I Don’t Own a Suit, or What in God’s Name am I Going to Wear to My Interview?

Going to the Opera? Come on, challenge me! There's a dress for that.

For only the second time in my life, I don’t know what to wear. What to don on a first date? No problem — got a top that hugs (and plunges) in all the right places. Gallery opening? Come on! Challenge me. Opera? There’s a dress for that. Job interview? Umm… (cue Jeopardy countdown music).

I probably should have asked for a suit for Christmas.

Every morning at 6:30AM, my mother would get ready for work. Hot rollers, St. John’s suits, and Farragamo pumps. I hated the St. John’s suits. Woolly, itchy, boxy garments that I associated with the things that took my mother away from me. Suits made you overweight. Suits made you come home at midnight and travel on weekends. Suits made you late to the talent show. I swore I’d never ever, ever own a suit.

20 years later, and I’ve stuck to the promise I made to myself. No suits. Plenty of dress pants, a cadre of jackets, but none designed to be worn together.

Is the Kate Spade dress with the color-blocking trim too much whimsy for a corporate marketing gig?

Which brings me to my dilemma. I have several interviews scheduled over the next two weeks and Nina Garcia says a “chic, modern take on the classic suit” is the way to go for  interviews. Eeeeek! I’ve never been at a loss when it comes to getting dressed, but given what my wardrobe surely lacks, what in god’s name am I wearing to meet prospective bosses?

The jobs I’ve gotten callbacks for are in a variety of fields — the art world, the corporate world, the non-profit sector — and the question I have to ask myself as I prepare for each meeting is: what version of “me” do I want to present?

Obviously, the goal of each outfit is to come off as professional, but is there more room for whimsy in an art job than in a corporate marketing job? Or would a marketing firm prefer someone with a bit of flair? Is the Kate Spade knit dress with the Mickey Mouse-esque buttons and red accents appropriate for an interview with a PR company? Should I stick to pants and a jacket? Can I wear pants without a jacket? How high a heel is too high? It’s winter still — do I wear the understated wine-colored coat or the show-stopping Diane Von Furstenberg green-gray-black mottled cashmere coat? Do I bring a handbag or a brief case? Which handbag — are navy and silver sequins too much?

My mother voted I wear the outfit on the left to my interview. Fashionista Nina Garcia, the one on the right. I chose a hybrid.

In some ways, I’ve shot myself in my farragamo-clad foot by making deciding what to wear to an interview more nerve-wracking than the interview itself. I know what I’ve done in the workforce, I know my education, I know my career goals, but gosh darn it, I don’t know if “individual,” “fashionable,” and “professional” can coexist in one outfit.

If you walked into my bedroom right now, you’d think they had just finished filming “Twister” in there. After an hour of trying-on and re-trying on, I finally settled on an ensemble. Since I have three interviews left this week and can’t get to the stores before the weekend, I just have to believe individual, fashionable and professional exist in the form of brown high-waist pants (a la Katherine Hepburn) and a tweed motorcycle jacket.

The pants and jacket only narrowly defeated the magenta bra and black tuxedo pants my mother suggested I wear when she saw me standing at the top of the stairs in a panic.

“That looks good. Why don’t you just go with that.”

“Mom, I’m not auditioning to be one of Madonna’s back-up dancers.”

I’m not entirely convinced she was joking, but if by next week none of these interviews have turned into offers, magenta bra and black tuxedo pants it is.

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2 thoughts on “I Don’t Own a Suit, or What in God’s Name am I Going to Wear to My Interview?

  1. Good luck!

    I have to say, one nice thing about graduate school is I’ll be wearing skinny jeans and flat black boots today, and I’ll be more dressed up than most of the people in my department.

  2. Kathleen

    Lucky duck!

    Also, it’s been a while since we’ve had an update on Reality is merely an illusion.

    You’d better get on that

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