Don’t ditch your signature style at the boardroom door. The rules for interview and work style may be difficult to navigate and often restrictive, but you don’t have to settle for plain or frumpy.
Consider the culture. Adherence to the organizational culture is paramount. It can make and break careers. Dress is a part of culture. Before the interview, do your homework. If you know someone who works for the company, ask how the employees dress. There is no harm in asking human resources about the culture when scheduling an interview. During the interview, take mental note how employees dress. Once you land the job, adjust accordingly.
Consider the position. Employees may dress differently according to their station within the same organization. Someone in the field may embrace more a casual fare as opposed to someone who is in the office all day. Heels and wedges may not be appropriate for jobs that require long hours on one’s feet.
Dress for success and comfort. Regardless, fabrics should be moveable and breathable. Discomfort is never sharp. Career fashion evolves all the time, and there are more ready-to-wear career clothing options than ever before. Proper fit is important as well. Ill-fitting clothing is restrictive and uncomfortable.
Ignore the rules but not entirely. Organizational dress codes and rules about workplace modesty should never be broken. Miniskirts are still not acceptable in most workplace settings. Leggings are not pants. But as far as the rules about what color top to wear under a suit jacket in an interview, those rules can be ignored. True, some organizations are more conservative than others, which is why one must always observe modesty. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you settle for a blue top to signal your calmness to an interviewer or a white top or even a nice floral print. The idea is to present your best self but do so with modesty, discretion, and confidence.
Don’t sacrifice style for perceived substance. Please note, you are dressing for your career and not a club. Wearing frumpy sweaters and monochromatic ensembles are not the only alternative. Play with prints. In conservative settings, select one widely-acceptable print per outfit. Stripes, polka dots, chevrons, florals, and even small abstract prints won’t cause much of a stir. You don’t have to stick to neutral-colored suits either. For casual environments, choose well-tailored trouser jeans instead of hip-hugging skinny jeans. Substance doesn’t have to be stuffy. I find ways to incorporate boho styling into all my work outfits. I detail outfits with florals, lace, and ruffles. For interviews, I don a suit with a boho-style top and tone down the jewelry and nail polish (and the number of earrings I wear — I have 5 ear piercings.). But I don’t always opted for nude nail polish either. Red and pinks are acceptable neutrals. Whatever your style, your look must be tidy, pressed, clean, and sharp.
Want to wear that purple top you love that makes your eyes pop to an interview? Be all means, please do. Want to break out the jeans for casual Friday? Wait until you notice everyone else is doing it first. Your life doesn’t end once you land your first real job. But leave the leggings and cropped tops at home.