Reader Mailbag Part I: What To Wear on Interviews Generally

What to Wear To an Interview: Women Lawyers Edition

Ellen Parsons took interviewing seriously… so should you!

2016 Update: We still stand by the advice below, but you may also want to check out our frequently updated Guide to Interview Suits!

Wow, it’s the start of the interview season already for those of you still in law school. Good luck! Stay tuned; we’re going to (try) to do a lot about interview tips and a guide to women’s suits. Immediately, though, we have this question from a reader named Summer:

I am a 3L law student looking to buy a nice conservative suit for interviews. I am also a big fan of corporette! I have looked around malls and nothing seems to be nice enough. The only thing that I have found in my size online is Talbots. I also ran across the site Do you think this site is legitimate? Do you have any other recommendations?

Thank you so much for your kind words! We’re not familiar with the site, but we wouldn’t recommend going with a custom suit for a big interview unless you already had a relationship with an amazing tailor. Our best advice with interviewing for conservative jobs is that the entire goal of your interview wardrobe should be to take the focus off your appearance and put the focus where it should be: on your mind, your accomplishments, and the way you carry yourself. You can show your personality, your taste, your quirky sense of humor — whatever! — later, after you’ve got the job. That said, we might suggest adhering to some simple guidelines when buying clothes for interviewing.

  • Buy within your budget. No one’s going to “ding” you on an interview because your suit isn’t Armani.
  • Choose a dark suit. A black or navy suit is always more conservative than a brightly- or lightly-colored suit, and if you have to buy something inexpensive then it will hide the imperfections in the fabric and the seams.
  • Buy a skirt suit. We know, we know: feminism, equality, misogyny, etc. We’re not saying it’s cool. We’re saying it’s a crazy world out there and you should go with the most conservative option available if you want the job — which for women is a skirt suit. The skirt should be knee-length or slightly above the knee. If there’s a slit in the back of the skirt, make sure that a) you’ve pulled out any threads that “closed” the slit with a big X, b) the slit doesn’t go so high that you’re showing your upper thighs or worse — if you’re wearing control-top pantyhose those control tops should not be showing, and c) if it’s an old skirt, make sure the slit isn’t in need of repair. We tend to wear dark pantyhose (“off black” or gray is our preference, for some reason) but in writing this we’ve realized we’re not absolutely sure what’s appropriate — good thing tomorrow is the poll of the week! Be sure you pull a chair over to a full-length mirror and practice sitting in the skirt suit; you want to see what the interviewer will see and make sure you look appropriate and tasteful.
  • Dress for the season you’re in. If you’ve got an interview this week, please don’t go in wearing a tweed suit — you’ll look like you’re not aware of your surroundings. Similarly, if you’re interviewing in January or April, don’t go in wearing a white linen suit.
  • Wear a suit that fits well. We’ve all had it happen: you gain a few pounds and swear you’re going to take it off so there’s no point in buying new clothes. Trust us, we hear you. This is one of those times that you’ve got to just suck it up and go buy a bigger size (or two), because you will be dinged for your appearance if your suit is too tight. See our Lisa Cuddy 360 Review for reference, but here are some telltale signs your suit does not fit you:
    • You can’t button the jacket, or the buttons don’t lay flat once buttoned
    • The skirt is “smiling” because it’s being pulled so tight across your hips
    • When you walk the skirt hikes itself up because it’s too tight across your hips
    • Your arms look like sausages in the jacket
    • You can’t lift your arms above your head


  1. Great advice. I’m a law student as well and I found some really great suits at Ann Taylor. They have sales all the time ( you can always find a 20% off coupon or something around) and the quality is very nice. Plus, they are feminine while also conservative (ie, they come in at the waist, give you a shape, etc).

    • yes yes, ann taylor/loft is the best, especially if you’re petite and itty bitty!

  2. ladyparts :

    Love this, but what about SHOES?! Just saw this and am a little panicked:

    Is it even worse for girls? I mean, they can’t be expecting Manolos from a 2L. Right?

