What kind of suit for an arts interview? Or suit at all?
June 4, 2014 12:47 PM   Subscribe

A friend has an interview for a really great administrative job at a midwestern arts organization. He's a big guy, so our options are not infinite - ie, no going to JCrew.

I'm thinking that for an arts job, a less formal suit would be better, maybe with something extremely contemporary in terms of ties. But the trouble is, I'm not sure how "less formal" works in this field. A light gray suit? A navy suit? I've always thought black suits tacky except for evening, but is black some kind of cutting edge artistic statement?

Or should he interview in a nice but softer shirt and wool pants and dress shoes (no tie, as one does not wear a tie without a suit)?

If he wears the suit, should he wear a tie? Or should he wear an open collar shirt? (I take this from advice in a Sarah Schulman novel for interviewing for an arts organization in 1990s New York - suit but soft shirt and no tie. But that's just a novel.)

If a tie, what kind of tie? I was eying a nice sort of quiet liberty floral because it's unusual but not loud...but would something else be better?

Normally I'd say dark charcoal suit, blue shirt, tie in a traditional pattern - but things work differently in arts organizations, and I don't think looking super staid and traditional will win any points.
posted by Frowner to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total)
Charcoal suit, nice soft plaid shirt, no tie.
posted by xingcat at 12:51 PM on June 4, 2014

I'd try to get away with something very stylish and chic. Be large and in charge is what I say.

It's summer, so something Madras might be nice. Kahki slacks, white shirt, Madras Blazer. Something like this Brooks Brother's look (but it depends on build, Stout will be fine, Portly, not so much.)

What size is he, and what does he currently have in his closet?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:01 PM on June 4, 2014

Admin not artist? I'd go dark suit and tie, at least to the first interview.
posted by Gungho at 1:01 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

This will sound like circular logic, but he should dress in a way that he is comfortable interviewing in. Slightly overdressing or underdressing is very likely a trivial thing in the eye of the interviewer, and it's much worse (for your state of mind and for your performance in the interview) to go through an interview feeling self-conscious about your attire.

It may be an arts organization, but it's still an office job, and so if I were in this situation, I would interview in a gray suit with some sort of neutral shirt and tie, because that is what I'm comfortable wearing to an interview in that context. If it becomes clear that I've dramatically overdressed, then it's a fairly easy thing to laugh off during the interview. Conversely, if your friend is someone who never wears suits, he may feel more self-conscious wearing one to the interview and want to go with something like xingcat suggested above.
posted by AndrewInDC at 1:04 PM on June 4, 2014

I worked at a large art museum in Minnesota for over a decade and he can't go wrong with a suit. What tie he wears will be a tiny portion of a first impression. Their assessment of how arty he is will come more from what he says and how he acts. I think we tended to see plenty of people try to play a part when they came in and you get pretty good at looking right through that kind of stuff.
posted by advicepig at 1:13 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

is this an avant-garde arts org, or a stodgy one?

a big guy going into an avant-garde might get away with a football jersey enhanced with his own art. stodgy, i'd go for the first answer, by xingcat, except NO PLAID. a solid, striking color, and maybe a bowtie if at all.
posted by bruce at 1:16 PM on June 4, 2014

I say this as a fellow big guy. I think it is actually important to overdress rather than underdress if you are overweight and are interviewing for a job. The common bias is to see overweight people as sloppy and lazy, and he should try and counteract that bias by wearing a suit and a tie. Either charcoal or navy is good, and I think it is OK to go slightly funky with the tie for an arts organization, but not like novelty tie levels of funky.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:45 PM on June 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

The bigger, older, more established and richer the organization is, the more conservatively he should dress. I'd say charcoal suit, any solid-coloured shirt except blue (blue to me says finance/business), and yes, the Liberty tie sounds perfect because it's recognisable but quiet good taste.

If the organization is smaller, younger, poorer or in any way unconventional (like I dunno, outsider art or something) then he'd be playing at a higher difficulty level, and in that case I'd try googling for photos of their execs.

Rock Steady is right about the weight issue: he should err more towards formal/correct than if he were average-sized. Also formality/correctness/tact/deference will be prized by the org more than you might think -- they will care about the comfort and happiness of whoever's paying the bills, which is likely rich people, or perhaps government people.

If he wants to be slightly dapper I'd consider suspenders (the button ones, not the clip kind). IMO they send a similar signal to bowties, but they lean less quirky and more utilitarian/persnickety, which is good for admin jobs :)

Good luck to your friend!
posted by Susan PG at 12:11 AM on June 5, 2014

So, we got a navy suit, a new white shirt and a - this is going to sound weird, but it's way quieter than it sounds - light grey and blue plaid silk tie.

We also got a medium gray suit since there was a nice one on sale and he really had only one suit in his existing wardrobe. Plus a blue and a lavender shirt and two dotted ties.

The liberty tie was much shinier than it had looked online and the pattern not as nicely executed.

I feel like at least in our circles people fall back on gray suits and the navy one will be a quiet and appropriate way to stand out, plus just fractionally more casual. (I mean, I like a gray suit as much as the next person, maybe even a little more....) Also, the navy was the most flattering fit in the shoulders (the rest is being tailored, of course), and since he's a bigger guy, there were fewer options.

I actually like the idea of the suitcoat and soft shirt with the open collar, but we ended up deciding to err on the side of caution.

Also, blue is his best color, so I figured that since we're talking about an arts organization, overall impression/color/dapperness is going to be as important as Getting It Precisely Right.

The organization is between the Old Money Old Masters Museum Donations level and the Punk Rock But With A Grant level.

I'm also assuming that, as advicepig says, the exact tiny details of the outfit will matter less than his qualifications and personality.

Plus, of course, in every hiring process I've ever sat in on, people have had....very wide ranging, let us say....ideas of interview clothes, and pretty much anything that read as "this is dressy, reasonably tasteful and I made an effort" seems to have been fine.
posted by Frowner at 6:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

don't forget to look into getting the suit tailored.

Shop around to a few different local tailors if you have time. I don't trust the "tailors" at e.g. men's wearhouse; but that doesn't mean Joe Threadneedle will be any better.

If you're so inclined, I'd ask them to talk to your friend about how they define "well tailored", what's possible given the suit/body, and what's not possible. Last time I took a jacket to get tailored, he had me put it on, then immediately began drawing on it in chalk. I don't like what he was doing, but I didn't feel that, at that point, I could refuse and go some place else.
posted by rebent at 7:58 AM on June 5, 2014

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