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Ladies: Dressing to Interview Post-Power Suit

by Alison Ringo

The Wall Street Journal recently announced that the era of the woman’s power suit is over. As the paper of record for U.S. business, the Journal’s story codifies what most of us in HR already accepted as given: a suit isn’t standard anymore.

When interviewing, suits for women (especially younger women) have been out of vogue for at least five years. But just because interviewing women are no longer married to staid suits doesn’t mean all rules for professional dress fly out the window. You’d think we’d have learned the “new rules” for interview dress by now, but judging by what we see here, they still bear repeating.

Make It Memorable… The Right Way – The WSJ piece mentions colors – pinks, pastels – and other “feminine” touches. Color is a great change from head to toe, buttoned-down black, but don’t get carried away with the general idea.

Are you wearing an eye-catching set of turquoise heels? Great. Just don’t pair them with turquoise skinny jeans and a coral blazer.

Is your blouse neckline unconventional? (Cowl necked, etc.) Fantastic. But do a bend-over test to check what you might inadvertently show off (the same goes for hemlines).

If you’re interviewing in a fashionable atmosphere (see below), sure, wear something with a slogan or graphic… but steer clear of questionable phrases, even if they’re in other languages. True story: someone once interviewed at KAS with a necklace spelling out a French expletive. Unfortunately, we’re Francophones here.

Invest – Don’t short change your interview look by thinking you can show up in the fashion equivalent of an ill-fitting suit with the seams unraveling and the sides pilling where the fabric rubs your handbag.

If we were still in the suit era, you would invest in tailoring, and just generally invest. If you’re at the beginning of your career, no one expects you to shell out for the priciest designers, but don’t show up in head to toe H&M, either.

Research – As much as you can, get a sense of where you’ll be interviewing. As is usually the case, larger corporations tend to have different rules and standards from smaller firms.

The industry also dictates dress to a certain extent. Show up to an advertising interview in absolutely traditional slate gray pantsuit and a button-down, and you’ll likely be pigeonholed as stodgy, even if this is a huge firm.

Arrive for a marketing department interview with one of the Big Four wearing a bright yellow blazer and a peacock feather fascinator, and you might be giving off the vibe that perhaps an accounting firm isn’t for you.

As with so much, interview dress post-suit comes down to an appropriate blend of creativity and common sense.

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