  3. Just checked out the Bitter Lawyer site — funny! I think it’s more intended for people who are at law firms already. Some advice for shoes:

    – Don’t go too high — be sure you can walk in them. (We went on a few interviews back in the day where some junior male associates thought it would be a great idea to walk five blocks to take us to lunch during our callback interview.)

    – Closed toe, closed heel. Yes, a black shoe is acceptable with a navy suit.

    – Maintain your shoes well — take them to your shoe guy to get them polished, get the heels evened out, fix anything else that’s noticeably wrong with them

    – Nothing too fancy or strappy. Strive for the best leather you can afford. For the love of God, no glittery embellishments.

  4. Having been in the legal recruiter seat at two major firms, I love this topic! Yes, the interview suit should be such that it’s YOU that shines. One suggestion is Lafayette 148 (sizes 2-16), available at Lord & Taylor, Saks and Nordstrom. Wonderful 4 season wool with a bit of lycra makes the separates especially comfortable and versatile. You could buy a jacket and matching pants and skirt and get through the whole year with just a few other pieces.

    Please don’t forget your hair, ladies. So many interviewers get nervous and toy with their locks – don’t do it – it’s very distracting. Just like Ellen P. in the photo, put your long hair up for the interview, and if yours is short to medium, do your best to keep your hands out of it.

  5. FWIW: I have had very good luck buying work clothes from Banana Republic. It’s at the point where I can just order online because I know my size, “fit,” length, etc. They also have several mix-and-match options — meaning, pantsuit, skirt suit, jacket (sometimes 2 different styles) and, in some cases, a dress — all in the same material. BR has also improved their line of work- and interview-appropriate shoes. Now that I’m more comfortable in my work environment I am experimenting more with color but BR has several options for basic, neutral, conservative and still stylish (IMHO) work clothes.

  6. Anonymous :

    As for what to wear underneath your suit, I’d suggest a crewneck sweater or camisole that is not low cut is often easier than trying to get a button blouse or shirt to lay properly, not gape open, and not wrinkle. The sleeveless J. Crew cashmere or cotton sweaters (that go with the matching cardigans) are great, especially with simple necklace.

  7. Slingbacks aren’t OK?

  8. Love the tips, but I’ve got to say I disagree with the necessity for a skirt suit. When I was interviewing for a BigLaw job I only wore pantsuits and was something like 11 offers out of 12 interviews. Now I interview law school candidates all the time and I can’t say I even notice if they are wearing a skirt or a pantsuit.

    I think the most important thing is to be comfortable in what you are wearing because any discomfort will shine through.

  9. To Anonymous, above: We would agree that button-downs under suits are more trouble than their worth. However, we’d advise to avoid a camisole for an August interview week: it may seem like you’ll be cooler, but your suit will be able to go longer without drycleaning if you stick to t-shirts or short-sleeved sweaters. (Yes, we’re cheap that way.)

    To Anne and K: I’d say that slingbacks and pantsuits are on the same level: no one born after 1950 will have a problem with them. However… you’re not always being interviewed by people who were born after 1950. Regarding pantsuits, we heard a story through a friend (can’t remember if it was his judge or a friend’s judge) of a blind judge who would make his clerks tell him when women lawyers were wearing pantsuits. And THAT is why we will always wear a skirt suit for a first impression.

    Finally, to K — you go, girl, great job at interview week! A friend of ours had a similar experience and got 17 callbacks out of 21 interviews (all for BigLaw jobs) at a top-tier school a few years ago.

  10. ladyparts :

    C, thanks so much for the advice! And I have to say, I’d heard different things about open toe vs. closed toe but your advice was the tipping point for me — and not a moment too soon with all the summery (open toed) shoes on sale now!! :-)

  11. Re: Anonymous & the button-downs: I have never been able to find a button-down that fits well — if it fits around the chest, it’s too big everywhere else, frankly. I don’t do camisoles — I prefer to take my suit jacket off while I’m working in my office and I wouldn’t be comfortable in a cami if a partner or colleague walked in. I have plenty of short-sleeved, well-fitting (not too big but definitely not snug) tops — cashmere for the winter, light silk (or another fine fabric) for summer. Usually a crewneck or cowlneck. I’m curious — what’s Corporette’s opinion on short-sleeved “shells” as a way to keep cool? Does it still look professional?

