Dressed for the Occasion

donut party-I worked as a lifeguard for two years in high school.  I don’t remember what questions I was asked at my interview, but I remember one embarrassing detail that I haven’t forgotten.  I thought that everybody wore suits to interviews.  Look good, feel good, right?

I walked into the pool director’s office, and sat down.  She turned around and said, “Why are you wearing that?!”  I had on a charcoal suit with a white shirt, red tie, and black dress shoes.  I’m sure my 16-year-old face turned red, and I made up something about having a special event right after the interview.

“Oh, ok.  Well, you didn’t have to dress up.”  Truthfully, I essentially had the job before I walked in, and the interview was a formality.  I had taken lifeguard classes on location, and I had gotten to know my interviewer over the past few weeks. Even so, I wanted to show that I was serious about the job, but lifeguards don’t wear suits.

It turns out that I am far from the worst stories out there.  While reading some interviewing tall tales, I came across a few head shakers.  There’s the guy who decided to show up to an interview without a shirt on (maybe that would be ok for an A&F interview…?).  The woman who wore sleeveless denim on denim with white pumps.  Even better, a true blue Star Wars fan who wore Jedi Robes on a video interview.  If anybody reading this says, “What’s wrong with that?”, examine your ways.

For the normal ones who recognize the problems contained in the previous paragraph, let’s go in a different direction.  There are only two guidelines that need to be mentioned regarding dress:

1) Ask your company contact.  Every time I interview, I make sure to ask what the dress code is.  It shows that the interview matters to you, and is informative about the culture.  While, I haven’t had any interviewees dress in an unseemly Jedi manner, I’ve seen a few that have called for a raised eyebrow.  All preventable if they would have simply asked.

2) Don’t worry about being “authentic”.  Leave the “just be yourself” advice on the middle-school playground when it comes to dress.  Especially the “yourself” that might sleep-in on Saturday and then binge watch Game of Thrones until early Sunday morning having eaten nothing but popcorn, Red Vines and Mountain Dew.  Even more-so the “yourself” that wears joggers or yoga pants all day.

Hopefully, you would never show up so underdressed; however, there are other examples that wander into the questionable category.  The slim-fit suit that is a little too tight may not be the best idea even though you are comfortable in it.  Your friends may all say that your knitted tie looks “dope” and it got a lot of likes on Instagram, but it may be best to leave it at home for your interview.  Going back to a previous post, “Your wardrobe is simply theatrics in these situations.  You are on stage, and at times you only get one scene to perform.”

There are always exceptions–what may be perfectly fine in one interview, may be a deal breaker in another.  The Bottom Line: don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to dress up.

What Your Style Says About You

You know who I’m talking about–the guy whose flat billed hat matches his Jordan’s, which also happens to match the Nike swoosh on his T-shirt, and may even match the color of his basketball shorts that are hanging on for dear life.  Or the sock less guy whose scuffed-up oxfords (from goodwill), twill high-waters, and nondescript button-down done up to his adam’s apple are completed by his thick, tortoise-shell glasses, and mustache.  You have to know who I’m referring to.

These are well-known stereotypes that are easy to make fun of have distinct mannerisms, catch-phrases, and attitudes associated with them.  Whether the dresser purposefully wishes to assume the stereotype is irrelevant; they have a say in items they don, accoutrements they carry, but not how it is perceived.  For example:

photo (1) What does this communicate?  How is this perceived?  When would it be appropriate to wear this?  Frankly, when I dress like this, it’s for me (because I like bright colors), and for all you independent free-thinkers, style does not originate with other people’s opinions.  However, every once in a while your “don’t-care-what-you-think” mentality is going to come up short: on a first date, in the office, at a job interview, meeting her parents for the first time…life is not Coachella.

But going back to Mr. Red&Blue up there, he may fare well with the right kind of woman and the right kind of venue for a first date (undoubtedly getting several stares).  It works well as an Instagram picture, or an advertisement, but I would love to see an interviewer’s face across the table from this getup.

Your wardrobe is simply theatrics in these situations.  You are on stage, and at times you only get one scene to perform.  First impressions can be killer, and while I’ve referred to high-stakes situations where dress matters, on a day-to-day basis there are people you may or may not meet and forge lasting friendships with based on appearance.  *gasp* “How judgemental!” Yet, everyone falls victim to such knee-jerk biases, and the only thing you can do is be aware and open-minded.

And God said unto Moses-

Choose wisely, my friends.  Heed not the scoffs and scorns of the style-less onlookers by the wayside if your MO is peacocking or simply dressing up because it feels good.  Have some moxie and own your style.  Nevertheless, when you are on stage, and your clothes become your costume, be mindful of the character you are trying to play.