BY DYANNE VILENO
“What should I wear?” is the question on many minds during interview season. There used to be strict rules for dressing (suits were the norm not the exception, “casual” meant a sport coat with a tie for men and a pantsuit for women, and white pants were never worn past Labor Day, to name a few). But career dressing has become quite complicated. In the last couple of years, the high tech world redefined our career uniform by trading the suit for a pair of khakis.
We are starting to see a shift in corporate culture, causing the “dressing” pendulum to swing back to more traditional ideals. Some law firms that had adopted business casual dress codes are finding it necessary to rebuild their suit wardrobes.
If you are buying your first suit or shopping for a new one for interviews, here are some basic tips to help in your search:
1. Keep it simple. Don’t get hung up on too many details. The more classic the garment, the longer it will stay in style.
2. Select styles that look good on you instead of what is most in style.
3. Look at buying career clothing as an investment. A well-constructed suit (made of fine fabric) should be a staple in your wardrobe for at least five to ten years.
4. Fit is paramount! You can spend $300 to $3,000 for a suit, but if it does not fit, you have wasted your money. Men should get measured when they are shopping for a suit. There are several styles and options to accommodate different body types. Check out suit-separate programs that allow you to buy the jacket and pant in whatever size you need. Fit is just as important for women. It is necessary to try on several styles and sizes because each designer/manufacturer fits differently. Make sure to buy what looks and feels best (and not which number size sounds the best.)
5. Buy all year round fabrics. Look for wool or wool blends. These fabrics are lightweight. They breathe well, travel well, wrinkle very little and will unwrinkle quite easily.
6. Dry clean your suits only once or twice a season. The chemicals used are very harsh, causing fabric to shine over time. One recommendation is to fill a bathroom with steam from a hot shower. Hang the suit in the room allowing the steam to release particles in the fabric. This helps to refresh the suit.
7. Taking proper care of your suit will help ensure longer wearability.
Tips for Men
- Dark suits are the most versatile. Best color: blue or gray. (Black can be perceived as flashy.)
- Stay with solid, minimal pattern, or subtle striped suits. If you are looking to get by with only one suit–chose a solid color.
- Stick with 2 or 3 button suits. Double breasted suits are making a comeback but a simpler style is best.
- Shirts should be adequately pressed. The whites and blues are the easiest. It is not necessary to wear solid shirtings, however patterns should be subtle. Choose a collar style that flatters the face. Comfort is also important.
- Ties should be conservative not loud or showy. The goal is to look put together not distracting.
- Match your belt to your shoes. Black or brown shoes/belts can be worn with blue or gray. Make sure shoes are nicely maintained and not scuffed.
- Wear a dark dress sock that matches the color of the suit.
Tips for Women
- Women have a few more options. Best suit colors: black, blue or grey. Choose suits without “bells or whistles” (big buttons, contrasting trims or decorative lapels).
- Years ago, women only wore skirt suits for interviewing. Pantsuits are quite acceptable. However, if the firm is more conservative, opt for wearing a skirt. Skirts should not be any shorter than two to two and one-half inches above the knee.
- There are several appropriate underpinnings for a suit: cotton shirting (whites and blues are easiest), silk blouses (choose solids or soft patterns) or fine-gauge sweaters (look for silk, viscose, rayon or cotton knits that have a luster or a high polish to the weave.) Stay away from T-shirts. They are too casual for an interview.
- Accessories should be worn as small accents, not as statement pieces. Keep jewelry simple.
- Hosiery should be worn. Choose a nude or soft beige color. Stay away from tights — too casual. Sheer black can sometimes look dramatic. It is the dressiest of options.
- Wear shoes that look professional and that are easy to walk in. Bring a pair of nylons with you shopping to see how the shoe will really feel. Black and brown shoes are the easiest of choices.
- Condense your belongings into one bag for the interview. It is easier to shake hands with only a briefcase than juggling a handbag as well.
Your goal during an interview is to look appropriate and polished. Once you get the job, you can take the cue from lawyers at the firm as to how relaxed the dress code really is. It is then that your clothing can show the real “you.”
Dianne Vileno is a retail coordinator for Freedberg of Boston. Freedberg is a suit and career sportswear manufacturer for stores like Nordstroms and many small specialty stores. For further questions, please call 617-357-8600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Freedberg welcomes shoppers at their South End warehouse located at 112 Shawmut Ave., 5th floor, Boston.