    • Hey M in CA, I had the same problems with button down shirts. I just wear a minimizer bra with a stretchy button down from Jcrew (but that’s because I’m a poor college student). Doing some clothing research for my summer internship I stumbled upon this site, that makes shirts for very hourglassy types. It might work for you:

  12. We recently had the chance to interview Tory Johnson, who frequently appears as a ‘workplace expert’ on Good Morning America, about this topic. She had some interesting points, mainly about conveying your own personal style regardless of whether you’re wearing a suit or not. She also spoke a lot about using jewelry and other accessories to jazz up and outfit. Check out the rest here:

  13. Great topic, though I also disagree with the skirt suit advice. Any smart looking pantsuit that fits well is appropriate. I’m more comfortable in them and I also think that there’s less emphasis on the shoes.

    I’ve worn only pantsuits while interviewing at NYC biglaw firms as a 2L, as a lateral candidate and this year when interviewing for in-house positions and received multiple offers each time. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to work at a place that had a serious issue with women wearing a pantsuit.

    Re: Anonymous: I also prefer shells to button downs under suits- I feel they lay a bit better and feel a little less fussy.

  14. Is it more appropriate to leave your suit jacket buttoned when sitting or is it better to unbutton it, as I’ve heard men usually do. I really struggled with what to do during recent interviews because everyone had a different opinion. Depending on the suit I was wearing, I either left it buttoned the whole time or not buttoned at all, but I’d like to know what people do generally.

  15. Former 3L :

    Biglaw tends to be located in big cities where women in all types of careers wear pant suits every day. I myself favor pant suits immensely but you should definitely know your audience. If the town you’re interviewing in is more conservative, you should still stick with a skirt. If you’re not sure how conservative a particular firm is, stick with a skirt. Even within Biglaw firms it can vary from office to office.

    • FitnessKat :

      Agree with this strongly. I feel skirt suits are the safer choice. With the skirt suit wearing pantyhose are a must.

  16. Is leaving the geese formation still an option going into life as a 3L? I already see myself a Bitter Lawyer / Big Firm Whore in training. Shoes aside, did anyone read her other posts? I wish my mom would be cool if I ditched the last two years of hard work in law school to go into the penniless world of PR. I hate myself for being so convincing when I sold her on assisting me through law school back when I thought this was going to be my new fabulous career. Ugh!

  17. A very anxious 2L :

    I second the question on whether it is appropriate to leave your suit unbuttoned. Also, a few of my friends have been arguing about whether your shirt should be showing at the bottom of your suit jacket. A lot of stores are only offering suit jackets like that, as it is the ‘fashionable’ way to wear them right now. Would it be an unforgivable offense? And, last question, if I were to wear a black pants suit, would it be to wild to wear a light pink button down shirt underneath? I want to show some individuality in the sea of black suit/white shirt students, but I also don’t want to scare off the employers. Though I don’t know if I would want to work somewhere where that would be unacceptable attire… Your opinion on any of this would be great!

  18. Anon & very anxious – re: suit buttons — these are EXCELLENT questions. I remember in mock trial in high school my father taught me the button/unbutton thing, but I’ve never really seen it done elsewhere. For a 20-minute interview I’d say leave it buttoned. But perhaps we’ll do a poll for you guys, as I really don’t know. As so many suits featured for women seem to be intended to be worn with not much but camisoles underneath (see, e.g., then I’m guessing not. Or perhaps one is only supposed to do it if you’re wearing a pants suit that you open up?

    Re: light pink — absolutely! Hot pink might be questionable, but even then, if it looks great on you and the rest of the suit is conservative it’s fine. But light pink wouldn’t be wild at all.

