Yesterday, I posted the five basic pieces that make up a well-stocked interview wardrobe. Today, I’ll show you how to turn those outfits into three outfits that will shepherd you through your career search.
For a first interview, I like to keep things very simple: a black suit, basic heels, a neutral blouse, sheer nylons. Keeping it conservative and simple is the best choice if you’re unsure what to wear or what the office dress code will be. If you’re a bit overdressed or dressed a bit too conservatively, most interviewers will expect that and think nothing of it.
J.Crew 1035 Blazer ($248) and Telegraph Pencil Skirt ($98) // Pearl Stud Earrings ($50) // H&M V-Neck Blouse ($30) // Michael Kors Flex Pumps ($100) // Elizabeth & James Windrose Ring ($95) // Donna Karan The Nudes Sheer Nylons ($20) // Pierre Darre Satchel ($198) // Essie Ballet Slippers ($9)
I chose the H&M blouse because the v-neck looks great with the blazer and the fitted pencil skirt plays well with the fuller shirt. If you prefer something less staid, try a polka-dot blouse or a geometric print. If you want to add some color, I like cornflower blue blouses with black suits.
Mix in a comfortable pair of heels (you never know how much walking/standing you’ll do) and a colorful bag for accessories that mix form and function. I also like to keep the jewelry simple with a pair of pearl studs and a simple ring (I own both of these pieces and love them.). And keep your nails clean, trimmed and polished in either clear or pale pink.
As for the hair, if you touch your hair when nervous, pull it up. A low ponytail, a twisted updo or a low bun are all good options. If you’re not worried about playing with it, wear your hair down in a natural style. If you’re going in for a first interview, keep your makeup fresh, clean and neutral. No heavily pigmented lipsticks, eyeshadows or blushes. And keep the application light but pretty, too much makeup could send the wrong message.
For a second interview, your attire depends on who your meeting. If you’re going to meet with someone higher up the food chain (the Chief of Staff, CEO, etc.) keep your suit, but switch out the skirt for the pants and choose a new blouse. But all of my second interviews have been with the same person or group of people, so I’ve always worn something different.
Altoids Mints ($2) // Albert di Canio Bag ($195) // Donna Karan The Nudes Sheer Nylons ($20) // Zara Blazer with Zip Pockets ($139) // Telegraph Skirt in Super 120s ($98) // Hematite Studs ($30) // L’Agence Sheer Yolk Shell ($79) // ASOS Stateside Heels ($60)
Suit separates are a good choice for a second interview or for an interview in a workplace that doesn’t have a conservative dress code. You’re still wearing a jacket, so it’s appropriate, but it’s not a full suit.
Tweed or boucle jackets are my favorite alternative to a blazer, but you need to take steps to keep the jacket from looking matronly. To prevent this, I added a black silk shell with a sheer yoke, a pair of fashion-forward but appropriate heels, and chose these hematite studs. If the L’Agence blouse is sold out in your size, you can select a basic top like this Ann Taylor blouse or another sheer yoke top like this Calvin Klein blouse.
Also, don’t go to a job interview or an important meeting without some breath mints in your bag. I interviewed an intern a few years back who clearly had not eaten anything prior to his 10:00AM interview, and the smell could have killed fish. That is not the impression you want to leave on your would-be employer.
Gianni Bini Stackable Ring ($50) and Dome Band ($50) // Pierre Darre Satchel ($198) // Mango Suit Jacket ($70) // 1035 Trouser in Super 120s ($148) // Baroni Madison Earrings ($52) // Mango Blouson Dot Blouse ($89) // LOFT Petra Pumps ($79)
While many job offers happen via e-mail or phone, as you climb the career ladder, you may find that your new employer wants to make the offer in person over lunch. It’s important that you look the part for this occasion just as you would for an interview, think of it as your first day of work. This outfit would also be appropriate for a visit to HR to fill out hiring paperwork or grabbing coffee with someone you want to help you with your job search.
I love the look of an off-white blazer with an off-white blouse. This Mango blouse has a bit of texture and sheer to give it an airy feel, but if you want something more solid, try this Mango tie-neck blouse.
For the jewelry, I chose a pearl and gold earrings and simple gold rings. I love the way pearl earrings look next to white or off white tops. And for the shoes I chose a leopard print to add some style to an otherwise monochromatic outfit. If you’re not feeling the leopard, a simple pointed toe black short would be nice or you could skip the red bag and wear a colored high heel instead. I would recommend red or cobalt.
Love this! Incredibly helpful. Thanks, Belle!
I have always been told to never wear pants to an interview as a female. Do you think this is overruled in this day and age? Do women need to worry about sending some kind of message (I don’t really know what message pants send) by wearing pants especially if interviewing with men or older women? This issue has always perplexed me.
I work in the legal field and haven’t necessarily been told to never wear pants. I have been told though that a skirt suit is seen as more conservative/dressier than pants with a suit jacket and should be preferred in very conservative environments for that reason.
