Women's interview attire..
May 4, 2011 6:37 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about your favourite interview attire...and brand...and bags..

Give me the inside info on your favourite brand and (postdoc) interview attire with description/detail/photos. What's okay and not okay. I know the basics so I want to hear about pant-suits (preferably)- the perfect fit, the brand, the colour, the lapels, the shirt, what works, what doesn't work, what are the things you wish you knew back when you were getting ready for your first interview but learned over the years the hard way. Which brands are cheap, cost-wise (for a transition to a first time job) but perfectly fine quality-wise...how does one make sure? Are the ones from department stores okay?

Also, what would you take for a day long interview (with air travel)- a briefcase? a portfolio only??

Thanks all!!
posted by xm to Work & Money (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I would also like to hear from women who absolutely hate pant-suits (but still choose to wear them) as they aren't the best fit for the female form. What's your body type and how did you go about finding the perfect pant-suit?
posted by xm at 6:39 AM on May 4, 2011

I'm not a postdoc, but I can recommend buying suits at Macy's. They have fantastic sales, I once got two suits there (Nine West, originally $160, and a Tahari, $280) for $110 total.
The two brands mentioned above are quite nice, and Tahari suits look amazing on a woman's waist.
Macys also sells Caspar brand suits, but I always found them to be too old-lady like for my taste.

You can pair them up with either a blouse (nothing too low cut, of course!) or a button-down. If wearing a button-down shirt, make sure it doesn't ride up before your interview.
posted by Neekee at 6:47 AM on May 4, 2011

Unless this is a theoretical research question, I could better answer it by hearing more about *your* body type and why *you* hate pant suits. (I love them, myself.)

In general, suit colours should be neutral. Grey, brown, burgundy, some shades of purple. Black is IMO too dramatic for everyday wear and becomes dreary in an office context. Black polyester is just horrible. Horrible horrible.

I say either beige or grey tropical wool is your friend, perhaps with a little synthetic mixed in. Do not be fooled into thinking that these colours are boring, as the right shade of either can be breathtaking in their rich subtlety. Both of these are very diverse colours, so take the fabrics and hold them up to your face in good daylight before making a decision. The shade that makes your face look brighter suits you, the one that makes you look more haggard does not. You should also apply this test to the shade of white in the shirt that you wear with the suit.

Make sure the hem breaks somewhere between your shoe heel and the floor. Your shoe heel should be 1 or 2 inches and the shoe should have a closed toe. Black shoes are too heavy for either a beige or a grey suit. Brown leather accessories provide the most versatility for your buck, but dark brown leather will annihilate beige, so go for a light or mid brown. Your accessories don't have to match, but they do all have to have something in common with each other.
posted by tel3path at 6:48 AM on May 4, 2011

I'm pair-shaped (big hips, small waist). And I've found both skirt and pant suits that I like at Macys.

Just looked though my closet: I also have Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft suits pant suits (not sure if Loft still makes suits). Also quite nice.
posted by Neekee at 6:50 AM on May 4, 2011

I think we need more information:
- What sorts of jobs are you planning to apply for? I think there is a huge outfit difference between a law firm and a creative agency.
- Is there something you know just absolutely does not work for you? Because I think confidence is a huge factor and if you look uncomfortable in a pants suit, you should avoid wearing one.
- What is your general body shape? Related to the confidence thing.
posted by like_neon at 7:11 AM on May 4, 2011

When I had to fly to different cities for an interview, I always left my luggage with the hotel valet. I brought as little as possible, usually just a suit bag with a change of underwear, shoes and cosmetics. I wore something comfortable for the flight out, wore the suit to the interview and usually on the flight home. Sometimes, I was fortunate enough to have time to change before my flight home--often in the airport (or a restaurant) bathroom. If you cannot leave your luggage with a hotel valet, and cannot stash it in a train station locker, arrive at your interview 10-20 minutes early and hope reception has a place they can hold it for you. Bringing anything other than a portfolio into an interview room is awkward, in my experience. Especially if you're touring a facility or interviewing in more than one office while you're there.

