When 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 advice — wear 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?
I think black, navy, and dark gray are all perfectly acceptable suits for a conservative environment. If the suit fits perfectly and you look confident, the suit will not be a distraction. As for the skirt v. pants debate, I always go with a skirt when I want to feel more powerful. In pants, I feel like I’m ready for anything. But in a skirt, I feel like a power player.
I agree with AG. ALWAYS wear a skirt; NEVER PANT’S or a PANTSUIT. FOOEY! You look much more feminine in a dress–that is what the manageing partner taught me even tho the first time I met him I was weareing jean’s! I think he saw the posibility of me workeing for him in a skirt so he hired me.
The onley thing you have to watch out for — at the interview stage, is NOT to wear a short skirt, especialy if you are interviewing with women, b/c they get VERY jelous and posesssive of the men in the office and immediately think that if you are hired, that you will be very seductive of THEIR men, even tho the men are NOT attractive to you.
So wear a conservative skirt and you should be fine. Once you get the job, you can wear shorter skirt’s and like me, very short skirt’s when you go to Court. YAY!!!!
I wear a charcoal suit for interviews. It’s a more flattering color on me, fits better, and I feel more confident in it because of that. For me, confidence trumps the small possibility that an interviewer might ding me for it because they might think its slightly less professional than black or navy.
I wore a charcoal gray wool skirt suit (very similar in look to the one Kat posted) in December and got the job. I’m in finance. n=1
+1 I wore a charcoal gray skirt suit (similar to the one posted) for my interview a year ago and got the job (lawyer at a a mid-sized, semi-conservative firm).
Ironically, I have an interview next week and I will be wearing a charcoal skirt suit.
Nothing “ironic” about that, sister. Coincidental, maybe?
new york associate
I can’t believe this is a real question! But seriously, gray is perfectly fine for an interview suit. You probably don’t see as many gray suits floating around because when shopping, it can be harder to find a gray suit (and people aren’t always sure what colors to wear with it). There is absolutely nothing unprofessional about gray.
One exception: if it’s obviously a summer gray suit (very light color, very light fabric) I might reconsider, but that’s because of seasonality, not because of the color itself.
+1. I remember this when I was interviewing. Everyone wore black. Wear charcoal! It might even make you memorable in a good way. :)
I wonder if job-seekers today feel like every single thing needs to be spelled out; or if every little deviation from some unwritten but authoritative rule, no matter how meaningless, has a major effect on whether they get hired.
Maybe it’s that the stakes are so high that you don’t want something stupid and easily fixable to derail getting into a career that you spent years of time and maybe six figures to get into? This seems to be the opposite of the Q in the earlier post re drama in a grad school club — low stakes –> do what you want. High stakes –> make sure you don’t have toilet paper on your shoe and that the X-thread on the back of your jacket has been removed.
Why wonder when you can know (or know what’s market)?
A suit can be less-than-ideal for interviews for many reasons — poor fit, embellishments, visible stains —but being gray is not one of them.
How is this a real question? Is this seriously asking if a GRAY SKIRT SUIT is appropriate for interviews? No offense, OP, but c’mon.
It seems to me that this person came to an appropriate place to ask the question. I don’t think it’s a big deal to reassure her.
+1 I don’t believe there’s an OP – this sounds totally made up. No one could possibly worry about a grey suit.
ummm, people new to the workforce, or new to the super professional business world really don’t know basic things and sometimes ask more knowledgeable people questions about those things. I am glad that she got an answer to her question and that she can learn more about what is professional before she shows up for work, and potentially has people dinging her behind her back for not wearing the correct clothes.
If your parents and family friends don’t have professional jobs to guide you on unstated office norms how are you supposed to know these things? I was in my mid20s before I knew many of the subtle cues that make clothes more or less professional looking.
Maybe it’s a legitimate question, but it has been dealt with exhaustively on this site and countless other sites. The answer to some questions is sometimes “let me Google that for you.”
I guess this post is still better than the infamous “is a water bottle unprofessional?” question.
This completely within the realm of questions professional women worry about. Other examples of questions we’ve discussed many times on this site that seem So Important when you’re new and more obvious when you’ve been around a while — Do I have to wear a button-front shirt? Can I wear my hair up? How high of a pony tail? Are peep toes ok? Do I have to wear hose with my suit at X occasion? Can I wear pink nail polish or does it have to be clear?
