Compared to the standard men’s interview uniform of a suit and tie, women’s business wear is a relatively new concept. The first-ever guide to “power dressing” was written in 1975 – by a man. Luckily, you don’t have to go back that far to develop a go-to outfit for job interviews. But you can take inspiration from some of the basic principles of classic menswear: don’t chase trends, don’t be too flashy, and take care to look your very best.
That doesn’t mean you have to be unfeminine, of course. Women have a wider range of colors and patterns available to them, and you can wear them to the office in the right proportions. But before you have a full sense of what women at a particular company can get away with, your best options are your most careful options. Use this guide to put them together into a ready-made interview outfit.
1. Wear a jacket on top.
Depending on the weather and what flatters your body best, you could wear a two-piece suit over a blouse or a blazer over a dress. In either case, it’s always best to don a waist-length jacket with full-length sleeves for a job interview, and keep it on and buttoned until you leave the building. Once you have the job, you can tuck it in your desk for important meetings and functions. Make sure the pattern suits your body type and the color suits your skin tone, as well as the rest of your outfit. Color on neutral or neutral on color can be stunning; color on color is too risky, and neutral on neutral is too boring.
2. Wear a conservative bottom.
Whether you choose pants or a skirt, your hemline should be no higher than your knees. Anything higher than that and you may end up showing off much more of your thigh than you planned when you take your seat. This is a good way to feel conspicuous and self-conscious, which is the last thing you want to feel in a job interview, especially on account of your appearance. Choose a bottom that allows you to sit down comfortably with your ankles crossed. The same goes for shoes: Wear the highest heel that you can walk in without wobbling, with closed toes and no embellishments.
3. Keep your makeup and hair moderate.
Well-applied makeup emphasizes your features without overpowering them. You can feel free to wear thicker and more vivid makeup to a party, but for a job interview, you only need just enough to smooth out and brighten your skin, highlight your eyes, and plump your lips. Top it off with only one or two squirts of subtle perfume and a hairstyle that suits your jawline and requires little preparation. Some women can get away with wearing their hair simply down and brushed; others may look better with a bun or another basic updo. Don’t choose a hairstyle that can be ruined by a single gust of wind on your way to the office.
4. Wear minimal jewelry.
Just a few accessories, such as a pair of small earrings, a watch, and any rings you wear every day, are a good way to add interest to your outfit. If you want to wear any more jewelry than this, go no further than a pearl necklace or a chain with a small pendant. Stacks of bracelets or earrings that go down to your shoulders make too much noise and cause too much distraction. When you walk, all of your jewelry combined should make no sound louder than a soft clicking – ideally, even less.
5. Carry a workable bag.
Your bag should not be so small that you can’t fit a smartphone into it, or so big that you end up knocking things off the reception desk. A rectangular leather tote, in the same color as your shoes and without any glaring brand names, is a practical choice for an interview. Inside, along with your keys, wallet, and phone, you should have a pad and pen for taking notes during the interview, plus a folder with extra copies of your resume and any documents that you were asked to bring. You may also want to bring your comb and lip gloss so you can freshen up just before you’re called in.