If you are flying in in the morning and then home immediately after the interview, pack the smallest possible professional tote with: cosmetics (including deodorant, baby wipes, and toothbrush), spare hose (if you wear them), spare shell/shirt in a non-wrinkly fabric. Pack a change of undies (in case you get caught overnight) and any meds you need overnight. If you're stuck overnight, you're better off wearing your suit two days in a row and sleeping naked in a hotel room or sleeping in your suit in an airport than you are carrying an overnight bag into an interview. Suck it up and leave the laptop home for one night; you can stash a paperback and phone charger in a small tote.

When you board the plane, ask the steward if she can hang your suit coat when you get on the plane. If you get cold on airplanes, I would suggest carrying a pashmina-type scarf to keep yourself warm on the plane (it adds to the things you have to carry in your small tote, but most fold pretty small). Drink as much water on the plane as you can. When you land, don't forget to reclaim your suit coat. Freshen up in the airport bathroom--remember, you have a spare shirt if you got spilled on in-flight. You're pretty much stuck wearing the suit on the plane both directions because you do not want to be burdened with a bag big enough to hold your suit. Even if you can crumple a pair of sweats or jeans into the bag for the flight out, crumpling your suit into the same bag for the flight home creates unnecessary wear on the suit and requires (at a minimum) a trip to the drycleaner to have it pressed when you get home.

As for suits, my opinion is: if you prefer skirts, wear a skirt. I don't like pants, generally, and and the only suites I own with pants instead of skirts are Misook because they are flat front (pleats are of the devil and most flat front suitpants from places like Banana Republic or Tahari do not accommodate thighs of any bulk) and really comfortable. Missok is definitely not young & hip, definitely not, but it's washable at home and doesn't wrinkle easily (unlike a conventional suit, it can be crushed into a small bag for a flight home--just be wary of the ones with big buttons, which can snag or cause problems). You can usually get a good deal on it at Nordstrom Rack or on their own website. They last forever and are cut generously, so size down.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:12 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have never had luck at Macys - I've found bad fit and low quality - but that may have changed in the past few years. For sort of entry level I would try an Ann Taylor or Ann Taylor LOFT and see if there's anything there, and you can always try Nordstrom Rack (the half yearly sale is in June at the mainline stores and will have some suiting). Flat front pants only, and make sure they fit your waist but don't hug your butt - you may have to get them altered to fit properly.

I think tel3path has great advice, especially for this time of year.

For a daylong interview and flight, I'd want to bring along some kind of work appropriate tote, but I tend to like to have one with me anyway - if you're not a bag/purse person you can probably be fine without it, but I think you need some touch up makeup/mirror/small snack/etc and that has to go somewhere. It's easier to pick the bag after you have the wardrobe and shoes settled.

Make sure whatever shoes you get are comfortable - you will be walking around more than a typical interview, and you don't want to be distracted by being uncomfortable. I would also bring a clip (I prefer the Ficcare maximus clips for ease and polish) in case you want to put up your hair at some point (such as on the warm plane).

For my field, a pants suit would not be appropriate interview attire - I know you said you have the basics down so I trust you on that, but I feel like I should mention it. Field/type of job makes a difference.
posted by mrs. taters at 7:18 AM on May 4, 2011

I've had good success recently with White House Black Market - in my experience the in-store staff have been really good about facilitating me to find something that works. They bring stuff in and make suggestions without being super pushy. It definitely helped me to find outfits that work in a reasonable amount of time, and prevented me from getting super frustrated with the whole shopping process.
posted by netsirk at 7:22 AM on May 4, 2011

Nthing Macy's. I recently had to find an interview suit, and Macy's was my last resort after combing every other store in the mall. I wish I'd gone there first, because their selection, quality, and price absolutely blew everyone else out of the water. My new suit is Tahari and I really like it.