    Kelly — I read the other BFW posts and didn’t see anything about the PR stuff — could you please send me the link? Love the interviews on that site; another site with great interviews is JD Bliss. And hey, it’s never too late to leave the formation. (Although it might be something to weigh heavily if you’re just a few years away from breaking even with what law school cost you.)

  19. Oh, sorry for the mislead — there was nothing in the BFW pieces about PR necessarily, but I think if I ditched the law, that’s the industry I’d flock back to because of my previous experience. In PR it pays to have your own style. Granted, it’s very shallow, and I acknowledge the vicious cycle, which is that I would earn pennies compared to a job at a BF and therefore not even be able to afford trendier fashions, but two BF summer gigs have already whet my appetite for more personal flare.

    One commenter said the following on this post:

    “lol! The Big Firm Whore hasn’t figured out the NYC social ladder: 1) celebrities, 2) independently wealthy, 3) finance, 4) fashion, 5) publishing 6) musician/comedian, 7) advertising/marketing, 8) assorted hipsters, 9) policement/firemen, 10) lawyer, 11) accountant. Spyder likely has you beat.”

    Ladies, do you all feel comfortable with a lifestyle of sensible buns, understated colors and a less desirable social image?

    I mean, BFW seems to be a reasonable girl — and I’m sure everything is amped up for the sake of writing — but I feel like I read myself in between the lines in her pieces, and I’m nervous. All this talk about slingback shoes, skirt suits and button policies makes me wonder if I’m preparing myself to work at a law firm or a church. And if the very discussion of dress code has me on the ledge, what’s to come?

    I truly admire the commitment you ladies exhibit. The willingness to visually blend in order to achieve your goals doesn’t’ come easy, I’m sure. And it’s too bad that it exists this way. I suppose I’ll simply continue to march on my cold feet till I warm up to one way of life or the other.

  20. Kelly –

    “The willingness to visually blend” — nail on the head, here. IMHO, this is what interview week is all about — as it is when you’re a real lawyer and appearing in court (especially as a junior associate). The reason people think it’s a soul-crushing profession, though, is because they mistake interview week’s fashions and strictures for the job itself. I don’t think that’s true — at my firm lots of partners and associates dress with style and taste (and a bit of whimsy sometimes also). It’s just not recommended for interview week.

    Regarding leaving the law — I like the analogy with cold feet.

    – C

  21. So curious :

    I am so nervous about this now! First, are black suits really okay for interviews? Second, I love skirt suits and prefer them, but I am tall and have very long legs that even long-ish skirts appear short on me. I want to look nice but I don’t want to give off the wrong impression or appear unconfident with my height. Also, with being tall (5’10) is it okay to wear heels – same reason as above. What is the limit for heel height on shoes? And are closed toe but sling-backs really a no-no? Last question, I feel more comfortable in the silk shells – especially in summer – is that really okay?

  22. So curious: I saw tons of black suits at interviews, so I’d say yes — it avoids the problem of what color leather bag to go with and what color shoes to go with.

    Re: long legs — where do the skirts hit your leg? They say that all women’s skirts should hit at one of three three curves on the leg: a) the curve just above the knee, b) the curve just below the knee, and c) the curve of the calf. If your skirts are mid-thigh, talk to your tailor (i.e. drycleaner) about them and see if they can do anything for you — ask if they could add stuff at the top of the skirt, also, to extent it lower. Otherwise, own your height! If you’re comfortable in heels, rock ’em without a second thought.

    Re: limits for heel heights in shoes… we’ve said before that we think anything higher than 3.5″ is too much for an office environment. But you’re one of the exceptions — if you can wear super high heels comfortably it’s like a show of power that you’re so tall.

    Closed toe but sling-backs — they’re really not a problem. We said a few days ago that they walk a line, but if you’ve got great shoes that you feel comfortable in, wear them. It’s only going to be the craziest would-be employer who notices your shoes anyway.