Lots of people think the only acceptable interview suit is super formal black (for women), so feeling like you’re deviating from the norm can often make you a little self conscious or unsure.
Anon, I hope you remember you posted this should you ever be out of work — especially for a long tome — or be up for job that you want so bad you can taste it.
Yes, it is a real question and have merit.
+1. I searched for jobs from February 2011 through September 2012 and had numerous 2nd and 3rd interviews but no offers until mid September 2012. In a job market like this, you cannot risk that a gray suit might not sit well with your interviewers.
+1 to all of the “please be kind; this is a reasonable question to ask” comments.
If anyone here finds a question boring, just keep scrolling or–to use a phrase often read here–JSFAMO (just say FOOEY and move on). The benefit: you save all kinds of time not reading irrelevant-for-you information!
This site has many posts on repeating topics such as TTC, how to handle maternity leave, what to wear when pregnant, how to ask for a raise, when to look for a new job, and/or how to cope without screaming at a person who is doing something you find super duper annoying…
The same thing happens in real world conversations among friends, colleagues, neighbors, and/or family:
“How’s your team doing this year?”
“Tell me again how you keep your kid’s winter jacket so clean?”
“I need a quick but impressive recipe! My in-laws are coming for Thanksgiving!”
“Did you hear that another admin in Marketing just resigned…?”
etc., etc., etc.
Well said Silvercurls.
Agree that gray is fine. Just to reassure those who fear horrible errors, I once wore a yellow and black suit to an interview and got the job. (I was 7 weeks postpartum and it was the only suit that fit. And it was the 90s).
Is the debate over skirt-suits verses pantsuits really still happening? I understand the traditional stance on it and why it might be better to play it safe if you’re in a super-traditional environment, but would anyone here actually think it was wrong to wear a pantsuit to an interview? How cold does it have to be before a skirt is completely ridiculous?
I think there is no lower limit on wearing a skirt – I wear them even in frigid temps, with appropriate tights/boots/etc.
I prefer skirts, so I prefer skirt suits (actually, my preference is for a suit-dress and coordinating blazer). But I don’t care if the person i’m interviewing is wearing a skirt suit or a pants suit as long as it is appropriately worn (fits correctly, a boring interview color, etc).
visit the south and interview with an older male. the debate over pantsuits and skirt suits still exists and is still relevant.
Just because it shouldn’t be an issue doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue.
+1 , sadly
I practice law in a medium sized town in the deep south. I have been a litigator since the mid 1990s, and it is only within the last two years or so that I would even consider wearing pants to an interview or to court. Depositions, yes, but not for interviews or court. There is an infamous story here about a family court judge in the early 2000s who kicked a female lawyer out for wearing a black pants suit (well fitting) to court.
Not just men! An old school female judge in state court where I used to practice did not understand why women wore pant suits to court and I was strongly counseled by an older female attorney in another part of the state to always wear a skirt suit to court.
I just happen to feel far more powerful in a skirt than in pants.
I am not sure if has to do with having entered the workforce when women did not wear pants unless they were in fast food or some other minimum wage job or more to do with liking to distinguish myself from the men by dressing in way that they can’t (at least in traditional business).
(Giggle) I’m picturing a sudden trend of skirt suits for men. In summertime. (Like the Swedish train conductors who–when forbidden to wear shorts on the job in hot weather–showed up in skirts.) Searsucker, anyone?
In a job interview, definitely! Pant suits are fine for day-to-day, but for a big meeting, a new client, an interview, absolutely a skirt suit (or sheath with a jacket) in a conservative color (and I think dark grey is fine).
And FWIW I live in the Northeast and came from management consulting in NYC.
The only time I’ve dinged someone for the suit they wore is when a woman came to the interview wearing a spaghetti tank top under her bright blazer which looked like it came from H&M. The reality was that the job required very senior management access with our clients, and I couldn’t in good conscience put her in front of any one of them. She was young, pretty, and out of her league – and if I could see that in 2 minutes, so could the head of GE Capital.
