Pinstriped Suits with Colored Shirts?
March 21, 2005 6:25 AM   Subscribe

FashionFilter: Is there a "rule" about wearing a colored shirt with a black pin-striped suit? Are there other rules about female business attire that a soon-to-graduate-undergrad should be aware of?

A roommate (female) had a job interview last week, and didn't have a white, button-down shirt to put under her black pin-striped suit. My suggestion of a light-blue shirt was met with horror by both her and another roomie. No colors! AHH! :) Additionally, a skirt was out of the question because the only hose my roomate had were black.

I'm not looking for "do your own thing" advice here, more "what are the rules so that if I want to, I can break them later on." Help!
posted by asnowballschance to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What business? Because you're quite right, you don't want to do your own thing, you want to do theirs - but that differs lots from industry to industry.

Financial services is the one I know best: for the interview and the first couple of weeks, she's right: white shirt, dark skirt suit, sheer hose, low heels. The shirt can be figured and could have any collar. Skirt to the knee, heels 1 1/2" or less. Not much jewelry and as little make-up as you can get away with. I hate to say it but it helps to know if you'll be interviewing with a (straight) man or a woman, but on the other hand remember that whoever you talk to will be soliciting the reactions of the others who met you, which will be based almost completely on your appearance and demeanor.

The industry has gotten pretty laid back though, at least in New York, and unless you're in sales or client accounts you can pretty quickly switch to a more comfortable and individualistic business-casual style: sweaters, colors, pants, loafers - just see how the other employees your age dress.

This advice may not apply to some industries: it'd be too traditional at the interview and then too casual later for e.g. fashion, media, or advertising. But it should work for banking, securities, government, insurance, &c. Good luck!
posted by nicwolff at 7:05 AM on March 21, 2005

I think nicwolff is right, it depends so much on the business. Finance is notoriously conservative, as is most government. IT and education can be very liberal, to the point of seeing people in jeans and polo shirts every day. I have a stricter dress code at my seasonal, evening tax-prep job (in a strip mall, no less), than at my day job in a massive international IT company.

My best recommendation would be to swing through the company's parking lot during lunch times, or at the end of the day, and see what the people who currently work their are wearing.

I never would have thought a colored shirt with black pin stripes would be odd (for a woman). It seems kind of neat to me, but I'd go with a bright color, personally. There's a lot more leeway for women in terms of business dress. I own one suit, and I haven't worn the jacket since I had my job interview here.
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:51 AM on March 21, 2005

Was it specifically a colored shirt with that suit, or just wearing a colored shirt at all? I'd say that nice fitted dark/bright colored shirt could look great with a black pin stripe suit, but a colored shirt is always less conservative than a white shirt, whatever kind of suit you're wearing it with.

Likewise, colored stockings are less conservative than sheer, and basically, anything that stands out as a kind of fashion statement (a funky cut, extra buttons, larger/smaller/shaped lapels, etc) is less conservative. You can get away with subtle stylish flair if you are up on what is in style right now, and you can go further if you're in a slightly more artsy industry, like advertising.
posted by mdn at 8:36 AM on March 21, 2005

Is there a "rule" about wearing a colored shirt with a black pin-striped suit?

Not at all! But on an interview at a corporate 9-5 environment, you should go as bland and conservative as possible. Regardless of where you are interviewing, try to err on the side of a conservative nature. nicwolff got it all right...and yes, nude hose has made a strong resurgence in the past 5 years, as black hose is seen as dowdy and frumpy. Go for the sheer/nude.

The best advice I was always given by peers was to dress in a conservative suit with modest accessories at the interview. Continue the suit thing and wear it also on the first day of your new job. Wait until someone eventually tells you that you can dress business casual and drop the suits. This happened to me twice before, and usually by the end of the first day, my superior will tell me that I can stop wearing suits.

More rules for women interview fashions:

1. If you wear a skirt and hose, do not wear open-toe or sling-back shoes. This is a fashion faux-pas. Closed shoes are the only shoes you should wear with hose.
2. No platform, stilettos, or clunky heels. They look cheap and inappropriate, which is not the image you want to project. I had an interviewer stare at my feet the first minute of the interview, so they do notice these things.

1. Light or conservative polish. If you don't wear polish, try to put on a clear topcoat to show that you put some effort into your grooming.
2. No loud jewelry or earrings (duh).
3. Tame your hair. I almost always wear it pulled-back for interviews so it appears that I’m more together. You don't want to look frazzled! But no big ribbons or silly styles.
4. nicwolf is right with make-up: wear as little as you can to get by. But if you don’t favor make-up at all, just at least make sure to wear a gloss or lip balm, as you will be nervous, and your lips could get dry and flaky. Definitely wear a sheer color or gloss. To me, there’s nothing more distracting than flaky, chapped lips!

Suiting: i've been told by my mother and other friends that a simple navy suit is the most appropriate color to wear to an interview. Black is too severe, she has always told me.

Any more guidelines I’ve omitted?
posted by naxosaxur at 8:40 AM on March 21, 2005

No perfume (or aftershave). Many people are truly bothered by it, and it is inappropriate for any workplace unless your job is to sell said perfume.
posted by cali at 11:06 AM on March 21, 2005

Unfortunately, in the more conservative fields, a sense of style will get you absolutely no-where good in an interview. You're following rules for the sake of showing that you know how to follow rules here. Naxosaxur and nicwolff are spot on.

Get a manicure. Period. You cannot get your cuticles as neat as a manicurist can. A very light, neutral polish is better than clear.

If you're not usually a make-up wearer, make an exception and go with at least minimal make-up. For example, undereye concealer, mascara, chapstick. Minimal make-up is good, but no-make up is NOT better.

FYI: The super-strict wardrobe rules sound ridiculous and don't apply to those of us in IT or advertising or a non-profits or a lot of other professional situations. Playing it conservative for an interview is always the rule, but other professions don't have such strict rules. What field are we talking about for you, here?
posted by desuetude at 12:24 PM on March 21, 2005

Response by poster: Goverment and financial institutions, so it sounds like the conservative advice is spot on, at least for the short-term stuff I'd be doing.

Fortunately, I have no style whatsoever, so sublimating it for the purposes of getting and keeping a job doesn't bother me all that much. All these little things are the things I never would have thought of (like the make-up, and the hosery). Thanks for all the advice, so far!
posted by asnowballschance at 1:55 PM on March 21, 2005

Wow, this stuff sounds nuts to me, up here in the casual world of the Pacific Northwest. Also, I think the "rules" being propegated here may be different for white folks than for people of color.

I work in a semi-casual, semi-creative industry, I guess, but have to interact regularly with business people, government officials, politicians and non-profit folks.

I'd say black, gray, brown or navy are all fine suit colors. If it's winter, it's OK to wear dark hosiery like black tights to stay warm. In the summer, you can also wear tan suits. In terms of shirts -- white may be more formal, but if you're the type of person to spill food or drinks on yourself from time to time it's also more dangerous. I'd say you're better off with a darker shirt that won't show that stuff.

There's no way in hell anyone is ever going to make me get a manicure or wear nail polish for a job. You can't pay me enough. I keep my fingernails even and clean, and I've managed to do just fine professionally. If you're judging me based on my cuticles, there's something wrong with you, not me.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:34 PM on March 21, 2005

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