9, 2013 at 7:33 pm

I just want to ask though: What is worse, a badly fitting suit or professional outfit that is not a suit?

I ask because I have physical issues that mean I can’t wear a suit well without it being tailored extensively for me and I don’t make near enough money for that. I can get a suit that I can wear though for cheap but it will fit horribly. I instead go with professional outfits of shirts and pants, (vetted by someone working in an office that dresses up) but should I just wear a suit instead even if it will look worse?

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 8:04 pm

I’d go with the professional outfit over the suit. If the suit is ill fitting, you won’t feel comfortable and it could knock your confidence. A professional outfit that fits well, is appropriate and comfortable will mean you have more confidence in your appearance and you won’t fidget with it.

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Kou January 9, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I’d like to know the answer to this, too. I’m extremely petite and absolutely every jacket or pair of pants have to be tailored. And I mean, I buy the smallest petite size and it still needs tailoring, and even then it would practically have to be reconstructed to fit well. I always wondered if it was better t0 just wear my somwhat ill-fitting blazer (altering the shoulders/chest would cost as much as the jacket itself, after all) or to wear something else that actually fit. I always wore the suit to be safe, but it made me nervous every time.

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fposte January 9, 2013 at 9:17 pm

I wouldn’t compare the alteration cost to the purchase cost, though. The point is whether you would/could pay for a good-fitting jacket at that overall price–if the answer is yes, it doesn’t really matter what percentage is tailoring and what is original purchase.

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Tasha January 9, 2013 at 9:31 pm

The problem is the answer is usually no. At least until after you get your first really well paying job.

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Kou January 9, 2013 at 11:07 pm

You can’t, though. I have yet to find a blazer at any price level that was small enough in the shoulders and chest, and having a blazer restructured in the shoulders/chest will easily run you $70+

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fposte January 9, 2013 at 11:44 pm

I totally get that sometimes people can’t spend $80–that the $10 for the consignment-shop jacket is their budget, period. But I do think people tend to mistakenly look at alteration’s value based on the original cost of the item, and will buy an $80 jacket from Ann Taylor that doesn’t fit well before they’ll do a total expenditure of price and tailoring of the same amount. It is never better to spend the same money on clothing that doesn’t fit you well.

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Tasha January 9, 2013 at 11:50 pm

We understand that just fine thank you, it’s more we can’t afford the alterations in the first place to make a jacket actually fit well no matter what the jacket cost in the beginning.

A badly fitting jacket doesn’t look great no matter if it comes from goodwill or an upscale shop. That is not the point I was asking about and wasn’t what Kou seemed to be talking about so I don’t get why you keep going on as if we were talking about the total price being out of reach when in fact it’s the necessary alterations that are out of reach.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Hey — that came off fairly harshly; everyone here is trying to be helpful.

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Tasha January 9, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Sorry, didn’t mean it to be. I just want to point out that the total cost wasn’t the issue in the first place. Didn’t think my tone was that bad. Kinda wish there was an edit button to rephrase better.

fposte January 9, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I have one slight thing for #2–the OP talks about the “knits” of the garments matching. While you were probably just using that instead of “weave,” be aware that most places that require a suit are meaning a woven suit and not a knit suit. I like a nice knit suit, but it’s more like a sweater and skirt combination than a formal suit.

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Janna January 9, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Tasha, thank you for asking this. I, too, have physical issues which making finding a suit (or even pants, frankly) extremely difficult without tailoring that I cannot afford. There are issues with both legs and arms (which don’t affect my work at all).
I have an upcoming interview and ALL I have are pretty plain but nice enough khaki pants (I found a pair that fit, I bought 5…Merino brand at Target), nice button-down collared shirts (J Crew-y), and one very nice, conservative long skirt that is grey-brown with a light plaid look. I planned to wear the long skirt with a crisp white button down shirt, untucked.
My physical issues also make nice shoes difficult, so I wear oxford looking brown leather boots to work everyday. It’s all I have.
The final job will NOT require a suit…very professional place, but business casual dress.
Is this a terrible idea: apologize to the interviewer that i’m not in a suit, explain that my condition makes that difficult?
Help!
And again…Tasha…thank you for posting this.

