What should females where to an interview?
January 26, 2006 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Is it still the case that females must wear skirt suits as opposed to pantsuits to interviews?

If so, what justifies this?
posted by orangeshoe to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (35 answers total)
I've never worn a skirt suit to interview, and I've always got the job. I do, however, work in a university, which might invalidate my experience.
posted by handee at 8:35 AM on January 26, 2006

It depends entirely on the culture of the company you're interviewing with and what level you're aiming for. If it's executive, I'd think starting with a skirt would be necessary and moving to a pantsuit for follow-up interviews.

If it's not executive and above, then go with a nicely tailored pantsuit. You can't go wrong with the J. Crew line, in my opinion.
posted by gsh at 8:36 AM on January 26, 2006

I usually wear pantsuits to interviews so that I can wear flat shoes and be comfortable.
posted by k8t at 8:36 AM on January 26, 2006

I've always worn nice pantsuits to interviews and have never had a problem. And in interviewing people, I have never seen a woman come in wearing a skirt suit. Maybe for extremely corporate positions in instustries like finance or law this might be different (I have no idea), but in tech companies, I think any suit works just spectacularly. Assuming it fits and looks nice.
posted by catfood at 8:37 AM on January 26, 2006

Per gsh, the answer to the first question is sometimes.

The answer to the second question is sexism.
posted by Xalf at 8:38 AM on January 26, 2006

I've always worn pantsuits. However, I wouldn't want to work anywhere that expected me to wear a skirt.
posted by acoutu at 8:43 AM on January 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think it probably depends on the field you work in. That said, I would probably find it less risky to wear a skirt suit than a pantsuit, other factors being equal. I don't think there's any really good justification, except perhaps that the average pantsuit may be more casual than the average skirt suit. Also, skirts are more traditional for women in non-casual situations, and if any situation makes us want to conform, it's probably a job interview. Though again, this depends on your field. In creative fields, you probably wouldn't want to shoot for "traditional."

If I found a really smart, well-fitting, professional-looking pantsuit I would probably feel comfortable wearing it, in theory. But I don't think I ever have worn a pantsuit to an interview. And I'm far more comfortable in them than in skirt suits, so there does seem to be a bias, if only in my head.

From the flip side, as an interviewer I don't think I would hold it against someone if they wore a pantsuit, as long as it was sufficiently professional-looking. I hope I wouldn't.
posted by lisaj32 at 8:46 AM on January 26, 2006

I think Xalf is right about sexism being a factor.
posted by lisaj32 at 8:49 AM on January 26, 2006

LisaJ32, while I think sexism is at play, I think many of the advocates of suits would say it is just as sexist as expecting men to wear a tie. It's a matter of convention. However, I think more modern / slightly less conservative firms recognize that a pantsuit is a reasonable choice and comparable to a skirt suit. That being said, I live in Vancouver, which is not exactly conservative.
posted by acoutu at 8:51 AM on January 26, 2006

The votes from my female colleagues in this (London) law firm are that you can wear a pantsuit to an interview without a problem.
posted by patricio at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2006

Actually, if you wore some kind of long, ruffly, peasanty skirt with a loud colorful pattern to your interview for a high-level executive position, that would be very inappropriate. So would wearing a wedding gown, one of the most formal things out there. At the other end of the scale, it would be inappropriate to show up for your waitstaff interview in a 3-piece power suit. It's not a skirt v. pants issue, it's a matter, as other people have pointed out, of dressing appropriately for the company culture.
posted by JanetLand at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2006

I don't think the question was skirt vs. pants, it was skirt suit vs. pant suit. Most people get that interview = suit. I have heard that people consider skirt suits more "professional", which I don't really get.
posted by catfood at 9:02 AM on January 26, 2006

Related threads are numerous, enjoy
posted by blue_beetle at 9:04 AM on January 26, 2006

There's a story about an old judge in Houston who wouldn't let women argue in his courtroom if they were wearing a pant suit. He's now retired, and quite possibly deceased. So is the attitude he harbored towards women, at least in the places I've worked.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:07 AM on January 26, 2006

I have only worn a skirt suit to an interview once. I don't believe it makes a difference. Although I have a varied range of experience in different fields and cultures (municipal government, law firm, not-for-profits, franchisor, university), I have never applied for a professional position (engineer, accountant, lawyer, for example), or at highly traditional places of work (BigLaw, accounting firms, highly urban corporations) - which speaks to the corporate culture piece. Both skirt suits and pant suits are professional and put-together, but if the place you are interviewing at is more 'stodgy' or highly traditional, there may be an expectation that you adhere to more traditional gender expectations - which means skirt suit. I'll refrain from speculating on the sexism issue, aside from saying that I believe it plays a big role for individual interviewers within these contexts, even if it may not be the corporate culture per se.
posted by Cyrie at 9:11 AM on January 26, 2006