I prefer skirt suits to pant suits, because you don't have to worry about hemming or picking an appropriate heel height, they're easier to hang, and they're a lot more forgiving if you gain or lose a few pounds (I carry my weight in my midsection and have relatively narrow hips, so if you have wider hips your experience might be different). I've owned several skirt suits and only one pant suit, which I have never actually worn.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:24 AM on May 4, 2011

I've sat on a few interview panels in my time. I'd say the most important thing you can wear is a confident smile, poor body language in a great outfit isn't half as good as great body language in something you borrowed from your mother. Get a good's night sleep beforehand, eat well and arrive in good time, you'll do fine.
posted by joannemullen at 7:35 AM on May 4, 2011

Nthing Macy's. I work in a field where suits may be worn for interviews but not so much the rest of the time. I have bought 4-5 different suits at Macy's. These were all suit sets--Tahari was one, though I can't recall the other brands--and all were all sale for about half off.

I don't know that I hate pants suits. I think they can be very flattering on women when they fit well. Look for a jacket that buttons but fits somewhat closely. And don't worry if the pants length isn't important.

Bring the shoes you think you'll wear (or something similar in height at least). Plan to try on many, many different suits. If you have a patient friend, bring her along for advice on what's flattering.

Underneath wear a simple sleeveless or short-sleeved shell.

For colors: I'd go for something neutral like black, navy, or beige (especially beige if you'll be interviewing in warm places in the summer).

Ann Taylor is okay, but pricier. I probably wouldn't go there or J Crew first because of the price.

I also recently saw a bunch of great pants suits at great prices at someplace like Marshall's or Ross.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:36 AM on May 4, 2011

Check out academichic - it's a fashion blog by some art history PhD students in the midwest, and have written about interview attire fairly often.
posted by foodmapper at 9:02 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to have an Alexander McQueen suit jacket I bought for £5 from a thrift store; other than this, I do not like suits. I am an hourglass, with a full bust (36FF), and I have real trouble with tailored things - I can't get shirts to fit well, and jackets are tricky. If I worked in an environment which required such clothing I would seriously consider either making them myself or getting them done for me. However, petite and smaller-chested women can look great in them, so it depends on your individual shape. Also your budget - I found high street stores were not ideal for me, but can't speak for higher end.

I work in the media and have done since I got my first permanent job, so what I wore may be more informal than you like. I like a plain smart jersey dress - for my last interview I wore a brown one with tiny cream polkadots and brown crocodile Mary Jane shoes. I wore this exact outfit to a funeral, just to give you an idea of how smart we are. The dress was £20 from a supermarket and I got the shoes in an outlet store, and this was a much better buy than the suits I bought in the sales whilst a student thinkng 'i might need this someday...' So, what I did wrong was buying something before I needed it, not when I did.
posted by mippy at 9:03 AM on May 4, 2011

I also feel more confident in clothing that I feel fits me well, so if you're really uncomfortable in a suit, this may come across.
posted by mippy at 9:03 AM on May 4, 2011

I'm thinking more about your question about hating pants suits. Unfortunately, I have been at like three different sizes over the past few years when I needed to wear a suit. Fortunately, I was able to find something well-fitting at each size. I wouldn't say I have an easy-to-fit body, either. But it might be helpful to know if you dislike pants suits because they are suits or if there is something in particular about them you don't like.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:33 AM on May 4, 2011

All the answers are really helpful. One thing I haven't seen anyone address much is the quality of the fabric and the details in the jacket/suit. Generally speaking (and assuming a conservative profession) how do you go about assuring quality when going for more affordable stuff? Is it just the brand name or some other details you learned to pick up over the years?? Or does the price directly correlate with quality?
posted by xm at 3:01 PM on May 4, 2011

Data point: I wear black pants I bought at a thrift store (or sometimes the bottom half of my Anne Klein suit), a blue button-up shirt I bought at a thrift store (I have several and don't know the brands of all of them -- Van Heusen is one), maybe with a plain black tee or camisole underneath, and SAS black flats.