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fposte January 10, 2013 at 12:14 am

“Business casual” is pretty broad, so it’s tough to extrapolate from that. I’m a little concerned about the untucked blouse, though–is it shaped at the waist at all? Because if it’s just a regular unshaped shirttail, that can look overly casual. A belt around it, if you can tolerate that, would polish it up a little; even dressier would be a nice cardigan over the blouse and belted. Accessories like scarves or a string of beads can help a lot (and they’re easy to borrow or to find inexpensive ones). Basically, as Jess suggests below, not wearing a suit means you have to work a little harder to convey “polish.” (I think the boots actually sound like they’d be a nice touch with the outfit you describe, too.)

I’m torn on the saying something issue–in general, you really want to avoid raising physical problems during the interview if you can avoid it. It will depend on the industry, the region, the kind of job you’re applying for, and exactly where on the “business casual” spectrum they fall. My gut reaction is that a place where it’s okay for an employee to have a default work wardrobe of khaki pants probably isn’t going to worry about interview suiting so long as you look polished and professional, but I’m in a less formal part of the country and in a less formal field.

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Janna January 11, 2013 at 11:58 am

Thank you fposte for your input. I do have a nice necklace to wear with it, and the white shirt is definitely shaped…meant for wearing untucked. The belt is a lovely, uncostly idea – thank you! I’ll have to pick one up this weekend.
They are a very professional, quite large financial firm but I just found out that recently (at least in the large office I’m interviewing at) they approved jeans being okay any day of the week. So I’m less worried now…as long as I look sharp.

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 7:44 pm

If anyone else a super skinny 20something who looks like a teen? Please tell me where you shop for clothes that don’t make you look like you’re wearing your mom’s.

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Lulu January 9, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Not sure how tall you are, but the woman who runs the Alterations Needed blog is a very petite petite (i.e. not just smaller in stature, but very slender). So you might find some ideas over there, even if you’re taller than she is. OTOH I find if you’re not used to wearing “grownup clothes”, it can be hard not to FEEL like you’re wearing your mom’s! (This coming from someone well past her 20′s and only recently realizing the Juniors department is really no longer ok…)

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Anonymous January 9, 2013 at 8:14 pm

im 5’4 and wear a 00-0 at express (they do size down quite a bit) in pants. the shirts dont fit me. I’m trying to get out of forever 21 clothes (sick of digging through all their sex-cretary tops and sick of the things i do find falling apart after a gentle cycle), but i feel like a dork wearing other “older” brands. im somewhere in between juniors and and womens. (catholic higher ed does not have a lax dress code like most other schools, boo)

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Lulu January 10, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Definitely check out her blog – I find it’s similar to this community, where the conversations are also full of helpful people (as well as people who run similar blogs, like the one Minty mentions), and I think she has a forum as well. As I mention all over the place (!) I have similar issues, so I can sympathize! It is tough psychologically to find that ground between teenager and mom if you’re used to being more funky or casual in your wardrobe. I’m old enough to be in the Jones New York demographic, and that’s certainly office-appropriate, but I just feel weird in those clothes… weirder than I would walking into Hot Topic.
Ross/Marshalls/TJ Maxx can either be a goldmine or a wasteland on this front (for me, usually the latter), but are still worth checking out. Of course, the best fitting things are often the most spendy, but then once/if you find a brand that works, you can also seek out their online outlets, ebay etc. A friend of mine who’s more aware of fashion design etc than I am mentioned that European brands tend to be cut smaller, as well, you might explore that angle. Maybe somewhere like Zara?

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Mints January 9, 2013 at 8:29 pm
EM January 9, 2013 at 11:30 pm

+1!

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Anonymous January 10, 2013 at 3:30 am

I feel your pain. The slacks I have I’ve bought them at Ross. Their cheap and pretty decent looking. I get casual tops from old navy bother have a variety and are decent as well. The slacks at old navy are too big for me and the cut is very boxy. Its for a different body type. I wear a cardigan over the top and slacks to work with flats. I haven’t bought a suit for interviews so I haven’t browsed around to see which stores face fitting suits.

