Dear Biggie,It is coming to the point in my life where I may need to start interviewing seriously for competitive jobs(versus already being given the job unofficially and having the interview be just a formality). What would you recommend for a college senior to wear to a job interview? Maybe you could break down some ideas by category (what you would wear for an interview in banking, consulting, middle management, Von's night shift manager, science, and a rubber product producing factory manager)?
Sincerely,Three Pony Stables
Dear Three Pony Stables,
I have good news: there is in fact a universal interview dress code for every white collar job. Banking, consulting, management, science, etc. will all require the same basic outfit. Von's night shift manager might not require the same, but wearing it would still be fine--beneficial even. And in addition to what I write below, always remember that fit is king: better to have a cheap suit that fits you and is well-tailored than an expensive suit that fits like crap. From the top down:
- Solid Wool Suit in Navy or Dark Grey/Charcoal: That you should wear a suit goes without saying. Worsted, 100% wool, single-breasted, 2-button. As an athlete, you'll probably need some structure in the shoulders (so be careful with BB's natural shoulders), and you'll probably also want pleated pants worn at your natural waist (flat fronts cannot handle your monumental thighs and ass). Avoid any sheen--those ridiculous suits are best saved for "sick" night clubs/discotheques and their concomitant bottle service ("Yeah, I've got a bottle of Grey Goose that cost me $250. I'm the kind of guy who deems such a purchase a good investment. You girls like to party?") Also avoid overly-skinny or absurdly wide lapels that will make your suit look dated in a few years. Navy or Charcoal are the most conservative base colors, as well as the most versatile. The suit should preferably be solid: a windowpane or check will seem too sporty for a business interview, and while you can probably get away with pinstripes, pinstripes do connote an air of "power," and your interviewer may not like the perception of an applicant who shows up in a power suit. ("You think you're already an executive, you little shit?!") If a pinstripe suit in navy or charcoal is all you have and you're short on cash, then by all means wear it--the chances of actually being marked down for wearing pinstripes are very slim (especially because you're a college senior with presumably little cash). However, these odds do increase as you climb the ego ladder (ie: be careful in law and especially banking interviews). Having said that, a navy or charcoal suit should be the foundation of your business wardrobe anyway, so if you have the cash for a solid suit and you don't have one yet, you'd do well to acquire one.
- Solid White or Light Blue Shirt: A solid white shirt is the quintessential business shirt. Long ago, a white shirt--particularly the collar and cuffs--showed that an Englishman was a gentleman who worked in the city and not on a farm in Yorkshire (God's Own Country though it may be): white is the "purest" color and is the easiest to get dirty. Keeping a clean, starched, white collar was a signal of status. Having said that, a light blue shirt is 95% as conservative as a white shirt in the modern era. It also looks better on blondes. Just make sure that the shirt is a very light blue--darker blues are perceived as cheaper and less formal. Again, avoid sheen. 100% cotton is optimal but not required--they wrinkle more, but they will last longer than the non-iron poly-cotton blends. On the other hand, a non-iron shirt will last a shorter time, but they do not require ironing or professional laundering. Solid is also 100% necessary here: you can get away with a pinstripe suit, but a patterned shirt is very likely to raise an eyebrow. Leave the stripes, checks, and such at home. Also, make sure the shirt takes collar stays and does not have a button-down collar. Non-banking firms probably won't take much notice, but again, as you climb the ego tree into law and especially banking, you may get dinged for a button down collar. Also, please avoid cut-away collars and french cuffs: french cuffs exude power and wealth much like pinstripes exude power, and cut-away collars are downright dandyish (ie: avoid for interviews).
- A conservative, neat tie: Probably a simple pattern because you are wearing a solid shirt and solid suit, but solids are fine too--after all, you can never be too conservatively dressed in an interview. Navy and light blue are your best friends because they aren't too intimidating. Red can be OK, but burgundy is more sober and will be less likely to raise hackles than an aggressive red power tie. Yellow is fine too. Patterns should be small and neat. Stripes are also acceptable. The rule is cleanliness. Clean and neat ties are king in interviews.
- NO pocket square: I will quote a most a propos Styleforum poster: "I hate to say it, but leave your pocket square at home. Chances are your interviewers will be the kind of philistines who will hold you in contempt for wearing a pocket square. IMHO, unless you're interviewing at Manton & Doc Holiday [two legendary Styleforum posters] LLP, the pocket square is too risky."
- Black Leather Belt: Unless you're wearing suspenders/braces to keep your pants up, you'll need a black leather belt to match your shoes.
- Navy or Charcoal Socks: These should roughly match your pants. While your Biggie lives by the mantra that "A businessman matches his socks to his pants; a gentleman matches his socks to his mood," in interviews you would do well to match your socks to your pants. I certainly do. A 100% wool sock or a wool-nylon blend will do a good job wicking away moisture from your feet and not smelling bad, even after a long day of wear. Cotton can also work, but they are not my preference because they do a weaker job in both these areas.
- Black leather cap toe shoes. Oxfords are preferable, but in today's day and age, bleuchers are just as acceptable. (The difference between the two is a matter of cleanliness: the bluchers have those little flaps of leather that lace together, while the oxfords are cleaner and do not have the flaps.) The cap toe is the most formal toe a shoe can take. The punching or broguing (the decorative holes in the shoes) should be kept to a bare minimum for an interview. Full grain calfskin and a goodyear welt are vastly preferred for reasons of quality and construction. Note: If you are short on cash, any pair of black shoes that you already own will do, especially because you are a college student--having said that, Black Cap Toes are a versatile pair that you will have to purchase anyway, so you might as well purchase them now. I should also note that unlike the messages that a checked shirt or a windowpane suit will send in an interview ("I'm just so fucking good!"), wearing cheap black shoes will simply make you appear uninformed or of modest upbringing ("It's ok--he doesn't know any better.") While patronizing, this reaction is almost certainly better than the "This kid thinks he's fucking better than me because he's wearing french cuffs!?" reaction.
- And that's it. Follow these rules at every time you go in for a white collar interview* and you won't go wrong.
Your humble and obedient servant,
*Except in Silicon Valley. There are different rules of absurd business casual up there, and they lie beyond my expertise. As you can imagine, your Biggie does not approve.