Dress for Success

for the moment

You founded your own multi-thousand dollar business when you were ten. You managed a straight-A average in economics while rising to the top of the ever-corporate-minded Harvard Student Agencies. During summers you interned at Anderson Consulting and spent the remaining 20 hours a week serving food in a shelter, fulfilling your "I'm a real human being with real feelings; I do community service" requirement.

So you think you've got that $75000 a year consulting job in the bag? Not with that tie, honey. Pink paisley is out. Gone. And so are red, green, yellow, and orange. Double breasted suit? Too hip. Pantsuit? Too feminist. Nude pantyhose? Too secretarial. Loafers? Come on, boys and girls, get real. Just because you've got your resume filled to the brim, this is no time to slack off on interview apparel.

Let's start with basic interview fashion philosophy. "Blend," explains Katie Feeley of Citibank, who also worked in the Cornell Career Office. "You don't want to be noticed for your clothes. Blend in as much as possible. Sure, it might be stifling to the creativity, but it's a stifling business. Your 4.0 should jump out rather than your bright red suit."

"Dress as you would if you were going to a funeral," Feeley continues. "Say your Aunty Liz died. You would never wear a little Victoria's Secret black lace top under a suit. Your mother would kill you!"

"This is the presentation of yourself," says Loretta Farrell, human resources director at First Manhattan Consulting Group. "You want the job of the person sitting across from you, so dress like them. Dress as you would if you were going to meet a client. Say to yourself 'I wouldn't mind meeting a CEO dressed like this."

Translation: Navy or black suits with normal buttons. White or off-white dress shirts. Dark dress socks for the males and sheer of-white pantyhose for the females. And for those corporate feet: well-shined dress shoes or dark, wideheeled pumps.

Okay, you've got the basics, but don't forget to pay attention to details.

Jewelry: Don't wear too much. Ladies, this means no jiggly bracelets or earrings; only studs or small hoops are acceptable. And businessmen wouldn't be caught dead with an earring.

The Corporate Locks: Make sure your hair is clean and groomed. Men: cut it short, appear clean-shaven, and, Farrell adds, "don't have any bushy hair coming out of the ears or nose." Women: if it's long, tie it back in a nice hair clip or bow. You don't want to have that over-whelming hair-flipping temptation.

Nails: Polish is not required for females, Farrell explains, "but one time a woman came in and she'd matched her nail polish to her blouse. I thought it was so neat! I mean, she must have been a pretty together person."

Business Scents: You're not trying to pick up the interviewer, so leave the perfumes and colognes at home. "A little dab of aftershave is okay," Feeley says, "but don't douse yourself in it. Watch the cologne and perfume--you don't want to asphyxiate the interviewers."

The Briefcase: Sorry, a backpack just won't do. Farrell suggests purchasing some kind of leather binder or small briefcase for interviews. "It doesn't have to be an expensive Chase briefcase or anything, just something nice and simple. You're going to want one in the business world anyway."

Eating: If you eat breakfast or lunch beforehand, BRUSH YOUR TEETH. Never show up to an interview chewing gum. Never. (Everyone mentioned this little tidbit, so obviously some idiot has done it before.)

Crossing the Legs: To cross or not to cross. Farrell learned the rule from her Catholic mother: "Modest women, if they must cross their legs at all, cross at their ankles and never at the knees." And if you wear a dress or skirt, "when you try to cross your legs, the dress goes halfway up your hmm-mm."

Of course, it's impossible to make generalizations about every firm. while banking, accounting and consulting tend to be dominated by old white men who probably wouldn't appreciate that gorgeous new blouse and matching scarf from Ann Taylor, Feeley suggests more creative clothing for interviews with advertising, marketing, and human resources positions.

Then again, free spirit that you are, maybe you should show up to the interview in a plaid pink and green suit. Hell, if they won't hire you because of your clothing, do you really want to spend the next few years working with them?