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Anonymous January 10, 2013 at 9:02 am

I just want that feeling that I bought something just for me and I’m not just giving up because my feet hurt from going through every single store. Sigh.

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Lena January 11, 2013 at 7:16 am

I find that Zara and Benetton and even H&M fit me much better than their US equivalents (GAP/Jcrew/Banana Republic/Ann Taylor), and I’m a tall/skinny woman around your age. I like the style too :) Zara is a little harder to find in the US but IIRC they are in some bigger cities.

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Kou January 9, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Not a bulky ski jacket? If I live somewhere you need such a thing in the winter (which I don’t now, but I used to) I would really hope no one would sneer at you wearing it.

Something I just started doing for work: I got a pair of knee high waterproof boots that are black leather-looking material, I can wear them under pants and they just look like normal shoes from what you can see. In case of heavy rain (at which point the sidewalks around here are just straight up rivers) I can tuck/untuck my pants as necessary, no shoe changing required.

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Ask a Manager January 9, 2013 at 8:17 pm

You can stay just as warm in a long professional coat if it’s wool or thinsulate or so forth. You never see really well-dressed people wearing business attire and a ski parka, after all.

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Kou January 9, 2013 at 11:03 pm

No, but I also never see those people waiting for the bus. I see them going to/from the parking garage.

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FreeThinkerTX January 10, 2013 at 12:47 am

Most jobs I’ve worked at /applied to either had a security desk (in a large office tower) or a front desk with a receptionist. If I had to wear a bulky coat and clunky shoes because of weather, I’d change in the bathroom (or around the corner in a coffee shop or another office building) and then ask the security guard or receptionist if I could put my things behind their desk for the length of the interview.

Back when I first started working, I was a receptionist and I would’ve been happy to help someone (who had the right non-condescending attitude) to stash their not-so-professional stuff so they could make the proper first impression with my bosses.

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Natalie January 10, 2013 at 9:41 am

I wear a cashmere-wool blend peacoat to and from the bus every day. I live in Minnesota and I’m perfectly warm.

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John Quincy Adding Machine January 10, 2013 at 1:19 am

Similarly, I live in the PNW and I hope no one sneers at me for showing up to interviews in a rain coat (I have several of varying degrees of niceness) or toting an umbrella. Sometimes I pick out an interview outfit the night before only to wake up to rain — what other option do I have? I should say, though, that I had an interview on Sunday and decided at the last minute not to wear my zebra-print rain boots. That seemed a little much.

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Kou January 10, 2013 at 2:46 pm

HAH, you caught me– I’m in the PNW as well and this is exactly what I was thinking. My first day at this job we had a deluge that started, of course, after I left home. My shoes (which are normally somewhat watertight) were completely soaked through, my pants were soaked up to my knees, my hair was wet at the ends and frizzy all over, I was a complete mess. And that was WITH the umbrella and a short rain jacket.

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Rana January 9, 2013 at 9:00 pm

…er, I’ll have to disagree slightly on that one. When it’s 10F, a wool trench is just not going to cut it. (Well, maybe if you wear lots and lots of long underwear. But then you’ll sweat like a pig inside.)

That said, there are a lot of alternatives between ski parka and regular dress coat. Lands End, for example, has a lot of very nice looking calf-length down coats for both men and women. (If you find something dark and below hip length, whether you’re male or female, it’ll look a lot classier than things cut higher or in bright colors, at least for the heavy-duty stuff. Like this: http://www.landsend.com/pp/mens-down-commuter-coat~245133_59.html or this: http://www.landsend.com/pp/StylePage-417834_AG.html) I see people commuting on the El wearing this sort of thing all the time.

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fposte January 10, 2013 at 12:27 am

In my experience, a long wool coat is actually warm enough at 10 degrees, but that it’s cheaper to get warm down than nice heavyweight wool in coats.

These days, when I travel in the realms of people shopping on posh streets on cold days, I am seeing quite a bit of shaped longer down coats with the quilted pockets kept very small to reduce the puff effect, like this: http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/womens-downtown-loft-parka?p=28465-0-961

They’re pretty trim looking as well as warm.

