Interview Attire Tips for the Ladies

businesswoman clenching her teeth
Gentlemen have it easy: a clean suit, collared shirt and conservative tie and they’re polished and good to go for their interview. With so many options and so many places to go wrong, it’s a different story for the ladies. I say the following not to start a rant about fairness, but simply to acknowledge the fact that we face obstacles: double standards exist for women in the workplace. It effects everything from the likelihood they will be given demanding assignments to promotions. And yes, it also affects hiring practices. While gender-based discrimination in hiring practices is very illegal, it would be naïve to say that it doesn’t exist. The nature of it has changed, turning from “women aren’t good at this type of work” to “she doesn’t appear serious about the job.”

Appearances are important, as they are a large part of building a professional reputation. Man or woman, when we walk through the door, we are judged by the way we should dress. This blog will discuss job interview attire, because particularly as women, our clothing needs to say “you picked up my resume hoping for someone capable— congratulations, excellence just walked through the door.”

One of the joys of being a woman is having many clothing options. However, with those additional options comes the need to know what is situation appropriate. When dressing for an interview, I consider my appearance head to toe. So, from the bottom up:

Shoes: Heels vs. flats?
As one of the vertically challenged, I tend to opt for heels, because I have the additional concern of walking into an office and someone thinking that I am on a field trip as opposed to there to work. I think the extra height afforded by heels is helpful, bringing me closer to meeting my interviewer eye-to-eye, so that I can communicate with them on a more equal footing. It also has the added benefit of keeping the hem of my pants or skirt off the floor.

If you taller ladies wish to opt for heels as well, you have that option. I think flats can be a bit casual. But with both heels and natural height, you may come off as slightly intimidating—but depending on the environment you’re interviewing for, that may be an asset. So go for it.

Heel Height? I would not suggest going over three-inches. I may be on the conservative side, but if I’m wearing over 3.5 inches of heel, I’m on my way out for the evening, not to a job interview. Which brings up another pet peeve of mine: Keep the club shoes at home!! Platform shoes? Inappropriate. Open-toed shoes? For an interview? Absolutely not! It does not matter if it is in the middle of winter or the hell days of July. Stick with a basic, conservative pump.

Bottoms: Skirt vs. Pants
I always prefer pants. Why? In dressing for the first interview, particularly if its finance or government related, I don’t want my interviewer to have that extra reminder that I’m one of their few female applicants. It is my way of helping them to keep their attention off my gender and on my qualifications. At the same time, I think (again, my own opinion) skirts are also slightly more restrictive to movement—face it. When we wear a skirt, we have one or two extra concerns when we are going about our day (walking up stairs, when sitting down, etc…). If I’m interviewing for a job that requires me to be constantly on the move, running from one appointment to the next, I’m going to get there at a run if necessary, so pants are my thing.

If you’re going to go with a skirt, rock on! Just watch the hemline. They’re tricky. Ladies, you’ve heard the stereotypes, so you know the drill: too short says we moonlight as hookers, and should not be taken seriously; too long says our only aspiration in life is to be someone’s secretary. Fair? No. But it’s true.

Up top: Shirts
I love shirts. Generally, if the interview is not at a non-profit, I avoid blouses. Again, the “she’s pretty/girly, can she cut it?” factor.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss breasts. I’m happy to have them and I do not think they should be hidden, but my cleavage certainly should not draw all of the attention from my outfit. Tasteful, flattering discretion is key here. No need to pull an Annie Hall, but a simple button-up, with a v-neck color can’t go wrong. Add a blazer and you’re set.

Face:
Speaking of discretion, keep your makeup simple. The peek-a-boo lipstick is not ok. I tend to go for a light gloss, so that when I speak, the interviewer is focused on my works, and not the shade of my lip-liner. A little mascara and eye-liner is fine, just don’t overdo it.

Earrings: Simple. I love feather earrings, but they aren’t appropriate for interviews, so I tend to wear small pearl studs or small hoops.

Those are my suggestions ladies. Keep it clean, simple, and think of wear you’re interviewing as you dress. The goal is to make it clear that you could represent them at a client right that second without having to run home and change.