Mind it’s also field specific. I like skirt suits, but for my interview in men-dominated research field I choose pants, because this is a safe bet. Putting a skirt doesn’t help there, as some people tend to interpret it as overly girlish, playing grown- and dressed-up, etc.
The suit coat must be clamped in the back with binder clips. I own this jacket in black and it does not pull in an “X” like it is on the model above.
As to the OP’s question, of course gray is ok….aside from a very light, almost white grey, I cannot imagine a time when it is not ok.
The one thing I’d worry about with a BR suit from 10 years ago is the cut. Some of the suit styles from Banana Republic can date really quickly, while others are “timeless.”
new york associate
I assume that all suit jackets on models are probably clamped in the back, just as they are on mannequins in the stores.
Kat has a hunt post for charcoal suits from 2013 that shows up in the “related posts” on this page. It calls them one of the best options for interviewing and shows four gray skirt suits and two pants suits. Why not direct the reader to that post and save us this one?
there might be other readers that were thinking the same question. Or this could be helpful for future readers who google this exact question, and this post pops up. It’s Kat’s blog, she can post whatever she wants. And what harm exactly is it doing to you to see a post answering a question you don’t care about?
>And what harm exactly is it doing to you to see a post answering a question you don’t care about?
JSFAMO or read my other response above re scrolling past non-pertinent posts & answers.
Rawr. I need dark chocolate.
me too. All. The. Dark. Chocolate. ;o)
Well, they have to post something. Can’t have a good question every week.
I am on the interviewer side of this questions. (I interview potential residents, faculty, etc). A gray skirt suit is fine. Do. wear. a. suit. I recently had an interviewee show up for an interview in “business casual”. I thought it should go without saying; but that is NOT ok. I know medicine can have more relaxed dress culture than law, finance…..but one still needs to interview in a suit.
As an interviewer also, agree with the other posters. Gray suit = totally okay. I would be glad to interview someone not in black. Only see black pant suits (never skirts these days) at residency/fellowship interviews and it is quite an eyesore… 12 years ago, I wore a charcoal skirt suit- totally out of ignorance (and lack of this website, I guess). Didn’t have any problems.
I told this story once before, but….
When I was interviewing for Medical residencies, I bought my first ever suits. Ann Taylor specials… a black pinstripe pantsuit, and a red (?oxblood) wool crepe shift dress with matching tailored jacket. At one of my internship residencies at a hospital in NYC, I pulled out the red, figuring if I couldn’t pull it off in NYC I would never wear it. I walked into the large conference room at 7am and there were nearly 100 other interviewees already seated. As I grabbed my seat, I realized every. single. person. in the room was wearing a black/dark suit, except me.
Then the Chairman walked into the room, and every one was silent. He quickly looked around the room and said.. “WELCOME!! …….WOW, I feel like I just walked into a Funeral Convention… But YOU…. YOU there…..” as he pointed to me, and everyone turned to stare….. “YOU are HIRED!!”
I have a Heather grey Theory suit for my next interview.
Question for all the MDs – Can young male interviewees wear grey suits too or should they stick with black or navy? I personally like grey better for women (black too severe and/or looking like a waiter and navy looking too boring) but am curious as to what males wear. My son will be applying this year for medical school and I’m advising him. (just an aside, I’m a proud mom because he scored a 41 on the mcat!)
I would beg him to wear something other than black or navy! When interviewing residents, we love to see some personality. A trend I’ve seen start with some are fun bow ties to break up the monotony. We love it. As long as it’s a suit and tasteful, he’s good to go!
I think that navy is such a classic, for both men and women, dark grey is also fine. But maybe your son can play it up with accessories? I mean navy suit with brown shoes and belt plus an interesting pochette, which complements the tie (without being an exact match)? This would be very classic, but still make a statement and bring some personality.
Agree with BigMed. I’ve interviewed med students and residents, and a gray suit is completely fine. A pantsuit would also be fine. To put things in perspective, I interviewed one student who wore a vibrant purple skirtsuit, and she was dynamite. It was perfectly tailored and accessorized, and the color suited her complexion beautifully. The whole ensemble was a reflection of her vivacious personality. If she had been a weak candidate, or if she seemed to have an agenda about Expressing Her Individuality, the suit would have been a huge red (purple?) flag to me, but she carried it off. I followed her residency career, and she was at the top of her class, well-loved by patients, colleagues, and staff.