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Rana January 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm

I wish a wool coat was that warm for me. At 30F I’m already wearing long underwear, fleece, and a down vest, with hat, scarf, and gloves, to go with my wool coat. It’s pretty sad.

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KarenT January 10, 2013 at 12:34 am

+1 to Lands End. Coats are pricy but they frequently also have sales.

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JT January 10, 2013 at 4:04 am

Don’t buy full price from Lands End. They have sales at least one-quarter of the time.

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Cassie January 9, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I have two suits from Kohl’s (clearance rack!) in my closet – I haven’t worn them but they’re “just in case” I need to go on an interview. I should try them on to make sure they still fit/look good.

Though I work in a more casual environment (university setting), so a nice/neat professional outfit would probably be fine. One candidate for an admin assistant position was wearing open-toed heels when she interviewed – HR/hiring manager thought it was not appropriate footwear for an interview (though they didn’t say that to her face). They did offer her the position, though.

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Job seeker January 9, 2013 at 10:17 pm

I try to dress up a lot when I go for any job interview. I did go for two interviews fairly recently. These interviews were medical and one person that interviewed me looked like she was wearing her pajamas. Honestly, she even commented how some days she just comes as she is because she had a 2 years old that did not sleep. The other person that was the hiring manager at another medical office wore her flip flops. She commented me that she just worn what she wanted to when the doctor was out of the office. I felt very overdressed.

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Mike January 9, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Some recent experiences:

I interviewed at the company I now work for in September. After reading about their culture and asking their HR person what the standard of dress was (casual was the answer) I took a bit of a risk and wore jeans, dress shirt, tie, and dress shoes. I left feeling a bit over-dressed and since I started have seen other people interview (who were later hired) come in dressed down even more.

At the company I left we also had interviews and for that everyone was in slacks, dress shirts, ties, and dress shoes (no coats). Anything less would have been a mistake.

These were for similar roles (computer programming) but in different industries (social gaming vs education).

Really, I think it comes down the culture at the location your are interviewing. Within the same field and industry things can vary wildly based on the culture of the company.

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danr January 9, 2013 at 10:35 pm

To see the varying expectations on interview dress in the library field, take a look at the Hiring Librarians blog at http://hiringlibrarians.com . The opinions of hiring managers on interview wear, and many other aspects of the application and interview process show a very wide range of opinions. Many of them are expressed as if they are the standard that everyone adheres to.

One interviewer’s opinion on how to dress for an interview should not be taken as definite for the field. Two that are the same is another matter.

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LPBB January 10, 2013 at 8:36 am

I read Hiring Librarians pretty frequently and I appreciate it, I think she’s doing a great thing by communicating the assumptions that hiring managers are working with. However, I also find it incredibly frustrating and anxiety causing to read such wildly diverging opinions stated as established facts.

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FreeThinkerTX January 9, 2013 at 10:35 pm

If someone has addressed this already, I apologize; but it’s taking me forever to read through all the comments.

Instead of focusing on what to wear for an interview, I want to comment on what the interviewer said to OP #1. The interviewer took the time to point out that the OP should have worn a suit. Now OP is wondering if not wearing a suit has disqualified her. I have been on at least 3 different interviews where the interviewer told me at the end I should have done things differently (answered a question a certain way, formatted my resume differently, talked about my current employer in different terms)… and then still received a job offer from them later.

So being told that you didn’t measure up in some respect may not necessarily mean you’ve blown your shot at the job; it just might mean that the interviewer liked you enough to pass on a friendly tip, because they wanted to see you succeed (whether it is with their company or not).

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Jess January 9, 2013 at 10:38 pm

So this whole thing just seems odd to me. Why WOULDN’T you want to just wear a suit? Other than odd industries (tech, very creative fields) where it would be odd to wear a suit, I think it’s by far easiest to just do it. A well fitting suit is going to look good on you and be appropriate. Other “professional” combinations may or may not fit the bill but why take the chance? Why spend the time agonizing over what to wear that will work when you can just put on a suit and only have to pick the top and shoes (or tie and shoes, for a man). I’d much rather know that I have a decent suit in my closet that I’ve bought on sale and can wear and look good. Period.

