Can You Wear a Sheath Dress and Jacket to an Interview?

Theory 'Betty 2' Stretch Sheath Dress | CorporetteAre you required to wear a skirt suit for an interview, or are sheath dresses acceptable? We’ve talked about interview attire (including what to wear beneath a suit jacket) before, but let’s discuss again. Here’s Reader L’s question:

I have an upcoming call back interview at a big law firm. I am a 2nd year associate. Can I wear a Theory sheath dress and jacket or do i have to wear a skirt suit? I only ask because the Theory sheath dress is wonderful, comfortable, and super professional. The internet basically says absolutely not … but this is a West Coast based firm. Any thoughts are much appreciated!

For my $.02, I think that while a skirt suit is the default conservative option, pants suits are becoming more and more acceptable — and a sheath dress with a matching blazer isn’t that far behind. A few notes on this, though:

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Expanding a Suiting Collection

How to Expand a Suiting Collection | CorporetteHow to Expand a Suiting Collection | CorporetteHow can you expand a suit collection beyond the most basic colors? What is the best non-basic suiting color? Reader J wonders:

For my new job, I need to wear a suit every day, so I’m ready to expand my very basic (black, navy, grey) collection. I am thinking about a camel or khaki color, but I’m not sure if that is too summery/appropriate for fall. Would brown be a better choice to fit more seasons?

Great question, J! I went back through a bunch of Suit of the Week picks and have a few thoughts:

  • Buy suiting separates.  First, if you haven’t already been buying suiting separates, please do start doing so.  You’re going to have SO many more outfits to put together for a suit if you have the pants, the blazer (or two), a sheath dress, and a skirt.  On the more affordable end look to places like Talbots, J.Crew, Boden, and even some Macy’s EDV lines (such as AK Anne Klein, Calvin Klein, etc) for these kinds of suiting separates.
  • Go for a more traditional non-traditional color such as light beige or light gray.  Most people would not consider a camel/khaki or even a light gray suit to be an interview suit, but these are all traditional colors for suits.  I’d also consider a light reddish brown suit (clay? putty? darker than a khaki, lighter than a coffee?) or a light blue suit (also this or this) to be in the range of “normal” suit colors, and I think you’ll find that they’re surprisingly versatile.  I’d also put white suits in this category. Personally I never wore my dark brown suits much, but my “base” for almost everything is black leather (versus brown leather), and I’m a silver instead of a gold — if either of those were different then I might have gotten more wear out of them.
  • Have fun with texture.  Seasonless wool suits are great for versatility, and they’re the classic suit fabric for a conservative office… but you can have a lot of fun with textured suiting too.  Tweed suits (also here), twill suits, crepe suits, ponte knit suits, cotton pique suits (also here), linen suits, and more, all bring in different textures, even if they’re in conservative colors.  Look for conservative suits that have details such as leather suit details, ruffled suit details (also here), or even animal print accents… none of these things are typical on interview suits, but they’re a great way to broaden your wardrobe while staying in conservative colors.
  • Printed suiting separates can also add a lot of versatility but still read as conservative.  Consider a pinstriped suit (also here), a polka-dotted suit (also here), a checked suit, a plaid suit, houndstooth suits, or even a suit with stripes (also here). I’d also put colorblocked suits (also here) in this category.
  • Go for a colorful suit.  Colors are in right now, so if you’re looking for a trendy piece, consider a suit with a fun color.  Purple suits may be a good place to start if you’re comfortable in navy, but dark green suits or dark red suits are also more popular than they have been in previous years. (Cobalt blue suits were everywhere not too long ago, as well!)  You could always go for a fuchsia suit, of course, and really make a statement.  Colorful suits can sometimes age you, so I’d look for inspiration from high-end lines (Hugo Boss, Theory) or, honestly, more youthful stores like Limited, Dorothy Perkins, Boden, and H&M.

Readers, which were the first suits you bought beyond black, navy, and grey basics?  What colors (or patterns) have been the most versatile, and been worth the purchase price? 

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Sponsored: Ann Taylor’s Fall Collection

Ann Taylor's Fall 2014 CampaignDisclosure: This post is sponsored by Ann Taylor, but written by your usual friendly blogger, Kat Griffin.

Ann Taylor has always been one of my favorite workwear brands, and their fall collection is absolutely gorgeous. (And ladies, do note: they’re currently offering 40% off sale styles, with no code needed — huzzah!) I thought I’d take a look at some of the hot new pieces just hitting stores now — readers, do you have any favorites from Ann Taylor’s fall collection?

 

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The Hunt: Interview Suits

Stylish Interview SuitsSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

It’s almost time for thousands of law students and MBA students around the planet: interview week! We of course have the Guide to Women’s Suits for general advice, and we pick an interesting women’s suit once a week — but we haven’t rounded up interview suits in a while (charcoal suits in 2013, navy suits in 2012). There are, of course, a few Hall of Famers to note in this category:  Banana Republic’s lightweight wool suiting, Ann Taylor’s triacetate suiting, J.Crew’s Super 120s suiting,  Theory’s stretch wool suiting — in addition to those classics, below are the first six suits I’d try if I were looking to buy a classic, basic interview suit in today’s market.