Yes, a charcoal gray skirt suit is fine for residency interviews (but agree to check that the cut doesn’t look dated). I alternated between a black skirt suit and a dark green-gray suit (alternating between pants and skirt) for residency interviews, and matched.
Reader L, I completely understand your question. I think most of the residency interviewees are wearing black suits. Good luck!
+ 1 on checking that it doesn’t look dated.
I had a basic black pantsuit that I tried on in a store and loved. I had the skirt and the pants. The jacket was not too big for once. Then, it seemed that the length of the skirt was a bit too Sister Wife. And, horror of Horrors, it looked like one of Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits had snuck into my closet.
It was a good suit when I got it (I swear), but over time I had to just let it go.
Also +1 on making sure it is the right gray (charcoal) and right fabric.
Another +1 on beware of looking dated.
I have a really killer black suit that is overdue to be donated because I feel it looks dated. It was a great suit, and I got compliments every time I wore it, but I can tell the styling is showing its age even if the fabric isn’t. Just like Lentil, I am just going to have to let it go.
This is really interesting because I was raised by my (very traditional) granny who always said black suits are for waiters and funerals. I know these things are more relaxed now, but I would choose a navy or gray suit for an interview before a black one.
I think this is still the rule for men, although also not always followed and I’d add weddings to the “waiters and funerals.” Women get a broader pass with this one.
Waiters, funerals and evening wear (after 6 pm).
Maybe its different in other parts of the country but in my region you could come to an interview for a medical residency in your pajamas and as long as you were breathing would probably have a job. That’s how desperate we are for doctors in some specialties.
And, I wasn’t meaning to make light of your question. Only stating that I am a healthcare administrator and I recruit physicians. I don’t care what color suit you wear. I care what y our credentials are, if you will fit into our culture and take good care of our community.
scrubs and sequins
Conversely, in my competitive surgical specialty at a major academic institution the process is quite competitive and you can bet that every detail matters! So it really depends to what specialty and where she wants to match. I certainly agree that a charcoal suit is perfect though.
Just watch the heel height- the last couple of years at few women have shown up in heels that were noticeably higher than the business norm, which really stands out!
On a semi-related threadjack:
I have an interview tomorrow and I’m debating not fully “suiting up” but I wanted some opinions. The postition is a 15 hr/week, temporary assistant-to-the-assistant position in academia/science labs as a technician. My only “full suit” option that fits is a summer-y light grey skirt suit – doesn’t seem appropriate since its only suposed to be 5° tomorrow. I was thinking I would wear either the grey suit jacket with black dress pants or a black blazer with charcoal dress pants. Does that sound reasonable? I should also add that this is an extremely casual place to work and there is a good chance most of the people interviewing me will be in jeans.
I interview people for equivalent positions and well fitting dress pants+blazer would be appropriate. Be sure to wear shoes that would be okay for a lab tour, though I doubt in this weather you would be thinking of high heeled sandals!
Anon for this too
It sounds perfectly reasonable to me, and even the jacket might be over-doing it for a technician assistant. I work in an engineering/science field and if you’re not a manager, there’s no point suiting up. Good dress shirt and slacks and sensible shoes (because you should tour the lab) in neutral colors are pretty much it. Though if the jacket will keep you warm, wear it!
That being said, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my female bosses wear skirts or dresses to work. IMO, it seems that for my field where we also do a lot of outside field work, wearing skirts or dresses signals that you’re not willing to do field or lab work very often.
I agree that the grey suit is appropriate. I work on a college campus in the business school…. we instruct our students to wear black, grey, navy, brown.
My beef with wearing a skirt suit is two part…the skirt has to be an appropriate length.. I say hitting just above the knees. This is a point that students just don’t get. The skirt they wear clubbing is not the skirt you wear to an interview. Second, your shoes are noticed more in a skirt so they have to be conservative. This is another area where students just don’t get it. Here’s my convo with a student in the hall coming out of a class presentation in a skirt suit with her heels in her hand.
Me – “You look nice. Wow, those are some heels .”
Her – “Oh, I usually only wear these shoes when I’m wasted.”