I have a friend who is a lawyer and wears suits every day and LOVES it because it’s so easy to get dressed. No need to decide if something fits the dress code or not, she just decides if she wants to wear the black or the navy or the grey with the pants or skirt and what top and shoes to coordinate. Done. She does sometimes wear coordinating but not matching jacket and bottoms (or dress) if she knows that she’s going to have a day where she’s probably not going to go to court or otherwise need to be dressed extra formally but I wouldn’t do it for an interview. Scout sales and buy a suit with a coupon code at Macys, Lord & Taylor (which has AMAZING sales very regularly) etc or buy the separates somewhere if you’re significantly different sizes on top and bottom. Talbot’s is good for this; they have wonderful sales and carry a large variety of sizes. If you have a little bit more cash to spend, JCrew and Banana are also good, again, wait for sales and exploit coupon codes. The outlets are also a good place to check for deals.

Again, interview attire isn’t about showing your individuality or flair. It’s about your interview-er not even noticing what you’re wearing because it’s appropriate and well fitting and doesn’t require them to notice so they can listen to what you have to say. In most industries, the suit is the easiest way to do that.

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Waerloga January 10, 2013 at 12:28 am

And if you’re lucky enough to be working in Health care field, you can get by with Scrubs…(YMMV) 10 sets of scrubs,all mix and Mach lasts a long time. Although my sweetie would not let me wear the “pastel foliage scrubs” I once found.

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Waerloga January 10, 2013 at 12:31 am

Mach? Match. Ahh this auto correct will be he deaf of me… See?!

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fposte January 10, 2013 at 12:35 am

I just thought you meant you can get dressed with blinding speed :-).

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JT January 10, 2013 at 3:32 am

+1 Jess

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KarenT January 10, 2013 at 12:39 am

I can see why interviewees can be so confused– there is wide range of opinion here and a lack of consensus. I, for one, am resolving to be now forgiving of applicant’s attire. I’d rather a candidate be prepping interview questions than worrying if her suit is good enough.

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Chocolate Teapot January 10, 2013 at 1:51 am

I heard the advice that you should go to the prospective company a few days previously and observe the people who work there.

Which might work if the building only housed that company.

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Ask a Manager January 10, 2013 at 2:03 am

I’ve always taken issue with that advice, because they might all wear business casual but still expect an interviewee to wear a suit. If you don’t know your industry norms, you’re better off just wearing a suit.

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JT January 10, 2013 at 3:38 am

Yeah. And another way that “see how they dress” part is misleading is that even people in some business casual offices dress differently. My office is business casual, and most people dress that way. But if we have an important meeting with donors or a big event, we wear conservative business dress. Those are key events for us where we need to look our best.

Someone coming to interview with us should be doing the same – looking their best, and not dressing as they would on a typical day without outside meetings.

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danr January 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

You can also judge the level of dress by the candid pictures on a website. If the men are wearing white shirts with ties, I would assume that they arrived wearing suits. If the men have light blue dress shirts with ties, the call is either sports jackets or suits. If there are no ties in sight, then business casual is probably the norm.
For an interview, I would dress one step up, up to a suit.

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Kelly O January 10, 2013 at 11:06 am

And you’re doubly messed up if you happen to go by on the day everyone wears jeans and t-shirts to move a bunch of files, or to unpack boxes.

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Chocolate Teapot January 10, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I heard of a story where a woman went to an interview in a smart suit and was told that she hadn’t got the job because it didn’t look like she would fit in because of it. I think it was a company that was quite casual in its dress code and she was a casual dresser but decided to dress smart for the interview (as most people do).

