Anxiety-Free Interview Wardrobe in 20 Pieces or Less

. . by Veda Darby Soberman, Head Editor, INALJ Hawaii

Anxiety-Free Interview Wardrobe in 20 Pieces or Less

Veda PictureDressing for an interview can be a challenge. I enjoy fashion, and I usually know how to put together a great outfit, but something about dressing for a job interview can throw me for a loop. I will never forget being on an interview, and the interviewers showing me a copy of their dress code, and asked me if I felt comfortable with it. I looked it over and realized that I was sitting there in the interview, actually violating their dress code. Needless to say, I was completely embarrassed and responded, “It looks fine. I can definitely follow it. Sorry, I am violating it right now.” I happened to be wearing a sleeveless blouse. The heat of the day and my nerves got the best of me, and I left my blazer in the car. From that day forward, I vowed to never let an interview fashion faux-pas like that happen again. I have since found that building an interview or professional wardrobe helps with taking the anxiety, possible outfit mistakes, and confusion out of dressing for an interview.  

Notes on Formality

Information professionals can be rather casual in their everyday work dress, but an interview calls for a more formal look. If possible, visit the site or see if you can locate a copy of the organization’s dress code to see how employees dress or are expected to dress, and formulate your interview outfit one step up in formality from there. While it is always good to research the organization for their dress code, this may not be available or possible (as it was in my case), but your formality of dress can also be determined by the level of job for which you are interviewing. The higher level the position, the more professional/formal clothing should be. The basic business professional dress categories listed in order from least to the most formal are: casual (i.e. button down and jeans); business casual (i.e. button down, slacks, and a blazer); or business professional (i.e. suit and tie).

I don’t believe a casual outfit is appropriate for most any interview. So, a safe bet is to dress business casual. You do not want to under dress, but overdressing can also be an issue, as you do not want to appear stuffy. Being overdressed can be distancing, especially if you are not used to dressing in such a way, or if your interviewers are far more underdressed than you are.

Here are some tips for building a fuss-free and anxiety-proof interview wardrobe:

Avoid paying full price on anything. On a job interview, you want to wear clothing that exudes some quality, but quality does not need to involve a huge quantity of money. Most job seekers are on a limited budget, but, paradoxically, are also often expected to dress like they are already earning the salaries they dream of. You most definitely do not need to spend a lot of money on quality wardrobe essentials. This means shop sales, discount, outlet stores, and online. Thrift/consignment shops are great places to find quality designer items including suits, shoes and accessories. I am not about shopping for labels, but designer items do tend to offer a degree of quality not found in other brands. While I appreciate designer items, I think most of the designer items in my wardrobe were found at charity shops or my local reuse center. And we all know eBay is also a great place to find great used items.

Take your time. It can require lots of patience to find the right items. Don’t wait until you have an interview scheduled to build your interview outfit or wardrobe, you are likely to spend more money and become frustrated. So, start now, and enjoy the hunt.

Not a shopper? Shop in small doses. This goes hand in hand with starting early. Simply set aside a small chunk of time to find something you need, just half an hour to an hour a week is plenty. You may not find something on each outing, but you will in time.

Consider your preferences. There are so many options in clothing that it can be easy to become overwhelmed. So, think about what you want before you go shopping.  You may not know your “style profile,” but I am sure you are able to list a few things you like in your clothing choices. For example, I know I prefer items that are classic in form, of natural fabrics, with a little modern or eclectic edge. If you purchase what you like, you will feel comfortable and confident in what you wear, and this to me is the ultimate goal of dressing to impress on an interview.

To begin building your professional wardrobe, stick to this list of essentials. You can have a nice professional wardrobe in 20 items or less: 

2 suits. Nothing says professional like a suit, and it can be easy to dress down its formality by wearing a colored or printed shirt, or for men, no tie. Suit colors such as classic navy, charcoal, pinstripe or gray are nice alternatives to basic black. If you choose to wear a suit, please be sure it fits you well. It may be difficult to find an off-the-rack suit that fits you perfectly. So, don’t be afraid to bring it to a tailor to be altered appropriately. While all clothing should fit you well, something about an ill-fitting suit can be especially off-putting or distracting. A nice suit is an investment (unless it is a secondhand score of course), but it should a classic suit should last a lifetime.