Readers, do you have any favorite suits that are classic enough for interviewing? What’s your favorite budget suiting line — and your favorite splurge suiting line?

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Summer Work Clothes: How to Look Professional When It’s Hot

Summer Work Clothes | CorporetteWhat should you wear — and not wear — to look professional (and stay cool) when it’s hot outside?  Which summer work clothes are the best?  We’ve recently gotten two reader questions on the issue.  First up, Reader M wonders:

Hi. I’m 30 years old. I am a rock and roller. Meaning that I work in the music industry. In the past my job was to chaperone the concert site. I was very good at my job. Got a new job in Orlando, FL, that has me now working at a desk. I am now a supervisor. I came into this job in the fall so I had some leftover black wool slacks, nice dark wash denim, and black sweaters to get me through. It’s now almost spring (feels like summer) and I don’t know how to do professional for summer. I work in a business casual environment, which helps. I like to keep all of my color in accents like purses, shoes, scarves, etc. I wear monochromatic. It’s my signature and super versatile when starting a new wardrobe. Can you advise cuts, fabrics, etc. of office appropriate summer wear for a newly professional, young lady like myself that’s trying to beat the heat without looking like a concertgoer?

Reader T also wonders:

I am heading to D.C. from California this summer for a legal externship, and am in need of advice on the dress code in the legal world when it’s 95 degrees. I worked on the Hill for several years and (sadly) recall a lot of flip flops and sundresses during the hotter months. I imagine that this won’t be the case in a legal setting/government agency, but I would love some basic outfit formulas, fabric suggestions (is tweed taboo?), and other ideas for a 30 yr. old to look like a lawyer while fighting the humidity and sticking to a budget.

In terms of outfit formulations, my go-to looks are boring, but they’re classic for a reason: think sheath dresses plus a blazer (to be added once you’re inside), and nice, lightweight trousers (look for cotton or cotton blends) with a nice tee and a classic pair of pumps (and ideally a matching blazer). (Pictured: Cole Haan Air Carma Open Toe Pump, on sale at Zappos for $169.99 (was $275).) As we’ve noted before, natural fabrics like cotton, silk, and linen are going to breathe a lot more than non-natural fabrics, so do pay attention to that when buying new pieces.  (Also: pay attention to the laundry instructions. That $20 pair of pants starts to look less appealing — and less of a deal — when they start to smell to high heaven after two wears and the only way to launder them is to get them drycleaned.)

We’ve talked about how to stay cool during a heatwave, but here are a few fast tips for cooling down quickly (or to stay cool enough to avoid completely wrecking your clothes):

  • a simple fan, carried in your purse or bag — yes, you’re expending more energy as you fan yourself, but the bit of a breeze can be amazing if you’re stuck on a hot subway platform
  • an ice-cold can of soda, held against the inside of your wrist, the back of your neck, or even the back of your knees
  • convenient ice packs — there are even necklaces designed to be iced and worn!

Otherwise: We’ve talked about what not to wear as a summer associate, what not to wear to work in general, and how to stay cool during a heatwave — but not in many moons.  So let’s revisit!

An opening caveat: As we’ve noted in previous discussions, this is very much a “know your office” situation.  If you’re working at a NEW office, though, or are still learning your office, you should wait until you see someone significantly more senior than you break these rules before you consider it “office culture.”  (For example: if you’re a summer associate at a law firm and see a first-year associate wearing sandals, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ok for everyone to wear sandals.)  It’s a bit of a spectrum, but here’s my list: [Read more...]

Gray Suits for Interviews?

When Is a Gray Suit WRONG For an Interview? | CorporetteWhen is it NOT acceptable interview in a gray suit? Reader L, a med student, wonders…

I am in medical school, and will be applying for residency next year. Seeing applicants this year, I notice that it is a sea of black suits (women in pantsuits). I have a gray skirt suit from Banana Republic in 2004 that still fits perfectly and is unembellished. Should I be on the look out for black pantsuit like everyone else, or a grey skirt suit still in the realm of acceptable interview wear?

Wow. I often feel like I take the fuddy duddy line when it comes to interview advicewear a skirt suit (at least for traditionally conservative job interviews, which may not include medicine), wear pantyhose, wear walkable shoes — but here I’m going to be a little loosey goosey: wear whatever muted color of suit you like best.  Gray, black, navy — knock yourself out. If you’re feeling crazy, wear a beige suit, or a pinstriped suit.  Honestly, I think that as long as you’re dressed in muted colors, interviewers aren’t going to notice your suit, at least in a negative way.  (Pictured: Halogen® ‘Ela’ Suit Jacket (Regular & Petite), available in four colors at Nordstrom for $98.)

Readers, do you think a gray suit would ever NOT be acceptable for an interview?  Have you ever thought less of a job candidate for wearing a conservative suit choice?