    Silk shells — def. okay beneath your suit jacket, but don’t get too casual in your down time between interviews or during lunch and take it off — bare arms are still considered a “no no” by a bunch of people.

  23. Re skirt suits:

    I too heard the advice to play it safe and wear a skirt suit for interviews. I decided to ditch the advice — I look fairly young and am fairly thin. I didn’t feel comfortable with the fit of any skirt suits I tried on. I felt like I looked as though I was just playing dress up. I felt much more confident in a pant suit, and I decided that the confidence boost was more important than the risk of offending an interviewer b/c I was wearing pants rather than a skirt.

    For the same reason, I also wore higher heels than our career development office recommended (3″). I got 11 of 13 callbacks and offers from all the callbacks I accepted. I hardly think I missed out on the other two callbacks b/c of what I wore.

  24. Congrats on your success, TM! SO many of you guys have written in about the pant suits at this point that we’re rethinking…

  25. i too, have been rocking the pantsuits to every interview i’ve ever been on – until OCI. after hearing all the advice about skirt suits, the second day of interviews, i finally got one for the remainder of my interviews. i wore a pantsuit the first day and got a callback from every interview that day. i wore the skirt suit the next day and only heard back from one interviewer from that day!

    obviously, a lot more goes into the decisions than my outfit, but i have a feeling i was probably just more comfortable in my own skin in the pantsuit and a lot can be attributed to confidence. so i think sticking to what you feel most comfortable in – within reason – is the best advice.

  26. The skirt suit requirement is crap. Remember that you’re interviewing to see if YOU will like the job too. If a job is going to judge you because you wear pants, is that the kind of place you want to work?

  27. The skirt suit is not necessary. I found a great Theory pant suit that I wore to all of my interviews. I got 4 offers at top firms, so I don’t think anyone held the pants against me.

  28. Traynor Howe :

    I have not seen a man button his suit jacket for any lenght of time in 30 years.

    I am a male attorney and regularly interview 2 and 3Ls. I am middle-aged and liberal.

    Men just do not button their suits. I have the reaction to those that do that they are overly formal or hicks. It is rare for a man to button his suit jacket unless it is double-breasted. I do not think women should button their suit jackets especially as part of a pant suit.

    Pants suits v. skirt suits. It doesn’t really matter. But here are some tips from the male hiring perspective. Don’t even bother with a skirt suit if the skirt length is not stylish. A stylish up-to-date look is favored over the overly conservative long length skirt suit. Don’t conjure up images of the past with an image of a long length skirt suit reminds everyone of the days where women were just beginning to make in roads in the profession – think Sandra Day O’Conners horrible attire – the manual read ankle-length skirt, ruffled white silk blouse, and bun hair.

    Your appearnce should reflect the times. Looking professional is being smartly dressed, but not overly sexual – avoid very low-cut tops.

  29. What advice would you give to women who are a) older and b) not in possession of the Culturally Ideal Body? I am coming to law after many years as a manager in a different profession. We were somewhat informal where I worked, and my work required a certain amount of racing around and poking into corners, but I went to a lot of meetings with higher ups and tried to always look acceptable. As a size 24, too, there was a hard line to walk, because from the current cultural perspective, it’s hard for a fat woman [I use “fat” descriptively, not pejoratively – really!] to look casual – it tends to translate as “sloppy.” (Never mind all the other negative associations with fat women – I’ll leave them out of this post and just point out that my body size is not likely to change. Just take my size as a given, please.) I wore a lot of pantsuits, usually with silk shells or cotton collared blouses, accessorized with scarves and a necklace or pin. My hair is short and wavy. I wore very restrained makeup – eye liner and neutral lipstick.

    The shoes were the hardest part. Anything that draws attention to my feet, even conservative pumps, tends to emphasize the breadth of my hips – just a simple function of the way the line of vision moves. And I’ve never been comfortable with women’s dress shoes in any case; my heel is narrow, but my toes are wide, which means that most women’s dress shoes don’t fit me. I was unwilling to be in pain in order to do my job, so my solution was…. men’s dress shoes. I bought the most beautiful, expensive, conservative men’s dress shoes, if I could, ones with a slightly higher heel (yes, there are varying heights of heels, even in men’s shoes!). The shoes tended to blend in with my trousers, but if anyone’s eye lit on them, there was nothing objectionable.