Lady Macbeth says:
I work at and have interviewed at several big New York law firms (which are, arguably, among the more conservative workplaces) and I’ve never had an an issue picking either pants or skirts. I usually prefer a skirt because it keeps my body temperature cooler in a high intensity situation (and my butt looks better!), but I’ve probably worn pants just as often to interviews. I’ve interviewed with men and women, young and old. On the flip side, I have no preference as an interviewer as long as you look neat and professional.
I don’t think it really matters in large workplaces in most major cities. It might matter in small, conservative towns. But, then again, do you want to work somewhere that judges female candidates based on their legs?
the answer, as it usually is, is it depends. the most important thing is to know your environment. most industries aren’t a problem but some are. as a DC lawyer, i would never ever wear a pant suit to an interview or court. part of that is confidence, part is tradition, and part is knowing that even as far as we’ve come, some people don’t believe women belong in pants. disagree all you want, but there are some employers who care. i very much disagree with lady macbeth: it’s not just small towns, and it’s not that rare. it’s definitely more the case in the south.
DC lawyer says:
If an employer cares whether a woman wears pants or not you should strongly consider whether you actually really want to work in that environment. I’m a lawyer in a large DC law firm and I’ve never ever heard this being a problem. I have worn pants to court and to interview and it has never held me back.
I agree with this. I personally think skirts are more professional, but as long as you’re wearing a suit, I don’t care whether it’s pants, skirt or dress.
I’ve heard different things too. I’ve certainly worn a mix of pants and skirts.
Anyone want to weigh in one way or the other about Capitol Hill specifically?
Sadly, as a student teacher, we attended a “seminar” with the head of HR in our school district to give us interview and resume tips and we were told NEVER to wear pants to an interview. And this is to teach!
Now, two caveats: I live in Texas and this was almost 20 years ago now, but I was shocked.
I love love love this post! (Well worth the wait to get it just right – you’re amazing at this, Belle.)
Beautiful outfits, but no way would I wear all/solid white on my top half for an important lunch meeting. Wayyyyy too great a chance of spilling something on yourself (or worse, someone spilling something on you) and it ruining your appearance.
That’s the exact same thought I had. I’m sure many women are less clumsy and accident-prone than me, so kudos to them for the ability to pull off a white top during a lunch interview/meeting, but for me this would be a recipe for disaster.
Could you please give some give some suggestions for nice interview clothes for plus sized ladies?
Link for the satchel isn’t working.
Red satchel link is fixed.
Excellent post Belle! I was wondering how to dress for the two-interviews-in-one-week situation and while I ended up wearing the same suit with different blouses/accessories/shoes, your post is so helpful for how to address that situation in the future. Definitely going to look into investing in a tweed/boucle suit set, especially now that I’ll be living and working here on the East Coast for at least a couple of years.
Should curly-heads straighten their hair before an interview? I’ve always been told that curly hair is unprofessional, and as much as I’d hate for that to be true I have found that I’ve only gotten job offers when my hair was straightened.
I struggle with the same issue. Not sure the “right” way to go, but I wear my curly hair up during interviews and important meetings. Love my hair, but it can be so unpredictable that I don’t like risking it as a factor on big days.
That’s how I feel too. My curly hair is totally unpredictable, no matter what I do, so I end up straightening it for interviews. It’s not that I think curly hair isn’t polished/professional/whatever, it’s that MY curly hair doesn’t look put together enough for an interview.
Also, I always look hideous in blazers/suit jackets but there’s no alternative is there?
Even collar-less ones? I definitely don’t look my best in double-breasted jackets or anything with any kind of padding in the shoulders, but I’ve found that wearing a collar-less jacket helps.
In all blazers? I know I’ve definitely found that I look good in fitted or 3/4 sleeve jackets, though unfortunately, the more flattering jackets also tend to be the more expensive. Cheaper jackets usually make me look like I’m playing dress up.
Fantastic post Belle. Useful practical information and insights into what an interviewer would like to see for that all important first impression.
Giggling Gourmand says:
I thought the article was going to be ridiculous, but I actually found myself agreeing with a lot of the points. Men have a very specific dress code, why shouldn’t women? It still irks me when I see female Members of Congress on the House floor in short sleeve tops, I’ve even seen a few with sleeveless tops or dresses that are in violation of the rules but not really enforced (I know staff gets told to put on a cardigan or something, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Member get told that and have seen several speaking in inappropriate attire).
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What’s your take a handbags for interviews? Above you choose bags around the $200 mark. I recently purchased a much more expensive but classic bag and I friend recommended that i never have a bag nicer than a future boss’s bag. thank you!
I agree completely. I wouldn’t carry anything more fancy than Rebecca Minkoff to an interview. I know of interns and junior staff who were passed over for raises because they carried YSL or Louis bags to work. Bosses assume that if you have the expensive purse you might not need the money, might not be as hungry to succeed and might be high maintenance are prissy. Is it fair, no, but carry a mid-range bag or lower and avoid the possible complication.