Shall I just go in naked? How to dress for an interview in an art school
November 29, 2008 1:34 AM   Subscribe

I got an interview for a post of a senior lecturer in a art school in London, my role will be the head of theory studies in one of the creative departments. What shall I wear for the interview? I will be interviewed by both students and staff. All the students think they will be the next Damien Hurst. I want to look creative and approachable, belonging both to the art world and to the academia, and easy to get on with.

I know this school quite well as I was a post-graduate student there ten years ago and later I taught part time. The atmosphere is very relaxed; some lecturers wear casual trousers and jackets, others are showing off disposable income and style – I remember one lecturer wearing a big gold angel on the lapel of his leather jacket. I think that style is highly appreciated there and potentially can be significant for the outcome of the interview.

I am male 43, 13 stone, 5'7, shaved head, people often tell me that I look quite intimidating, and i don't want to come across that way in the interview.

So I was thinking smart suit with dress boots, shirt with a print pattern, no tie. But the thing is that I know very little about suits – I don't even own one. I wore a suit 3 times in my life. In my current job I wear chinos and a shirt, but then it is a boring technical university.(In a moment of panic I thought of ordering a Savile Row suit, luckily they take three months to make and I only have two weeks - not that I could afford one anyway).

So what shall I wear? Does my suggestion sounds reasonable, or shall I go for something more traditional / casual? And if I go and buy a suit, will an off the peg suit be good enough? And how do I choose the right style? As I said, I am a suit virgin. I had a look at Marx and Spencer website, and this looks nice, but I am not sure if it will be appropriate.

Thanks for taking the time and for your help.
posted by slimeline to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, that looks like a City Banker type suit. Firstly I think your instincts are excellent, while it may be very relaxed the will still expect you to make an effort for the interview. So go with a Suit and then ensure the shirt is something you wouldn't normally see with a suit. Check our Orlando Bloom's look here, or take a look at what the Edge is wearing here (onus for the beanie maybe!).
Best of luck
posted by Wilder at 1:56 AM on November 29, 2008

Sorry, Bonus. Also Bloom either wore his cardigan backwards that same night in this shot, or he carries a variety of knitware when out for an evening.
posted by Wilder at 1:59 AM on November 29, 2008

If you don't wear it often, maybe save some money by looking at the offers at Burton where they give the pants free with the Jacket (most start at £70). The very narrow lapel single breasted look is (was) fashionable, see here. Plus you can wear either a very fine cardigan or waistcoat under it.
Creeping in at the moment is the retro double breasted James Bond look, which is in-and-out most years but the Prince of Wales put me off that look, although YMMV. (can you tell I'm a frustrated suit shopper?)
posted by Wilder at 2:18 AM on November 29, 2008

My personal guess is that a full blown suit (like the one you've linked) is too formal for the occasion. I would also strongly discourage the pinstriping. To me that suit looks like it should be worn by somebody who belongs to the corporate world; it seems too loud, rigid and consciously dressy. Overall, I don't think that level of formality is valued in the art world or academia.

As a disclaimer, I should add it's my view that it's always hard for strangers to give advice on these things. If you want to appeal to creative people and appear easy going I think you need to dress honestly and transparently. You want to reveal your personality and your own aesthetic. However, if I have to offer a suggestion I would point you towards this page here and here (I am not affiliated with this store or these brands). I like the overall look from the first link and I've included the second because I think it's easy to give any outfit a dressier feel by wacking on a nice pair of boots.

My own preferences perhaps run a little bland and uninteresting. Also take into consideration the fact that I'm a 20 year old graphic design student from Australia. I haven't been to many job interviews, I don't know what people are wearing in London and my aesthetic will probably come off as a bit conservative from the perspective of an arts student.

To be honest, I don't consider the tutors and lecturers at my university especially well dressed in general but I still have plenty of respect for them as designers, artists and academics.
posted by quosimosaur at 3:42 AM on November 29, 2008

Suit trousers, dress shoes, open neck white shirt with a wool v-neck jumper over it. I'd say that is smart while still acknowledging the more relaxed, creative atmosphere of the institution. If you turn up and feel a bit too formal you can roll the sleeves up. If you find that too bland/smart or want to make more of an artistic statement then wear a bright scarf over it on arrival or go for a flamboyant colour shoe. Whatever you decide to do as a rule keep the clothing fairly sombre and make any statement with shoes and accessories. I wouldn't turn up in stripey trousers, it is an interview afterall.
posted by fire&wings at 5:44 AM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your instinct is right on, except that a pinstripe suit is very dressy, probably too dressy for academia. I suggest a navy or gray single-breasted suit. Black is good too but will look dressier. The pants should be flat-front, not pleated. Pair it with a printed shirt that you'll be happy to wear over and over again, but don't pick a shirt that screams "I'm MAKING A STATEMENT." Pick a shirt that you know you'll feel great meeting strangers in. I think a man wearing French cuffs and creative cufflinks, like old subway tokens or Monopoly game pieces, looks even more artsy. Don't wear a tie, unless your peers interviewing you would also be in ties.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:04 AM on November 29, 2008

If you're a suit virgin, you're probably not going to feel comfortable in a suit. Feeling comfortable is key for a job interview. 'moonMan has been offered jobs wherein he went to the interview in jeans and a T-shirt because he was so relaxed during the interview that he really nailed it.