If your shoes are only comfortable when you are wasted… those are not interview shoes. Because the students just don’t get the skirt length or heel height issues… I just recommend pants.
That’s what’s happening here in the midwest.
as a current resident, maybe you can trust my advice. i wore a light gray pantsuit- relatively traditional style-wise with a cream colored silk-crepe top and black 2 inch comfortable heels. i was interviewing for a more conservative and competitive specialty (anesthesiology) and only received compliments on the color of my suit! i think it was much more flattering considering my lighter complexion and blonde hair than black ever would have been. i also got my first choice in terms of residency programs. so my advice- where what looks best on you (within reason, i mean, i am not suggesting a hot pink jogging suit or something!) and wear it confidently. good luck.
No need to wear a suit for a lab technician interview. This depends on the field, but I’ve worked in departments where (sadly) looking too nice will work against you, especially if it appears that your clothing would interfere with your ability to work in the lab or field (heels or open toed shoes are most likely to be noticed, for legitimate safety reasons). Anon for this too’s advice is right on.
Why is a question about grey suits for interviews illustrated with model who is NOT dressed appropriately for an interview? (Jacket sleeves pushed up, top cut too low, messy hair). This is what gives young women the wrong role model for interview clothing.
What about her top is too low? Do you require prison matron tops like yesterday’s?
The only issue I could see is that a lighter shade would stand out to me in the winter. As long as it’s closer to charcoal than white, a gray suit is fine. A lighter shade would be just fine if it’s spring – early fall.
Skirts are not the norm in the engineering/construction world. I almost always wear a pantsuit any time I need to suit up. Though I would not ding someone for wearing a skirt, most of our candidates also wear pants. I feel like it’s probably because it is still a male dominated field. Engineering seems to be making some strides with that, construction, not so much.
I’m in law but married to a PGY2 orthopedics resident, so we just went through this two years ago (and don’t feel bad, he cares 0% about clothes and we had sooooo many conversations about what to wear for interviews!). for the commenters who think this isn’t a good question, medicine is a bit of a different world than law/finance in terms of attire – less focus on fashion, more on function, and an increased desire to not screw something up no matter how small, given how much of a black box the residency interview/ranking/matching process is. So I get where this question is coming from. BUT I think you’ll find that the black suit epidemic might be just because often women buy a black suit first (I know I did) and many medical folks have no need for more than one suit in life, ergo, women in black suits for all interviews. My husband did 10 ortho interviews, all in the same dark charcoal suit that he has had literally since he interviewed for colleges ten years ago, he just got it pressed each week during the interview season and cleaned once or twice. My advice: wear your gray suit since it fits well and you’re comfortable in it, and wear shoes with 2.5″ or so heels that you can walk for an hour in – hubby said lots of women at interviews had uncomfortable shoes on and looked awkward during the obligatory hospital tours. Best wishes, and enjoy the rest of fourth year following interviews!
OCI this year at my T14 school had loads of gray suits.
I agree with BC. As a woman applying for a surgical residency position, conservative type suits are a must. That being said, unless you are applying in one of the extremely traditional tracks (read General Surgery or Neurosurgery), a grey suit should be appropriate. One of our neurosurgery attendings stated: boring isn’t always bad and there is nothing wrong with a black suit and white shirt Although that is a bit more severe than what most applicants wear, the goal with your interview suit is to NOT stand out in negative way from your application but to let your application do the talking. Strongly consider getting a pant-suit compared to a skirt suit because a lot of the interviewing schools you will be at will be in the winter and staying warm is a must!
More importantly, blouse choice to wear under the suit is much more important. Avoid lace, ruffles, and feminine trills. Even my mother who is a residency director for pediatrics (one of the more liberal specialties) stresses that these are a no-go for interviews. Accessorize appropriately and stylishly.
Shoes are essential! What a lot of girls did on the interview trail was bring two pairs of shoes: heels for the interview part and flats for the tour. This works great!
Charcoal Gray Pinstripe Suit
Interview is the only meeting when making a first impression is most important, because you won’t get any chance again. In my humble opinion go with gray suit is probably the best option instead of dressing according to the culture of company or wearing dark pattern suit. Wearing an impact gray suit shows that you have taken interview as a serious and formal meeting. Thanks for your blog! Cheers