Surgical pearls
October 30, 2014 1:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm interviewing for surgery residency programs, which means dress code = business formal. Help me look like the excellent, meticulous, professional scalpel-wielder I will someday become. Difficulty level: former grad student, female edition.

For the particular sub-specialty I'm applying into (neuro), I am likely to be one of a few women amongst a crowd of men. I just invested in a lovely charcoal dress suit from Theory. (Ah, my first real, non-black-polyester, non-pantsuit suit. It's hanging in the middle of my closet, a little halo around it throwing shadows on all my jeans/hoodies/tshirts from my former life as a grad student.)

Problem is, I'm not entirely sure how to accessorize the dress, which has a high neckline as you can see. I'm not sure how to look polished, period. The interview dress code is business formal, probably pretty similar to Big Law and such. I applied all over the U.S. and will be interviewing Nov-Jan everywhere from the Northeast to San Diego. I will be trooping around medical campuses all day long. I am 5'4'', with a neat bob haircut.

1) Necklace: I'm thinking classic white pearls, or maybe gray/black pearls. It seems a 16'' strand might be ok even with the high neckline. Or a thick silver chain, though I'm not a fan of this look?
1b) Earrings: Maybe medium-sized pearl earrings instead of necklace?
2) Coat: I am coatless, having lived in CA for many years. I am willing to invest $$$ in a coat, but not too much since I may end up staying in CA. Any labels / styles I should look out for? I'm thinking wool trench, but would like it to be just a notch nicer than the CK / Anne Klein coats I've always bought from Macy's.
3) Shoes: Probably will get black pumps from Ecco or Rockport. Other recs welcome.
4) Tights: Last time I wore nude hose was ten years ago. What's sleek and durable? Recommendations please!

Thanks so much!
posted by nemutdero to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Given the high neck and clean lines, I wouldn't clutter this up with a necklace. The pearl earrings sound perfect.

As far as coats go, I think this one from Jcrew is nice; it comes in a variety of colors, but I might be boring and go with black. Just make sure it is long enough to cover your skirt. It is warm, but not too heavy.

Finally, if you are going to be walking around a lot in the winter, you might consider bringing some dressy boots as well. Traipsing around in pumps in the snow is miserable, and it is likely to broadcast your woman-in-a-male-dominated-field-ness in a way that wouldn't be helpful.
posted by girl flaneur at 1:50 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with the high neck and clean lines, but if you want to add a bit of color or coordination, I would try to find a stylized black or silver belt that looks nice with the dress.

The thing you don't mention but I think you should take note of is a coordinated and professional purse or handbag. I would go for a name brand, but subtle and not too flashy of a bag, but one that does coordinate nicely with your earrings and shoes.
posted by bbqturtle at 1:55 PM on October 30, 2014

Best answer: I like the idea of medium sized earrings instead of a necklace.

I haven't worn hosiery in a while either but, I can recommend DKNY and Hanes Silk Reflections.
posted by Fairchild at 1:58 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Michelle Obama wears that neckline with pearls very consistently!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:02 PM on October 30, 2014

Best answer: I love pearls, but as another choice consider a cz pendant. It can be simple and pretty (and cheaper than a diamond!).
posted by cecic at 2:06 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Gonna go against the grain here and say no jewelry. And no purse. Buy a slim black leather portfolio that'll hold letter sized papers, a black but stylish coat (which this year is collarless) and boots for cold climates. Neatly trimmed nails, no manicure. No flashy watch. That's much more the look I see amongst medical/ science professionals.

I'd ignore advice tailored towards lawyers and corporate types and look neat, practical and comfortable.
posted by fshgrl at 2:17 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm with fshgrl (I see candidates for residency at my hospital* every year). Earrings, yes, but nothing dangly -- pearls would be good. Boots for cold climates, yes, and not too high a heel for other places. And whatever you get, make sure you can walk comfortably and confidently. Nothing makes a woman look worse than wobbling in overly-high heels.

And for god's sake, do not take your phone out to check it where the interviewers can see you! (Pet peeve.)

