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The Working Closet

with Susan Wagner

The Working Closet is your source for the best of what's hip and fresh in fashion and beauty. Susan Wagner keeps you up-to-date on trends and offers tips and tricks for making everything in your closet truly work for you.

You can also catch Susan over at Friday Playdate.

So tell me why you want to work here . . .

Categories: basics


Once upon a time, the rule of thumb was that for a job interview, particularly a first interview, you were required to wear a suit. But that was also back in the day when pretty much any corporate job you took would require you to actually WEAR a suit to the office, at least some of the time.

Times have changed, and so have work wardrobes, and it can be difficult to figure out what to wear to that first interview if not the suit. And I’m here to tell you that if you’re interviewing with a company that lives the Casual Friday lifestyle, you do NOT want to show up for your interview in that suit. Really.

If this is your first job, or your first job back from a long hiatus (say, to raise a child), you may feel like you MUST wear a suit to EVERY interview. But if the company or office where you are interviewing is a casual Friday kind of place, a power suit is not the best choice, and can actually work against you. We all know the dangers of underdressing (showing up for an interview in jeans to be greeted by a partner in a suit, for example) but overdressing can be equally dangerous. In the interview, you want to present yourself as someone who will fit seamlessly into this organization, who understands the business and its culture, and who is ready to join the team right now, at the same time that you highlight your individualism and the distinct talents and qualities you will bring to the company. And what you wear is the first step toward conveying that impression.

When you’re choosing an outfit for an interview, the first thing is to know the environment in which you will be working. What are the official policies? ARE there official policies? What do the people you will be working with wear every day? If you’re not sure, do some research, or talk to other people who work in that particular field or do business with that particular company. Find out, before you show up, what the dress code is.

Let’s talk about two different kinds of casual office, and what to wear to an interview.

Business Casual
No jeans, but no suits. Casual but conservative; shorts and short skirts are out, as are open toed shoes.

What to Wear: Tailored trousers or skirt (wool or wool blend, ideally) with a jacket. You can break up the pieces of your suit, if you have one, and mix them with other non-matching pieces for this interview; pair the suit’s trousers or skirt with a slightly more casual jacket, for example. Wear a tee or a pretty camisole under the jacket as long as you leave the jacket on; the tee should not have any writing or pictures on it and the camisole should NOT look like lingerie and SHOULD cover your boobs completely. If you think you might take the jacket off, chose a sweater or blouse instead. Go with heels or a flat with a pointy toe or some cool embellishment.

Friday Casual
Office attire consists of jeans or cargo pants and tees, for the most part. Shorts and sandals may be acceptable for every day wear. Very casual.

What to Wear: You can wear jeans for this interview, but chose a pair with a dark rinse, hemmed for heels (do NOT wear anything faded or ripped–in fact, throw those away altogether). You can also wear your dress pants, or a really nice pair of chinos, although I would encourage you to go with a longer length, something hemmed for heels. And OF COURSE you can mix and match the parts of your suit, but don’t wear them as a suit for this interview. Pair any of these bottoms with a sweater or cool tee and a fitted jacket. Open toed shoes are fine, but flip flops and other casual sandals are not. Go with a pretty peep toed pump in an interesting fabric or pattern. But please, pedicure first. Really.

A few other rules:

Don’t wear anything that doesn’t fit right. Haven’t tried your suit on since you had the baby? Try it on, right now; don’t assume that on the morning of the interview you will be able to squash yourself into it. You will spend the entire interview fretting about how your spleen is being crushed by the pants which is not the way to make a good impression.

Don’t wear anything stained or pilled or torn. Although OF COURSE you don’t have anything like this, because I feel CERTAIN that you have recently cleaned your closet and tossed all those things. RIGHT?

Check your hemlines, both above and below.
Potential employers want you for your brain, not your legs. Or your boobs. Stand up, sit down, bend over, check all the views. Ask a trusted male person to help assess your outfit, specifically for girl parts. And then, in the interview, you won’t have to worry about flashing anyone.

Avoid jangly jewelry. Charm bracelets are back, and I love mine, but damn it’s noisy. Don’t distract the employer. (Also in this category: gigantic earrings. No. No no no.)

Err on the side of MORE dressed up. Of course, think carefully about this; again, you don’t need to wear a suit to meet with the Casual Friday office, for example. But never, EVER wear flip flops to an interview (or to the White House). EVER.

Next week: styling the iPhone, and what to wear to the SECOND interview.

Don’t forget The Working Closet Flickr pool! Show us what you’re wearing to work, or, better yet, to an interview!

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5 comments so far...

  • I keep tagging your posts to save for reference - more great advice! It really is important to know what kind of environment you’re going into. I have a a related question, though:

    What might you recommend for an office that’s more of a “mix?” Where I work, the women tend to dress mostly business casual, but the men are more traditional (dress shirts and pants with ties, sometimes suits) and we don’t officially have Casual Fridays? (My boss is a man.) Would it depend on who you’ll be interviewing with? And then, if you get the job, what standard do you use?

    Florinda  |  June 22nd, 2007 at 5:16 pm

  • Great post - thank you Susan! Now i know where to send my friends who ask me about dress code for yet another interview!!! :)

    Victoria  |  June 22nd, 2007 at 5:19 pm

  • Thanks, Susan. I just have to second your comment that wearing a suit in certain instances could actually work against you.

    A graphic designer friend of mine has told me about the times someone would come in wearing a suit for an interview with the graphic design firm - not only did the person get ridiculed (behind their back), she also said wearing a suit automatically meant they wouldn’t get the job.

    It’s all about knowing what type of environment you’re interviewing in! Thanks again!

    Samantha  |  June 22nd, 2007 at 8:59 pm

  • Hmm I don’t know. My husband is an electrical engineer, and they’re notorious for casual work clothes (sometimes T-shirts and jeans even), but you’re still expected to wear a suit when you interview. They all joke that it’s the first and last time they see each other in a tie. But then again EE’s aren’t known for they’re innovative fashion so I’m sure the suit is just a standard fall back.

    Sheryl  |  June 26th, 2007 at 3:06 am

  • Sheryl, I think that’s another good example of Know the Rules–if the rule is that you wear a suit for the interview, even if you’ll never wear it again, that’s important as you get ready for the interview.

    My dad was an EE, and I hear you about their fashion sense. Short sleeved dress shirts, with pocket protectors. Seriously.


    Susan Wagner  |  June 26th, 2007 at 12:52 pm

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