    In coming to law school, I am surprised at the increasingly thin line (pun absolutely intended) women are expected to walk: look just sexy enough, but not TOO sexy. Sheesh. I have no desire to look sexy at work. Can I drop out of this particular race, and be a well-dressed, size 24 lawyer wearing well-draped pantsuits, minimal makeup, tasteful accessories, and gorgeous men’s shoes? Or do I have to pretend I’m 25 years old (very difficult in my case), a size 6 (absolutely impossible!), tottering along that thin line in painful heels?

  30. I’m a size 18 and Tahari by ASL makes great stylish plus size suits. They are available at and in store Macy’s (plus other places I’m sure) and are currently on sale for like 1/2 off!

  31. I will (hopefully) be interviewing at a big-name, business ultra-conservative investment banking firm in the fall, and my question is whether it is appropriate to wear a turtleneck under a suit. I have a black skirt suit, and I’d like to wear a finely-knit silk blend turtleneck sweater underneath. I have several nice button down shirts, but I’m not sure how comfortable they would be under a jacket (I would hate to be tempted to constantly adjust my clothing during an interview), and I’m a little wary of anything sleeveless or too “t-shirt like”. I’m very pale, and the turtleneck option lets me put a complementary color closer to my face, without gaudy necklaces or scarves. What do you think?

  32. anonymous :

    lauren: i think turtlenecks can look good with suits but its a look i’d save for after i got the job, rather than for the interview, personally. you could try on your button down shirts under your jackets to see if they’re comfortable, and if they arent, you could go and purchase a new shirt. there’s lots of time before fall interviews!

  33. Hi – I have two questions. Given that the objective is clearly not to look hot, but is to look attractive in a nonsexual way:

    a) Is it safe to assume 3″ and under for heels OK for biglaw interviews anywhere (assume closed toe, able to walk in them normally, etc)?

    b) As someone w/med-long straight hair… it seems that putting hair into a bun (as in the picture above) might look too severe and unflattering or and a ponytail might look sort of childish (esp on younger interviewees). Is it acceptable to leave longer hair down or part down, provided it’s blowdried/styled nicely and not played with? Or is it a clear don’t?

  34. Emily-

    I also have long straight hair. It looks very harsh pulled back in a bun, and in fact our Career Services Office specifically warned against a bun/pony tail. For interviews last year I did a half up (a la Sarah Palin, say what you will about her politics, the woman has fabulous hair!), which still had the polish of wearing your hair down without the tendancy to get in your face.

    Of couse, I had to pay extra attention not to play with it.

  35. georgienyc :

    we put together this outfit for a corporate interview – thought the skirt offered a little more individuality. thoughts

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  37. New to this :

    Wow, just wanted to say how grateful I am to have come across this site! I’m a sophomore engineering major and next week I’m starting to interview for summer internships. I’m completely new to wearing professional attire so I was stressing over what to wear. This article was so helpful and I’m sure that when (fingers crossed) I get an internship, I’ll be checking Corporette all the time. Thanks again!!

  38. Hi, I am a rising 3l and I have found this thread very helpful. I like skirt suits and pencil skirts, but I am tall and have large hips, a large rear end, long legs, and a small, high waist. Even when I buy a pencil skirt that reaches my knees, I still end up looking a little slutty just because the cut of the skirt clings to my hips. And wearing a size bigger ends up looking weird. An earlier male poster mentioned that he expects women he interviews to look updated, so I don’t want to buy clothing made for women twice my age just to avoid wearing something that hugs my curves. Any suggestions?

  39. i prefer skirt that has kickvent or kickpleat
    classier than slit
    yes how often do we see skirts that have x still close don slit or pleat

  40. a kickpleat or kickvent in skirt will be better than slit

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