I've never heard of it *ever* being the case where women were supposed to wear skirt suits instead of pant suits. To me, that sounds absolutely ridiculous. But then, I've never worked in finance or law, so maybe those fields are more crazily sexist than I thought! Coool.
posted by antifuse at 9:11 AM on January 26, 2006

I worked in design/advertising for a few years and only owned pantsuits, which I wore for interviews, but that was in a community where collared shirts & nice slacks were dress code once you got the job. I admit to being surprised that the dress code is still so sexist, though - skirt suits never look 'high powered' to me, and I don't see why a well tailored suit that allowed a confident stride instead of a runway walk wouldn't be considered formal enough. Perhaps you could accentuate formality by wearing a white shirt, pinstriped suit, black shoes, that kind of thing. As I said, in the industry I formerly worked, and certainly in the one I'm going into now (academia) skirts are completely irrelevant, as far as I can see.

If that isn't the case where you are interviewing, remember that cultures change person by person. If you prefer to wear pants, I'd suggest wearing especially formal pantsuits (not funky cuts or colors, etc) and just maintaining your confidence. And keep in mind that if someone really would turn you down due to it, you probably didn't want to work there anyway, y'know?
posted by mdn at 9:12 AM on January 26, 2006

Most conventions exist for a reason, and with formal wear it is a highly evolved aesthetic that subtly emphasises the best features of the male and female anatomy while still being conformist and reserved. Whether you like it or not, people will judge you somewhat based on appearance, i.e. attractiveness.

For men, the geometry of jacket lapels, shoulder pads and waist tapering emphasize the strong upper body of a male. Moreover, the collar and tie serve the same function as a mane or coloured fur do in many animals -- i.e. give the sense of a strong, well protected neck, the most vulnerable part of the body.

And for women, skirts and V-neck blouses are obviously designed to expose the attractive parts of the female body; they are also tailored to emphasis the unexposed parts (made less blatant by wearing hosiery).

These situations always require a compromise -- it is up to you to decide how to take show off your best assets (superficial or not) without crossing the line into whoring yourself.
posted by randomstriker at 9:13 AM on January 26, 2006

It's all about that particular company's culture. For publishing in Toronto, I never wear suits to interviews. I did it once and my interviewer was in jeans, runners and a baggy cotton sweater. I felt like an idiot. Now I wear pants and a blouse, or perhaps a dress.
posted by orange swan at 9:15 AM on January 26, 2006

I'd go with company culture, but also with whatever makes you look and feel best. I've worn both skirt suits and pant suits to interviews. No one seemed to have an opinion either way.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:21 AM on January 26, 2006

Well, I'm a girl geek (err.. software developer) and I ususally work in very casual environments that expect nothing more than jeans and a tshirt. I'm sure I could get away with pajamas if i tried. That being said, I've never worn more than dress pants and a blouse for an interview. Any more and I'd feel like and idiot. They say you should outdress your interviewer just a bit. So if you're pretty sure he's gonna be in jeans, that's not too hard to do.
posted by cgg at 9:28 AM on January 26, 2006

For men, the geometry of jacket lapels, shoulder pads and waist tapering emphasize the strong upper body of a male. ... give the sense of a strong, well protected neck, the most vulnerable part of the body.

And for women, skirts and V-neck blouses are obviously designed to expose the attractive parts of the female body;

do you not see that this is inherently sexist? The clothes for men make them appear stronger, less vulnerable, while the clothes for women specifically "expose the attractive parts" - the exact reverse?
posted by mdn at 9:29 AM on January 26, 2006

My initial reaction is "hells no!" (to the original question).

The more complicated answer, of course, is that different workplaces have different, strange, and many times arbitrary ideas of what's appropriate or not. You're not a mind-reader--but I join the chorus who say if the company faults someone for wearing dress pants instead of a skirt, I would never knowingly work there. I think it's best to just wear what you think is appropriate. If you're so far off, then it's not the right place for you anyway.

In my industry, which is very much corporate, it's becoming very out of style to wear a suit at all. It looks stuffy and vaguely crazy. Sweater/blouse with dress pants/skirt is standard.
posted by lampoil at 9:55 AM on January 26, 2006

Just as a note to those who say they've never heard of the skirts/pants convention for suits...many of the older (even earl 90s) interview books out there preach this. I think it's part of the dress for success mantra.