2 white button-down shirts. A white button-down will make anyone look clean, crisp and work-ready. 

2 colored button-downs or blouses. Some days, you will feel like an interview calls for wearing some color. Keep these shirts on hand to add some lift to your wardrobe.  

2-3 blazers. Adding a blazer to an outfit instantly adds an extra level of formality to an outfit. A blazer with a pair of khakis and a crisp shirt would be great for an interview in a less formal setting or for an entry-level job like a library assistant. 

2-3 pairs of slacks and/or pencil skirts. This let’s you mix and match items.

1 sheath dress. A sheath dress is a great no-brainer outfit for women. Pair a sheath dress with a blazer and head out the door.

3-4 ties. You may want more than a few ties if you like wearing them, but a tie isn’t essential for men’s business casual dress. If you just want a couple buy one in a plain color and if you like, one in a fun print or color. Ties are actually great items to find secondhand. 

2 pairs of polished classic shoes. One pair of black shoes, and one pair of brown (for men)/nude (for women) should be all you need to coordinate with all of your outfits.  

2 dress belts. Again, one black and one brown belt will do. You can also look out to find reversible types and save money. 

A few jewelry items or a nice watch. Your jewelry and watch are places where you can easily infuse your personality. It is fine to wear statement jewelry, just try to keep it to one or two items. 

A leather/leather-like portfolio and a nice pen. Instantly feel armed and ready for an interview with a nice portfolio and pen in hand.

Follow these tips and your wardrobe will be interview- and work-ready before you know it.

Good luck!

  5 comments for “Anxiety-Free Interview Wardrobe in 20 Pieces or Less

  1. September 9, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Great post! It takes the anxiety of out interview dressing, and I like the practical perspective. There’s also a fun blog showcasing successful interview outfits for librarians, Librarian Hire Fashion, http://librarianhirefashion.tumblr.com/. :)

  2. September 9, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    I am a huge fan of resale shop finds! I once got a super nice pair of cool-wool slacks at a consignment store for $12, and finding nice blouses is even easier.

  3. kamchokitty
    September 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Two of my favorite pieces of advice. 1) if you’re going to spend money, spend on accessories (bag, shoes, hair/grooming) because that’s what people notice, and will likely last longer. 2) If you feel hot, you’ll do hot. If necessary, sub out “hot” for smart/capable/competent or whatever the key word is. Anecdotally, on a successful interview I wore a pencil skirt and a semi-fitted, vintage-cut green blouse because I was going to the desert in the summer, and I tend to run hot. Simple accessories, but tons of compliments on my round-toe Mary Jane pumps.

    Personally, I always feel awful wearing suits because I think they are unflattering on my body and when I was in grad school couldn’t have afforded to have them tailored, if I’d found one worth purchasing. Long story short: craft an outfit and wardrobe that is suitably professional for your desired environment, one that also doesn’t make you want to hide in the bathroom crying because of creeping fug or discomfort. My best core look is a sheath dress with a smallish cardigan, dark tights and Dansko clogs, and it’s easy to upgrade clogs to heels if necessary, to switch out funky/crafty accessories for more professional looks. I also like wearing big drapey scarves or pashminas of different textiles. Don’t spend money on things you won’t wear often, and try to avoid wardrobe filler, whatever that means to you. For me, that’s polo shirts, khakis, and chambray Oxfords, but I love flared black trousers.

    I love the advice of a power pen or power portfolio–stationery always makes me feel organized and prepared.

  4. September 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Another fun interviewing wardrobe posting is Free Your Wardrobe and the Rest Will Follow http://inalj.com/?p=15229

    Great job Veda!

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