Ah, just saw that you're in a conservative profession. I'm in tech and in this outfit I am usually matching my interviewer's dress or dressed more formally than them.
posted by brainwane at 3:44 PM on May 4, 2011

I think you might find Corporette to be helpful.
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 3:45 PM on May 4, 2011

Also, good luck with your interview!
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 3:56 PM on May 4, 2011

On suits my thought is, you generally get what you pay for. I find the Banana Republic/Ann Taylor suit fabrics don't look so nice and don't drape well and the cuts are boxy. I bought some J Crew trousers in that Super 120's fabric they charge extra for and found they wrinkled like crazy, which was pretty disappointing, and though I love some of their blazers, the cuts of their trousers don't work for me even when the size is correct.

If I had to buy a suit and went for what I could afford, which isn't high end designer by any means, I would probably try Theory or Elie Tahari (this line is different than the Tahari from Macy's, it's the pricier line - a jacket would be around $300). I like Theory cuts and fabrics and they fit well, it's also cut on the slim side and the inseams are really long, which works for me. As far as fabrics, again I have found Theory to be good.. at a little cheaper, I have found Club Monaco suits to be good too, if the cuts work for you. I go by the feel of the fabric and I look at the state the garments are in, on the rack - are they already wrinkled up? are they bunching or draping awkwardly so that when you try it on, you're having to stand a certain way to make it look right?

I would go in a nice department store (Bloomingdale's for instance, or maybe Nordstrom.. I can't afford Saks or Neiman's) and try on a ton of cuts and styles in a range of sizes. I mean a *ton,* don't hesitate to ask the sales people for help, sometimes things on the hanger look blah but turn out to fit beautifully. Go for a grey or navy, I think, and patterns if any should be subtle. A wool crepe fabric would be best. Sadly most trousers aren't lined so I might wear hose under them for an interview, just for a totally smooth line.. I think Spanx are uncomfortable but some people like them, I guess. Personally I don't go for skirt suits because work-appropriate lengths and cuts usually look dowdy on me, I look best in skirts/dresses that hit about mid-thigh or pencil skirts that are very fitted.. which means I only wear skirts outside work and stick to trousers while I'm there!

Also I wonder if it's necessary in your field to have a matched suit. I prefer darker trousers and a lighter jacket, and really what I recommend is trying on many styles to see what works for your figure - I do well with double-breasted styles and menswear styles, but others do better with a short, fitted jacket with 3/4 sleeves. For instance you could try a fitted jacket in a lighter color (I quite like this one) or a subtle tweed instead of a matched blazer that is exactly the same fabric as your trousers.

Finally I would say one of my favorite resources for a collection of modern, professional looks that are appropriate and interesting and fashionable is the Michelle Obama Lookbook. Though there are a lot of formal gowns her everyday suits and trousers + cardigan outfits are great.
posted by citron at 9:24 PM on May 4, 2011

I wish I had watched the television show "what not to wear." that show is the most comprehensive source for learning how to dress that you will find. I learned so much "e.g large breasted women should wear two or three button jackets" watch a few episodes if you can.
posted by bananafish at 9:29 PM on May 4, 2011

As long as you're wearing a neutral, business appropriate suit it doesn't matter. The dress test is an easy hurdle to clear. They're only looking to see that you can dress appropriately and know to do so. I think in gneral you're better off wearing something that will not raise eyebrows or questions in any way rather than be interesting. In other words, be boring.

"Those clothes were so fashionable. I thought it was a little over the top. It makes me wonder if she's very superficial."

No kidding. Dress to NOT give them something to talk about.

Much harder is coming in refreshed, smiling a lot, being relaxed, lauphing a lot, being prepared, etc. There are also stock questions (e.g. what's your greatest weakness), that you should be prepared to answer.
posted by xammerboy at 7:33 AM on May 5, 2011

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