Wear whatever is presentable and comfortable. You know the place, so you know what will fly and what won't. Don't worry about creating a specific impression, just y'know, be yourself. You want them to hire *you* and not some puppet version of yourself, so present them with *you.*
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:16 AM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Slimeline, I like the suit you linked to. I wouldn't wear the vest with it but I think if you wore the suit on it's own without a tie it could look really good. I'd suggest going to M&S and trying it on to see what you think. Also, bring someone along who you feel has a good sense of style.
posted by gfrobe at 9:30 AM on November 29, 2008

I interview staff for university posts regularly. Even you are going to an Art School institution, I don't think appearance has ever has mattered to a panel I've served on, or has come up in private discussions, etc. That isn't to say you can get it wrong - way too formal or way too casual - but I don't think it is has the importance you rate.

What will be more important? Well if you will allow:

If you a giving a presentation, please, please don't read out every damn word in the powerpoint. We can read. Bullet polnts. One of the best I saw was a set of images which the speaker used to hang his presentation on (from his memory). Don't drone on. Be sparky in reply to the questions. Provoke the questions. Try to connect it all together with yourself, the field and the instititution. A few jokes don't hurt.

Do some research on the School. The number of people I interview who say "I don't know if you do this here" Find out! There will be lots on the web. So, look informed, make it clear how you would fit and how you would add to the mix. Don't be afraid to say that you know they didn't do too well in this league table or whatever, and that you can improve that.

In the interview proper, be concise. There will be time to follow up, so don't give speeches as your answers. People tune out. Have some questions to ask that amount to more than "How much will I be paid?" A good one is always "What opportunities are there for... X" as it can provoke discussions about your development in the post.

Regardless of the institution, leadership and administrative ability matter. Make sure you know things that are contextual to this, that you know and use terms like Subject Benchmark, QAA, etc. Drop them in - "I was reading the Programme Specification for X and it was really interesting..." Or "I read your Mission Statement and was very impressed by Y."

Each panel member will have a set question to ask, and it gets a bit tiring hearing the same stuff in reply. Try to be ready to indicate something relating to you, your past, your current post, which sells you. I've seen the strongest candidates fall apart when simply asked questions like "What was the biggest challenge when you took the job at X?" or "Can you tell us of something you think you didn't manage or organise well in your current job, and what lesson you learnt from it." Or even the old chestnut "What's your best quality and your worst quality - one word answers only."

Good luck
posted by A189Nut at 9:43 AM on November 29, 2008

Can you go to a store with a lot of different options, like a big department store, find a sales assistant who looks like he knows what he's doing and would understand what you're going for, and get advice picking one out? You know, say where you're going and that it's an interview, and your price range.. That Marks & Spencer suit looks like a bit much to me, but I live in Washington DC and 3/4 of the city is in navy suits so what do I know. :)

If you get a suit off the rack, bring it to a good tailor to make any necessary alterations so that the fit is perfect. That will make a big difference & the suit will look a lot more expensive than it was. I guess you could speak to a tailor first (or check the internets..) about what is possible to alter as a guide when buying your suit, for instance, the shoulders absolutely have to fit properly, that can't be easily changed, but if the trousers are a bit big in the waist I don't expect that would be much trouble at all to fix.

Finally it might not be bad to err on the side of dressing much more simply than many faculty there, if you're not used to making pretty strong statements with your clothing, also you want to be remembered for what you actually said in the interview & not for your outfit.
posted by citron at 11:38 AM on November 29, 2008

I was recently in a similar situation, and after spending 6 hours with a personal shopper combing through suits at Macys, Nordstroms and even Saks (Marks and Spencer/Harrods equivalents), the shopper finally looked at me and said:

", we've tried on at least 70 suits. You hate them. They hate you. You're not a suit person. You're a creative person, and even if we found a suit that fit you correctly, you're going to be miserable in it. Let us instead, find some upscale clothes that fit the way you like to dress, yes?"

She was right. I ended up with an gorgeous skirt and a fabulous cashmere sweater, and some new shoes and a bag, and I was so comfortable that I didn't even once think about my clothes during the interview. Shoes, yes...they were too high and hard to walk in, but clothes...I was so comfortable.

