Hasn’t Elle Woods taught the world anything? Women can be successful lawyers and wear cute pink suits, impossibly high stilettos, and pass out scented resumes printed from their bright neon laptop, while carrying their little pooch in the crook of their arm. Right?
Well, as my public relations professor, Carolyn White Bartoo, would say: Wrong.
So I have potential interviews coming up and obviously I had nothing in my closet that remotely resembled the standard, black, one-or-two-button blazer with functional pockets (for carrying prospective employers’ business cards in one and your own in another while managing to shake hands and draw from the correct pocket. Duh.), with matching pants and/or skirt of the appropriate, right-at-the-knee length, and plain, one-inch-high, black faux leather heels. Oh, don’t worry, I have some plain, drab professional clothes, just not the perfect interview attire. I have a few pairs of presentable black pants, a couple short-sleeved nice blouses, and a pair of worn suede flats. These clothes served their purpose at the time, for events of lesser importance.
But now I am out of college, in the big leagues. This is real, people. It’s time for the Interview Suit. Which, once I get a job, I will probably never wear again because either I will be in a creative enough field that they will worship my originality and choice of color patterns in my wardrobe, or I will be making enough money to buy a really nice suit that is allowed to show some variation of style. But for now, it’s the Interview Suit.
So yesterday, I headed to the mall with my mom with several stores in mind, hoping to take advantage of her superior knowledge of shopping. My mom had slightly different ideas about which stores might or might not have a “young” suit. I proceeded to tell my mom that I am 22 years old, out of college and entering the professional world–I should not be looking in a juniors department. But we hit all the stores possible in our local mall. And then ended up back at the first one we entered. So let me explain.
Although an avid shopper, my mom had to admit that she is a little out of her league when it comes to suits. She hasn’t worn one in many years. She said she doesn’t even own one currently. So in her head, she is thinking suits come together on the hanger and there will be plenty of options based on whether you prefer Calvin Klein or Anne Taylor or any other number of designers. I had no reason to argue with her logic; it seemed plausible. But we soon realized as we perused Macy’s that these days, while some are still hung together, many suits are sold as separates. Like bathing suits. And like bathing suits (which I also have an incredibly hard time finding), they come in all shapes, sizes, colors, patterns. At least in Macy’s. So we started pulling. She had a pile, I had a pile, we head to the fitting room. With the first skirt/jacket combo I try on, I realize I’m a petite. I don’t even try any of the others, and then we discover there are really no options for petites in Macy’s. Fail.
We moved on to J.Crew and found the most brilliant, perfect, wonderful, incredible suit–for almost $400. Now, some people, who are going to wear a suit many times in their life and keep it forever and love it like a child, might be okay with spending $400 on a suit. I am not one of those people. My mom was ready to throw up her hands and hand over the credit card but I refused. We kept looking. White House Black Market had a few options, on sale, but not my size. Of course, everyone is a size 2 these days, didn’t you know? We went to Nordstrom. Maybe it was the fact that I had my hair pulled into a messy ponytail that day, or that I was wearing a faded Old Navy T-shirt, but the sales clerks at Nordstrom seemed genuinely incredulous that I, of all people, would be looking for a suit. Humph.
“Do you have an interview?” the hundred-year-old lady asked with the air of a grandmother speaking to a five-year-old.
Why yes. I am 22 years old, have a Bachelor’s degree, and I will hopefully be moving into a high-powered job in New York City, thank you very much. Now go back to your register.
We moved on. Slight distraction at the Victoria’s Secret semi-annual sale. But then moving on again, we realized it was getting late. So we headed back to The Limited, where we had started, having only browsed the racks beforehand, not knowing what to look for. Well we had a much better idea, three hours later.
So, running out of time, we grabbed the “Drew Cut” and the “Clarice Cut” styles of pants. We dug through several styles of skirts and found a great blazer. I tried on flare pants and boot-cut, blue suits and black. (However, blue suits are hard to match shoes to so I would definitely not recommend that, unless you have some really great blue shoes.) And more quickly than I would have thought possible, I walked out of the fitting room in the perfect, black, tasteful, affordable Interview Suit.
But going back to Elle Woods. She worked incredibly hard to prove to everyone that a blond bimbo from Delta Nu can have just as much brains and be just as successful as any suit-wearing, briefcase-toting Harvard student. She gave her resumes “a little something extra” and stood out in the sea of students with her neon computer. She wore feather boas and sequins and sported her style with confidence and pride. Now, I do not quite share her exact style, but I do wish that it was acceptable for professionals to show their style, to wear a color. For example, I had picked out a red top to wear under the blazer in Macy’s and my mom raised her eyebrows. “Red means power. I don’t think you want to show power in a first interview.” Why not? Why can’t I show my confidence and wear a color of my choosing? Why can’t I deviate from the masses, stand out in my own creative and tasteful way? How am I supposed to stand out as the best candidate for the job if I look exactly the same as everyone else?
But, again Carolyn White Bartoo would be tutting at me. People judge. Employers judge. They make snap decisions. And they may not mean to, but they are not looking for someone dressed in red head to toe who looks like she’s going to take over the company. (Because apparently wearing red means that’s what you’re set out to do.) Employers want candidates who look put together, professional, and competent in a plain and subdued way. When you get the job, dress however you want, if they let you. But in the interview, you have to show your style in your words and in your previous work.
Elle Woods actually took a lot of crap in the beginning of her Harvard days because people immediately judged her. And in the interview, you only get a few seconds, a few minutes to make that impression, and you don’t need any distractions.
Oh well, I guess I can wear red tomorrow. But at least I got the Interview Suit.