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Lulu January 10, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I was just thinking about this, and how most places I’ve worked would probably feel similarly – except then, those are places I have on my resume, and you can kind of tell that they were informal, so I’d hope that the interviewer would be thoughtful enough to take that into consideration if she thought I was dressed too conservatively when she met me…

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elikit January 10, 2013 at 2:18 am

Any tips for dressing for an interview in stupidly hot weather? I ride a scooter, so will probably be fronting up with a bulky protective jacket (but maybe I can squish it into my topbox – I’ll check…). Should I wear hose or shave my legs and call it good?

I usually wear a professional dress and a suit jacket, does that count as suited up, compared to a skirt and a suit jacket?

(Also, the heat for that day is predicted to be about 85 degrees)

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FreeThinkerTX January 10, 2013 at 3:56 am

First: Can I live where you do? Because I’m in Texas, where “stupidly hot” weather is 110F, with 70% humidity. We call 85F “mild”. :-)

Second: Is there someplace near to where you’ll be interviewing that has air conditioning, where you can compose yourself before going to the interview? A coffee shop, deli, other office building (with a seating area in the lobby)? Get there, say, an hour ahead of time to fully “chill”, then head over to the interview.

Depending on the industry, the bulky protective jacket could be a great ice breaker and conversation starter, for them to get to know a bit about you. If that’s the case, just fold it over your arm while walking in, then put it on the back of your chair when you sit down for the interview.

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Elikit January 10, 2013 at 5:41 am

I think I would not do well in Texas… I’m in Sydney, Australia – this week we had a day that was about 104, but that was pretty freakish. It could be 85 that day, but it could also be 95. But if I’m lucky, it could also, conceivably, be 77 or so.

Thanks for your input! I do like the idea of using the scootering/gear as an ice breaker. And given the location of the place, it could also be a big point in my favourite that I have transport…

It is a media company, so luckily I think I have some wiggle room for quirkiness.

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Jamie January 10, 2013 at 6:41 am

This brings up a good, if tangential (on my part) point – how much, if any, thought should we give on being judged by our vehicle?

When I was interviewing I always made sure my car was freshly washed and clean inside (in case they walked me to my car and peeked in) but does the vehicle itself matter.

I’ve had people ask me about my car, it’s not remarkable but kinda quirky to others, and I’ve noticed when someone showed up in an SLS AMG (everyone noticed) – so if you have options is there a vehicle equivalent of a suit? I’d personally only drive mine, but if you could swap with a spouse or trade with a family member should you shoot for the most middle of the road/least ostentatious car to which you have access?

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Joey January 10, 2013 at 10:14 am

This is something I worry about too but mines slightly different. I like to drive nice cars and wear nice clothes. Luckily, because my wife does better than I do I can afford more. And for a long time now Ive occasionally gotten compliments that border on inappropriate. Comments that insinuate I make too much or that they should be making more. And I always wonder in the back of my mind if over my career if my bosses have subconsciously taken that into consideration with my comp/raises/etc. Of course I would never work for someone who would consciously do that, but do people tend to do it subconsciously? I’d love to see some research on it.

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Jamie January 10, 2013 at 10:48 am

Anecdotal, but I’ve worked places where upper management consciously never drove the nicer cars to work at the plants.

If they were spending the day at corporate you’d see the Porsches (a couple), Jaguar (one), and BMW/Audi/Mercedes (multiple) but when they drove to the plant they were in Camrys, Explorers, Tauruses, and the like.

FWIW in my industry there can be, unfortunately, a strong feeling of us vs them, management vs labor kind of thing and people are acutely conscious of this kind of thing.

The same way people wonder how the new guy making minimum wage is driving a new Infinity and wearing a watch that, if not a knock off, cost more than the semester’s tuition I just paid for my kid.

But it’s something people are very, very aware of – maybe that’s why we don’t see a lot of suits in our interview processes.

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Kelly O January 10, 2013 at 11:11 am

There is someone at my office who drives a Nissan Maxima. It’s certainly not a hoopty or anything, but it’s not like he’s driving a Porsche.

He takes up two parking places, and has been seen wiping it off when he arrives at the office in the mornings. And I kind of want to say, “you know, my slacker little brother has a car just like that!” and walk away.

I drive a Mom car. I don’t think anyone is going to turn heads to check out the Impala. At least not until I hit the big numbers in the lottery and get my Cayenne.

