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The fashionista is in: Dressing for job interviews

Don’t forget your résumé.
The fashionista is in: Dressing for job interviews
Image by Cole Feagler

It’s that time of year when underclassmen are frantically trying to find a summer internship and graduating seniors are frantically trying to avoid homelessness.

It’s stressful enough worrying about what you’re going to say in a job interview, let alone what you’re going to wear. But don’t worry; the fashionista is here to help.

First, you should determine the company culture of your prospective employer. Is it business formal, business casual or just casual?

Corporations with a business formal dress code don’t allow for much artistic freedom, so getting dressed is simple. Men should stick to a dark suit, a pressed dress shirt and a tie. For women interviewing in a formal environment, the rules are similar. Stay conservative with dark colors and basic blouses.

“Generally, women should wear a dress or a skirt, in case the person you’re interviewing with has traditional values,” Mall of America trend specialist Sara Rogers said. “But be sure to give yourself the sit-down test: When you sit down, too much of your thigh should not be exposed.”

However, those interviewing at companies with a more casual dress code are free to be a little creative, while still maintaining a professional image. Make sure you have well-tailored clothes, practice good hygiene and aren’t wearing anything too distracting.

“Don’t detract from yourself by being too creative,” Rogers said. “You don’t want all of the focus to be on your clothing and not what you’re saying.”

 Even in a creative business that looks for personality in its employees, personal style needs to come out in accessories rather than the clothes themselves.

Nice jewelry, bright bags and patterned shoes are a great way to add visual interest to your interview attire without taking the focus away from your potential.

“Statement necklaces are a good way to show how you pull yourself together,” said Rogers. “Employers want to know that you care about yourself, because it means that you’ll be able to care about others.”

The same logic applies to makeup and nail polish (clean nails are a must — no chipped polish). Good personal hygiene shows employers that you care about your presentation, which is especially important if you’re interviewing for a job that requires you to interact with clients.

“Wear makeup if it makes you feel comfortable. You don’t want to make the interviewer feel uncomfortable because you look uncomfortable,” said Mary Weber Nord, director of talent at Olson, the Twin Cities’ largest advertising agency. “Some people wear no makeup and some people wear a lot of makeup. Lipstick is good, though. Wearing lipstick is probably better than not wearing lipstick.”

Men interviewing at a company with a casual dress code still have certain rules to adhere to. Jackets should always be worn, but there’s more freedom with what you can wear underneath.

“Ties are not required, but sport coats are. Obviously, no one is going to judge you if you wear a tie, unless it’s from 1990,” Weber Nord said. “T-shirts and suit jackets can be okay if you are interviewing for a creative position. But instead of guessing, make it easier on yourself and wear a button-up shirt.”

One great way for a man to show personality in his interview attire is to mix patterns, as long as it’s not too busy or distracting. You still want to look like you take the interview seriously. Try wearing a plaid shirt and a striped tie in a similar color palate underneath a sport coat.

“Present yourself in a way that is clearly 2014, not 2004. You need to be hip,” Weber Nord said. “What you’re wearing needs to be relevant with what is going on in the world right now.”

For women, there are several spring trends that can be incorporated into fresh and modern interview looks. Pantone, the leading authority on color trends, named radiant orchid the color of the year.

It’s a shade that pairs well with navy and gray basics. Try wearing a purple blouse underneath a navy or gray jacket. Floral prints are a great option, too.

If you’re looking to invest in some professional clothes, there are plenty of affordable options.

“H&M rocks. Marshalls and Nordstrom Rack are hit-and-miss, but they are excellent places to find basics, especially for men,” Rogers said. “Express is great for women looking to build a professional wardrobe.”

Some things to avoid: Blue jeans (each hiring manager reacts differently to denim), salt-stained shoes (Weber Nord suggests bringing two pairs of shoes to avoid this) and drawing attention to tattoos.

“Tattoos are such a weird thing. Some people have a visceral reaction to tattoos; others embrace them,” Weber Nord said. “Since you can’t predict how people will react, it’s best to keep it from being the center of attention.”

The best way to impress your interviewer is to come prepared, but looking good only helps the situation. Remember the basics: Nice fit, good hygiene and a dose of self-expression, and you’ll be just fine. Oh, and bring your résumé, too.


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