That said; I still spent as much as I would have on a suit. Well tailored clothes are expensive, but oh...they look so lovely.

Also, I'm tres jealous. Good luck on your interview! I'm sure you'll be fabulous. Just remember, be comfortable, be yourself, and you'll be golden. :)
posted by dejah420 at 5:21 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

One thing I've learnt over the years is that it's better to look good than to look cool. Everyone respects classic when done well, and if you can work some reflection of your personality in then so much the better, but if you try too hard to look cool then you're more likely to divide opinion. Or fail badly.

I wouldn't worry too much about being overdressed. It's a job interview, so at least on some level, it's okay to look at least a little bit like you're trying to impress. I'd err on the side of overdressing rather than underdressing. On the other hand, dressing appropriately is your first opportunity to show the panel you understand the requirements of the job. But in this case it doesn't sounds like there's a 'right' option anyway.

I think your instincts to buy a suit are good. There's no need to go and buy an expensive made-to-measure one (they're for bankers rolling in cash who wear suits everyday imho), but suits are an investment and a cheap suit will look like a cheap suit. It sounds like your interviewers will have an eye for detail, and they're more likely to pick on a poorly made suit than your style as such. If you buy a good suit, you'll get years of use out of it - weddings, graduations etc. Cheap suits can be false economy.

I would steer well clear of anything other than *extremely* subtle pinstripes. Strong pinstripes can make you look rotund, or foppish or both unless you have exactly the right figure and know how to carry it. I would go for a very dark charcoal grey, or maybe a black with a *very* subtle stripe or pattern through it. Avoid shiny blacks, pale grays, tans, strong stripes/checks. I don't like navy blue and think it looks a bit corporate but that's probably just me. The more classic the more useful it will be in the long run, and if you're not comfortable with suits, now is not the time for risktaking.

I think the best advice would be to go to a (relatively) small suit shop (not a department store - too much choice and too impersonal), and get a sales assistant to help you. Buying suits seems to be one of the few areas where salespeople can still be extremely helpful. If you get a bad one, try a different shop. You should be able to buy a suit off the rack this way, but a good shop will adjust it perfectly for you. If you can, take a friend whose advice you trust. Maybe a stylish female-friend? In my experience, when you put on a suit that's perfect for you, you'll be able to tell straight away that you look the business.

I don't know where to recommend since I'm not British and don't know London very well. I helped an old boyfriend buy a suit a few years ago for about $500 (so maybe 2-300 pounds). He looked great and knew it and he got the job. =) T.M. Lewin have lovely shirts at least, and they seem to have a permanent 50% off on suits. But I really don't know. Maybe ask someone you know who dresses well where they go?

I think a funky shirt with a small print could be a good choice to 'dress down' the suit. Maybe something Ben Shermann-ish? Still think subtle instead of lary though. It's hard to do bright colour and bold pattern pattern together. I also like the idea of wearing a hand-made pair of cufflinks or if you're really game an interesting piece of art/jewellry. I had a jeweller friend who used to wear a 2-inch acryllic brooch of a plane that he'd made. I thought it looked very cool and not at all effeminate, but obviously he made it himself and he was quite young and good-looking so ymmv.

It think attention to detail is the important thing. If you can match your shirt to your socks, or your socks to your cufflinks that will look good (everyone wears black socks, so coloured socks could give you the 'interesting' you want...but no donald duck please). Make sure your shoes are polished and you're well shaven etc. The Sartorialist is good for ideas of how to wear suits interestingly - but these people are *very* trendy so take it with a grain of salt. In the end simple is best, and you need to feel comfortable and confident.

Wow. This is long. Apparently I have an opinion on this! So to summarise, imo: well made dark grey suit, handmade cufflinks, polished shoes. Try not to get too hung up on it though - first impressions are important, but not as important as handling the interview well, and being the right person for the job. Good luck!
posted by Emilyisnow at 12:25 AM on November 30, 2008

Don't know where you are in the UK, but if you're near a city, try a personal shopper/stylist. They do charge, but I know a few people who have used them and they are worth every penny. This is the kind of occasion that you need someone who knows what works and what doesn't. The House of Fraser chain and even Debenhams employ personal shoppers; they know what they're doing, and they're not just for ladies who lunch ;0)

I would avoid M&S - they do have some good tailoring (I used to work for them, I'm not slagging them off!), but I think you'll have a job getting exactly what you need there. Explain to the stylist exactly what the circumstances are - I can (almost) guarantee that you'll get what you need.
posted by meosl at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2008

I think a lot of the big department stores have personal shoppers, so it might be worth asking there. If you are described as 'intimidating', a suit might make you look a bit gangster-esque
posted by mippy at 2:43 PM on November 30, 2008

« Older Name of blank pages   |   USB audio interface that lets me monitor what I'm... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.