*if your travels happen to bring you to A Certain NY Village That Loves Baseball, hit me up.

ps: I love that suit.
posted by shiny blue object at 2:38 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You probably already know this, but make sure your shoes are super comfortable- you will be walking a LOT on tours of hospitals and such and nothing will make you stand out as a lady in a dude's world than tripping or limping in over-ambitious footwear. None of those guys will recognize fancy shoes anyway, so just wear something simple and comfortable.
posted by genmonster at 2:41 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've interviewed more residency applicants than I can count at this point and what you're describing sounds perfect. Either pearl necklace or earrings will be fine--whatever you like the look of better.

The absolute #1 thing you can do is make sure that everything fits you well, is comfortable, and you feel really good in it. Interviewees who clearly feel like they've "dressed up" come off as nervous and like someone wearing Dad's or Mom's suit.

Seconding the advice to wear shoes you can walk in. Some hospitals are very big and composed of miles of weirdly-interlocking corridors. Depending on the program, they may want to show you more than one hospital. You will be walking a lot. Keep your feet happy. My go-to hospital dress shoes are from Cole Haan's Nike Air wedge line, but anything that's comfortable should be fine. Wear them for at least a couple of hours before you go on an interview in them.

I've always been pleasantly surprised by the quality of J.Crew's wool coats, especially if you can get one on sale. Although it looks like they don't have a trench coat in black this year, there are many other attractive options. Boden also has some cute coats, and it sounds like you don't necessarily need it to withstand the Arctic blast.

You definitely need some kind of bag or portfolio, because all programs will have handouts for you (usually they will also have a folder, but it helps to have a pen or two and somewhere to stash all that stuff).
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 3:48 PM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I might go for a brooch + earrings rather than a necklace.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:06 PM on October 30, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, y'all are amazing. Thinking pearl stud earrings, comfy sleek black pumps, black wool coat, portfolio / slim leather briefcase. Progress!

One more question - I hadn't thought about boots because I assumed they wouldn't be formal enough for interviews, but it would be great to be warmer. What do you suggest? Perhaps slightly sheer black hose with snug-fitting tall black boots with clean lines and a low heel? (I should note that the sheath dress comes right to my knees, of course, unlike on the model.)

Some ideas- one, two, three.

Bah, perhaps I'll just buy the matching suit pants too, to prepare for a polar vortex situation. Here, Theory, take all my money :p
posted by nemutdero at 6:56 PM on October 30, 2014

Best answer: Now s/p interviews for residency three years ago, and just finished with fellowship interviews.

I wear a grey tweed skirt suit with high-necked shells (I have 3 in cream, white, and lilac). Always with appropriate hosiery (usually nude for me). Shoes: for residency, I wore patent leather loafers with a 1" heel and a nice buckle, and this time around, patent ballet flats. I wore pearl necklaces, and for earrings, plain studs (if anything - I wear my hair down, so often it's moot). I carried a nice purse or laptop portfolio, depending on my luggage/lodging situation, and a leather portfolio with a notepad.

Lots of the women that I interviewed with were in pants suits, somewhat fewer in skirt suits (and some way too short, IMO). Conservative jewelry. Some people carried briefcases, and others carried (really, really) nice handbags.

Generally speaking, you can't go wrong with a conservative suit from Ann Taylor or J. Crew, or Nordstrom. All of them offer "personal shopper" type services that can help you find the right look, which is standing out without being overly bland. I would recommend buying multiple tops to wear, so that if you're out on the road, you have a few backups to wear if you get shrimp cocktail on one of them. Not that anything like that happened on the trail for me...

Good luck, enjoy the process (and the free meals, and the free nice hotel rooms)! I can't speak to any specific surgical questions, but anything about interviewing in general, fee free to MeMail me.
posted by honeybee413 at 7:26 PM on October 30, 2014

Best answer: All the boot options you linked look fine.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:14 PM on October 30, 2014

Best answer: If you are not accustomed to professional women's clothes, think about storage.

Decide what you need to have - phone, chapstick, eye drops, whatever you need all day - and make sure you have room for that and handouts and business cards and whatever you pick up.

Many portfolio bags are roomier on the inside than they appear. Get something like that.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:22 AM on October 31, 2014

Response by poster: I ended up getting pearl studs, Rockport pumps, and a perfect black bag from Fossil (men's). Thank you everyone!
posted by nemutdero at 1:40 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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