As I recall, pantsuits were invented in the early 70s or late 60s. My mom has told me that it was forbidden to wear pants/slacks when she started working, unless it was as part of a very smart pantsuit. By the late 70s, I think a lot of women were wearing shoulder pads, ties and "mansuits" and maybe there was some sort of backlash, where conservative firms expected skirt suits. Just my guess.

Anyway, probably anyone still barking up that tree is 60-65+ and less likely to be a hiring manager.
posted by acoutu at 10:11 AM on January 26, 2006

mdn: and I don't see why a well tailored suit that allowed a confident stride instead of a runway walk wouldn't be considered formal enough.

That's rather unfair. I wear skirts constantly and there are plenty that allow for the same freedom of movement as trousers. In general, I am a big fan of a "fun" skirt suit with a top that allows for the jacket being tossed aside if it becomes clear on arrival that skirt + sweater is sufficient.

To answer the question more specifically, part of the reason that wearing a skirt is better is because in general skirts look better. You may be sitting out there thinking, oh, I look good in pants. And you might. But you look better in a skirt: it suits your curves and allows for greater play between levels of formality.
posted by dame at 10:12 AM on January 26, 2006

You can wear whatever you want to an interview, but it's recommended to know the company's culture and dress accordingly. Skirt suits are conventionally more formal, and if the office is formal, it's a better choice for the interview. But if you're profoundly uncomfortable in a skirt suit and have a very nice pantsuit, that'll work, too.
posted by desuetude at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2006

I work in a super-corporate environment in the financial services field, and not only have I never seen a woman come in for an interview in a skirt, I can't remember the last time I saw a woman wearing a skirt AT ALL. Everyone wears pantsuits. Please note that I mean very nice, tailored "real" suits. Like the women's version of a man's suit, not a JC Penney's matching pants and jacket-type suit. If that makes any sense.
posted by peep at 11:07 AM on January 26, 2006

The lady pre-meds and docs who come to interview at the major university med centers I've worked at wear either one, pretty much 50-50. The emphasis seems to be on a professional, very conservative look in either case.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:52 AM on January 26, 2006

Peep, can you link to some images of what you mean?
posted by acoutu at 11:56 AM on January 26, 2006

I've experience with technical (engineering), scentific academic and governmental hiring (in Canada, mind). Skirt suits are unusual. Pant suits or even good blouse and slacks are the norm for interviews.
posted by bonehead at 12:04 PM on January 26, 2006

I've gone through the whole mba recruiting deal where you and 20 other people are all sitting around waiting for interviews at the same time, and it's generally been about 40% skirt suits and 60 % pant suits, and as far as I know, it's never made a difference regardless of the type of job (inv banking, marketing, corp finance, consulting, etc). My only word of advice with pantsuits is to make sure the one you wear FITS you. I think the boxy pantsuits (straight jackets with big shoulder pads, high waisted pants) make a woman look outdated and unprofessional, recruiters may think that to, who knows? If you're buying a pantsuit (or any suit for that matter), just make sure it fits you correctly, particularly around your waist and hips. Fitted is good!
posted by echo0720 at 1:00 PM on January 26, 2006

More to the point, do you really want to go to work everyday someplace where corporate culture is sufficiently sexist that pantsuits aren't acceptable?
posted by ilsa at 1:38 PM on January 26, 2006

acoutu, sure. Having worked retail for several years in the past, here is what I envision when someone says "pantsuit" or "pants set." It's made of polyester and the jacket zips up - too casual. And here is what I think of as a fine women's suit. It's wool, and it's cut like a man's suit.

It's not necessarily about cost, even though I'm comparing Penney's and Nordstrom's here. Pieces described as "pantsuits" usually just look a little cheaper and are made with inferior fabrics.
posted by peep at 3:14 PM on January 26, 2006

I worked in the financial services industry for 5 years and never once wore a suit - pant or skirt - to an interview given that much of the industry has adopted business casual as the standard. That being said, nice dress pants and a blouse/sweater has sufficed.

It's key to understand the culture of the company you would like to work for though. A friend of mine worked for a boutique investment funds firm and was required to wear a business suit to work everyday--whether it was a pant or skirt suit was at her discretion--the key was to look professional.
posted by phoenixc at 3:47 PM on January 26, 2006

The choice between pantsuit and skirt suit is simple: wear what looks best on you, unless (a) a skirt would make you uncomfortable or otherwise impair your interview performance or (b) the employer has a casual dress policy, in which case a skirt suit is appropriate above the daily standard, but a skirt suit might seem stuffy. The same advice applies, for the same reason, to whether you should wear tasteful low heels, or flats.
posted by MattD at 7:57 PM on January 26, 2006

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