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fposte January 10, 2013 at 11:18 am

My view would be that cars only matter if they’re 1) visible to the hiring crew and 2) outliers. Really pricey new cars and really crapped out heaps may be noticed if they strongly contravene the job-relevant image. (Obviously if you work for anything related to automotive manufacture the brand matters too!) But I think most of the time in most jobs, most cars don’t matter at all.

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Jess January 10, 2013 at 12:06 pm

This thought makes me really glad I live in New York City! It wouldn’t occur to me that what kind of car you drive matters, haha.

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Lulu January 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm

OMG Jamie, don’t make me stress about the state of my *car* too! ;) I recently scraped the side of it getting into a narrow parking space, and can’t afford to get it fixed up any time soon. If a potential employer is going to judge me on THAT, well, I give up – point me to the welfare office…

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Jamie January 11, 2013 at 7:41 am

Nah – I’m sure fposte is right in that it only matters if it’s falling apart or crazy expensive – if then.

I just thought it was funny because when I got this job my now boss asked me about my car and if it meant I had a wild side. Hee. I said yes, but it was limited to my commute within legal parameters.

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Joey January 10, 2013 at 9:48 am

Speaking of suits and appearance I can say that it can make a difference. I just interviewed some folks and there were three very good candidates all highly qualified with great experience and accomplishments. The most obvious difference between them was their appearance- one was polished, with what you can describe as a corporate business woman look. The other looked out of her element- her suit was ill fitting, her hair was outdated, and her overall appearance was kind of frumpy. The third was a guy with long hair and the sort of facial hair you’d picture on someone from medieval times. You can probably guess the outcome.

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Lily in NYC January 10, 2013 at 10:21 am

Re: Interviewing in bad weather: I had an interview, not for a job, but with a recruiter, during a blizzard in NYC. I wore a suit and snow boots, and then changed to normal shoes in the building lobby. I stuck my boots under a chair somewhere. There were other people in the waiting area, all wearing boots and pants – not one suit. The recruiter was shocked and told me how impressed she was with me for managing to dress professionally in a storm. She set me up with great interviews that led to the job that I’ve had for 8 years. But to be honest, now that I interview other people, I wouldn’t care at all if someone wore boots or warmer clothes to an interview during bad weather.

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Anonymous January 10, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Just noticed a “Dear Prudie” question that touches on both interview clothes and friend’s advice to job seekers.

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2013/01/dear_prudence_my_son_s_onetime_dentist_has_been_arrested_for_child_porn.html

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Kisha January 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm

For #3, I advise buying a really high quality black suit that doesn’t show when it’s wet. I have a gorgeous Kasper one that I’ve worn through snow and rain storms to interviews and have managed to still look polished and clean.

As far as hair is concerned, a clean bun or ponytail is a good choice on these days too!

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Martha January 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Straight out of college (circa) 2005, I wore suits to all of my job interviews. Teach for America? Everyone was wearing a suit. Biotech Company? Suit was fine, but unnecessary. University biology technician? I got hired wearing the suit, but apparently my co-workers all thought I was going to be a “square” because I was OVERWHELMINGLY overdressed.

When I interviewed people to replace me 2 years later, none of the 10 interviewees wore a suit (many wore jeans). So I would recommend only NOT wearing a suit when you are certain that wearing one would make you stand out.

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Patrick December 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I don’t really agree with the advice of “always wear a suit”. Maybe it’s just the area I’ve lived and worked in (Saskatchewan/Alberta), or the industries I’ve mostly worked in (Software/Engineering), but whenever I’ve worn a suit to an interview I’ve always felt very overdressed. Personally I think it is quite awkward to be more dressed up than the person or people interviewing you. Nearly every place I’ve worked or interviewed at, business casual would be perfectly acceptable for an interview.

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mysticspiral135 July 9, 2014 at 12:56 pm

So I have a question. I want to wear a suit to my job interview but it is 90 degrees outside where I live. Should I just be miserable or is there an acceptable alternative to a suit in summertime. I don’t want to be sweating walking into my interview

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